If you've seen our stuff, you would have heard that we are all about growth. But even if you haven't, we are the Accountant's Growth Club, so you probably catch our drift.
We know that running your own accountancy practice is hard and that's why we support our members throughout their growth journeys. Whether they want to grow a little and take on some employees or go the whole hog and hit that £1 million mark in turnover, we provide private coaching, exclusive masterclasses and a great community of accountants who help and support each other through all the growing pains.
Whether you know this about us or not, we always like to put our money where our mouth is. We know the proof is in the pudding so that's why we're starting a series of 'Growth Stories.' A.k.a the success stories of our members straight from the horse's mouth.
Nicky Larkin from Goringe Accountants
Today's Growth Story is about Nicky Larkin who heads up Goringe Accountants. She started the firm in 2007 from her dining room table and is now poised to hit the £1 million turnover mark in the next 3-6 months. While her irrepressible positive nature and proactivity are big driving factors for her success, there are a few other changes that she made to amplify her growth. This is her growth story.
Setting up the business from the dining table
Although Nicky's background was in industry and as she puts it, being the client to accountancy practices, she identified a gap in the market that made her take the leap to start her own business.
At first, many people were telling her that she should start her own practice. So much so, that she took a week off work and did her own research. She went to every single networking event that she could in Reading and spoke to as many small business owners as possible. She couldn't believe how there were hundreds of practices in Reading alone, but one common finding was clear. The market may be flooded with accountancy practices, but not with accountants that business owners actually wanted to use. So many business owners were moaning about their accountants so this was her opportunity.
Nicky set up the practice in 2007 from home at her dining room table. Originally, her ambition was:
- to be a solopreneur
- have a maximum of 75 clients
- work completely from home
- earn enough money to be comfortable
- build a family.
However, that all changed within a year. She found that this target wasn't ambitious enough, even with 100 clients, and decided she needed more people to keep growing.
Committing to growth
Nicky was running a successful practice with all growth so far being organic. So we asked her, what decisions did she make to accelerate her growth.
- She made the decision to rent an office
For 3 years, Nicky worked solely from home but this became impractical once she had her son. So, she took the step to rent her first office. At first, she had a few remote workers working for her and this gave her the opportunity to start hiring some senior employees soon after.
Not long after that, Nicky committed to getting a lease for a much bigger office. At this point, she had 8 employees in tow but big plans for how she was going to fill the space with more. Although a lot of accountants begrudgingly rent as small an office space as possible, Nicky said paying for a big space is what pushed her to accelerate her growth.
- She moved clients onto direct debit payments
Another move that made cash flow consistent and facilitated growth was moving away from standing orders to direct debit payments. This saved so much time (as there was no need to chase payments) and it meant that the practice had a set amount of money coming in each month. Nicky's only regret was not making the switch sooner!
- She set future targets with her business coach
Nicky is a very target-orientated person, so setting targets was a big driving factor for her growth. On a daily and weekly basis, she would set smaller targets (i.e. email clients, reach out to X leads) but she was always working towards the bigger goal too. For example, very early on, she decided that she would have three offices in Reading, Bristol, and London.
- She hired specialists to grow a strong team
What really helped Nicky grow in confidence was hiring really good specialists. Getting the balance right between employees and consultants was tricky, but once she had her specialist team set, she felt very confident stating that Goringe Accountants is a medium-firm that can offer a full range of services.
- She sets KPIs every 90 days and performs regular client analysis
To prevent any issues when it comes to clients on fixed fees, Nicky implements techniques called the 'red zone' and the 'reserve turn.' Essentially, this means she is always focusing on improving their marketing content and monitoring hours worked vs fixed fees. This detailed analysis allows her to make impactful changes and she always aims to achieve targets and reset them every 90 days.
At the Accountants' Growth Club, we are always telling our members to know their numbers. If you know them, you can be the FDA to your own practice.
Getting through the tough times
As with all businesses, Nicky went through some tough times. And when asked about how she found the mental toughness to get through these periods, she talked about her hardest challenge to date.
Three and a half years ago, Nicky had about 650 clients to service but not enough employees to help take care of them. It just happened that two of her team members (in an already small team) were going on maternity leave and other people left for various reasons all at the same time. For a year, Nicky worked non-stop to compensate for this. She would do her day job in the office and then work long after everyone left as she didn't want quality to suffer or to have to demote her employees. Even with how hard she worked, her profits weren't where she wanted them to be and it was starting to take a serious mental toll.
Once Nicky accepted that she couldn't work any harder and she couldn't look after all of her clients the way that she wanted, she started to make some changes. Changes such as:
- Surrounding herself with positive people who knew their why and were proactive.
- Talking to other business owners, consultants, and business coaches for advice and inspiration.
- Starting to prioritise her self-care, making sure she had enough sleep and exercise to feel happy and energized.
- Working with a coach to reshape her practice to the type she wanted, getting rid of the wrong clients and recruiting the right people to help her build it.
- Dropping 130 clients who took up a lot of time or who didn't pay enough for the work that she was doing.
At the Accountants' Growth Club, our community becomes a trusted circle for so many practice owners. When growing your firm, it's key to draw on the support of trusted people around you as well as getting rid of those legacy clients who are causing you to lose your mojo or passion for what you do.
What would you have done differently?
As they say, hindsight is 20/20, so the last thing we talked about with Nicky is what she would have done differently on her growth journey.
Increase fees earlier
As with most accountants, Nicky wished she had raised her fees a lot earlier on. She was afraid that she would lose clients if she increased her fees, but this is what led to one of the most difficult challenges in her journey: trying to service too many clients and working a lot of hours with no increase in her bottom line.
If she had put her fees up earlier and increased them incrementally every year, Nicky said she would have had a bit more money and time (especially if time-consuming clients left). Money and time that could have gone to increasing staff salary, updating software to improve efficiency, and anything else that would accelerate growth.
Getting the hiring process right at an earlier stage
Nicky had a lot of issues with recruitment and felt that a lot of time was wasted hiring the wrong people. Since hiring and training both take time, and clients do get annoyed when their account managers keep changing, she said that getting this process right earlier on would have greatly accelerated her growth.
Getting the right people in is the first hurdle, and then you have to develop them so they will want to stay. However, once you have this process right, you can be sure that you're investing in a stable and loyal team that align with your purpose and actively want the firm to succeed.
Planning for the future
It is always difficult getting the balance of staff right and Nicky experienced this on her growth journey. At one stage, she was very top-heavy with qualified staff and didn't have the trainees to fill in the gaps or move into certain roles in the future. While she does have a great training programme set up now, she wished she have focused on this sooner. It would have allowed her to clearly see the future of her business and her staff and, therefore, invest the time needed to build up the next generation of accountants.
Becoming a £1 million firm
While Nicky learned a lot of lessons and made some mistakes growing her business, she also did just as many things right. (I mean, she would have to since she's poised to hit the £1 million turnover mark this year!).
Here are the key things that accelerated her growth:
- She is very focused and target-orientated and resets targets every 90 days.
- Plenty of communication with her team and they all have a shared purpose.
- She sought advice from other business owners and worked with a business coach early on.
- She's not reliant on one route to market and monitors all performance so she can make improvements.
- She stepped away from day-to-day tasks such as accounts production so she could focus on higher-value tasks. (She did this by changing the software they used and not learning how to use it)
Last but not least, Nicky is very proactive. She does her research, talks to the best people to help find solutions to any problems she has and acts on them. She is not afraid to make changes and that's one of the biggest reasons for her success.
** Goringe Accountants is an award-winning audit & accountancy firm with offices in Bristol, London and Reading. If you want to get in touch with Nicky to understand more about her journey and/or to pick her brains, you can contact her here.
Why not book a call with one of our Growth Specialists to talk about how you could benefit from joining the Club?
We're here to support our members to grow their accountancy practice.
With private coaching for our accountant members, exclusive masterclasses and a great community of accountants who help and support each other every step of the way, why not book a call to find out more?
It's not a magic bullet, but if you are willing to take action, then joining the AGC could be the very best thing you do for you and your practice. You don't have to want to grow a £1million firm, just have the ambition to grow your firm in a way that works for you.