Friday, 22 May 2009

Today's tip: Always read the small print 2 (good news)

One of the heap of forms I have to fill in to start my practice, is, of course, with the ICAEW to ask if they'll let me have a practising certificate and have paying clients of my own.

That form is short, clear and well written.

It comes with a thicker "Accompanying Notes" section, which I nearly decided I didn't have time to read.

Cue Captain Bertorelli - "Mamma mia. What-a mistake-a to make-a".

Hidden in the notes was a paragraph saying that there's an exemption from paying the £253 fee for the first year or so of practice, available to be applied for, by sole practitioners who either haven't had a practising certificate in the last 3 years, or haven't applied for the exemption before.

I like the ICAEW.

Another good reason why you should always read the small print.

Doing that today has potentially saved me over £600 for the next year. Which is a lot when you're a one-woman start-up business.

I think I'll spend the money I save on a nice website for my hopefully-soon-to-be-new practice.

Today's tip: Always read the small print 1 (bad news)

My subcontract work has gone from being regular to ad-hoc.

That's one reason why I've decided it's time to bite the bullet and set up my own accountancy practice, so I can have my own accounts and tax clients as well as making videos. Which in turn means filling in a lot of forms. Including applying to the ICAEW for a Practising Certificate without which I can't take on any paying clients.

I wanted to have a nice snappy virtual office address (because I work from home) and move my company's registered office address there. I found a business centre local to me, which offers virtual office services, and asked them if that was OK. They said yes, and promised to put the forms in "tonight's post".

That was Tuesday. The forms arrived today. And the postmark was yesterday (Thursday). Black mark.

And when I read the small print, not only were they asking for references from a previous landlord and from the bank (for £30 a month - I ask you!), but it said "thou shalt not use our address for thy registered office".

I rang to ask.

They checked and said it's illegal to use a virtual office as a company's registered office.

I didn't know that. Thankfully I found out before paying any money over. But I wish they'd checked when I first asked :-)

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Online accounting for accountants: Benefit 2

My last post dealt with what happens if you have clients on lots of different versions of the same program.

What if you've also got clients who use lots of other programs? So as well as Sage, you've got clients on QuickBooks, TAS, Cashflow Manager, and maybe one or two on MYOB thrown in for good measure.

Then what happens if your clients get stuck and need help posting a transaction?

Do you have staff in your office who know their way round all those packages, and can provide telephone support for your clients?

Or do your clients have to sign up to additional, expensive, support cover from the software provider, because you can't help them?

And then what happens at year end, as your staff struggle to extract meaningful information from a program they're not comfortable and familiar with?

I can tell you what happens - you get an angry, frustrated team member and a lot of time to write off.

It may just be my own experience. But the online accounting packages I've seen all have support bundled in as part of their monthly fee. Nothing extra to pay.

And many of them, as well as written "help manuals", have extra, free, Help features.

FreeAgent uses a GetSatisfaction forum so that users can swap ideas and tips. KashFlow has a "send us a query" feature that's always been very quickly answered when I've used it.

But the best Help feature I've seen so far belongs to Winweb, who have 24-7, live, instant, chat support available. Jason Holden tells me that's even operational on Christmas Day.

So, for better support and help for your clients and staff, the online packages take the medal.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Online accounting for accountants: Benefit 1

Are you an accountant in practice?

Do you have clients who keep their records on desktop software?

How easy is it to switch from one client to another?

Let's say you've got clients on Sage. Some of them use Sage Instant. Some use the old-style Line 50 in all colours from version 10 onwards. Some use the new-look 50 Accounts.

So if you've finished looking at one client's books and want to look at another, you've got to close the program you've got open, remember which version the second client is on, open that program, restore a backup... and umpteen clicks of the mouse later, you're there.

BUT... if your clients all kept their records online, using the same system (whatever that may be), then just about every online accounting software program I've seen has a facility to switch quickly from one client to another.

Pearl does. Winweb does. I think FreeAgent does, too.

So no more faffing about changing from one different version of the same product to another.

Wouldn't that save you a lot of time?

Thursday, 7 May 2009

MindBites screencast competition

Lon Naylor sent out a hat tip that MindBites are running a screencast competition.

I've entered two videos for it; the video on how to record a simple macro that you can see on this blog, and one of the videos about pivot tables that I made for Glen Feechan.

If you'd like to vote for either of these videos, please click the button below.

Thanks very much!

MindBites Screencast 4 Cash Contest

Friday, 1 May 2009

Sample from Sage Tricks for Accountants series

The video below is a sample from my new "Sage Tricks for Accountants" video series.

Any feedback or thoughts on it gratefully received.

For more information about the series please click here.

If you can't see the video, you will need to download QuickTime. Click here to go to the QuickTime site.

Why do accountants put themselves through it?

I was chatting on Twitter yesterday with Stuart Ramsay of Accountancy Extra.

We both agreed that we'd got a wardrobe full of T-shirts saying something like "I've prepared accounts from crap records", and wishing we dared to turn up to the ultra-posh Accountancy Age awards dinner in November sporting one of these T-shirts apiece.

What I don't understand is why accountants put up with being presented with crap records year after year after year.

I remember one client back down in Buckinghamshire who kept his books on Cashflow Manager. Every month he put through an "adjustment" of several thousand pounds to make his bank rec balance. Then, when we charged him a large fee to correct all his "adjustments", he would turn round and say, "But I've balanced the bank!"

Added to that, this guy was also a thoroughly unpleasant person who had been known to shout at the payroll team and swear at the partner.

Yet he was a long-standing client!

Just recently, I was working on another client's books.

An Excel cashbook - for a huge ironmonger's firm. It didn't agree to the bank. I had to spend hours ticking it back. The manager said they'd tried to get him to make his books better but to no avail.

"Then why is he still a client?" I asked.

"Because he'll pay whatever we ask him to!" she replied.

That may well be so. And I know there's a credit crunch on and fee-paying clients are a very valuable commodity.

Richard Murphy tells the tale of how when he was in practice, clients had 2 years to get their records up to his standard. After that, if they were still presenting him with rubbish records, he sacked them.

I admire him for that. It's what I wish - and hope - I'd have the guts to do if I ever set up my own practice. It's what I wish all accountants did. Because even in these hard times, there's got to be people out there who won't give you crap records if they're taught how not to.

I guess sometimes it's hard to do that with existing clients you've known for years and who have become friends.

But someone like the rude guy from Bucks should have been straight on the "please close the door after you" pile!