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Building Bridges or Burning Bright

Imagine this: you’re at the peak of your accountancy career, your practice thriving, your time your own, yet you decide it’s time for a change. So, you do the unthinkable—you sell up, trading balance sheets for the buzzing world of app development. But as fate would have it, the tech dream doesn’t quite pan out.  

You can hear more about that on Unpacking a Startup Failure

“Why not dive back into the accountancy pool?” That first potential client call hits! Reality check. The mere thought of crunching numbers for compliance work sends shivers down your spine and a little bit of sick in the back of your throat.  

I could hire a team again to do what I dread, but here’s the kicker—I’m about as good at managing as a cat is at swimming.  

The penny finally drops at the age of 42. I can’t cope with long-term relationships and without that intimacy you are selling small business owners down the river. 

The Long Haul: Long-Term Relationships 

Your approach toward client relationships often defines the trajectory of your career and the prosperity of your practice because the value of your practice is directly attached to your gross recurring fees. You must be able to build and nurture relationships with staff, vendors and most importantly clients. Without this you devalue your asset and the size of your pension pot but what happens when just thinking about it makes you sick to the stomach? 

Towards the end of running my accountancy practice the depression had taken hold and I’d feign sickness to avoid the office, the staff, and the clients. I just couldn’t deal with people anymore. Perhaps I never could. 

I’ve only ever managed to maintain a few relationships in my life. I have one person I would call a friend. That person given any situation would drop what they were doing to rescue you. We’ve been best friends since the age of twelve. Never argued, complete opposites of each other. We want or need nothing from one another other than good times.  

Emma and I will have been together nineteen years this July. I have not been single since the age of seventeen. Personally, I am a shambles and no good on my own. I don’t know what to do with myself which gets me into trouble. I must be kept busy to avoid being destructive. 

Here are the pros and cons I thought about when deciding to build another practice wasn’t for me and perhaps it isn’t right for you either. 

Portfolio Pros: 

Stability and Predictability: We all love a stable revenue stream, allowing for more predictable financial planning and resource allocation. Regular monthly fixed fees sprinkled with ad-hoc extras – yum. 

Deep Understanding and Customised Service: Over time, you gain an intimate understanding of your clients’ businesses, enabling tailored advice and services that can significantly boost their success—and, by extension, yours. As well as giving me the element of impact I desperately require. 

Trust and Loyalty: These relationships often evolve into partnerships based on trust, making clients more likely to seek your advice on a wider range of issues, potentially leading to expanded service offerings. You have a greater level of financial intimacy with your clients than anyone else and that is a great privilege. 

Portfolio Cons: 

Complacency Risk: The comfort of long-term relationships may lead to complacency, with both parties potentially becoming less proactive about seeking innovative solutions or improvements. 

“Comfort is the enemy of progress” PT Barnum 

Market Sensitivity: Over-reliance on a limited client base can make your practice vulnerable to market fluctuations affecting those key industries or clients. The start of the decline was losing my top three fees, over £100k in GRF, in a week whilst on holiday. I had scaled a team for the next phase of growth and the rug was pulled before we got there. 

Opportunity Cost: The focus on existing relationships may limit the time and resources available to pursue new opportunities, potentially stifling growth in other areas. I don’t want to be holden to clients all the time. I need some me time for learning and development but that never happens when you have lots of clients (see below). 

Ownership: The longer you work with clients the more demanding they can become of your time. Evening and weekend calls and emails become the norm and you accept that you have one hundred bosses a far cry from what you envisaged when becoming our own boss. 

The Prognosis: Why I Struggle 

I realised a colleague, who is neurodiverse, and I share similar traits, challenging my first judgment of them. I just thought they were a massive dick. Just like me. Curious, I explored the concept further, discovering “being on the spectrum” refers to autism, not old tech as I humorously mistook. Online assessments suggested I might share this neurodiversity. 

I’ve no idea what this means but I already feel more comfortable in not trying to conform and just being me. I lived inside my head for so long worrying about what I should think, how I should act, what I should say that I am constantly conflicted.  

I can now start to piece together what does and does not work for me and move on. 

The Fireworks: Impact-Driven Projects 

It’s all about the result. The big finale. The goals met and a job well done – RECOGNITION. There isn’t that defining moment with long term relationships. The best result is you manage to complete the journey together and nobody got seriously hurt. The likelihood is complacency sets in, you stop ‘seeing’ each other and heads are turned. Working on set projects, you know when your brief affair will end, and the rules engagement are clear. No nasty surprises if you take precautions. 

Project Pros: 

Diverse Experience and Learning: Working on a variety of projects across different industries can accelerate learning and personal growth, keeping the flame of passion and interest alive. I have always supported that when I have stopped learning I will retire. A thirst for knowledge and continual improvement is what gets me out of bed in the morning. 

Flexibility and Agility: Short-term engagements allow for greater flexibility, enabling you to adapt to market trends and technological advancements more swiftly. I can work on projects that fit around what I want to do and offer learning opportunities. 

Impact and Innovation: The drive to deliver significant impact in a short time can foster innovation, pushing you to develop and implement cutting-edge solutions. I am not working against a hundred filing deadlines so I don’t have to stick to the tried and trusted methods I can be creative and start with a blank piece of paper. 

Lack of Office Bollitics: I don’t do office politics. There is a right way and a wrong way and I’m not going to discount the right way to help tickle someone’s fancy. Working on projects I don’t need to get involved in bollitics. I’m in and out and more than happy to be used as the facilitator to push through changes needed.  

Project Cons: 

Income Volatility: The ad-hoc nature of short-term projects can lead to income unpredictability, requiring more rigorous financial planning and risk management. You don’t know when the next project might come along so you might need to be more conservative in your spending. Not a problem for me as an accountant. 

Relationship Depth: While impactful, these projects may not always allow the time to build deep, trusting relationships, potentially limiting referrals and repeat business. I can live with this if I am happy with the finished solution. 

Continuous Hustle: The need to constantly secure new projects can be exhausting and time-consuming, potentially detracting from work-life balance and personal development. I am trying to combat this by putting in place a referral network of IT support companies and accountancy firms who may not wish to offer a similar service or don’t have the ability. 

Striking a Balance: A Hybrid Approach 

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? A hybrid approach might just be the golden mean, allowing for the stability of long-term relationships while still fostering the growth, innovation, and impact that come from tackling diverse, short-term projects. Here’s how: 

Innovate Within Relationships: Use long-term client relationships as a platform for innovation, continuously seeking new ways to add value and keep the engagement dynamic. 

Selective Engagement: Be selective in taking on short-term projects that promise learning and growth, ensuring they complement rather than detract from your long-term client commitments. 

Personal Growth Focus: Regardless of the project’s length, prioritise learning and development, keeping the spark of interest alive through professional challenges and achievements. 

Mix and Match: Not all accountancy clients are created equal, and I have found a couple that give me all the above. This allows me to keep my hand in on the accountancy side, so I am still active in accountancy and more importantly it gives me a stable income that pays the bills. This is not full-time work. It allows the freedom to work on other projects without the need for any staffing. Remember I manage as well as a cat can swim. 

Conclusion 

Managing an accountancy practice is challenging, especially with the difficulty of sustaining long-term relationships, which can affect mental health, performance, and client retention. Excelling technically doesn’t guarantee success as a practice owner. Without a client portfolio, there’s no asset to sell for a future pension, yet preserving sanity is invaluable. 

Success in accounting isn’t uniform; aiming for a Finance Director role or Practice Owner is lucrative but not suited for everyone, including me. I value authenticity and efficiency over pretence and time-wasting. I’m embracing short-term, impactful projects over long-term commitments, seeking a balance that fosters personal and professional growth in a dynamic market.  

I’m launching Finance Projekt soon, aiming for a unique impact. Watch me thrive or fail spectacularly in this endeavour.