Firms in the spotlight
There are highs and lows in running any business and in each edition of the Digital Accountancy magazine we are going to deep dive into some of the tech focussed accountancy practices to learn a little more about the team and how they operate, the background on the business and their future goals and aspirations.
In this edition, we spoke to Youtopia Solutions and Nephos to learn some more about the founders behind the firm and how they juggle their work and family life.
Youtopia Solutions is a forward thinking accountancy practice in Milton Keynes founded by Katherine Robertson and David Adderson in July 2017. The firm is an all Xero practice and operates on a fixed fee basis.
Katherine is a member of the Digital Accountancy Show Advisory Board and we caught up with Katherine to find out more about the story behind their firm and what their goals are for the future.
It is great to see that Youtopia Solutions is going from strength to strength and you and David must be very proud. What did you do before you started the business and where did you get your experience to allow you to run your own accountancy firm?
“I started my career in Santander as an IT graduate trainee in project management then, after a few years, I took a career break to have my children. During this time I retrained as an accountant primarily to help in my husband’s business then, when the children started school, I became Head of Accounts in a local marketing company.
When the business relocated to Kent, I took a 2 week temporary role in an accountancy practice. Fast forward 5 years and I was the Practice Manager trying to evolve the practice and looking to transition onto cloud technology. Whilst in this role, I learnt about the industry, the emerging technology and implemented changes to make the practice more efficient and profitable.”
You and David Adderson are the partners behind Youtopia Solutions so how did you get to know each other and decide that you want to set up a firm together?
“David was the cloud specialist at the accountancy practice where I worked. We both were interested in new technologies and more streamlined ways of working, so we started the idea of creating our own practice.
As we were starting the business from scratch, we didn’t have to transition the current clients from their systems onto cloud solutions which made things a lot less complicated.
We both work well together and both have a clear defined approach where we use our core technologies efficiently to enable us to offer the best level of support to our clients. At the moment, there is just David and myself working in the business but we are planning to recruit a team member early in 2020.
Ultimately we decided to set up our own practice to be able to deliver a better level of service. Our fee structure means that we could spend more time with each client, truly deliver real time information and be responsive to their queries. This gives us the most job satisfaction and also benefits the clients. Our focus is helping clients to achieve their personal goals by setting targets and regularly reviewing them.”
Can you explain why you chose Youtopia Solutions as the name for your business.
“The name comes from Utopia (a place/state where everything is perfect) and is also about You, the business owner, and the personal goals that you want to achieve.
Solutions comes from our service where we aim to provide a solution for businesses enabling them to feel in control over their business finances.”
As well as implementing the apps, we also provide training and support for the employees. It is important that they are fully trained to avoid problems later and to stop them from reverting back to old processes.”
Do you have an ideal client?
“We have found that we are most effective with clients with whom we share a similar mindset irrespective of their size or industry. These clients typically are open to change, keen to adopt new technology and will push the roll out of new processes in their business.
They also have an interest in their numbers and want to understand where they are, how they are performing and what do they need to change to achieve their growth objectives.
The most valued aspect of our service is the close relationship that we have with our clients. We are always able to talk or meet with our clients at short notice when required. We specifically want to maintain a smaller client base in order to ensure that we are available for our clients and responsive to their needs so that we develop strong relationships with them and viewed as part of their business.”
It is a bit of a roller coaster running your own business and there are lots of highs and lows. How do you manage this and keep going? Have there ever been times where you considered giving up your dream and going back to work for someone else?
“We have definitely experienced a roller coaster ride so far, but we have found for every low there is a high just around the corner! I can honestly say that I have never considered giving up on the dream. We have a 5 year plan and are determined to achieve it, focussing on the long term goals helps us get over the occasional dips. It also helps having a business partner, we act as a see saw supporting the other when we have lows.
We also have a mentor through the Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme which we are undertaking. Through this, we have monthly sessions to check our progress and help us overcome any roadblocks. Our mentor’s belief in us has given us a huge boost and she has challenged us to keep progressing and take the next step rather than procrastinate.”
I remember the Sunday night feeling - dreading work the next day. Do you ever get this now you run your own business?
“I have definitely had a few sleepless nights but I don’t ever dread work. The best aspect of running my own business is the variety that it brings. I definitely wouldn’t have thought that I could make sales, post on social media or enjoy networking, but I really do now.
For me, I have found my own version of these activities. My sales technique is more about building relationships and connections that lead to conversations about work. I try to do social media, but there is definitely a lot to improve on. I also tried multiple networking groups before I found one that I truly looked forward to. This is the biggest bonus for me, no one is forcing me to do anything, but there are roles that need to be completed so I find my own way of fulfilling them.”
Being a mum has lots of challenges in itself - do you ensure you have time away from work and you devote this to your family?
“I feel that I am around more for my family and I don’t worry about having to ask for time off, come in late to see a special assembly or leave early for sports day. But I definitely don’t work less!
I just work around my family and try to get the best of both worlds.
Some days I manage it better than others and it is difficult to leave work when it is in your home. But with time I hope to get more disciplined. It’s not a chore though as I really love what I do! I also feel that part of my role as a working mum is demonstrating to my children that it is possible to run a company and be a mum. My daughter is already doing my husband’s bookkeeping!”
Do you have any tips or advice as to how do you organise your diary?
“I have tried various ways of organising myself but my current plan is working well.
I have all of my tasks for the month in a spreadsheet with a colour coded system for checking progress. I work through the list daily depending on what information has come in. But I always start my day with emails and client bookkeeping. I like having a constant visual reminder of the things that I need to do, just in case I get side tracked…”
What are the 3 biggest challenges that you face in your work?
“I would have to say the 3 main challenges we face are -
1) Remember to enjoy the moment every time you achieve a milestone - then think about the next one you want to achieve!
2) The apps are constantly developing so we must keep up to date with app developments and new apps to the market. It is necessary to review these apps and work out if they are better than the existing ones we use and worth the time investment in training and rolling out to clients
3) The third challenge is to find the right employees who can join us on our journey and who would like to work with us!”
What would be your 3 top tips to an accountant thinking about or who has just set up their own cloud based accountancy firm?
“My top three tips are -
1) Formulate a 5 year plan of what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. Then make sure that all your decisions align with achieving your 5 year plan.
2) Know your strengths and point of difference, this will help you to attract your kind of clients
3) Make sure you know your pricing and be confident in it when speaking to potential clients.”
What are your ambitions and what does success look like for you? What are your 5 year and 10 year goals?
“Success for me is easing the financial pressure on my family and enjoying regular holidays together.
I would like to have multiple regional offices that are part of business hubs. This will mean building alliances with other professions such as HR, IT, Marketing and Admin. I know that we will achieve it, so I am enjoying the journey. This is all part of a 5 year plan.”
Finally, what is your one killer piece of advice to firms looking to automate and improve the efficiency of compliance work?
“My advice would be to start by sketching out your workflow, then question every step and ask yourself is it necessary and can it be automated? Also consider how to ensure every employee and client follows the same process.
It is very easy to over complicate things so try to strip everything back as much as possible.”
Nephos was founded by Joe David and is a technology focussed digital accountancy firm based in Cheltenham. The firm embraces digital technology and uses online cloud software to work with clients in order to make a real difference to their businesses. They use a wide range of apps to ensure that they focus on providing real-time advice and support for their clients, as well as delivering their statutory compliance requirements.
Nephos operates on a fixed fee basis and predominantly use Xero accounting software for their clients. The team has grown over the years and now stands at 8 comprising of Joe, 4 accountants, a digital transformation specialist, an apprentice and an administration assistant.
We met up with Joe David to find out a little more about the background of Nephos, how he runs his business and his goals for the future.
So why did you decide to start your own accountancy practice? Did you work in practice before?
“I started Nephos because I wanted to service clients with more advisory based services rather than the standard compliance-based services typically provided by an accountant. When I started the firm, technology was just at the beginning of its journey and whilst I knew we could provide more advice to clients, it was very time consuming to provide this advice. The introduction of technology has enabled us to automate a significant amount of data entry meaning we can offer more solid advice to our clients.
I have run Nephos for nearly 6 years now, prior to this I worked in industry for various manufacturing businesses gaining a vast amount of experience.
I have now been in the accounting industry for over a decade and have seen a huge amount of change over that time!”
You were previously called DS Accountancy. Why did you decide to rebrand your firm to Nephos?
“DS Accountancy always included an element of my name (David) in the title and we wanted the firm to be more than just about me as the owner. We also needed both internal and external stakeholders to understand the direction which the business was taking and the new branding shows that. We also wanted a standalone brand that stood out amongst our peers!”
Did you ever consider setting up a firm with other partners or did you always plan to do it on your own?
“I did initially have a partner but he did not match my work ethic or desire to grow a successful firm so we parted ways amicably early on. I do have a business coach who supports me both personally and in the business. I also have a great team who love to get involved and help!”
Technology is clearly at the heart of your business, what core software do you use and why?
“Our key software start point is Xero and this is the hub of everything we do! Then our onboarding process includes Practice Ignition and Karbon.
Our app stack comprises of a wide range of apps including Receipt Bank, Pleo, Digital banking solutions, Fathom, Futrli, Clarity as well as others. All the apps we select have been extensively trialled and tested with our philosophy in mind. We never ‘sell’ an app and ensure it is right for a client before offering it to them.”
You offer a range of services to your clients including one you call ‘Your Business Journey’ which uses data to help a client achieve their goals. Can you expand on that for us?
“Our focus is on helping a client achieve their goals and this philosophy is across all our services.
The business journey service includes offering support through start up, growth and sale - utilising partners we have built relationships with to support this. We start every prospective meeting asking our client what they envision for their business and personal journey and this supports how we approach working with the client."
Who is your ideal client and why?
“Our ideal client is a business which has a turnover of between £250k and £2m and looking to use technology to assist with business growth.”
So a hot topic is that compliance is dead (or at least fees are being squeezed). Do you agree with this statement and how are you addressing this issue - or is it an opportunity?
“I agree that compliance fees will be squeezed and I also agree that they should be as they offer little value. I do not agree however that compliance is dead. Compliance is the backbone of advisory and therefore needs to be performed to a high level in order to offer high level forward looking advice. Accountancy firms who solely focus on compliance will see their business shrink but it will never die.”
What excites you about your business and makes you look forward to coming to work everyday?
“I am excited about the opportunity we have as a business to support our clients using technology. I love my job and love the business we are building so yes I do enjoy coming to work!”
Many people say that they work even harder than ever when they run their own business. Would you agree with this statement?
“I have always had a very strong work ethic and this was part of my decision to set up my own firm. I do agree however that you need to work harder when running a firm as the working day never stops - for example, we are doing this at 10.30pm!”
Given how busy you are, how do you keep track of your appointments and organise your diary and to do list?
“We have an inhouse administrative assistant who assists with organising my diary and also myself! My ‘to do’ list is online on Karbon and I get reminders on my phone to help remember key calls or tasks. We also use Calendly to book meetings.”
You have already mentioned the pace of change in our industry, how do you keep up with all the changes in technology?
“Reading articles, using social media and going to events such as the Digital Accountancy Show! I am lucky in that I am passionate about tech and love learning about it!”
What would be your 3 top tips to an accountant thinking about or who has just set up their own cloud based accountancy firm?
“Number one is definitely to focus on what you wish to achieve for yourself in life and work your business back from this.
Then learn as much as you can about automation in order to streamline the basic tasks so you can focus on supporting clients.
Lastly, love what you do and show passion for it and you will succeed!!”
What do you see as your 3 biggest pain points at the moment?
“These would have to be -
- A large workload and trying to ensure we keep on top of it.
- Transitioning existing clients to our new approach.
- Trying to work out our niche and where we specialise.”
What about the future, where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What are your Ambitions for Nephos?
“We have very large growth ambitions for Nephos and I am excited about the future. We are looking both nationally and internationally!
In 10 years time I see myself as an industry expert on digital tech and the fintech market!”