Striking it out on your own means you have many plates spinning in the air as you try to get your practice off the ground. You don’t have to go it alone though.
Finding an outsourcing partner that really understands the needs of your start-up accountancy firm, and gives you the peace of mind that the compliance side of your business is in safe hands, is crucial and can make such a difference for you.
Here’s how to choose one:
1. Assess the scope of outsourcing
Make sure you think about your practice needs and determine whether outsourcing should be pursued or not. Start with creating a list of tasks that can be outsourced. Ask yourself, are these tasks part of your expertise? If you answered no, then outsourcing it may be the right solution. It is in this stage that the unknowns must be flushed out and confronted.
2. Talk to peers and colleagues
Speak to your colleagues, peers and even your competitors for recommendations. You can also contact institutions like ICPA, ICAEW and ACCA.
3. Interview several outsourcing providers
Talk to a few outsourcing providers, so you can compare them. Ask questions like:
- How would we work together
- How frequently will we talk – email, Skype, phone or even video conferences?
- Will I get a single point of contact of my offshore team
- Are you available throughout the year - will I get plenty of notice regarding planned holidays?
- Do you hire junior staff to do the day-to-day work?
- What’s your fee structure?
- How do you keep you’re a staff up-to date? Are you a Gold Level ACCA approved employer? Do you have internal training programs to keep staffs up-to-date?
Ask technical work related questions too, like:
- Can you produce accounts from incomplete records?
- Will you take client records in any format, e.g. Manual records, Sage, QuickBooks, etc.
- Will you produce a good enough analysis for me to be able to check the accounts?
- Will you fully reconcile Wages, PAYE, VAT, Bank, etc.?
- Will you perform a review of the accounts, summarise all the adjustments, list any errors or omissions, and highlight any concerns?
- Will you examine the accounts to spot incorrect analysis of income/expenditure by my clients?
- Will you work to agreed timescales? If amendments are needed, will this incur an extra charge?
- Do you report on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?
4. Check their specialist infrastructure, recruitment and technology capabilities
It’s always good to check the outsourcing partner’s infrastructure, recruitment and technology capabilities. It is important that they can recruit the resource needed to do your work. It might be worth spending a fortnight with your outsourcing partner to get a first-hand experience of their work ethos and culture. Get involved with them; attend the staff meetings; interact with your extended team. This is the best way to experience their work culture.
5. Ask prospective providers about your tax and compliance needs
Toward the end of the first call, check if they have understood your outsourcing requirements. A good way to find out is to ask them for advice on how they could manage your compliance jobs more efficiently. A good outsourcing provider, with years of collective experience gathered from working with hundreds of accountancy practices, will offer you best practice knowledge they have acquired.
6. Conduct a background check and ask them for references
Someone may sound good on the phone and even perform well in the interview. But you should do your research and make sure they are qualified:
- Review the outsourcing provider’s professional qualifications and experience. Are they members of ICAEW, ACCA or ICPA? Are they Xero certified advisors? Have their staff members worked in a UK accountancy practice environment?
- Discuss any add-on services you may need in the future
- Ask for references from current clients
- Look them up on social media. Google their reputation. Check their website or Facebook pages to see how they treat their employees.
7. Select someone you respect and communicate with
Cultural differences may mar business relationships. Choosing an outsourcing company is the same as choosing a business partner. Outsource to someone you know who can communicate – someone you are comfortable speaking honestly with.
8. Make sure they have industry experience
No two firms are the same just as no two fingerprints are the same. It’s important your outsourcing partner has worked with a practice of a similar size to yours. Having experience in dealing with clients similar to yours goes a long
9. Logistics and data security
To figure out how they ensure security policy and procedures are followed, ask them questions like:
- How do you protect data and comply with regulations?
- Do you have data/quality processes accredited by internationally recognised organisations like BSI ISO?
- Does my data leave the UK? Do you work on your servers? Can you access my computers remotely?
10. Confirm the fee structure in writing
As the old adage says, ‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’. So don’t partner with the cheapest provider you can find. They may not be able to manage your requirements proficiently. Ensure you set the prices with variances in advance before you agree to a contract.
11. Establish a review period and a governance process
Too many outsourcing relationships have failed as accountants do not prepare themselves for the relationship. Involve yourself. Stay in touch with your outsourcing partner. Use meetings and reports to exchange feedback on how the partnership is going. Meetings will keep your relationship on track and establish an effective governance process. To ensure success, a ‘tough love’ approach is required.
Your outsourcing partner is more than a supplier
The best outsourcing company will take care of your compliance functions so you can focus on growing your practice. So when you choose an outsourcing partner, make sure you take care and time to find someone who’s a really good fit. The right partner will streamline your accounting processes, enable you to eliminate workflow bottlenecks and in-crease the efficiency of your in-house staff as workload is distributed.