There’s a lot to be said for choosing a smaller accountancy firm, from a personalised service to real local knowledge.
Whether it’s artisanal wool from the Ribble Valley or traders at Preston’s street food market, small, independent and local are values that matter more and more in 2020.
I guess that’s partly a reaction to globalisation.
A century ago, almost everyone used the local butcher, baker and grocer. They drank beer from the brewery in their town and got their news from the Lancashire Evening Post, Preston Herald or the Preston Guardian, depending on their politics.
Then supermarkets came along, and Watney’s Red Barrel. Chain pubs, chain restaurants, chain stores and out-of-town shopping centres overtook the high street. The Guardian and Herald disappeared. (The Post is still going strong, though.)
Nowadays, though, things have gone further again: lots of us get our news from Facebook (based in California), order groceries from Amazon (Seattle) and get dinner from McDonald’s (Chicago).
I’m not snobby about big brands and chains – there’s a reason they’re popular and successful, not least the fact that economies of scale and efficient supply chains mean they’re able to compete aggressively on price.
But when it comes to professional services like accountancy, I do think being independent is generally better. Here are a few reasons why.
We get what being a SME means
Smaller accountancy firms have a massive advantage when it comes to working with small and medium-sized businesses: we’ve been there, we get it.
If I hadn’t met them through being their accountant, the chances are I’d have bumped into most of my clients at a business networking event in the North West of England at some point.
I know what it’s like to take the big step of leaving the comfort zone of working for somebody else. I’ve felt the excitement (and, let’s be honest, fear) of staking everything on a new venture. And I know how good it feels to make it work.
With larger firms, the chances are you’ll be dealing with somebody who is recently qualified or even still training. However good they are, the won’t have been in your shoes.
When I give my clients business advice, I’m talking from experience.
People, not job titles
If you’ve ever worked with a national or multinational service firm, you’ll probably have had the experience of being bounced around from one person to another, from department to department.
The person you talk to on your first three calls gets promoted, or moves to another office. The organisation restructures and your contact changes. They decide to use account managers one week, business partners the next and a call centre abroad the week after that. You never quite know where you are.
When you work with a smaller accountancy practice, you’re more likely to get a named contact who’ll be with you tax year after tax year. That’s certainly how it works at Alchemy. And if you need to talk to someone, you won’t have to go through an automated call system – you’ll know where to find me, on email, by phone or maybe through LinkedIn.
Even though these days, with cloud accounting and video conferencing, there’s less need for face-to-face meetings, it’s still good to know an option within the community is there. With a local accountant, it’s easy; with a firm whose head office is 500 miles away, not so much.
Competitive pricing as standard
Because we’re not paying for glass-fronted skyscrapers in Spinningfields or Canary Wharf, or in-house marketing teams with more employees than most of our clients, we’re able to offer better value for money.
Or, to put that another way, we practice what we preach. I preach to clients about the importance of budgeting, good record-keeping, tax planning and managing cashflow. Of course I do all of that myself, which means there’s no waste in my business.
That means I can offer you a personalised, transparent service at a fair price, while still achieving my own personal and business goals.
I’m going to emphasise the word ‘value’ there, too – it’s not about being cheaper but about offering a comparable service for less, or a better service for the same amount.
With a smaller firm, there’s also the opportunity to discuss pricing like human beings, because it’s not being decided by an algorithm at the head office in New York.
Living and working locally
When you choose a smaller firm, it’s more likely that the accountant you end up dealing with will have an accent like yours.
They’ll know the places where you do business and probably have a network of professional connections across the region that you can tap into.
For example, I can’t pretend to be anything but a Lancastrian – I’ve lived, studied and worked in the county my whole life, as you’ll have noticed if you watched the video I recently made about the Alchemy approach.
When creative agencies, technology firms or specialist contractors in the North West of England decide I’m the accountant for them, they’re not only supporting another local business – they’re getting a partner with a vested interest in seeing them succeed, because it will help the region succeed.
Small is beautiful
If you’ve had a frustrating experience with a bigger accountancy firm – if you’ve felt undervalued as a client or as if they don’t get where you’re coming from – maybe it’s time to switch to a smaller, local firm.
And if you’re about to sign up with an accountant for the first time, look around your town or city first. The chances are you’ll find a firm you can really click with.
If you’re based in Preston or anywhere in the North West of England and looking for an accountant, let’s talk.