Accountancy services and a marathon: an unexpected journey
Stepping outside on a frosty morning for a ten-mile run with darkness enveloping your every step is akin to opening a bundle of ‘help’ emails days before the self-assessment deadline. After the initial feeling of dread subsides, you realise there’s only a certain amount of time to do the task and it will be fraught with pot holes and puddles.
So, what are the similarities between growing a modern accountancy practice and running a gruelling 26-mile marathon? And is there anything to learn from it?
First and foremost, I run to keep in shape: it’s the exercise I love. Marathons have been on the ‘to do’ list but thought they were just too difficult. That is until a lady in my running club was awarded a London Marathon place last year and was terrified by the very thought of it; but rather than pull out, she championed other members to run with her and engaged us in the process. Our support and the feeling when she achieved her goal was inspirational for the rest of the club. Gaining a place in the London Marathon with Action for Children was not a forgone conclusion, so the day I received the news was like winning a very large client – I was ecstatic.
At Murrison & Wilson, we spend time planning for December and January as there are only three working weeks in December and the usual flurry of enquiries in January, work must be structured. Then add a training plan for running the London Marathon on top of the seasonal pressure and you have what could be a disaster for both the business objectives and running goals.
There are tremendous similarities between training and running the business. Firstly, and there’s no getting away from it, they are both exceptionally hard work. But the rewards are worth it. To help achieve business goals, we use technology solutions that support our overall strategy, as well as addressing our clients’ needs and gives us the ability to add value. We use IRIS’ business critical software, as among many of the business benefits, we can work from anywhere.
On several occasions, it’s been too late to run after work, so the logical alternative is to run in the morning. However, given the lack of daylight at this time of year, I’ve changed my plan. Instead, I’ve got up, worked from home, trained in the light and then gone to the office. Creating the right working systems gives the flexibility to work anywhere at any time and this has been invaluable.
I mentioned my friend who engaged the running club during her training programme, inspiring everyone to support her goal and enthusing us along the way. The sense of community, a joint goal and celebrating milestones is a great parallel for the way we work with clients. As I am sure many of you have experienced, accountancy practices also take clients on a journey; from educating them on the financial basics of running a business to providing insight, strategic direction and new ideas. Working as part of a business team is just as rewarding as achieving marathon goals!
I intersperse my training with strength and conditioning gym sessions to prevent injury; building these sessions into my training plan guarantees I stay focused on the goal and not spend time nursing aliments and injuries during the process. Using technology resources isn’t the same as a gym workout (unless you are lugging around an old IBM mainframe in the hope of becoming the World’s Strongest Man) but they do provide flexibility and efficiencies. The IRIS resourcing facility enables us to complete routine accounts and payroll work without the costly overheads associated with additional staff. Creating systems around us (just like going to the gym) means we can concentrate on the key tasks, providing value-added consultancy and developing the business.
There’s a volume of running miles I need to reach my marathon goal: it’s now upwards of forty each week. It’s during this time that my head clears and gives me space to think. Time to think about clients, the recommendations we provide, how we can add value and most importantly, what’s best for them. Accountancy practices are always busy, so placing myself in a position to think through the best cause of action has proven invaluable.
Running time also enables me to think about the future of the business. We all have problems we need to address and invariably this time gives me ideas as to how to solve them. How do we help interpret the data from clients, reduce processing time and add more consultancy? Internet based accountants are becoming common place, so we need to demonstrate and keep the value in client relationships. And quite often, creative solutions come to mind that solve problems or help retain competitive advantage.
The takeaways from my experience so far are important ones. Make sure you have the systems behind you and get the structure right. If I was haphazard at work, my training would fall over, so infrastructure and mentality must be solid.
As the adage says, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. I cannot cut any miles from training as I’ll feel it on the day and won’t get the results. Shortcuts just don’t work – in running, life or owning a business.
Take half an hour each day to think about strategy. I’ve learnt that if you do anything for 18 days in a row it will become habit. Taking time out helps planning, consolidates thinking and if you are of the same ilk as me, gives you time for exercise. And we all need that.