Phil Ellerby was working 70 hours a week in a shed – making £50,000 a year in GRF. Fast forward four years and he’s putting in a leisurely 35 hours per week, in return for £1,000,000 GRF. This is how he and his team made the staggering transformation.
“We wouldn’t have the things we have today, if it weren’t for AVN. I don’t think I’d be married. I don’t think I’d have three kids, I’d have two. The cars we drive, the house we live in and the lifestyles we’re able to lead – it’s nice”.
Northern Accountants – In a nutshell
As at the time of interview in 2017, Northern Accountants consists of 15 team members over two bases in Leeds and Doncaster. Today they help clients ‘do less work and earn more money’.
Originally set up in 2008 Phil Ellerby, Managing Director of Northern Accountants, now heads up a flourishing firm and enjoys plenty of family time (as well as time spent on the golf course!).
But it wasn’t always this way. Just four years ago life at the firm looked very, very different…
Life before AVN…
Northern Accountants began as Phil being forced into practice ownership. Having set up the business, a long line up of moves followed – first into Leeds City Centre, onto numerous (less expensive) locations, and finally into a serviced office – where they paid “a fortune for a box”. That was when Phil moved into his shed. Great for cash flow. Not so great for health and safety since it was fed by an extension lead running down the garden.
At this point he was handling bits of everything – payroll, bookkeeping, company secretary submissions, you name it. Working weeks were never-ending – and the massive effort output far outweighed income.
“We got to a point where I was working seven days a week, 12/13 hours a day and not making any money. I had to worry about whether my card would be declined in Asda, and where I’d get my mortgage payment from”.
This is how they did it…
“We started with the free AVN resources. Then, in late 2012, we attended the AVN Proactivity workshop”.
Putting their pricing up with Time’s Up…
After signing up for AVN membership, the biggest turning point in the business was pricing properly with AVN’s ‘Time’s Up’ tool.
The first three clients they applied ‘Time’s Up’ on, they won. The difference in the fees on these three clients alone paid for their AVN membership. Now that’s an impressive ROI.
Implementing Direct Debits
After implementing client direct debits, the balance sheet for Northern Accountants was transformed in the space of a year.
On the 31stDecember 2012 they were working 6 months in arrears, and by 31stDecember 2013 they were getting paid in advance. The remaining fees also went up by 40%.
“You choose how you work in this industry”.
Treating their team fairly
The team at Northern Accountants have become invested into its healthy culture. They receive company performance related bonuses, they never miss their child’s nativity or sports day, and they always have their birthday off.
Better service, and a better product
Northern Accountants used (and still use) the AVN Numbers system to differentiate themselves. They aren’t old school traditional accountants. They know that businesses don’t want this anymore – instead they want their accountants to help them to grow.
The team at Northern Accountants are human – and clients gain confidence in knowing how the firm has progressed. This openness shows their clients that they’re the ‘experts to take them to the next level’.
“We talk about the fact that we nearly went bust – that’s key. Our team has a licence to engage with our clients”.
They undertook a survey…
Phil asked his clients whether they needed him, in particular, to continue handling their accounts. The answer was unanimous – they were happy for any member of the team to look after them. This freed Phil up for growing his business (rather than undertaking tax computations).
Personal development planning for the team…
Every team member at Northern Accountants has a learning pathway that reflects their goals.
“My proudest moment to date relates to a client who was initially in a position where they were working from a side extension, struggling for cash, and in need of a bigger home in order to adopt. We put the systems and the processes in, and they achieved all their goals, including adopting a child.
It’s a fantastic feeling – one of my proudest moments”.
The AVN tool ‘Wow How’ has provided the Northern Accountants team with many pointers for making their client experience ‘wow’-worthy.
“Not many people like going to see an accountant”.
They’ve put in place little things to ensure every client meeting is exceptional – they ensure the team know the name of the next client to arrive; they displaytestimonials on the wall; have a drinks fridge (with champagne); provide a warm, relaxing atmosphere and provide branded materials that are designed for the exact type of client. All of which helps to create meaningful client relationships.
What’s next for Northern Accountants?
“Every October, which is my wife’s birthday, we set personal goals. The first was to clear our £15K credit card debt. The following year it was to see more of each other. The next, it was an extension – and then we moved house. Next year we want to take a month off.
So my firm must run completely without me. To achieve this, the systems, the management structure and the people development must all be a big focus”.