The Entrepreneurial Accountant: The journey to going solo
How to put together fixed-price packages
13 April, 2023
Future Cloud Accounting co-founder Francesca Tricarico shares some great tips to help you price your services at your accountancy practice.
Ever considered putting together fixed-priced packages for clients but not sure on the best approach?
Francesca Tricarico is the co-founder of Future Cloud Accounting. She’s got lots of experience in this area and has some great tips to help you when it comes to pricing your services at your accountancy practice.
Check out what she has to say about GoCardless being a gamechanger, how to adopt fixed pricing for the first time, and much more.
Here’s what they cover:
- Benefits of fixed-price packages
- The power of direct debit
- Creating monthly packages for clients
- Being open and honest is key
- Asking the right questions
- Clients will (sometimes) lie
- Keeping clients happy and helping them to do their best
Benefits of fixed-price packages
Welcome to the show, Francesca. I’d love for you to tell us a little bit about how you got started and your journey, and how you got to where you are today.
No, I really appreciate you asking me to be on your podcast.
So, basically, we started the business in 2019. My background was I had two children quite young, went back to college, decided I want to better my life and career, while my kids were still quite small, actually.
I was, I think, 25, 26 when I went back to studying and I did my AAT qualification.
What happened was at the time, I was working as a receptionist at a dentist, and I didn’t want to do the dental nursing.
I found it… no, I didn’t like looking in people’s mouths, put it that way, but what I did find, which I’ve always been curious, is about businesses.
I’ve always liked how businesses run, I asked a lot of questions within that practice as well, and I started going in the office more, and then that’s what led me on to doing the accountancy degree.
Lovely. Oh, well, thank you very much for sharing all that.
Today’s episode focuses on fixed-price packages, and that’s something that’s obviously become a bit more mainstream recently.
We’re talking years ago, it’s all time-based pricing, which is like how long is a piece of string? You can never really give your clients clarity on how much things are going to cost necessarily.
So, fixed-price packages have become obviously a lot more popular.
What benefits do you see in providing them or in your experience at Future Cloud?
Oh, we did it from day one.
I couldn’t understand why anyone would bill on the hour rate, and I felt sorry for the clients because their cash flow, it’s better to give them an idea of the monthly cost now upfront for the work you’re doing rather than accrue it or bill it next year.
You’ve got to be brave as well, and again, that is your system, you’ve got to stick with it, and if they say, “Oh, can I just pay it year-end?”, it very rarely happens because it’s better for our cash flow, better for their cash flow, you know where you both are.
And don’t be afraid that after – because you will quote wrong. It’s a given.
So, definitely one of the key things is having those open channels of communication just so that you are talking to them and keeping them updated about the thing that you spoke about way back when you started.
Because as you say, often it goes wrong, maybe there’s not complete information. They might tell you one thing because in their head, they see it one way, but actually, when you start doing it, it’s a completely different story.
What’s a simple business to somebody or an extremely complicated business to somebody is not the same to somebody else, so it’s a matter of perspective.
So, obviously, I think it’s good on the client side, as you said, because they have clarity on what things are going to cost them and their cash flow, and they can plan for it.
What’s the benefit for you guys?
The same reason, it’s for our cash flow. We know we’re getting the money upfront.
We do GoCardless, so it’s that confirmed retainer monthly. Obviously, you get one-off fees, and we’ve still got them now, and they’re a nice little added bonus, but I like to work off my monthly recurring revenue.
And as a business, that’s helped us massively.
The power of direct debit
Fair enough. Yeah, obviously, I guess, you get to see where you are every 30, 31 days, which is amazing. And this has got to do with GoCardless.
So if you don’t mind expanding a bit because I don’t know too much about it, to tell me a bit about it.
GoCardless is where you’re in control more. There is a fee.
At the beginning, I remember saying to (Future Cloud Accounting co-founder) Charlotte, “Maybe we should get them to set up a standing order.”
Then she said, “Oh, well, I found GoCardless, but there is a small fee, but then we’re in control of the direct debit more than the client.”
So, if we change an invoice, the direct debits will automatically change. You don’t have to go to the client, “Can you change your banking?”
So, all they do is send the link, they sign up with their bank details, job done, and then the direct debit notification will go to the client so they have time to see that that’s been collected, but it’s a nice little reminder.
So, GoCardless has been – yeah, it’s been amazing and we also recommend it for our clients as well on some of their recurring invoices.
Creating monthly packages for clients
Wicked, definitely something I’m going to go and look into.
And would you be able to give us an example of something, what a fixed price package might look like, and maybe how you could flex it up or down, depending on the support that a client might need?
Well, yeah, ours are very bespoke, and so again, it’s more the bookkeeping. Because we do it all.
We very rarely let a client do their own bookkeeping, and if they want management reporting as well, that’s an extra fee, and that obviously changes the whole thing because then you’re having regular quarterly, monthly conversations.
Bookkeeping, VAT returns, accounts, corporation tax return, personal tax return, within that year all is a monthly package.
So, you just need to split your costs and figure out what you want to charge for each one and do it maybe on turnover – on their turnover.
Yeah, especially if they’re trading businesses rather than investment businesses and things like that.
That definitely makes sense.
Being open and honest is key
And in terms of doing these, you’ve obviously had a fair few years of experience. Have you found that there are any limitations to doing them – fixed price packages this way?
No, I think so. Maybe if it’s halfway through a year?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
You just have to explain that to a client, which I do very easily.
Yeah, for sure. I get the feeling that you’re basically really open and honest with them, which I think is really what anyone wants from an accountant, just that sort of thing.
Do you guys invest time doing due diligence before in terms of can you show us your records, how much time do you invest in doing that, or just to make sure that you are getting it right?
I don’t think – I think this is the dilly dallying bit where you just sometimes can’t overthink it and look into it too much.
Like I say, you will get it wrong on a few of them, but yo’’ll learn from those little things and change it, and if the client is not happy with the increased fee, you’ve just got to move on quickly, I suppose, and then yo’’ll learn for next time.
As you get going, you’ll get more experience doing it, you’ll get savvy with it, and you’ll just get used to it.
So, yeah, don’t spend too long looking into records, let me look at your books, let me do this. You know, it’s too much.
Fair enough, and I think that’s the thing I think that stops a lot of people from doing anything in any walk of life really, is striving for perfection before you’ve even started doing the thing.
So, definitely that’s a really brilliant bit of advice just to get stuck in and, yeah, you’re going to make mistakes, and yeah, might go wrong, but just be open and honest.
Open and honest.
And take it from there.
Asking the right questions
The key questions are really, maybe how many banks have you got, because when they start creeping in with that many credit cards, and then they have the extra banks, the turnover, how many roughly invoices do you have a month, then that should be enough to carry.
And if it’s an e-commerce business, we definitely know that we need to add on a bit more because of the different income streams, like Stripe and whatnot, but again, that’s a learning thing.
We don’t bill on time, but then we probably – we do have a budget, right, to work towards, and if we do employ people, presumably we still, to a certain extent, judge our employees’ performance against that budget on time.
So, that’s one of the things that I haven’t really managed to get my head around yet.
We have projects that we use that obviously puts their time in, but I’m genuinely not seeing it as in how long they take because they’re, or this, that, and the other.
It’s not about that.
I like to see that I’ve quoted correctly. And, for example, if one of our – because we took on a Kickstarter as an apprentice, they are going to take longer to do an account, and I don’t penalise a client for that sort of thing.
I would definitely say you can’t do timesheets completely, no. I hate the word timesheet.
Projects, call each job a project because you have to see kind of what’s happening with it.
You’ve got to see, ooh, bookkeepers took a bit longer, or where seniors are on it and it took – that’s where you can record it, and I only look at it once a year. I don’t really check in.
And if you’re checking in on the team, there’s something wrong with the team, I’m afraid.
Tips on trying fixed-price packages for the first time
Yeah, fair enough, and I think all of this so far, what you said, I really like because the kind of business owner that you are seemingly is somebody who really goes with their gut and intuition.
And just, I guess, to move on, and just also just to wrap up fixed-price packages a little bit, some of our audience might be keen to trial it with some of their clients before they roll it out.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s approaching it for the first time?
What? So, approached it as in with their clients to then go to your client, “Oh, we’re going to do monthly”?
I would say, especially if they’re nice paying clients as well, definitely have a phone call with them about it.
“Hi, just to let you know we are just changing things slightly our end. We decided to put everybody on a direct debit because we think for your business, for your business first, it will be better for cash flow, and then for our business at the same time.
“We’ll see where we’re at every month, and that you’re not having this lump large bill at the end of the year.”
And they’ll be fine with it, because why wouldn’t that make sense?
Yeah, it does make sense. One of my apprehensions is that usually, these things come along with price increases, and those two chats tend to go hand in hand,.
Yeah, maybe you have to rip the plaster off and do both at the same time, and then it’s weeding out the ones that aren’t on your vision in your journey.
And then you’ll get fresh new ones that you can implement the direct debit straightaway.
Absolutely. You never even have to have that conversation.
No, it’s about being practical.
If the clients love what you’ve done in the past, I can’t see it being an issue. It’s how you approach it, as in being upbeat.
You don’t need to go, unfortunately – I hate the word “unfortunately”, it’s a bugbear of mine and a lot use it in their emails and whatnot.
Not in a bad way, but “Unfortunately, this is your tax bill” or whatever.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But again, don’t say, “Unfortunately, we are now moving to direct debit”, because it’s a negative, isn’t it?
It’s like “We’re moving to direct debit and this is the reasons why. We think for your cash flow it will be good, and it is good for our cash flow, and we’ll work together better by having that.”
I like it. Definitely keep the conversation light. Keep it, what I like to call, above the line. We don’t need to say, “Unfortunately, we’re sorry to…”
Yeah, no sorrys.
Yeah, no sorrys. We’re doing a nice thing for you guys and we need to change the way that we’re working.
What was your quickest lesson you learned when starting your business?
Clients will (sometimes) lie
Quickest lesson. Clients lie.
They will say, “Oh, there’s not much going on.”
Because then you look at their accounts and there’s quite a bit going on, and there’s more, like I say, banks and credit cards. You’ve almost got to ask each individual.
So, when you say, “Have you got any banks?” They will say, “Yeah, one.”
But they don’t think of a credit card as a bank either. That was a quite quick lesson.
And another thing which might help is if you are going as a recruit, start straightaway almost because it takes ages to find the right fit for you, or the right person.
Love both of those. Mine is billing quickly because people tend to be quick to forget. The problem you resolved once, it’s been resolved.
That was one of my first lessons.
A year later I was like “Oh, but do you remember, you had this?” And they were like “Yeah, so? Why are you billing me now?”
Bill when it hurts.
Well, this is another thing because billing – a lot of businesses are scared to bill.
Obviously, talking to a lot of clients myself, and it’s like, no, you’ve got to just rip that plaster off and get in the budget. You’re worth your time, you’re worth it.
Keeping clients happy and helping them to do their best
Absolutely. I’ve had a little bit of a nosey around your website and your LinkedIn, and it’s obviously no secret that you’ve got a big client base of very happy clients.
So, what’s your approach to keeping them happy and helping them succeed?
I guess it’s checking in a lot, and even with the clients you know that once you check in, you’ll get loads of questions back.
Another thing when people are busy – well, business owners are busy – they forget to check in with their clients.
And we did a client feedback form, which was helpful, and it might let them say the nice things about us, or remember why we helped them and worked as a team.
And also, don’t be afraid to become friends with them as such.
So, that’s probably a little bit of a different approach for an accountant and business owner.
What is your single best bit of advice for an accountancy practice that’s looking to grow?
Getting the systems right.
Luckily, Charlotte, she was very hot on that, she was very logical, she was very much on that from day one.
A system for everything like even a conversation you’ve had, we have on Teams now. We have a client under each channel. And if we’ve had a conversation with them, put it in there.
It’s amazing for a backup plan.
Clients listed in accountancy software where you can see even a prospect list. Because again, prospect lists are a gold mine. Get back in touch with them.
We have it now where a prospect list, I’ll get back in touch with them after a month, and then six months, and that’s your lot done. And then if you don’t come with us, fine.
Systems. Systems. Systems.
I’ve just received a book from someone off LinkedIn, literally yesterday. So, I shared on LinkedIn that I was reading a book – well, I have read the book, Traction, and I was going to forward it on to somebody else and sign it.
And then when that person receives it, they sign it, and then they forward it on to business owners.
And it’s not about accountancy, you don’t need it to be about accountancy books to run a business. So, then someone saw that and then actually sent me this one to read. And it’s Measure What Matters.
So, it’s more from becoming a better manager. I feel like I’m pretty good already.
No, there’s always room for improvement.
So, I’m really intrigued to read this. I’m going to start it this week, but you have to make time for these things, and I do struggle to make time sometimes.
Making the most. So, I went to a few right in the beginning of 2019, and definitely, for me, I loved listening to all the different speakers.
Go around all the suppliers if you – well, make time to go around the suppliers and introduce yourself. They will want to help you once they get to know you even more. Obviously, suppliers want you to buy from them anyway.
Find out what’s happening.
I collaborated a lot with accountants in groups and we had chats. And yeah, definitely go to the events because you’re so busy doing the day-to-day stuff, it actually gives you a bit of a breather to get out and do these things.
It is effort, though, because a lot of people put them off because they’re so busy working in their business.
But we definitely made time for them in the beginning.
Yeah, I don’t really go to many, but I do think that sometimes you might go to something for a day or even two, but it’s not about the eight or 10 hours, it’s about the one second or that one chat that you had that’s literally going to change your business.
100%. Yeah, loads of people are there with the knowledge who are willing to help you. And all the suppliers, they spoke to different accountants, they know how other people run their business, so it might help.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for sharing everything with us. Thank you for bringing your authentic self, your personality, and daring to be different.
Because I think that’s what the accountancy profession needs, more Francescas.
Aww, that’s really nice.
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