Caroline Hocking is the owner of Mona Accountancy, located… wherever she wants to be. Caroline has dyed red hair, piercings, tattoos and rides a motorbike, but nothing surprises us anymore. We stopped expecting grey hair, suits and ties a while back.
It’s been over a year without exhibitions and we’ve missed seeing users face to face. Instead, we’ve been reaching out more with surveys, webinars and this – our regular ‘AM in Practice’ series. This week, we had the pleasure of speaking to Caroline Hocking, owner of Mona Accountancy. Caroline’s practice is entirely online and she’s almost a year into using AM.
Dreams of a coffee shop turn into a love of… taxes
At school, Caroline dreamt of owning a coffee shop. “So I did business studies,” she explains. “And hated it… apart from business finance. In those classes, while they were explaining what to do, I was just cracking on. I found it really easy.”
“I never wanted to be an accountant originally. I don’t think it’s most kids’ dream when they’re little!”
Thinking she was ‘too young’ to be an accountant, Caroline shelved the idea for a bit. Then came across an AAT course, which included funding. “I took to it like a duck to water, absolutely loved it. It was like, ‘OK, I think I want to be an accountant!’”
“I loved that role, but it wasn’t ticking boxes for me in terms of doing things like tax – which is what I really love doing.”
Ideally Caroline wanted to work in practice straight away. But struggled to find a role with no experience and getting that experience without an accountancy role. “I took a job with a construction company as a stepping stone… and stayed there for 12 years!”
Cloud technology – ideal for the nomadic military life
Caroline started her practice as ‘a bit on the side’ back in 2013, staying on in her fulltime role until late 2019. The kick she needed to set up on her own came when her husband – who’s in the RAF – got a new posting. “I was quite fortunate that I decided very early on that I wanted to be a cloud-based practice. I took on Xero in around 2015.”
“My unofficial motto is I enjoy tax, so you don’t have to. If only if we can take HMRC out of the equation, it would be much easier!”
“That was the point where I decided that I could work from anywhere in the world. I could be sitting in a coffee shop in Germany or a beach in Bali, and I could still work with my clients in the UK. Which worked out really well for when I met my now husband.” The latest move may only be from Cornwall to Hampshire, but the world is now Caroline’s oyster.
AM: Curing letter-of-engagement headaches since 2017
Caroline discovered AccountancyManager in 2020, although we’d been on her radar for a while. “It was one of those days where I was having to write another letter of engagement. I had a Word template where I could change details, but it’s the amount of time I was spending…”
“I’m an accountant, I want to be playing with numbers, not writing really long letters of engagement and doing admin work. That’s not what I’m here to do. That’s not what I find fun.”
“I was getting all these new enquiries coming up to tax season and I don’t have time to spend hours reviewing letters of engagement. Making sure I’ve got the correct schedules in place for the services they need, making sure I’ve got all their details right in it, then getting all of the details back so I can do their AML checks. And making sure I’ve got all of that correct personal information as well.
“AM has come up a few times over the years and I’ve thought, ‘Yeah, that looks really cool, but I’m too small.’ But it was just that moment with the letters of engagement of…’I’ve had enough’”
“That was the moment that I realised ‘this pays for itself’. Straight away, that pays for it.”
“From that very first instance of not having to write my letter of engagement – because I can tick the services, AM sends it out, the customer accepts the proposal and does everything through the online portal and AM data-collects everything for me… That was the moment that I realised ‘this pays for itself’. Straight away, that pays for it. Just the amount of time I saved and didn’t have to worry…. brilliant. I wish I’d taken it on earlier!
The evolution from paper, to emails, to online Client Portals
Digital technology has evolved alongside Caroline’s accountancy career. When she was doing her AAT exams, level three involved paper tests and exam centres. By level four, everything was online. Caroline also experienced the dying days of filling in manual ledgers. But already, she has moved on from sending and receiving client documents via email…
“AccountancyManager just makes life so much easier for firing out letters of engagement and the Client Portal.”
“It’s great that people want to email me stuff, but from a security standpoint, that’s not ideal. Having that portal, where I can upload stuff for them to e-sign and also send me documents, has been handy.”
“The e-sign has been great. I’m not having to plug that into a different software to send over things. It’s just all there in one place for them. So they just sign it and it’s there. It’s just nice and straightforward. I’m not firing things off from different areas and it comes with my email signature attached, so it looks like it’s me as well.”
Automation: Managing different year ends, so you don’t have to
When we talk about automation in AM, we often discuss automated emails separately from the automatically generating Task List, for simplicity’s sake. But really, they’re intrinsically linked. Your clients’ accounting dates and deadlines (from Companies House) power both the emails and your Task List. It’s this combination that Caroline likes in particular.
“It saves me having to remember who I need to chase or who I need to ask for things. Especially with Limited Companies where you have variable year ends. It’s easier with Self Assessment being on the 31st of January. But trying to remember who needs what and when for Limited Companies can be challenging.”
“Instantly, from the moment they onboard, they’re in that workflow. Emails are pinging off, saying ‘I need this’ and ‘don’t forget to pay your tax.’”
“Whereas AM just has those emails ready to go. I’ve set up the frequency of the chasing emails and also my in-house deadlines for when I want things to be achieved by – the Target Dates. So I can work all that together. I’ve loved the reminders for payments on account for my self assessment clients too. Just reminding them, ‘don’t forget your July payment’. It’s nice that I don’t have to remember to remind them.”
“When I first signed up with AM, I didn’t use the automated emails as I was a bit unsure. Now everything’s on pause so I can review it, but I will get to a point where I won’t have it paused and everything will go instantly.”
Using the Task List to manage your time for you
“I log in each day, to see what’s on the top of my list, what’s coming up. Just have a quick scroll and go ‘yeah, those are the bits I don’t need to worry about’. Even down to the 64-8 authorisations, being able to see ‘oh, I’ve still not had that back.’ Just that little place marker in the back of my mind.”
“It’s handy to see what I’ve got coming up rather than having my calendar and trying to field whose year ends are when. I can see what I’ve received and what I’m working on just. I like that it links to the Companies House changes as well. So when things are filed it gets updated.”
Keeping track of all missing details and 64-8 errors
While automated emails, the Task List, client onboarding and the portal might be our ‘headline’ features. Caroline has found a few unexpected surprises too.
“I do like that it notifies me of things. Even down to just the little things. Like the 64-8 when you try to do that and there’s an error, it’ll tell me. So I’m then not waiting around for something that’ll never turn up because it’s been an issue. I know there’s been an issue. So I can sort it.”
“I can actually do the work that I’ve set up the practice to do. I can do the accounts rather than a lot of admin.”
“And when clients haven’t uploaded certain things, I can go through and the system tells me that I’m missing key bits of information. Like their Companies House authorisation code. So I can go back to the client and ask for it. It just saves me all of the admin headaches. I can actually do the work that I’ve set up the practice to do. I can do the accounts rather than a lot of admin.”
Xero integration: Use it however it suits you
There isn’t one perfect way to use AccountancyManager. We simply provide the tools (and as much help as you need) and you can apply them in the best way for you. A good example is Caroline’s invoicing process.
“I still do all of my invoicing through Xero, so I don’t use the invoicing feature in AM as it could be used. But I do like that it pulls information from my invoicing in Xero and I can see that on my dashboard. Who owes me what, whether my income is up or down. I quite like that feature, just at a glance to see where I’m at.”
AML and risk assessments: Cutting out more extraneous software
Finally, Caroline ends her run-down of ‘favourite things’ about AM with the in-system AML checks and risk assessments.
“I used to use Verify [for AML checks] and it’s effectively the same thing, it just means I’m not using separate software. And it’s cheaper because you’re buying the credits in bulk instead of paying for one check at a time. I like, then, that the completed AML check is stored within AccountancyManager, so it’s all there.
“Wherever I need to be. As long as I have WiFi and my laptop, I’m good to go anywhere. I don’t need all of my files.”
“I’ve started using the risk assessments as well because I’d always had those separate. I like that you can then upload things like the ID checks into the risk assessment. So again, it keeps it all in one place, whereas previously I would have had different files on my computer for a client with all the different bits in it.”
“So if, God forbid, anything goes wrong at any point or if I have a practice review, at least everything is in one place. And it minimises the issue of missing documents – losing things within my computer systems. For my peace of mind and for data security, it’s all in one place.”
It’s the little things that make the biggest difference
Although Caroline has implemented many of the ‘big’ features in AM, she’s still discovering small functions, which each save her more and more time. “Every day I find new things in AM where I go ‘Ooo, ok, that’s cool, I didn’t realise that’. It’s those little things which you go ‘ah that’s handy’ that make your life easier day-to-day. Time is billable isn’t it? If I’m spending a lot of time on admin, that’s time that isn’t being clawed back anywhere. So in that way, AM pays for itself.”
“That feeling of being ‘too small’ for AM, I now realise that I’m not.”
“Yes, obviously everyone has a price point where if you are very small, you might not have the funds to do it. But for me it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Out of all of the software I could buy, this one is definitely one that I’ve said numerous times to people that I’m so pleased that I bit the bullet and tried it. It’s been well worth it.”
“The software really has helped speed up so many things for me. I absolutely love it.”
Whenever I’m talking to my husband I’ll say, “Oh, you know that software I took on? So today I did this and this in it.” He’s bored of me saying ‘Oh you know that software?’
Sorry, Caroline’s husband, she’s coming with you… wherever you go.