This week’s case study took an unexpected turn. Buhir Rafiq gave AM’s Jonathan Stobart an in-depth tour of his practice management set up. It was a fantastic way to see how Total Books has evolved thanks to time saved by automation and the visibility of data. Get comfortable. Buhir is using almost every feature of AM, with many customised flourishes…

Meet Buhir Rafiq, owner of Total Books

Buhir Rafiq owned a small business in the late 90’s before retraining to become an accountant. He then spent 10 years working up the ladder, half in practice, half in industry. His LinkedIn page boasts firms such as Critchleys and Haines Watts as well as the UK National Audit Office.

“I always enjoyed consulting and had a dream of being an accountant. I’ve been advising people about their businesses since the late 90s.” 

Buhir started Total Books as an AAT Licensed Practicing accountant 10 years ago in Bristol and moved to Cardiff two years later. “I started at home, with receipts all over the floor, a computer in the kids’ bedroom and I’d be ringing HMRC, asking them to talk me through a tax return. Even though I had 10 years of experience as an employee I still learned a lot as I went along. My first year was as a bookkeeper. The second-year I rebranded to being an accountant and never looked back. I have firm faith in God and good ethics and this has helped along the way.”  

Still dedicated to ongoing learning, Buhir surrounds himself with experts, “Last year I used industry mentor Mark lee and this year we’re using Reza Hooda. Also, I am constantly learning from other supportive material with mentors such as Simon Chaplin, James Ashford & Heather Townsend, they’re all really good people, really supportive and it’s worth its weight in gold.”

Carefully crafting the Total Books client base

Many practice owners want to consistently increase their client base, for Buhir, success isn’t the quantity, but the quality of clients. “I don’t want 500 clients. I just want to work with good businesses run by good people and, income-wise, to take home enough to support my family” 

“Now I’m streamlining, so I take on two good clients, and ditch two bad clients. I take on four good clients, I ditch four bad clients.”

So I’m not progressively going 100, 150, 200… in the last two years, I’ve been between 120 and 140 and it’s stayed there.”

Coming to AccountancyManager, via Capium

Buhir started his digital move four years ago with Tax Filer (which he uses today), then implemented Capium a year after that (which he doesn’t). “We just didn’t gel with Capium. We spent a whole year trying to get it working but it wasn’t intuitive. We tried and tried, we just couldn’t get it up and running properly.”

“We haven’t looked back, AccountancyManager is an absolute win-win, really it has been absolutely fantastic.”

I was doing a management course at the time, something they said was: sometimes to progress, you need to start from scratch. So that’s what I did and we haven’t looked back, AccountancyManager is an absolute win-win, really it has been absolutely fantastic.”

Pre-created templates and messages: ‘Really useful’

In AccountancyManager, there are lots of templates for automated emails that request information and records from clients. You can edit these and populate the templates with any number of pre-saved or ‘canned’ messages. 

“Canned messages are really useful, we’ve got canned messages for loads of stuff.”

“Let’s have a look, [Buhir shares his screen and takes us through AccountancyManager] so the canned messages appear in the email here. [He scrolls down an email] That’s a ‘Please review us’ canned message, that’s a ‘request for records’ message. We have great ones for Ltd companies & self assessment.

“We’ve automated stuff that we had to do 50 times or 100 times a year.”

“These emails are pre-populated with each client’s details before they go out. [He scrolls down another email] This is a canned message with a financial return payment link… corporation tax payment link. We’ve automated stuff that we had to do 50 times or 100 times a year.” Setting up automation was a major win. 

Document and e-sign portal: Saving hours across all 130 clients 

Buhir takes us through the journey of a tax return once it’s finished and needs approval. “So I’ve added it to the client’s portal – every single client is document signing here. Then we go over to the timeline, we see the document is in the portal and we’ve asked him to sign it. 

“The document portal and emails for sending clients their information and LoEs is really good. The e-signing alone has saved me an hour a client, 130 clients, that’s 130 hours. It’s an absolute no brainer. That’s only one little bit of AM before I’ve scratched the surface.”

Notifications: Keeping everyone up to date

Buhir stays in contact with his staff through the notifications in AccountancyManager. “They send me notifications of where they are, with what they’re doing and I do the same. If I need to let a staff member know that something happened I’ll send them a notification and they’ll pick it up. This is an area I need to improve on. Sometimes I can fall behind on the notification. Yet there is a great function for reading numerous notifications & bulk reviewing them this also saves time.

Automated reminders: ‘I don’t have to think about it anymore’

We love it when AM users do the sums to see the impact AccountancyManager is making. “I’m not even that big,” Buhir says, “but say I’ve got 20 VAT returns. That’s 20 reminders, x3 before we get the records. That’s 60 reminders I don’t have to email because they’re all automated. Then as soon as we get the records, we just click ‘records received’ on the task’s progress.” Then another polite reminder gets auto-generated that says records received. Lots of polite email touchpoints adds to professionality. 

“It’s set up for a lot of things. I’ve got reminders going out for SA, requests for records for corp tax, limited company, payroll and VAT records… We used to write these differently every time and spend 20 minutes typing each one. I don’t have to think about it anymore, they just go out automatically.”

Risk Assessments: Impressing the ICAEW

At AM, we work with two former HMRC tax inspectors to continually optimise our risk section. As well as completing AML ID checks and credit screens in AM, you can capture information in relation to risk. 

“We had an ICAEW audit, they came in and checked the whole risk section… they were really impressed with the way it was set up.” 

Buhir always liked this feature, but never more so than when the ICAEW came round. “We had an ICAEW audit, they came and checked the whole risk section. I’ve got my due diligence done for everyone and they were really impressed with the way it was set up. So that was cool.” 

Knowing that due diligence reviews, ID checks, ID documentation and risk assessments and reviews are all in one place and only take 15 mins to do during onboarding makes it a great win. Also any yearly reviews are documented in the same place so a great audit trail in case of AML risk reporting. 

Time tracking: Helping to make billing and staffing decisions

“Timesheets are an amazing thing for me. We record time daily. My work in progress – that saved me over a thousand pounds. I wasn’t billing my WIP before I joined AccountancyManager. It’s so easy for me to now drop the extra time especially for jobs outside of the scope of the yearly fees into an invoice and send it to the client.”

“It’s just so damn useful for me and exciting, that I know last year how much it cost me for a client. I know that per job or per staff member I can work out the time taken at the drop of a hat.”

Responding to a client’s request for lower fees

“One client wanted a fee decrease, so my colleague and I drilled through AM, found one year’s worth of analysis and in 10 minutes worked out we’d spent 95 hours with her last year. We compared that to her bill and she wasn’t actually making us money. It was so easy to analyse.”

The upshot was that I was able to go into the repricing meeting comfortable that if I lost the client knowing the actual financial impact and was able to use this to make a quick confident decision. No price decrease and no remorse on letting her go.

Analyzing staff productivity – to the ultimate end

“I can see what my staff are doing and how productive they are. If there are any issues within the team I can address this and feel confident that I have data to support me. This eliminates any debate about productivity or time spent as the data is black and white.”

I can give a staff member a set time and they are happy to work to beat their budgets. It’s really easy to analyse time to the job. I have had some issues with underperformance as well and at these times it was also crucial using AM’s time analysis for my staff members. It has been crucial in assessing productivity & performance and enabled great business decisions.

Timeline: proving you did your bit!

The client timeline in AM records the contact you have with clients. “The timeline feature is so good. I can go into here [Buhir shows us] and I know she’s viewed the email and records how many times the email has been viewed. It’s given me the support and evidence I’ve needed on a number of occasions.” I have had a number of payment disputes as well as disputes with clients accusing our practice of lying. We have been able to go into the timeline and copy and paste the evidence of the emails and logged calls to send to the client and diffuse any arguments because of this. As well as get paid what we are owed. 

“The timeline feature is SO good. I can go into here [Buhir shows us] and I know she’s viewed the email”

“It also saves me on the HMRC compliance if I have a tax investigation. We can say ‘We’ve advised the client of this, this is what the client told me. So it’s covering me for professional indemnity compliance purposes as well.” 

As well as being GDPR compliant and logging all sensitive phone calls we can outline what HMRC said call ref, call handler time and conversation. This is regularly recalled in appeal letters to HMRC. Timeline histories of calls to HMRC have saved the clients thousands in appeals many a time…

Resources and Bulk emails: Handling whatever Rishi throws at us next

Like millions of accountants, Buhir has had a lot to update his clients on this year. Like thousands of AM users, he’s found bulk emails and resources in AM extremely useful.

“I can choose my list [of clients] and add in my attachment from resources, it’s kind of a mini Mailchimp.”

“Something else I find quite exciting: we drop things into the resources, like guidance from the government and mini budgets. Then I can go into ‘clients’, choose my list and add in my attachment from resources, it’s kind of a mini Mailchimp. It looks professional too, so it adds to my being able to charge what I want to charge – and keep the clients I want to keep.”

Life before AccountancyManager vs now

“More and more I realise that if I use technology correctly, we reduce our working time on jobs, look more professional and we make more money.”

Buhir shows us how he used to manage his data (in some very colourful, never-ending Excel sheets), “I had stuff in five different places! Look at this one I’ve got: start date, letter of engagement, invoice, the next corporation tax, notes… It’s just a mess. All of this is now in AccountancyManager, it’s all in one place.” 

So what’s the verdict?

“It’s made me 10 times more professional. It’s made me more proactive than reactive. It’s enabled immense time efficiencies and productivity. Everything is in one place, so I don’t have to go into 10 different spreadsheets. It’s versatile because it’s cloud-based. It’s one major thing in my practice I don’t have to worry about.”

“It gives me hundreds of hours that are redeployed into running the business.”  

“It’s happy days. The value is immense. Before, it used to take me 45 minutes to create the invoices, take me another 45 minutes to create a letter of engagement. And then it was printing it all off and asking clients to come in and sign it. I don’t have to do that anymore. It gives me hundreds of hours that are redeployed into running the business.”  

My advice for Practice owners. “Each module that you implement correctly will give you a 10/10 in that area of your practice. So learn them one at a time and implement them all.

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