How to build and maintain your practice culture in a changing world

An interview with Amanda Gascoigne

In many respects, Amanda Gascoigne is a trailblazer. She started her own practice back in 1999 after her place of work wouldn’t offer her any maternity pay and then, in 2008, decided to take a leap of faith into paperless bookkeeping long before the majority of the industry. 

But what’s special about her story isn’t just her ability to evolve. It’s that her motivations are identical to many of our own: not only supporting her clients, but enabling herself to live the life she wants – at work, and at home. 

“It’s simple: Culture is everything”.

One of the driving forces behind her ability to do this is a commitment to cultivating a working culture she truly believes in, and one her clients can buy into, too. 

In her own words, “It’s simple: Culture is everything. When you’ve got a great culture within your accounting practice, you become both an employer of choice and an accountant of choice. The culture becomes contagious; everyone wants to be a part of it.

“Creating and nurturing a positive culture isn’t actually that hard to do. It’s treating everyone with respect, it’s having great boundaries and it’s about being clear as to what the vision for your company – and your home life – is. 

“For example, if you decide to be ‘family-friendly’ and only want to work four days a week, or you don’t want to be contactable outside of traditional working hours, share that. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If you’re loud and proud, people will be attracted to that – and that’s how you keep hold of staff and clients for long periods of time. 

“When I started out, running a business out-of-home wasn’t that common. A lot of potential clients didn’t want to visit someone’s house – and that’s totally fine. My feeling was, if that’s their attitude, they aren’t going to be very receptive if I’ve got children running in and out of the office. It was when other business owners, those with small children, found out about my practice that I really started to see growth. They felt like they could relate to me, and that they trusted me to look after their affairs.

“If you’ve got that type of culture and you’re able to share it, it’s a win-win. It takes much less energy to be yourself, rather than someone else. People are happier for you if you do it that way; it becomes an extended family.”

What advice can you offer to accountants and bookkeepers looking to develop this type of culture within their own business?

“It comes back to being super clear on what you want. Once you know what you want, both in your practice and your life, it takes the emotion out of so many of those decisions.

“The foundations I always look to build from, whether starting a business, growing it, scaling it, or down-sizing, are:

  • Having a vision, and being able to articulate it. Once you know what it is, you can start using it not just to influence culture but as marketing materials on your website. It’s the easiest way to ensure the real you comes out.
  • Providing the services that you want to offer, rather than second-guessing what other people may be looking for.
  • Implementing a culture that reflects you: who you are, the people you want to work with and the business you want to run. Turn this into a competitive advantage; after all, nobody else can be you.
  • Utilising the right technology to save time, their clients time and to enable them to enjoy a life outside of their practice. 

“Accountancy is an industry steeped in tradition, and some of that is great, such as our ethics, honesty, and integrity. Those are elements that we never want to lose. That being said, there are definitely areas that we could improve collectively. In my experience, I think bookkeepers have been embracing technology a lot more successfully than accountants. 

Accountants, by nature, are a little more wary; they very much embody an “if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it” mantra. The biggest challenge is getting them to realise the benefits of embracing certain technologies, and how to do so. 

“When I was starting out, I always wanted to try and test new technologies, and then get my clients to get on board too. Back in 1999-2000, I was buying software – and sometimes even computers! – for my clients to use to do their books. It was completely new, but clients trusted me to lead them on this new path. 

“Today, we’re still seeing accountants remain attached to their cash books, or their excel spreadsheets. It’s why many of them remain time-poor. They feel that handing over admin tasks to technology will make their role more redundant, when really it’s the opposite – it gives them more time to focus on their clients’ specific needs and goals.

So what does the future hold – for you, and for the industry?

“I’m excited. We’re often worried about the future and the changes it brings, but there is always something new to help your business evolve. Having a growth mindset, particularly in an industry like accounting that isn’t particularly reactive to change, really spices things up. The practices that have that mentality – always looking to save time, to save money, to be a leader within the field – will continue to thrive. 

“Our perspectives within the industry are changing, too. The influence of millennials, both staff and clients, is huge. These are people that want more from life; they don’t want to be sitting around working 70 hour weeks. For practices that aren’t helping people achieve this, there’s a real risk of becoming redundant.

“As for me, I’m always working to ensure I can do more of the things that I love. Working is only a part of our life, so we need to enjoy the other parts too. I love being with my husband and my two sons. I love sitting out on my balcony and looking at the ocean, watching the whales migrate north and then back again. I love connecting with people that are important to me; it helps me remember that many of life’s stresses aren’t that relevant and they don’t need to use up all my energy.”

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