Naveed Mughal is the founder of Accurox, which he founded three years ago.
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you started in accountancy.
I was kind of thrown in at the deep end. The firm I worked in at the time had two partners who had a massive fall out. I was tired of trying to prove myself to the partners so I decided to take a leap of faith and jump into starting my own firm. I was driven and willing to learn. Three years down the line, I am still learning and willing to be challenged on my thinking and open to more.
Why did you decide to set up your own firm rather than move to another practice?
I decided to set up a firm after getting frustrated with the lack of innovation within practices. I decided to create a practice where client care was at the heart of our success. I felt that there was never enough time within accountancy practices for that sort of thing, so I wanted to create that time and capacity in my business in a way that would not only be beneficial but also enjoyable.
Similarly, I felt that accountancy practices didn’t pay attention to the cultures of the firm and the people. Whereas I wanted to build an inclusive culture where the team is directly contributing to the success of the firm.
How big is your firm now with regards to the number of clients and the size of your team?
We do not have a team in the UK and instead, we have a virtual team of 10. They are all located overseas. Client wise, we have about 150 clients in the UK and about 150 clients in Dubai.
What are the primary services do you provide for your clients?
The main services that we offer are compliance, forecasting, management accounting, business advisory and growth strategies, funding options.
The split between compliance and advisory is 80% compliance and 20% advisory.
In the future, I feel that we will be moving towards setting up a separate team for advisory work who will be supported by myself and our offshore team. I feel that for our advisory service to really scale properly we will have to separate it from our existing accounting team.
Your team is not based in the UK but they are all offshore. Where are they located and why did you decide to have a team there?
I have an offshore team in Pakistan of ten people.
In my first year of business, my wife and I were expecting our first child. I soon realised that I would need extra help and used my previous offshoring experience to make some contacts to set up our own offshore team. This allowed me to focus on things which were important to me such as family life and being a Dad alongside work. At the same time, this allowed us to scale our business very quickly.
Did you build this virtual team from scratch?
Yes, I built the team from scratch. The first year was very difficult. I had to understand the culture, work ethics and people management and how to manage remote teams. At the same time, I had to ensure that team stayed motivated and understood the long-term vision of the firm. I had to focus on building an inclusive culture within our firm.
What work does your offshore team undertake?
Our offshore team does everything from bookkeeping, accounts, payroll, CIS, Personal Tax and Corporation Tax, management accounting and forecasting.
We have invested heavily in the training and development of our team. We have created a continuous learning culture within our firm which means that we continuously identify learning needs and commit ourselves to continuous learning and development.
Have you found clients are happy for their work to be undertaken overseas?
Yes, most of our clients know that I have an offshore team who liaise with clients when needed. We have introduced scalable processes within our firm which allow us to create client contact even from Pakistan.
How do you monitor the progress of the work and what tools do you use for internal communication?
We have a Slack channel for our internal communication. Weekly 30-minute team meetings also play a crucial role.
We plan our work up to 4 months ahead at a time. This allows us to deliver a timely service to our clients.
To monitor the progress of work, practice management (especially Senta) is a focal point of our firm and making sure that tasks, projects and deadlines are captured correctly. We have created a delivery only culture within our firm which allows us to focus on the important stuff and work together as a team.
Systems and processes must be very important for your firm to ensure it all runs efficiently. How did you set these up and did you do this before you started the overseas operations?
Yes, I looked into all the available technologies when setting up the firm’s overseas operations. We had to ensure that the systems we introduced were scalable and cost-effective. We even had to ensure that our telephone lines are connected to our Pakistan team. At this point, we decided to become a Xero specialist firm and decided to use and scale our firm around Xero.
We had to ensure that client records were kept safe and data was shared with our team hence we used cloud-hosted desktops and OneDrive share points to start managing data between teams.
We created a delivery only working culture. First-class timely client service is very important to us. Hence, we have created a culture where we focus on the efficient delivery of the service. This also allows us to introduce flexible working where the team can take time off as long as all objectives were met.
With your team overseas, it must be important to track how they are performing. Do you monitor any metrics on productivity?
I wanted to create a culture where people enjoyed what they did and achieved results mutually. We monitor a few keys metrics with the focus on WIP. Also, we deliver our jobs within 6 weeks of receiving client record and finish our year-end accounts within 4 months after the year-end. Last year we completed 80% of the self-assessment tax returns before December!
How easy was it to recruit a team overseas?
It can be very challenging as we have to recruit quite ahead of the curve. Also, we recruit not just on qualifications but based on attitude, team dynamics, future plans and ambitions.
We created a 2-step recruitment process: one face to face meeting with the operations director in Pakistan and one Zoom meeting with myself in the UK and this has worked well.
Technology is important to you. What are the key software tools that you use in your practice?
We are a completely virtual firm so the technology has to be right!
We use quite a lot with the main ones being Xero, Senta, Practice Ignition, Fluidly, Syft Analytics, Slack, Skype, Hubdoc, Clarity and Capitalise. We have hosted desktops. Onedrive and VoIP telephone systems too.
We also have a lot of clients in the construction sector and use Simpro and Tradify a lot with these clients.
You have acquired a firm in Dubai recently. Why did you decide to buy one there?
It was a strategic move and it made sense for us to do this without back-office operations.
Dubai and other gulf countries are slowly embarking towards introducing more regulation in their financial and accounting systems hence we decided to be part of that journey in the early stages.
Have you moved this firm onto the same software and apps as the team use in Pakistan?
Yes, the firm already used Xero for client work and used Microsoft One Drive which was a big tick for us.
What are your plans for the future of the firm?
I wish to grow more than a million-pound firm. We are also looking to complete further two acquisitions in next 3 years. We are then wanting to create multiple offices in other strategic locations across the U.K.
What has been the hardest part of building your firm and, if you could do it again, would you go about it differently?
I would invest heavily in a sales and marketing programme. I would also take more time to make sure that we recruit the right people and spend more time in getting the firm positioning and branding right.
If one of the readers was thinking about starting their own firm and were looking to outsource the work overseas, what would be the top tips that you would give them starting out on this journey?
Having a clear plan and strategy is very important. Saving costs can’t be the only motivation.
Identify where you need help and how outsourcing is going to solve that problem.
Create a clearly defined process and outcome by working closely with the outsourcing firm.
Treat and work with your overseas team in exactly the same way you would with someone sitting in your office.
And lastly, don’t be afraid… 🙂