Accountancy Age Awards 2001 – Rise to the occasion.

Those firms completing their clients’ annual accounts and tax returns, then sitting back until the same time next year, are losing clients to rivals. They face a downward spiral of declining fee income and contracting client lists.

However, those that are getting to know their clients and exploring ways of providing them with useful commercial services that they want, are finding plenty of work and are raking in the cash.

It is one of these proactive firms that will win the Accountancy Age Small Firm of the Year Award for Excellence.

The category is open to all firms with 15 or fewer partners. Our independent panel of judges will be looking for evidence that the firm has provided significant value to its clients.

They will consider how the firm’s own structure has developed in the past 12 months to improve client focus, effectiveness and innovation.

Financial performance will also be taken into account, and the judges will also be looking for a firm that provides unique services for their clients that sets them apart from rivals.

In addition to the award itself, which will generate excellent publicity and marketing opportunities, the winning firm will receive a cheque for #500.

The winner will be unveiled at a glittering awards ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum on 7 November attended by top figures from across the accountancy profession. Last year’s winner was Ford Campbell.

Andrew Harding, ACCA’s head of professional standards, says small firms are enjoying a time of fierce price competition.

The challenge, he says, is for them to proactively provide expertise to their clients and build a strong local reputation.

He adds: ‘Anyone that gets into a price-cutting spiral is going to be struggling. They need to compete through performance rather than price.

‘It is really a case of seeing what services their clients need and being in there making suggestions. Any firm that routinely expects to do their clients’ accounts and tax returns and then just go away until next year will not be a success.’

His other tips for success include good management of clients and not simply taking on every piece of work that comes through the door.

Harding also says there are good opportunities for firms that concentrate on niche services.

John Malthouse, an ICAEW council member with a small practice in Liverpool, says the biggest challenge facing small firms is finding good staff rather than finding work.

He says firms should not neglect their bread and butter audit and tax work, but this should be used as a springboard for getting extra work from existing clients.

However, he warns that firms should take care they are not held back by a lack of skilled staff at a time when there is severe competition between firms to attract and hold on the right people. ‘Firms have to improve their handling and cultivation of staff,’ he says.

If you want to enter your firm, call 020 7316 9762, or visit for details. Alternatively email

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