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How accountancy firm HFM is using Unbiased to grow its business
While many businesses were forced into survival mode during the pandemic, after initial concerns about what was the right response, HFM Tax and Accounts had other ideas.
• HFM has been helping people meet their personal and commercial tax requirements for three decades.
• Based in London, the firm boasts 15 full-time and part-time staff.
• Its clients range from individual taxpayers, and multi-partner professional service firms and a range of limited companies.
Published on 14.07.2022
The London-based accountancy practice has witnessed a sharp uptick in new customer enquiries in the past few years, the majority of which have come through Unbiased. HFM was therefore left to choose between either turning the business away or beef up its headcount and seize a growth opportunity. It chose the latter.
“We grew really fast through the pandemic, sometimes picking up 10 clients a week. This has enabled us to take on two full-time staff focusing on tax, almost exclusively because of Unbiased,” says HFM’s Managing Director, Ian Marlow.
HFM’s relationship with Unbiased stretches back to 2009 when the latter first launched. Due to the volume and quality of client enquiries over the years, Unbiased has now become the firm’s main marketing channel.
“As the number of leads from Unbiased increased we did less advertising elsewhere. It seemed to make more sense to get good at one form of marketing rather than tinker around with many. After a while we found that if we spent X pounds with Unbiased, we’d get Y number of clients.”
Ian Marlow, HFM’s Managing Director
Evergreen demand for accountancy services
The accountancy sector’s resilience has truly shone through over the past few years, and it’s clear to see why.
As Marlow explains, regardless of the broader economic environment, people will always need help completing things like tax and VAT returns, and filing their end of year accounts. And though remote working was a new concept for most businesses until the pandemic arrived, HFM was ahead of the curve, adopting it more than a decade ago.
“If you’re preparing a tax return or a set of accounts you don’t like a lot of fuss around you, so working from home works really well,” he says.
The recent shift to virtual meetings is proving a further driver of growth, according to Marlow, with many clients now preferring to engage in this way.
“Before lockdown we met with new enquiries either in the office or at a coffee shop - we toyed with bringing new clients on remotely but without huge success. As soon as lockdown happened it became the norm, and it hasn’t stopped. People are much happier to do a Zoom call.”
Much-treasured peace of mind
The quality of service that HFM provides to its clients hasn’t gone unnoticed. The firm was crowned Accountant of the Year at both the 2020 and 2021 Trusted Professional awards, hosted by Unbiased. One of the clients who nominated the firm was going through a particularly stressful time with HMRC, a problem HFM was swiftly able to resolve.
And this, in Marlow’s view, highlights what people truly value from his firm.
“It’s about being accessible, relatable and able to explain things,” he says. “We always say that what we sell is peace of mind - a lot of our clients could do their own tax return but would have no idea whether what they reported was correct.”
“Taking away the hassle is part of that peace of mind, as they know they’re dealing with people who do this for a living. The fact that we have staff who stay long term and build relationships with clients isn’t rocket science, but isn’t all that common, either.”
Challenges of Making Tax Digital
One of the most significant developments to hit the profession is less than two years away. From April 2024, the Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self-Assessment regime will be ushered in. Unveiled by then-chancellor George Osborne in 2015, the initiative’s core aim is sounding the death knell of the tax return.
But while seeking to make life easier for both accountants and their customers, Marlow feels the regime will prove one of the sector’s biggest challenges, saying it has the potential to become “a nightmare” for everyone involved.
“It’s going to be a significant challenge for both us and our clients. The only difference is we know it’s coming and most of our clients don’t. It’ll be particularly challenging to those who have several sources of income.”
The value of teaming up
While accountancy, financial advice, and legal are distinctly different professions, in some areas of tax planning, most notably involving estates, it can be prudent for clients to engage all three. Marlow says that where appropriate, his firm teams up with advisers and lawyers to ensure his clients’ needs are fully catered for.
“We try to recommend people we know are good and have confidence in. We work with independent financial advisers, and trust specialists. It’s easier to all jump on a Zoom together and join the dots.”