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Many professional services firms – including accountants – employ a ‘practice manager’ to oversee and co-ordinate their work. Plenty of companies in other sectors could benefit from exactly the same kind of approach, writes CHRIS ROBSON.

An increasing number of accountancy and legal firms now employ a Practice Manager to look after the day-to-day running of their business. It’s a recognition that it’s very difficult to focus on the priorities of clients and to deliver a seamless service, unless you have someone working behind the scenes to make sure that everything is running efficiently.

In simple terms, the Practice or Operations Manager makes sure that whatever the business and its clients need, the structures and processes are in place to make it happen. This could involve anything from recruitment of staff through to creation of a robust IT infrastructure, management of front-of-house reception and the preparation of disaster recovery plans.

The sheer importance and variety of the role makes it highly strategic. How do we respond to regulatory requirements, for instance? What is our tolerance level for risk? And how can we make sure we manage our finance, insurance and facilities in the most effective way possible?

If you’re choosing a manager to oversee operations in your own business, my recommendation would be that they are an inquisitive person. Someone who looks at numbers and is able to see the underlying trends behind them. The chances are that they may come from an accountancy background and will have real attention to detail, along with an almost instinctive ability to spot opportunities to reduce costs.

Remember, if you’re working too much in the business, you’re not working enough on the business. It’s a scenario which is repeated across many growing firms. Eventually, this is likely to translate into poor profitability and low cashflow. That’s why an investment in an operations manager can make sense for any expanding company.

Is there a magic threshold or size at which you decide to act? Not necessarily. One company with a £2m turnover might be very different from another. I would make your judgement on the basis of the complexity of your business. Once the demands of running the firm efficiently are starting to undermine your ability to focus on your core role, then it might be the ideal moment to find someone who can take a lot of the burden off your hands.

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