Apps, cloud accounting and chicken kebabs
Summer has come to an end. It did however allow me to think about a few things regarding the changes in our industry and importantly how technology has played a big role in this change. Below I'll go through some of my thoughts.
Technology Allows You To Open New Revenue Streams
My first thought is around how technology has allowed accountants and bookkeepers to open up new other revenue streams. I have previously written a post around the 'Rise Of the Technologist In Accounting Firms', what I've now also seen are these technologists being paid to consult other firms in their journey to the cloud. Having the knowledge of accounting software/apps and experience of going through 'change' within a firm can result in you generating additional revenue by sharing some of that knowledge and consulting other firms on how to make best use of cloud based technology. Before you all go out and add 'Cloud Consultant' to your website and services, it's genuinely worth understanding and remembering some key points before 'consulting'.
Clients (small businesses + Accounting firms) do come in different shapes and sizes. I help out on weekends in a mid size firm in Paddington. We have a really good mix of clients from different industries and stages in their business life, we also have a good mix of clients from different cultures. For many of our clients using software such as QuickBooks Online / Xero and various apps is simple and straightforward. For some of our clients however, they simply want their accountant to do everything for them including data entry. These clients also want the ability to pick up the phone and call you whenever they want and they're prepared to pay for this level of service. If I was consulting myself, I would consider these points before recommending anything as my approach to such a firm will differ to ensure I understand and consider all of their client types.
Your Small Business Clients Who Use Apps Which You Have Recommended, Are More Likely To Refer New Business To You
3rd Party add-on applications really have revolutionized how small business owners engage with technology and their finances. I however have noticed another interesting trend with client we placed on some of these apps, the number of referrals we received from these clients was significantly higher than what we normally see and the referrals were good quality service driven clients.
The key reason for this is that if you have to invest the time and energy to research and advise/train clients on apps which GENUINELY help make their lives easier. These client were not all young tech start ups, clients who were alarm fitters, interior decorators and even people who struggle to use a computer but can use a phone app or two were recommended apps which genuinely help. That 'Genuine' need was matched with a great application which resulted in these clients loving their new found gadget and they were more than happy to share their delight with their friends and network which resulted in referrals from these clients. Note, the applications mentioned above are not just limited to accounting software add-on's , applications such a TransferWise which make transferring money across the world very simple and cheaper than banks is one such example of an app bringing delight to people.
What happens if you haven't invested the time to understand the applications and have placed clients on an app without assisting them in how to use it. This is something I see often, a good friend who works in a 5 employee firm in east London absolutely hates certain applications. What's interesting is that these applications are the ones which I've seen bring happiness to small business owners. So why the differing opinions? It comes down to one thing, he didn't take the time to understand these applications. He heard that these apps were great and ended up recommending an app he didn't understand, learn or know how to best use the app to a client. The result of this approach was that he didn't end up saving time, he ended up wasting time in fixing transactions and ended up staying away from that app. The problem now is that the other employees in the firm now also stay away from that app due to his experiences, a great opportunity to save time and increase efficiency missed.
Cloud Accounting Software Doesn't Suit Our 'Type' Of Clients.... Or Does It?
I always hear this excuse from some accountants. Remember above I told you the firm I help out in are based in Paddington/Edgware Road (the place you go to when you fancy some good middle eastern/North African food!). The reason I've provided this context is because many of the clients we have are restaurateurs who simply do not want to do their own bookkeeping and data entry. One client once said to us after trying to get him to do his own bookkeeping ''Let me focus on making good food, you guys focus on all the financial stuff''. These small segment of clients want us to do everything for them and one would be tempted to think that surely if you (the accountant) is doing everything, then why use cloud accounting solutions? Just give them an Excel sheet to update. The great thing about cloud accounting software are the features that come built in within them vs your Excel sheet which will save you time when it comes to VAT filing and generating a TB at year end. In effect, if our client doesn't want to use any applications, we're happy to on their behalf as the new result is still us saving significant time as a firm.
Features such as Online Banking has really changed the way we use software for bank Rec's and VAT returns. In the scenario above we ask our clients to log in to their Bank via the accounting software (preferably a direct feed) or ask them to send us a CSV of their bank statement on a monthly basis and that's it. We take over and do the rest. The automatic daily feeds bring in cleared transactions every 24hrs and their debtors / creditors are imported regularly from their excel sheet and then reconciled immediately (thanks to the bank transactions being present). You can also use applications which have OCR capability or PDF mapping of purchase invoices to really cut through the data entry element for your firm.
To summarize, know your shit when it comes to apps, please do not think that apps are easy to pick up and play for everyone, they're not. You need to-
Invest the time in understanding the app and how to best use it. You will make mistakes which is fine but don't be put off by it, take any training they're offering or ask someone on linkedin on how best to use it.
Create a plan around on-boarding your clients and employees in your firm on these apps, do you train them in-house or does the application have their own training modules and videos?
Technology applications are for all, even if you client has an allergy to using their laptop and managing their finances via software, I can guarantee they have a smart phone and can text / take a pic / make a call. See if they're capable of taking a pic of their bills/expenses.
Hire someone or up-skill a colleague to look after the tech/apps within the firm. This person should be responsible for colleague, client training and on-boarding for these applications.
Thanks for reading,