by James Solomons
Head of Accounting, Xero. Director Aptus Accounting & Advisory. CFO at Xref. CA. Advocate, Entrepreneur & Educator
It’s a beautiful thing when an accountant and their client build a working relationship that is efficient, productive and mutually beneficial. But it hasn’t always been that easy to achieve.
Prior to the Cloud, accountants spent a prohibitive amount of time managing the flow of client data between desktop programs and their accountant’s ledger. Being able to convince small business owners to invest in value-add advisory-type services was something left to the few, and even then, such programs remained un-appealingly expensive and took time to prepare.
Even Excel, the tool of choice, required large amounts of manual intervention, not to mention, time.
It’s easy to see how the rise of off-the-shelf desktop programs (which claimed to make accounting easy) fast became a popular option. In the eyes of SMEs, the accountants’ workload was diminished, and therefore so should their fee.
In short, the true value of an accountant was being eroded by these programs as they were denied the opportunity to showcase their skills, many of which had taken years to develop. No-one spends up to seven years at university and in postgraduate study obtaining their CA qualifications to become a number-crunching tax return-preparation form-filling expert!
‘But why would accountants let this happen without putting up a fight?’ you ask. While it’s not true for everyone, many accountants are technically brilliant but lack the skill set to communicate the true value of their advice and expertise – and in some cases, even acknowledge its worth themselves. Business advisory sessions (the very core of an accountant’s knowledge base) were relegated to ad-hoc discussions, a footnote at best, and usually given for free.
Besides, with GST and added complexity there was enough compliance work to help most accountants reach their revenue budgets, and offering complimentary business advice as and when required just helped to ensure client retention, right? Wrong.
If accountants don’t see value in their knowledge, their clients certainly won’t either. In the words of Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
Fast forward to the connected and automated world where once again a technology revolution begins to apply pressure on compliance fees and the value clients assign to these services, as well as challenge the fees being charged for data entry, but this time, automation is set to make the accountant shine.
Easily accessible – and most importantly, affordable – applications are now available that not only simplify the system freeing up more time for both accountant and client, but let accountants showcase their expertise as well.
It is now absolutely possible to use applications that are connected to a Cloud accounting solution that only cost around $50 per month but will deliver (in the blink of an eye!) a client’s trading history from the last 12 months. Moreover, in less than 30 minutes, you can build a forecast for that client for the next 12 months.
And the best part is, it will simply sell itself.
Better still, if you invest a further hour into that client, you can prove that you offer so much more than just tax returns. By offering to monitor their budgets & actuals , and then help them achieve it by fine tuning their forecasts, you are in the position to discuss a long-term retainer.
And being connected means no monthly number crunching. Instead, it’s all updated in real time, so the client is kept up-to-date, and they know that the money they are investing in your services is for your advice, not data entry.
For those still unsure, the option of a free 14-day trial for most applications gives you the freedom and time to showcase the software to clients, with the probability of at least one or two opting in and covering costs based on the merits of what they see.
Even in a quality Cloud accounting program such as Xero, in-built dashboard and budget prep tools can be mastered with very little effort.
It’s all designed to make you look good, and all you need to do is get it in front of your clients!
The key is being smart about it. Something as routine as setting up an automated, tailored content newsletter that sends clients their key metrics once a month pays beyond measure.
Even better, make use of predictive forecasting that will alert a client as to when they may run out of money months in advance, so that, with your advice and expertise, they can act on this data and be ahead of the game. But, of course, charge a fee for it!
It is so much more compelling to a client when you can say “Look what I did for you, now let’s use this as a springboard for advisory work”.
And here is a tip from one accountant to another: I put all my advisory software expenses into Advertising Expense in my P&L, not subscriptions or computer expenses. Why? Because these tools allow me to advertise my expertise. They are an investment into future revenues. They are a customer cost of acquisition, not a variable cost. And that’s just smart business.
Originally published at jamessolomons.com on April 17, 2017.