Having clicked on this blog, if you were expecting a review of the latest iPhone apps or a discussion on the need for a Twitter addiction, a SKYPE headset, multi-screens, or even a smart phone itself, then you may well be disappointed. Whilst these 'tools' may be indispensible, they're not at the top of the 'essential' list.
The 5 Tools are not just 'essential' but also transformational in the sense that if you pull these 5 tools together, the traditional client-accountant relationship is permanently ruptured...this is a good thing:
Essential Tool #1: Imagination
Ideas are the currency of the Facebook Generation and if I choose you as my accountant, I am looking for ideas. How can I do this better, faster, less hassle, cheaper, more effectively? What do these numbers really mean? Tell me now and make it really simple - you have my attention for 15 minutes. Think and think quickly - this is your challenge.
Essential Tool #2: Ability to Communicate
Ability to communicate means two things: 1) how good are you at communicating? and 2) how easy is it communicate with you? In the age of instant messaging and micro-blogging, it is more important than ever that you can communicate effectively through multiple mediums. This might be fine for you - but what about your team. Everyone is accessible and everyone is visible - could you trust each one of your team to chat to or 'tweet' clients? And how do you monitor what your junior is saying to (or worse advising) a client on Facebook Chat?
In terms of how easy it is to communicate with you, you need to be where your clients are. Individually, you need to have Twitter and Skype accounts - Facebook (ironically) is optional, but if your client is on Facebook at 10pm at night, where are you when he needs you! If you're not there, you probably didn't get the work you could have quoted for.
Additionally, at The Wow Company, we also use Yammer to communicate internally and keep everyone updated on what each other is up to...
Essential Tool #3: A 'Virtual' Presence
Obviously as an Accountant for the Facebook Generation, a virtual presence is a big deal. Having a LinkedIn profile and Twitter account is a good starting point. I don't know that we would ever employ a qualified accountant without a LinkedIn profile. With your virtual presence, it's then all about what you do with it: a quote I read from Hugh MacLeod (aka @gapingvoid) said
This sums it up really. It's not about the 'Likes' or 'Retweets', 'Followers' or 'Friends' - or even about volume of 'Tweets', it's about sharing and engaging. There are ways you can do this without spending all day on twitter (allegedly!).
Essential Tool #4: Online Accounting
Online Accounting is probably the most fundamental and transformational of these 5 tools. There's plenty of debate elsewhere about the various options: Xero, FreeAgent, Kashflow, etc. and it's not about which online system you use, but about the fact that you can communicate with a client about their accounts in real time, without having to send backups to and fro. The benefits of the online systems are so plentiful that you would probably even use them if they were offline ironically. We use Xero and love it and most importantly clients and staff love it too. (If you're new to Online Accounting, there's an interesting interview with the Head of Xero in the UK here).
Essential Tool #5: Something more...
Being the cheapest (or cheaper) won't do. Being local or top ranking on Google probably won't cut it either. Anyone can knock up a set of accounts, so why you? What are you (personally) going to give me? What is the value you add? What about your service is going to make me talk to my friends on Twitter/Facebook about you? (clue: it's not doing my accounts on time, in compliant fashion abiding by accounting standards!)
As my friend Jason Blumer says "change is coming" - he has some cool ideas on what the 'something more' could be here. You have to have something more. What is your 'something more'?
About Paul Bulpitt
Co-founder of The Wow Company. Head of Accounting at Xero.