Hi everyone, I have been an accountingweb member for several years now but the whole blogging thing is completely new to me on here! Please be gentle (I've read many of comments for previous posts!). The reason I am writing this post is to highlight what 'Business Automation' actually is within my context of the meaning for accountancy practices.
Let me first go through the whole credentials side of myself, not to brag (who likes a bragger) but to hopefully gain some trust and to provide better context to the article.
I am a tech fanatic when it comes to business. I made the ambitious goal to have Cheltenham Tax Accountants (My accounting firm) run without me within 5 years of starting the business on a full-time basis which was back in September of 2013. I am proud to say this goal has been met with only 10% of my time (at most) relating to day to day client related work that ‘has’ to be done, in other words, the ‘daily grind’.
I’m sure that as an accountant yourself working in your own business (I stress ‘In’ as opposed to ‘on’), this set up feels like a lifetime away for many of you. It may be of course that you choose to work in your business as you love the actual work required of being an accountant as opposed to a business owner, that's all good and this article may not hit the right spot for you guys and gals. The truth is that it does not have to be you always doing the chargeable work. There is a structure, system, process (or whatever you would like to label it) to achieving the holly grail of any business owner let alone an accountancy business where you can take a step back and work on your business and not in it. Yes I know you've heard this phrase a million times but you get the picture. Many people that start a business want to create a combination of;
- better work/life balance
- more income
- more control with your career
- more interesting work
- and so on
There is a lot of 'more' in that list, I am assuming that more hours was not something you wanted (maybe expected at least at the start of going it alone). I'm sure that as you've become an established business in your own right you have made some references to your clients that you can take away some of the routine tasks so that they can work on their business and have more time with their family. Have you honestly applied that to yourself?
Are you working less, more or the same as when you first started, did you (or do you) dream about having the practice run itself on auto-pilot with you just collecting your cheque (sounds better than bank transfer). The truth for many accountants that run their own business is that they may have made many improvements to their working life and indeed personal lives finacially however may be a long way off from having a business that runs itself. A passive income is unbeatable as it does not demand your time. I know it sounds fairly cheesy but we only have one life and the more time you can create the more you can accomplish on a hollistic level for yourself and your family.
One of the biggest factors in enabling you to do less is technology
The staff have had a few complaints with ‘not another new app’ in my time running the business but ultimately this was to the benefit of the business and in the name of ‘Business Automation’. This is why I am here.
The app stack that I have allows the process of a new client enquiry, to reviewing whether they qualify for a free meeting, sending them an email to offer a free meeting, booking it in the diary, sending a reminder with a personalised video 48 and 24 hours prior, sending the staff member a meeting notes form to complete (and reminding them if it's not done), following up with the prospect all without ANY HUMAN INTERACTION.
This is what business automation is about. Even the proposal and engagement letter can be completed and signed within minutes digitally. I have many different processes like this that run at times on complete auto-pilot. The thing is, you don't know what you don't know and like many small business owners just get your head down and get on with it (the daily grind).
Firstly this article is not about software directly, it is about business automation (software plays a fundamental part). I'm going to dive straight in and give you the most powerful piece of online software we use as a business that allows for the foundation of our automated processes, Infusionsoft (now also known as Keap). For anyone new to this world, this type of software is often referred to as 'marketing automation' or CRM software. There are other choices out there such as Hubspot, Salesforce and Mailchimp (has also come a long way). We use Keap and we think it's awesome. The modern day use of this type of software has so many business use cases it's mindblowing. Let me share just some of the things we use it for within our practice,
- New client enquiry and meeting process (as noted above)
- New client meeting follow up process
- New client onboarding processes
- New client services set up
- Internal staff procedures / reminders / monthly forms
- Lost client follow up sequence
- Reminders for clients that do their own bookkeeping (sends them a bespoke checklist to use)
- Tax return season auto emails / reminders
- Client check-ins by staff / client manager
- Client service (we use this to focus n Grade A client service delivery)
- Normal newsletter and bulk client emailing
This list is not extensive and does not represent all of our automated processes but is a real list of many uses we have for Infusionsoft / Keap. If you are reading this and paying particular attention to the new client processes then I know exactly what you are thinking, Senta and the like can already do this. I'm sure from the outide it may appear that is the case but I can assure you this is not the same thing. Senta and some of the other modern online dedicated practice management providers are purpose built for accountants and also for PM. Keap has almost infinite uses and possibilities. We use Zapier to integrate software that does not natively connect and currently have over 30 live 'Zaps'. This post is not about PM software or new clients it is about the processes in your practice that are manual and don't need to be. This is also not a technical article designed to show you how to use any of the software mentioned.
What I would love for you to do today or this week (if you can't committ to that then please add it to your to do list - I use todoist by the way!)
- Block out a couple of hours to simply list any processes or tasks that are currently manual and requiring a high amout of staff/human touch points.
- Now once you have this list (do not rush it, we want it as accurate as possible) go back through it and put a * next to all of tasks that you feel could or should be automated in some way.
- If the list is substantial then group them together by some form of category such as admin, new clients, practice management etc or even by services.
- With the list in mind look at your 'app stack' and see if there is anything that is up to the job to automate any aspect of these tasks.
- Identify any gaps in your tech and review options available such as Keap that can improve your level of automation
There is a Japanese word called 'Kaizen' that means small continous improvement. It was a philisophy used by Toyalto for decades (and still is). If you can improve or automate something each month, imagine where you would be in 2 years. Of course the worrying thing for accountants and any business is that tech is moving so fast that you can't afford to fall behind.
I'm happy to offer any further advice with Business Automation, feel free to find out more how I can help from my website https://www.cheltenham-tax-accountants.co.uk/business-automation-for-accountants/
This article focuses in business automation and software. It will help you move one step (or more) closer to taking yourself out of the business but is not the only thing that will do so. I will be sharing more on this in future posts.
Stephen Edwards is a business coach, accountant and consultant for accounting practices. Having started Cheltenham Tax Accountants from scratch in 2013 it now runs almost on auto-pilot leaving him with time to work on advisory related services for clients in the form of business coaching and also specialising with business automation and tech. Stephen works with other accounting practices to help them automate parts of their business and free the practice owner from the 'daily grind'.