Seven steps to embrace connected accounting
Our how-to guide to transforming the services you provide your clients.
Shifting your firm from a heavy focus on compliance to a broader range of advisory services is not an easy or quick move. It takes time, planning and the right talent and infrastructure to deliver.
To help you kickstart (or accelerate) the transformation of your firm we’ve outlined some of the key areas we believe you’ll need to focus on – and suggested the practical steps you need to make to guide your planning.
1. Drive value with your best clients
Growing your focus on value-added advisory services won’t resonate with all your existing clients, at least not straight away. So it’s important to review your existing client base and target the client prospects who are most open to a deeper kind of accounting.
To help you do this, grade your clients into three categories;
- Grade A – valued clients with good relationships (and the right systems) who are already using, or can be easily upsold, your new value-added advisory services. Talk to these clients and find out which services they’re looking for, the specific areas where they need help and their viewpoint on pricing.
- Grade B – clients who will need some time and effort to convince, but who could prove valuable (and profitable) if you can change your relationship and service mix. Meet with these clients more frequently and have more in-depth conversations with them to isolate the main additional services they will need and use the data you have on them to instigate advisory conversations.
- Grade C – clients where there’s little opportunity to extend the relationship into advisory services and a deep reliance (and interest) only on compliance.
Now market your services to the right targets – don’t waste opportunity or time on talking to clients about services they are unlikely to be interested in. Staff these clients according to the opportunity too – put your best advisors on the clients with the greatest need and opportunity. Increase the number of compliance-only clients you manage per team member. Make sure your marketing is carefully targeted too to attract more of the clients you want, and less of those you don’t.
2. Make compliance cheap (or even free)
At a time when the perceived value of compliance work is low, it’s important to position it in the right way – where compliance is required but not central to the value-add services you’re asking clients to pay. There’s a growing belief among many accounting firms that compliance is a necessary feature of any accounting relationship – but one that should be very competitively priced, even free, to all clients.
To make clients understand the value of compliance work explain the foundational role bookkeeping, data entry and core accounting workflows play in producing the vital financial and business data that feeds into your value-added advisory services. Ensure you show a direct link whenever possible between this compliance generated data and the advice you are giving that is perceived as having high value – lock the two services together at every opportunity.
3. Have your data workflows in one place
To make your advisory services work successfully, you need the right software and systems infrastructure driving the firm – and, in most cases, this will mean aligning your accounts and practice systems around one centralised platform.
To make your data work harder:
- Ensure you have full integration across all solutions, and look for software that offers the right APIs (application programming interface) and integrations to connect up your practice tools and port data effectively between sources.
- Centralise all your client data into one main data hub so you have fast and easy access to the information you need, and it is easy to see emerging trends across your client base you can act on.
- Run your various compliance workflows and reporting from a single application, so you can manage tasks, analyse data, pull off real-time reports and communicate directly with clients efficiently. This will help you increase the number of clients a team member can manage too.
4. Automate your compliance work
Completing compliance work is one of the main drains on your highly qualified staff’s time and productivity. Using technology to automate time-intensive areas such as bookkeeping, pre-accounting and data entry frees up time and allows the team to focus on advising.
To embrace automation fully:
- Automate your bookkeeping using optical character recognition (OCR) technology and data management apps like Receipt Bank or AutoEntry to smart scan clients’ paperwork, digitise the outputs and pull the resulting data through into your accounts software and workflow platform.
- Automate clients’ credit control by using the debtor tracking tools in your software, or integrating with automated debtor apps such as Chaser or Fluidly to automatically chase up your client’s late payments and improve their aged debt numbers.
- Automate reminders and notifications to clients using the smart reminders in your software solutions to communicate with clients when VAT information is needed, tax information needs to be submitted or payroll run requires review and sign-off etc.
5. Get proactive with your insight
Technology can increasingly do much of the low-level analysis by itself, with machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities expanding at pace within accounting.
To get proactive with your advice and client conversations:
- Define the positive and negative elements to tag, and set up your software to automatically analyse and filter data to pull out key issues and opportunities.
- Produce regular reporting and insights, and add your own personal commentary to the trends analysis, red/green flags and insights produced by your reporting software.
- Make this a conversation starter, sit down with the client to talk through the commentary and insights, and define what additional services or work they may need.
6. Have the right team and skill set
Hiring, training and retaining the right people is fundamental to delivering any new services. The ability to hold meaningful advisory conversations with clients is a key skill – so if you’re aiming to deliver advisory services, it’s critical to have the right talent in the firm.
To create a team that meets the challenge:
- Define the key roles you need, and how they will deliver your upgraded services.
- Promote or hire the best people for the job, expanding your talent pool.
- Educate your team to expand their knowledge, increasing their value to clients. Build meaningful rapport with clients, so they trust and value your staff.
7. Deepen your client relationships
According to Xero 30% of small businesses place accountants at the top of their list of trusted advisors – and providing value-added services can add considerably to this level of trust.
Accounting may once have been a numbers game, but building a truly great 21st century accountancy firm, a firm of the future, is increasingly about your ability to build deep relationships. It’s these long-term connections and partnerships that will drive your move to advisory.
To build and nurture these relationships:
- Spend more 1-2-1 time with clients whether that’s in person, on the phone or via video conferencing apps like Skype, Zoom or Webex. Increasing your interactions is a key way to make clients feel they’re getting more value from the relationship.
- Get to know their business inside and out and listen to clients’ goals, worries and what their current pain points are. The better you know their company, the more advice and value you can add for them as a trusted partner.
- Personalise your advice and services so your client feels they’re getting a bespoke service that’s properly focused on the numbers, KPIs and goals that matter to them.
To discover how to fully embrace connected accounting and become the accountancy firm of the future, download our latest eGuide.