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guidance | accountingweb | let clients do more themselves
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Don’t be afraid to let your clients do more

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Encouraging clients to take care of their finances themselves might sound counterintuitive, but it can be a way to focus on more valuable services.

25th May 2023
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Many accountants are reluctant to encourage clients to take a DIY approach to their finances – whether out of concern they’ll inevitably have to correct mistakes, or nervousness around talking themselves out of a job if a client becomes too self-sufficient. 

But many accountants also want to broaden the scope of their support – becoming clients’ vital advisory partners, as well as providing functional, compliance-based services.

With artificial intelligence (AI) developing at breakneck speed, and millennials (digital natives who expect tech-led solutions and autonomy) making up 75% of working professionals by 2025, accountants now have to work smarter to demonstrate their value. 

Empowering clients to handle the basics themselves is one way to achieve that.

Why you should encourage your clients to do more

Obviously, some clients just want you to handle everything for them. They don’t want to think about numbers, aren’t interested in poring over dashboards, and sleep easy knowing their compliance boxes are ticked. 

Ask yourself, though – are these the types of clients you want to work with? If you want to build long-term relationships that you can rely on in future, it makes sense to focus your energy on clients who are proactive and eager to learn.

These kinds of clients recognise that by embracing tech, and building good habits into their routine, they’ll free up your time (and their budgets) so you can support them with valuable advice that can push them towards their goals. 

Remember that nobody understands a business’s ambitions better than its founder – so letting them run things where they can makes sense. 

If that means that, with your guidance, they’re able to manage their bookkeeping using good tech and keep a handle on cashflow management, that’s brilliant. You’re free to focus on valuable tax planning and business advisory work and reassure them that they’re making the right decisions.

How to encourage your clients to do more

Both compliance and advisory work rely on good-quality data – you need to be able to trust that the information you’re using is accurate, and that your clients aren’t putting expenses against the wrong categories or struggling to keep on top of the books. 

So, depending on your clients’ financial literacy, there’s a good chance you’ll have to invest time educating them – debunking myths, explaining concepts and showing them how straightforward accounting tasks can be. 

There are two main ways to approach this. 

Firstly, communication is key. Use clear and simple language, explain things in a way that makes sense to someone without an accounting background. Present information through storytelling, rather than bombarding clients with facts, processes and numbers. 

Next, it’s all about tech: making sure you’ve got the right software in place, explaining features and functions, and teaching clients how to use it. 

Good habits to build 

A cloud accounting solution is only as good as those using it. Once clients are familiar with the basics, you can focus on the following.

  1. Prioritise automation Encourage clients to automate invoices, payment reminders and bills (using features like optical character recognition so they don’t have to manually enter details), and set up rules for suppliers they regularly transact with. 
  2. Get bank feeds set up While you’ll still need to reconcile each month, helping clients get feeds working correctly should remove the need to manually track regular transactions (and you’ll know you’re always working with live data).
  3. Build KPI dashboards If clients can proactively measure progress against key performance indicators (KPIs), they’ll be clued up on areas that need work, meaning your advisory conversations can be more sophisticated.
  4. Focus on integrations The right software will allow everything to sync (customer relationship management systems, inventory management, payment providers and so on) and data to flow freely without manual intervention. Clever integrations also elevate customer experience (like using a payment platform to pay directly through an invoice), which could lead to repeat business.

For a client DIY approach to truly work, you’ll need to help clients succeed by holding them to account. 

Regular check-ins where you follow the same steps – set goals, fix budgets, run forecasts, review progress – keep things structured and make sure clients are managing things correctly and keeping on top of their books.

A hybrid approach works for both sides

The idea that allowing clients to manage their own bookkeeping will result in them no longer needing you is a misconception. Ultimately, allowing your clients to do more is a win for both sides. 

Your job becomes easier and you can concentrate on more valuable work, while your clients can take positive action – empowered to progress towards their own goals, supported by your guidance.

Business owners and entrepreneurs will leave your conversations bubbling with innovative ideas and new ways to save costs, reduce their tax burden or generate income, reassured that they’ve got a professional in their corner. 

If you want to find out more about Bright and the tools it creates to help accountants have a happy and efficient working life, get in touch.

Replies (5)

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By Paul Crowley
26th May 2023 18:16

So based on this I should dump the majority of my clients?
You really should read some of the community comments on ANY article referring to MTD.

But welcome
You first item on this site

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By Matrix
27th May 2023 07:27

Clients who do their own bookkeeping still need compliance services though.

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By johnthegood
28th May 2023 20:25

All sounds great in the theoretical classroom, but the reality is a far as East is from West.

I can only assume you have never spent any time in a small practice, 90% of our clients wouldn't even know what you are on about, they really really do not any extra "advisory" services from us and don't give a rats rear end as long as the taxes are filed on time and they are told what to pay and when.

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Ellington
By Peter Ellington
30th May 2023 17:34

Clients doing more is an experience that I am having with FreeAgent Co-pilot service. As a Co-pilot, the clients do their own Accounts filing, CT600, payroll, VAT and self-assessment. They fly, and we keep an eye on them. Some of them have been with us for a year now, and we don't check in unless they ask us a specific question. The fees are not massive, but because of the reduced level of service, it is working out Ok.

Some cases have been very alarming; on the initial review, I was surprised by the number fundamental of errors made. However, they were soon resolved, and we now have co-pilot clients who require very little input from us.

Is this the future - or one version of it?

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Replying to Peter Ellington:
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By johnthegood
30th May 2023 19:11

Peter Ellington wrote:

Clients doing more is an experience that I am having with FreeAgent Co-pilot service. As a Co-pilot, the clients do their own Accounts filing, CT600, payroll, VAT and self-assessment. They fly, and we keep an eye on them. Some of them have been with us for a year now, and we don't check in unless they ask us a specific question. The fees are not massive, but because of the reduced level of service, it is working out Ok.

Some cases have been very alarming; on the initial review, I was surprised by the number fundamental of errors made. However, they were soon resolved, and we now have co-pilot clients who require very little input from us.

Is this the future - or one version of it?

Not quite sure where to begin with this, but there are two obvious things that stand out to me.

Firstly, how many people are doing this without a co-pilot and crashing badly. It would be interesting to learn from you what errors you have found but I suspect they more often than not result in underpaid tax than overpaid, as if we needed any more evidence that MTD is a terrible idea.

Secondly, it makes me feel very sad that we have all worked very very hard to gain the years of expertise that we have so that we can quickly spot errors and yet here you are giving that knowledge away for next to nothing so that they can DIY in future, imagine going to a garage and the mechanic telling you he would rather teach you how to fix your engine so you don't come back again, seems daft to me.

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