Proposal software: The quest for extra efficiency
AccountingWEB’s roving community software reviewer Glenn Martin gets his teeth into the specialist apps that automate quoting and on boarding new clients.
This year I set out to sign up a lot of clients, so I can switch away from chasing new client to selling additional services to existing ones instead.
This approach raises a lot of problems. On boarding clients is time-consuming and having good systems in place would help. My current system of pricing could be better, too. At present, I have a detailed spreadsheet model that calculates price. I then issue a Word document with the proposal on it and a service specification attached as an appendix.
My trusty spreadsheet has got me this far, but the output could be better and present a more professional image. I need to add an “Accept button” and have more standard pricing so that other people in the practice can issue quotes and get the same answer. I also need to look at what is included in my fixed fees. I am guilty of doing extra small tasks and not charging for them. I could easily go through all clients and pick up an extra £100 to £200 on each one, which would wash through as extra profit. When quoting a fixed price with my model, one figure covers everything. Some systems do it line by line, which might highlight the value to clients better.
I have looked at practice management systems to help, but with a few exceptions they didn’t go into the areas I wanted. When I delved into proposal tools earlier in the year, I was surprised at the cost. Go Proposal is £100 per month; by comparison I pay £120 for full TaxCalc suite for unlimited clients. I was put off initially, as I didn’t think what I wanted to fix was a £1,200 problem.
Some developers are a little too pushy for me and expect people to sign up on the spot before they change their mind – a bit like double glazing salesmen. I would sooner they gave their quote and left it to the customer to accept when they were happy to, not because they were talked into something they later regretted.
And I don’t buy these success stories where small firms “saw the light” and now charge seven times the fees for the same work they were doing before. I am looking to use systems and efficiencies to get maybe 20% to 30% extra out my existing clients. For me, this is a more realistic and attainable goal.
Assessing the contenders
After some research, I narrowed the main candidates down to Go Proposal and Practice Ignition. For a balanced view I also took a look at Pricingthecloud.com and Quotient. Those looking for built-in proposal facilities might look at practice management systems like Accountancy Manager and Prosper.
Go Proposal - from £100pm
Like Vincent Vega in ‘Pulp Fiction’ who cannot get his head around what a $5 milk shake looks like, I need to see what is involved in a £100 bit of proposal software so I thought I would start here first. After being bombarded with GoProposal marketing for months, I sort of didn’t want to like this software before I tried it, but to be honest, in the words of Vega, “It’s a pretty good milk shake.” I just don’t know if it’s worth £100.
GoProposal is very easy to use. Within 30 minutes a real person contacts you to get you all set up and ready to go, which is increasingly rare these days. The on boarding is first class and the software comes pretty much ready to go. It is already preloaded with the My Accountancy Place pricing built in. Some parts are a little rich for my clients, but it is easy to tweak to suit. I wonder if many firms in Manchester bought this software and then undercut MAP by a fiver to get the work?
The software is very well thought out and easy to use. You can be up and running, issuing quotes within minutes. It also links with Xero, so when quotes are accepted you can push that information out to sort billing.
GoProposal allows you to do mid-year sign ups, which I liked, and flexes pricing by five levels to adjust for quality of records. Once you have removed the cheesy Bruce Lee quotes from the preloaded template and tailored it to suit your practice, the final output is very professional looking.
The quote is very detailed and includes everything that you do, listed with its own price. There is nothing touchy feely about this product - it’s about getting paid for everything you do. Rolling this out could easily add 20%-30% extra to your fees by simply re-quoting current jobs and including everything you do.
The product expects you to review fees quarterly which would be overkill for my clients, and I would feel all I was doing was issuing updated proposals although I get the sentiment. Annual reviews are sufficient for me or maybe a 6-month review if a Xero client has ended up a lot bigger job than first anticipated.
Glennzy’s Verdict – 8.5/10
It’s not quite a 10 from Glenn, but it’s pretty damn good, and it will improve with each update. Although the pricing will put off most sole practitioners, I cannot think why any mid-tier firm would not adopt it. The developer also has an “army of one” plan where you can issue five proposals a month for £50, which is a bit tight. Make it 10 for £50 and I could see mass adoption from the army of one brigade. On the functionality side, they might work on the GoProposal dashboard to bring it closer to the level of Practice Ignition.
Practice Ignition – From £39pm
Practice Ignition is the obvious choice for firms that have gone down the 100% Xero route. It was included as one of the nine “super apps” that feature in Xero HQ, which I think is going to be big. The guys at PI are proud of that status and say that if you like the product now, you will be delighted as the integration with Xero HQ matures.
After signing up you are contacted by a real person, who spends a decent amount of time going through the software and showing you how to make it work for you. The on boarding is very good, but unlike GoProposal this is not pre-setup, so you have you build your own pricing templates. This is not that difficult and PI will set it all up with your own templates up and bring in clients from Xero or XPM for a fee, (I think £600). You could set up it yourself in a couple of hours with your main pricing templates and then add others as you become more proficient with the software.
The front end of PI is excellent the proposal and engagement letter issued look they part - they would be easy to accept. Once you get it back, the integration with Xero and XPM is very slick, which I expect to skyrocket as Xero HQ grows up. The product expects you to do a proposal every year, which may be overkill for smaller jobs; chasing tax-only cases for signed paperwork could become tedious.
Practice Ignition works on the principal that the quote is issued after an initial fact finding meeting and the customer will accept when they’re happy to commit. That’s more how I operate than pushing for acceptance face to face at a meeting.
What I really like is the PI dashboard, which shows all your key data, client numbers, GRF, proposals issued, conversions and so on. We love a good dashboard at Avery Martin. This one is a winner and should be used as a benchmark for dashboards. If someone asked how clients I have and what my fees are, I would have to go and work it out – so this feature would be very useful.
Glennzy’s Verdict - 8/10
A great bit of kit which is well supported and a must for the Xero-based, fixed price accountant. I can see these becoming an integral part within the Xero HQ setup. On the functional side, the only recommendation I would suggest would be to make the pricing part more intuitive to allow prices to be flexed for quality of records or industry type.
Pricingthecloud.com – from £29.99pm
I initially signed up to V2 for pricingthecloud.com and was initially puzzled as to what it was. On signing into the trial, you get access to a blank website. After some digging, you are directed to Mark Wickersham’s online shop, where you have watch a series of eight videos on how to set it up. The you must buy a series of modules from said shop. After watching a few of the videos I gave up, as it seemed over-complicated and time-consuming. I emailed support and they suggested I try V1 instead as it was setup better for first timers, so I did.
As the name suggests pricingthecloud is a template for pricing cloud-based services. It does not issue proposals or engagement letters, so would only replace the spreadsheet template I use to calculate prices.
V1 looked more straightforward. The assumption is that you would sit with a prospect with this software open on a tablet and run through a series of questions to produce three price options at Premium, Full and Entry level. If you look at the screenshot above, the three figures it produces are £4,699, £4,067 and £259. It clearly has not divided the first two options by 12 to come up the monthly figure, which would be embarrassing in front of a client. When you consider who is behind the product that is a bit of a blooper.
The pricing principles seem fine and you amend the parameters to tweak the results, for example to add a weighting to the price if the business is a restaurant and so on. But I find some practice gurus are really detached from people at the sharp end. Pricingthecloud offers three-tier pricing for every service including payroll and tax returns. It may sound good at a conference when trying to sell marketing services to naïve accountants, but in the 30 years I have been in accountancy, I have yet to meet a client who wants “gold Level” payroll. They just want things like payroll auto enrolment to be done correctly and as cheaply as possible.
Glennzy’s Verdict – 4/10
There are “special prices” available to QuickBooks ProAdvisors, but even if it was free, the kinks in the software need to be ironed out if subscribers are expected to use this as a tool within their practices. You could spend an hour or so and build your own spreadsheet that would do a job that would just as well. You’d be for better off spending the extra £10 and get Practice Ignition. Very disappointed.
Quotient – From £13pm for single user
Quotient is worth a look for those just starting out or operating on a budget. It does not have all the bells and whistles of GoPropsoal, but it will do a job for you. It isn’t specifically designed for accountants like the others tested, but I actually like its simplicity and the support around the set-up is also very good. This will be very useful for those who offer a compliance-based service with a bronze, silver and gold offering, as it can be set up to give three monthly figures. The client simply ticks the option they want then press the “Accept” button and away you go.
If you just go in at gold level you may lose the client all together, so the three tier approach (also promoted by Mark Wickersham at Pricingthecloud) gives you three bites at the cherry. The product also links to Xero and QBO, and can pull existing client data in from Xero to prepare fresh quotes. Once accepted, it will push that info back to Xero to generate invoices and so on.
You have to set up Quotient yourself, but could probably get basic packages up and running in 30mins and issuing with your first quote, and then add others as you go on. The product comes with a decent dashboard showing quotes issued and accepted. The “Accept” button is included on the quote and quite slick. The program does not have built-in engagement letters, so you would have to issue your own once your quote is accepted.
This tool could also be used by clients in a host of business types that issue quotes before starting work, so it would be worth checking out for the portfolio of add-on apps you recommended to clients.
Glennzy’s Verdict – 7/10
For a new practice starting out that doesn’t want the cost of some of the other products, Quotient would work well. It will allow you to produce professional looking proposals and standardise your pricing with a minimum amount of setup. The easy accept button and Xero link will also meet most needs. At this price, it certainly offers great value for money and is worth a trial if you are considering practice pricing software.