How to Build a Scaleable Accounting Practice in the Cloud
Posted on 29th September 2017 in Advisory
Written by Freya Hughes
Reaching the level that some firms are at can seem like conquering a mountain. It is a long journey that you must be prepared for, however, the benefits outweigh the cons so much. In a world where firms are hopping aboard the cloud accounting and advisory train, it’s time you got yourself caught up! In this blog we’re looking at how to build a scaleable cloud accounting practice, and you’ll learn what to focus on to succeed.
When you’ve been in the industry for a while, you can get complacent. When revenue is coming in steadily, it might seem like all is well. However, the old ‘if it ain’t broke’ saying is a load of rubbish. Your practice isn’t ‘broke’ but it’s not perfect either. If you’ve not joined the cloud yet, we’re sorry to tell you that you’re actually lagging behind. With Xero launching in 2006, for example, you’re rather late to the party, and they report that firms on the cloud attract five times more clients than traditionally operating practices.. But, as they say, better late than never. We’re looking at how to make a success of your practice once you’ve made the leap into the cloud.
Programs like Xero and QuickBooks have used the ‘cloud’ to reinvent accounting services and take the monotony out of your day-to-day tasks. The cloud is essentially a storage system in the internet – goodbye filing cabinets and servers! The software available is fantastic for automating previously arduous jobs, cutting the time you spend on manual processes in half, or more. It also allows you to see real-time financial reports. This is such a revolution within the industry, I bet you’re already kicking yourself for not signing up to it sooner. No more worries of files being corrupted or deleted, paperwork going missing or forgetting anything when you’re off to a meeting. On (almost) any device, log in and you’re away.
But why is everyone gravitating towards this way of working? Well, there are a few reasons:
- Clients need immediate access to their figures. They want and need to see their figures at a moment’s notice, and in an age where so much is automated people are expecting you to keep up.
- Clients are always looking ahead. If you’re just keeping your clients compliant, then you’re not the right accountant for them. No offence intended here, but if they can look to the future, it’s your job to as well. Forecasting is the only way to keep pace with your clients’ way of operating.
- Clients need guidance. Not every single one of your clients is going to ask you for your opinions, but a significant amount of them would benefit greatly from your knowledge of industry. You’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, so make some money from it! You need to be asking them questions and looking at trends next to forecasted figures.
- Clients need goals. Some of your clients will have very rigid targets, and this is a double edged sword. Sometimes the rigidity will prevent them from being agile and moving with the times, while conversely targets are a crucial part of staying on the right path.
You’ll notice every point here begins with ‘clients’ – you must be putting their needs first.
That’s the ‘why’. So “what’s the ‘how’?” I hear you cry. Set up your cloud accounting and head to the marketplace. That is, the Xero Marketplace (or QBO if you prefer) in which you’ll find a plethora of applications waiting for you. There are SO many to choose from it can be overwhelming, but the main thing here is to keep your focus. You need to put your clients first, so have a look at which ones would be the most suitable for their needs. Using Xero as an example, their marketplace is sectioned by industry, and all have an introduction and a user rating. Sometimes you may have to conduct trials to ensure you’ve got the correct one for you and your clients, but do investigate as much as you need to and don’t lose faith. To give you a helping hand…
Or if you prefer…
You’re kitted out with the finest tech on the market. How are you going to attract new clients? Well you need to align your services with what business owners need.
“True scalability allows for expansion and revenue growth while minimising increases in operational costs.” – Knowledge Center
Future focus: welcome to advisory
Clients require someone to guide their company through the murky waters of business, not somebody who will only discuss their historical figures. Ask a business owner about the future and the chances are you’ll struggle to get a word in. Take advantage of their passion and drive to help both of you push the business forward. Business advisory services are what accountants provide their clients, focusing upon strategising for the success and growth of a business.
You need to set up clients with forecasts to show them how forward-focused you are. Forecasting is the best way to see how healthy a business is, and the way it works is to project figures in the future. This is exactly what your clients need, as it’ll allow them to make decisions with confidence. You essentially need to become a hybrid of an accountant, business coach and friend for your clients, as that’s going to help massively when it comes to strategising their future success.
Advisors themselves are a hybrid of business coaches, mentors and even friends. A great advisor will ask questions and dig into their client’s business as deep as possible. Examining previous trends and combining them with forecasts allow you to think ahead to the impact of coming events.
Rolling out advisory
There are of course a lot of ways to approach your shift to advisory services. But to get you started, we spoke to Adam Davy, the Head of Advisory for BDO New Zealand, recently who told us his 7-part framework for moving to advisory. Before meeting with clients Adam and his team create a dashboard in FUTRLI so that they know what the numbers are before the meeting. He tells us that asking questions is a crucial part of making this approach successful. The 7-part framework includes questions such as:
Question 1: What are their goals and what strategy are they executing?
Question 2: What is their business structure and is it suitable for that business model?
Question 3: How are their reporting on business performance and monitoring this?
Question 4: What management and governance are in place?
Question 5: What is their exit strategy and do they have a successor?
Question 6: Do you like paying tax? – We are kidding with that questions, of course. As Adam confirms…“No one likes paying the maximum amount of tax, so that’s an easy conversation. However, I expect it is an area you are already supporting them with.”
Question 7: What are your personal ambitions?
This is just one example of how to get the discussion about your advisory services, but it’s a great one to get you thinking about how your cloud practice is going to differ from a traditional set up.
Structure is key
When you’re transforming your firm, you need to be consistent. You’re being paid for your services, so you’ve got to be there for everyone of your clients. Consistency makes your firm’s reputation grow, so to not implement processes is very dangerous.
Setting up workflows, for example, will make sure your team are all on the same page. A workflow is a series of tasks designed to produce a desired outcome, giving your staff the tools they need to collaborate. Collaboration often produces the best results, especially when working over the cloud. Multiple pairs of eyes on a task will allow you to analyse and deliberate how to produce the best results or conclusion. You’ll find your team will begin to work more in unity with one another.
If you want to ensure you’re really nailing your new way of working, have a look into Continuing Professional Development (CPD) schemes. They’re the best way to enhance your skills, and that of your team, in which you’ll gain knowledge and experience, both formally and informally as you work – beyond any initial training. It’s a great way to combine education and work. We believe in this so much that we created the FUTRLI Advisory Certification course. It’s 26 modules, covering everything from pricing advisory services to introducing forecasting to clients and all of the functionality within FUTRLI
Your team will become more competent and efficient in their roles, agile in so much as they’ll be able to adapt to changes and developments in industry and in your firm – and have the ability to identify and close up gaps in their knowledge. Your brand perception will be increased, and employing it internally encourages and promotes a good learning culture. In turn, you’ll notice that your team are more fulfilled in their roles, so staff retention will not be a worry.
Firms that are resistant to changes like investing in CPD are likely to fail as staff won’t be as qualified as they could be. Resistance comes when people don’t understand how beneficial these are, and have no idea how to get started. CPD will keep your practice relevant and fast-track your (and your team’s) learning.
If that’s not enough, we can also help you with…
- White Labelling. Make FUTRLI your own by uploading your own branding and log in page. Perfect for advisory, white labelling the platform will give your clients the full experience of your firm.
- Benchmarking. Evaluate your clients’ business against their industry standard. They’ll get a great understanding of where they are against their competitors.
- Training. If you feel unsure as to how to conduct a health check or shifting to advisory, get in touch. We have Management Accountants on hand who will coach you through it all.
- Marketing training. Completed all of the above and want to shout about it? We’ll take you through SEO, social media and email campaigns to really get your voice heard.