How to differentiate your firm while modernising your practice
By Heather Smith
Cloud accounting has changed the financial landscape, and accountants and bookkeepers around the world are turning to innovative business technology solutions and adopting branding strategies to ensure they not only thrive in the modern business world but also future proof their practice. While educating clients to move from desktop to cloud platforms, accounting practices are also looking internally, shaking up both front and back office operations. From adopting slick on-boarding methods, integrated practice management solutions, paperless office revolutions, social media and single branded app strategies, as well as niching and branded offices spaces right through to ditching conventional old-school ‘shirt and tie’ wisdom, accounting practices are embracing options to distinguish themselves, maximise revenue and cultivate loyal clients.
While advisors are moving clients to online accounting solutions, they themselves are utilising single ledger systems like that offered between Xero and Xero Practice Manager. The integrated solutions mean they have the ability to access and simultaneously work on the same data that the business uses. This means they no longer have to deal with backing up files, saving them to external hard drives or USB sticks, and then restoring them via the correct desktop solution if they have it. In other words, no downtime and no rekeying of data.
Businesses are also streamlining their front of house administrative burden by engaging solutions like Practice Ignition, a client lifecycle management tool. This tool features on-boarding, engagement and quoting within the solution. From providing simple compliance work to defined packages and the incorporation of scope creep, it simplifies the contractual and recurring payment relationship with the client. Founder of Practice Ignition, Guy Pearson, has a philosophy around doing ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ and believes that, through the adoption of cloud technology, accounting practices are better placed to grow their clients’ businesses and improve the client experience.
Accounting and bookkeeping practices are also moving their own documents to cloud storage services that integrate with their practice management solution. Integrated with Xero Practice Manager and Office 365, for example, the Full Suite offers template management, security management, sharing and notifications abilities built around a cloud-based structured file management system. ‘It just makes things a little bit more productive for your business,’ says Andrew Sims, co-founder of the Full Suite.
Utilising technology, accountants and bookkeepers are also moving beyond classic, old-school compliance services. The conversation between advisors is changing, and to differentiate themselves from the herd of modernising practices, leading accounting firms are recognising they need to implement strong branding strategies.
MyFirmsApp offers accounting and bookkeeping practices the innovative concept of gathering together all the recommend cloud solutions for their clients, such as Xero, Chaser and Receipt Bank, along with a GPS logbook tool, calculator and tax content – all packaged in a single interface as the practice’s own branded app. The client’s interaction with the business platform is entrenched through his or her relationship with the advisor, while the advisor is in a unique position of being able to take the lead in identifying, recommending and implementing best of class solutions for the client. Furthermore, MyFirmsApp is a content and communication marketing tool offering the ability to engage with the client through intuitive push notifications.
Of course, accountants and bookkeepers are also getting social! Marketing specialist and founder of Yellow Bucket Marketing, Joe Winston, believes modern accounting and bookkeeping practices can distinguish themselves on social media by being personal, and having a personality. Winston says, ‘Accounting practices need to go through a process of analysing who their brand would be if it were a person, and how would they speak to people and other brands, and then actually do that. So, find other brands in common and actually interact with them on a social platform.’ The typical social media platforms professionals can be found on are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Practices are also looking towards niching in vertical markets; that is, they’re focused on only working with businesses from a defined industry, such as the creative industries or the medical profession. From an outsider’s perspective, they become the go-to firm in the industry they specialise in. From the client’s perspective, the accounting practice has an in-depth understanding of the industry, and can be proactive when it comes to legislation, trends and buying power. From the accountant’s perspective, they’re operating in a cost-efficient manner, maximising the value for their client.
Inspire CA have embraced branding to set themselves apart from other Australian accounting firms. As you enter the Inspire CA offices, you’re greeted by a large sign that says, ‘Welcome to Inspire Business Hub! We are numbers people, and we believe family is number 1 #InspireFamily’. What makes this experience even more extraordinary is the sign is hung over a licensed café counter. Chartered Accountant Ben Walker, Inspire CA founder and CEO, has built his Brisbane-based accountancy practice literally around a licensed café and a brightly coloured, funky co-working space for local businesses that offers educational meet-ups and mentoring opportunities. The accounting practice itself is focused on helping young families running small business. Walker says he has an ‘empathy for the struggles that young families who run small businesses go through: financially, emotionally, relationally and health’.
Prospective or existing clients need to understand the benefits of their relationship with their accountant can go beyond tax and compliance obligations. Old-school accounting work is becoming increasingly automated, so proactive, forward-thinking accountants and bookkeepers are well positioned to help their small-business clients prosper. Accessing cloud business platforms allows them to monitor performance, and using branded apps means they can communicate directly with clients. To gain the competitive advantage, attract a loyal client base and encourage referrals, accounting practices need to explore and embrace technology and the branding that aligns with their unique selling proposition.