Product Update September 2021

I was going to start this update with an apology as we were hopeful of getting this out to you before our official launch at the Digital Accountancy Show being held on 1st September.  As you can tell we missed that by a few weeks.

That being said I think you’ll like what we have to offer so much that I’ll let you be the judge of whether an apology is due or not.  Enjoy!

New – Peace of Mind

It is part of our mission that all small business owners feel the love not just those that sit within that top tier paying for ‘advisory’.  We get that you can’t justify paying for a software subscription for all clients when they are not paying for that additional level of support.  We aim to fix that by providing you for free the tools to start meaningful conversations with clients.  We hope that those conversations become fruitful for the accountant and the business owner.

Free Basic Alerts Suite

We have created a suite of 9 alerts that cover the bank, sales and bills.  These alerts are generated when clients are set to ‘free’ on the new billing tab under Practice Admin.  They are a guide to highlight where things may be going wrong and a prompt for conversations with clients.

If you have a mixture of paid and free clients you will find the basic alerts at the bottom of your alerts list.  They are also shown in the alerts filter so you can choose to look at just the free alerts.

Enjoy peace of mind that anything falling outside of the basic parameters is captured for every client completely free of charge.

New Dashboard

To complement the free basic alerts suite we have added a new dashboard where you can keep an eye on the ‘free’ alerts.  These alerts are not included in the metrics present on the other dashboards available.

Here you will be able to find information on the top 5 issues for each type of alert.  Once you have tackled those 5 issues they will be replaced by the next 5.  As you can see from the below unreconciled bank transactions are ordered by the largest monetary amount unreconciled as well as telling you the number of bank statement lines.  We believe this gives a better reflection of those clients records that are most likely to be inaccurate.  The data relating to invoices and bills is shown in the same way.

MOT Report

The MOT report highlights at client level those alerts that have triggered with commentary on why they have triggered.  This can be used as a guide for internal purposes but can also be saved as a PDF report (CTRL + P in your browser) and issued to a client should you wish to send them something to strike up a meaningful conversation.  This report will highlight to clients that you are going above and beyond the basics for them.

This will give clients peace of mind – you have their backs.

Example PDF Report

Improvements

Client View Table

We have added the number of days until quarter end and year end into the client view table.  This enables you to sort your clients by how many days there are to the nearest quarters or years upcoming.

Whilst the columns in this table are draggable so you can change them to suit your requirements we have changed the default order of the columns so it runs in a more logical order and will avoid you having to drag so many columns around.  They can get heavy.

Bugs

  • Correct issue with colour of average Heart Rate graph on User Dashboard, colour dependent on the average score achieved
  • Adjust Practice dashboard panels to improve sizing on smaller display
  • Remove current dashboard from dashboard dropdown selection options
  • Amend alert settings modal to include a scroller on smaller display to be able to update all settings
  • Amend formatting of bank and credit card alert if displaying negative balance

Product Update August 2021

Really excited as we build towards our official launch at the Digital Accountancy Show being held on 1st September.  Why not book a free ticket and come and see us there?

This is going to be the first of two-parter this month as we aim to have some more goodies ready before our official launch.

If you require any further information on the changes below then please checkout the updated Knowledgebase articles.

New

Manager Dashboard

To complement the new user dashboard we have now completed work on the manager dashboard.  This one is aimed at the seniors and middle management in your practice to help them focus their mind and attention on the key critical things.  What deadlines are upcoming, what is the quality of the records and what needs to be done and more importantly by whom.  Keep an eye on your clients and team without micro managing their every move.  Easily understand what needs attention and take corrective action.  Identify who your star performers are and congratulate them on doing a great job.

Read more.

 

Onboarding

With greater functionality comes more complexity.  Listening to feedback from our early adopters we have implemented a more rigorous onboarding process to help you get up to speed as quickly as possible and start filtering out that noise sooner.

Watch the video below for a quick tutorial on how to get step up in a few simple steps.

 

Improvements

Alerts and Transactions at Client level

Whilst we see great value in having everything at a practice level we appreciate there are times when you wish to work on a client in isolation.  As such we have added the alerts and transactions data into the client screen.  This will enable you to spend time focusing on one client at a time.  Unlike the practice wide transaction view you now have the ability to sort the client level data by each column header.  We hope that by bringing everything together in this way it will make your life simpler as you could record a video to share with clients of their current position without worrying about inadvertently displaying information on another client.

You will now see a couple of additional tabs in the client screen and we have re-ordered the tabs so they appear in a more logical workflow.

 

Client Key Data colours

A small upgrade to make it easier to distinguish those upcoming client deadlines.  We have colour coded the Client Key Data panel to show you how close you are to an upcoming deadline.

Financial Year End – Less than 45 days pink, 46 – 120 orange, 121+ green

Next Quarter End – Less than 21 days pink, 22 – 45 orange, 45+ green

  • Renamed the misposted bills  alert to variance analysis to make it clearer
  • Added nominal account code name next the account code on the variance analysis for easy identification
  • Amended the Heart Rate score icons to show a switch if an alert is currently turned off.  This acts as a reminder when running the report which items are not currently active for that client.  Clicking on the switch will open a new window at the alert settings so you can update if required.
  • Amended the Heart Rate colour to reflect of a section has a 0 score available because all alerts in that section are turned off.

Bugs

  • Corrected issue where alerts switched off impacted the Heart Rate scores
  • User dashboard now only shows alert graph for alerts where you are assigned to the alert not because you are assigned as a user at client level
  • User dashboard critical alerts only show the critical alerts where you are assigned to the alert not because you are assigned as a user at client level
  • Standard dashboard reverted back to showing top 3 items alone which has corrected the data displaying outside of the card
  • Temporarily removed the bank balance tile from the client overview screen to avoid the display issues with bank balances in multi currencies.  This will be returned once we find a better way to display this information.

Product Update July 2021

It’s a whopper.  Some big changes this month but more importantly key structural changes that will enable us to go further and provide more granular performance metrics in future releases.  As usual a big thanks to everyone for their feedback during this latest release.

If you require any further information on the changes below then please checkout the updated Knowledgebase articles.

New

User Dashboard

The old dashboard didn’t quite cut the mustard so we are pleased to launch the first of three new dashboards.  This one is aimed at the bookkeeper and junior members in your practice to help them focus their mind and attention on the key critical things.  What deadlines are upcoming, what is the quality of the records and what needs to be done and more importantly by whom.  Check out your alerts and heart rate monitors to maintain control over whether trends are moving in the right direction and if not take action.

Read more.

 

Practice Defaults

Now you can set your own practice wide defaults for alert settings.  This drives a consistent approach to how you look after clients.  Start with the defaults and then tweak them to suit every client.  This is a much quicker approach than going through each one individually.  Coupled with the new Client User Roles (more on that later) you don’t even have to spend time assigning alerts to people.  If someone leaves so what we’ve got it covered.  Magic.

If you have batches of clients to add in the same industry why not set defaults for that industry and then add the clients in batches.  They are your defaults you do with them as you see fit.

Read more.

 

Client User Roles

With this release the new dashboards became a reality.  We can filter out so much more noise by only ever showing client data at the right time to the right person.  You can easily determine who can see what and the actions they can take.  More importantly this change enables us to drive better reporting and metrics around individual and team performance and accountability.  We are so excited about this one as we see opportunities everywhere we look.

You must assign client roles to existing users in Hindsight for the new user dashboard functionality.

Read more.

Bookkeeping Status

Wouldn’t you like to know whether your team is genuinely better than your clients in relation to data processing?  (Maybe you’d rather not know but that defeats the object)  What if you could back that up with facts.  Hard evidence of how you could help your clients improve their life and business while taking away pain.  It might be small but it is mighty.

Read more.

 

Improvements

Transactions

We grew tired of staring at a table of numbers.  It didn’t talk to us.  We may as well have been looking at an Excel document so we changed it.  Behold the all new interactive transactions page where your Xero clients transactional data talks to you.  Select a period range and see the changes in volumes.  Someone not processing documents, someone growing quickly or perhaps an unusual seasonal fluctuation.  You’ve got this.

Read more.

 

Support Centre

A small upgrade to make it easier for you to find the stuff you need to get value from Hindsight.  No more hunting around.

Read more.

 

Product Update June 2021

In our biggest release to date we run through some of the key changes made to Hindsight.  This has been shaped by the feedback from our team of testers so a big thank you to them all.

If you require any further information on the changes below then please checkout the updated Knowledgebase articles.

New

Heart Rate Monitor

We have added a graphical representation to the Heart Rate report which shows the overall Heart Rate score for the previous 90 days.  We are logging the Heart Rate everyday so you can monitor clients progress towards a better overall score and highlight the positive impact of your work.  It can be used to identify a negative trend which would imply corrective action needs to be taken.  This offers valuable insight and genuine conversation starter with a client.

Client Key Data

Sometimes the small things in life bring the greatest pleasure.

How many times and how many clicks does it take to see that key client data? Enough for you to break your workflow and get side tracked because you forgot what you were looking for.

Not anymore. It’s just a simple hover away.

As well as some of the key client data we have calculated the next quarter end date and a countdown to the next key deadlines.

Auto Complete Alerts

The underlying rule of Hindsight was to reduce noise for accountants and bookkeepers.  This in turn would allow them to work efficiently in a logical and prioritised way.  We failed and did the opposite by flooding your software with alerts.  We did this as we wanted each and every instance of an issue to be recorded.  What we didn’t appreciate is the sheer volume of alerts that would generate and the noise you would have to fight through.

To correct this we have completely reconfigured the alerts engine so you will only ever be surfaced with the latest alert that has triggered.  This has two major benefits:

  1. you are only ever working on what genuinely needs attention – no noise just action
  2. we can now auto complete alerts for you.  If we see an alert that has previously triggered is no longer an issue we can auto complete it and remove it for you.  You will not be bothered by any issues that either you or the client have already corrected.

Alert Actions

It is not always as black and white that an alert can be corrected or not.  From feedback received we have looked at when and how the variations occur and have accommodated some changes in this area.  What action is available depends on the alert that is being cleared.  These will be expanded over time.  For now we have added the following:

  1. Dismiss – I know there is an issue but I have carried out some form of remedial action which means I am not going to correct the underlying transaction.  I do not however want to be reminded about it daily as I will not be correcting it.  An example might be where a duplicate transaction has been detected but overall the supplier account is correct as a later bill was not entered to correct the overall position.  Several months have passed and to correct the issue would involve a lot of unnecessary unpicking and reposting.
  2. Exclude – similar to dismiss but not transactional in nature.  You can exclude items such as nominal account codes or suppliers from an alert.  You are making a conscious decision for these records to be excluded when running checks.  An example would include excluding Amazon from the inconsistent postings check as you know the supplier could be posted to multiple different nominal account codes.
  3. Complete – I’ve taken corrective action and this can be removed from my list.  Complete is different to dismissing in that you are telling the system the item has been corrected.  We will look for the same issue tomorrow and if it has not been corrected it will create a fresh alert.  With a dismissed alert you are telling us to ignore it going forward.

Multi Item Alerts

To keep the noise to a minimum if there are multiple instances of the same alert type we will present just one alert notification but it will contain a note that the alert has multiple instances as shown below.

You can work through the alert in much the same way as you do with a single alert.  As you complete an action against each item it will be removed from the list.  When you action the final instance the whole alert will be marked as complete.  As you work through the list the badge icon number will be updated to reflect just the instances now outstanding.

If you try to complete the whole alert without completing each instance you will be prompted to confirm this is correct.  This could be perfectly legitimate such as Dormant Accounts that contain 14 items.  Rather than actioning each item you could hit the complete button and mark all as complete in one go.

 

Improvements

Client Overview

We have made several improvements to the client overview this release which includes the following:

  • adding the overall Heart Rate score so you can easily see the quality of clients records from one screen
  • columns are now draggable so you can sort the columns into the order that works for you
  • columns can be sorted by multiple selections allowing for you to create a view that aids interrogation of data and provides an easy visual for workflows

Alerts

Several enhancements have been added to the alerts section of Hindsight.  This provides for a much better overall experience when clearing down the alerts the system has generated.

  • Alerts page has been redesigned to remove the left hand panel containing filters.  This allows for more room on the page for the key information and avoids the alert display dropping off the right hand side of the page on smaller resolution screens.
  • Filters have been updated to show the number of filters that have been added so you can easily see what filters have been applied to your alerts.
  • You can clear any filters applied to your alerts in a single click avoiding the need to deselect the filters.
  • Default assignee filter has been applied.  When logging in the assignee will only see the alerts that are assigned to them.
  • With the addition of auto completing alerts there is no longer a need to see the date attached to an alert as they will always be up for the current day.  The priority filters replace the date filters.  We have also removed the date from the alert notification and split out the alert name and client name to make it easier to see.

Fixes

Alert filters

When you set filters on the alerts and navigate to a new page your filters are retained.  Likewise on completing an alert you will no longer be redirected back to page one of your filter but will stay on the same page.  This allows for a much quicker workflow and stops the annoying action of resetting filters.

How to make the most of your junior accountants

Junior accountants – fresh out of university, £50,000 in debt, and wanting to impress. 

So why does the profession seem to slowly crush the life and the enthusiasm out of them so quickly? 

If they join a big firm, they tend to specialise in one or two niche areas becoming experts in their field eventually but their desire to have a much wider and deeper understanding of the profession is left unfulfilled. 

If they join a smaller firm, it’s generally not as well organised, there are too many clients on the books (who are normally angry or upset at something the rare times they speak with clients), the pressure on them is intense and unrelenting, they often don’t really feel like part of a bigger team, and the hours are crushing. 

What unites junior accountants working for big firms and for smaller firms is the feeling that they’re not making a difference, they’re not learning fast enough, and they’re not getting the chance of promotion they feel they deserve. 

To millennials and Gen Zers, company culture is important as is working with the latest technology. 

Many want personal development programs in place for them at the start and nearly all of them want personalised feedback at least once every six months. 

They want to move around the businesses they work for to find the position that suits them the best to help them decide on their eventual career path – 70% of millennials join in the hope that you will create a job rotation program for them. 

This is quite a tick list for any small accountancy firm. 

However your junior accountants are the future of your practice and, in many cases, they’ll have extra energy and vitality to develop the practice that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers just don’t have anymore because they’ve got mortgages, kids, responsibilities, and so on. 

Accounting: the next generation 

To many Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, the attitude of younger members of staff can be summed up by a line delivered by an anonymous millennial member of staff to a PWC researcher in a survey of that generation’s attitude towards work: 

“My career will be one of choice, not one chosen out of desperation. It will align who I am with what I do.” 

Through a combination of watching their own parent’s experiences and from years of exposure to the news, they believe that being loyal to a company doesn’t bring any rewards or long term security to them. 

They may have a very valid point. 

Therefore what might appear to older generations to be an unreasonable and self-centred attitude makes sense with the way in which they perceive the world and how it works. 

So, what can a small accountancy practice do to first keep the junior members of staff they manage to attract and then encourage them to focus on adding value to your business and what you deliver to your clients? 

1. Give them the widest variety of tasks and be there to support them 

This is true for all of your staff but less so for more senior members of staff who statistically are more likely to be contented on further honing their expertise in areas they’re already very familiar with. 

Junior accountants are taken on by many practices to fill immediate gaps in capacity and they often tend to get stuck doing the same thing again and again. 

In addition to their general responsibilities, try to set aside a day or more every week to give them hands-on experience of, for example: 

  • preparing client accounts part way through their financial reporting period,  
  • analysing clients financial performance to look for warning signs, 
  • examining opportunities to reduce costs and increase profits for individual clients which they could then present to the client as a report, and 
  • trickier bank reconciliations to give them an appreciation of why it’s important to encourage clients to keep their financial records up to date. 

Give your junior accountants an opportunity to demonstrate their level of knowledge across particular disciplines. Congratulate and reward them when they do well and be generous with your advice, time, and support when their work doesn’t meet the required standard. 

If you have the time, show your junior accountant how you do it first with one client and ask them to do the same with other clients bringing what they’ve done back to you for feedback. 

2. Explain the importance of each function they perform to a business 

“Millennials work for a purpose and not for a pay cheque”, according to Forbes Magazine – dozens of surveys in the UK and around the world have confirmed the same. 

The best run businesses survive and prosper because their management teams work off accurate and up-to-date information. Those businesses provide their employees with jobs and they pay for the services we all rely on like the NHS, the education system, and more. 

There is a wider and greater purpose to accounting and demonstrating the value of their work to clients and to society at large will contribute to a junior employee’s sense of self-worth and increase the level of satisfaction they have working for you. 

Accounting ensures that companies compete on a level playing field and, for businesses with the potential to generate significant revenues in the future, the work done by accountants can be used to secure finance to bring forward to creation of new jobs and new opportunities. 

Accounting is a profession to be proud of. 

3. You’re their boss – take time every day to interact with junior accountants 

Three of the main reasons for unhappiness among accountants are: 

  • Expectation to work long or extended hours 
  • Lack of recognition of the work done  
  • Lack of support from managers 

Employees of all ages need to be told that they’re doing well at work – they need you to recognise the contribution they make to the practice. 

If a junior accountant feels that you, the boss, sees them every day at work and you take time out of your day to find out more about them and what they’re interested in learning, that interest and support together with the recognition for the work they’re doing will mean that, although they may not like it, they’ll work longer and harder for you because you see their quality. 

Sincere praise and congratulations are natural highs you should not deprive any of your staff of. 

Unlike more senior accountants joining your firm, junior accountants are a blank canvass. In any practice, experienced team members are needed but remember that experience also means that a member of staff is burdened by the expectations and working practices of previous employers. 

Your junior employees are, with work experience excepted, yours to mould. Your working practices will be “normal” working practices to them and you set the expectations you require from them. Take advantage of this. 

4. Partner them with senior members of staff 

To some degree, there has always been intergenerational conflict at work and today is no different. And, as in the past, it’s an overblown fear most of the time. 

The greatest gain for any small accounting practice in partnering junior and senior accountants together is the creation of camaraderie between staff members leading to the feeling that everyone belongs to the same team. 

Junior accountants benefit from knowing that senior and more experienced members of staff are approachable if they need help. And senior accountants know that, as their junior counterparts gain more experience and better insights, they’ll have their back if their workload experiences a temporary spike. 

A happy team stays together and, as long as they believe that they’re being led in the right way by you, your practice’s productivity and organisational resilience will be very strong. 

5. Encourage them to interact with clients directly 

Some people are more outgoing and gregarious than others – this is true for accountants too. 

For some junior accountants, the idea of phoning a client to speak with them is daunting, particularly if they’re ringing up to tell a client some bad news or they’re gently encouraging them to start uploading their invoices and receipts more regularly to their online bookkeeping platform. 

For your practice to be as durable, strong, and flexible as possible, clients must not feel that, if someone other than you within the firm gets in touch with them, they’re somehow being fobbed off because they’re not speaking to the main man or woman. 

Building individual relationships with clients is a learning opportunity for junior accountants and it takes the pressure of you as the head of the business to be there for every eventuality. 

And these conversations give newer team members a much better feel for the people and businesses they’re serving than analysing financial records on a computer screen ever could. 

Make sure that you’re there in the early days – practice calls with your junior colleagues prior to them picking up the phone. When they are speaking with clients for the first few times, make sure that you or a senior colleague (preferably you) are sitting next to them in case they need to ask a question. 

Following the phone call, get them to follow up with an email thanking the client for their time so that the client knows that there is more than one person looking after their account. 

As time goes on, assign more and more clients to your junior accountants to build their confidence and their portfolio making sure that there is a summary of every phone call and email so that you can make sure the relationship is progressing as it should. 

And, when it’s time to visit a client’s premises, make sure to take the junior accountant assigned to them along with you on an appointment so that your new colleagues can appreciate the business they’re working for and the jobs they’re supporting. 

6. Review their performance and ask for their opinions 

Try to review your junior accountant’s progress every six months at a maximum – let them know which areas they’re doing well in and which areas you feel they need further support in. 

But make sure that your performance reviews are just as much about listening to their opinions as sharing your own. 

In particular, ask them what the practice needs to do to make their work easier and more enjoyable – it must be the goal of every practice owner and every business owner to remove as many obstacles as possible stopping their employees from doing the best work they can do. 

Working with you, they’ll have an opportunity they won’t have working for a big firm or a large company’s internal accounting team to broaden their knowledge and their range of skills.  

At the performance meeting, ask your junior accountants which assignments they’d like to work on to both widen and deepen their general knowledge and to provide additional experience in those areas where you feel that they have not excelled yet. 

Getting your practice ready for junior accountants 

Above is a large tick-list and you might be wondering just how you can fit so many activities into your practice’s overcrowded schedule. 

We developed Hindsight over 18 months to make the business of running a small accounting firm easier by: 

  • automating many of the tasks you and your colleagues already do, 
  • allowing you to see which clients need additional training and prompting to keep their financial records up to date on Xero, and 
  • providing notifications to you and your team when a client may require help together with guidance on the type of help which you could offer. 

Hindsight has been designed to free up much more of your and your colleague’s time by making sure that the bulk of the work needed to complete a period end, year end, or Self Assessment is borne by the client over the year. 

You can use the time you’ve gained with Hindsight to make colleagues’ workloads more manageable, to delegate more of your responsibilities to colleagues, to create a better team atmosphere, and to free your practice’s dependence on you. 

You and your colleagues will have the time and the mind space to improve your relationships with your clients, offer advisory services with the support of Hindsight’s tips, and to charge a fair rate for the value you deliver. 

To find out more, please click here.  

Why small businesses need accountants and how you should pitch your services

Temporary periods of success or failure in how a client is running their business can be determined quickly by an accountant reviewing their Xero account. Sales minus expenses and taxes, is the amount left in a client’s bank account going up every quarter or is it not? 

This is the most simplistic measure, of course, but the analytical skills of an experienced accountant can reveal so much more to a client. 

You can use statistical analysis to give clients an idea of the size of forthcoming tax liabilities and whether they have the cash to afford them.  

You can interrogate last quarter’s figures and compare them with the same quarter in the previous year to examine whether turnover and profit margins have increased, remained stable, or declined. You then share with them the course of action they need to take to make more money. 

With nearly 6,000,000 businesses out there in the UK and 16,000 accountants competing to serve them, how do you position your practice to win as much business as possible while charging a rate that’s fair and commensurate with the effort you put in? 

To do this, you need to get your marketing and selling right. Marketing is the activity by which leads are generated and sales is the activity by which leads are converted into paying clients. 

Before any lead is generated or package sold, clients need to perceive and appreciate the value of what you’re offering them. That’s because, without the perception or appreciation of value, there will be no lead or sale.  

Why small businesses need accountants 

Small business owners need accountants to prepare their tax returns and ensure that those tax returns are submitted on time to HMRC and/or Companies House. 

When preparing their tax returns, clients need the re-assurance that their accountant is doing as much as they can legally to reduce their liability to HMRC. 

Clients also expect accountants to be able to answer their questions on the methodology used to calculate the amount of tax due and on other day-to-day accounting questions. 

These are the main reasons why small businesses need accountants and you’ll notice that, above, what we’ve covered are essentially only your legal requirements. 

What small businesses want from their accountants 

But clients today actually want much more than that and the way you’ll be able to charge a fair fee for your service is by appealing to and following up on clients’ actual desires. 

According to ClearBooks, 68% of clients want an accountant who’s in regular touch with them, someone they can get along with easily, who’s down the road from where they are, and who has a bank of knowledge they can tap. 

For only one in five clients, price is the most important thing – this means that, for four out of five of the potential clients you pitch on average, they’re after something more but what exactly? 

When questioned by surveyors, the type of assistance clients want the least help from is on tax – only one in 25 were particularly interested in that. 

42% of respondents said that the assistance they wanted the most was on business strategy and general financial advice – a clear indication that they’re after a partner on a journey of company growth where you can help them make the greatest return possible while being exposed to the smallest amount of risk. 

One in four respondents wanted advice on budgeting – they’re looking to you to help them save money on their fixed and variable costs. They might not really be particularly bothered about growth – instead all they want to do is make more money from the same amount of work they’re doing now. 

Around one in seven want help with payroll – that’s great for you because it’s another service you can charge for. 

From the results of the survey, it’s clear that your clients want you to be more than a filer of tax submissions – they want you to be a lot more to them and you have every right to charge more for your time and expertise. 

Being selective about who you work with 

Your accountancy practice is your business and, in the way you’re in charge of the terms and conditions of doing business with you, you’re in charge of the type of client you work with. 

One quarter of businesses still rely on paper-based accounting. Around one-third use non-cloud software (like Excel) for financial recordkeeping. 

These types of clients will be more difficult to manage unless you can sell them on-site bookkeeping services as part of your monthly fee structure. 

Very small businesses may use Xero or another online bookkeeping package but they tend to have the same person responsible for doing the books, managing the day-to-day of their company, human resources, and a lot more. 

Some clients, like these, are more difficult to service than others.  

If you feel that a client won’t update their online bookkeeping platform regularly enough or you feel that there would be too much work for one of your bookkeepers to manage two systems at once (for example, a paper system plus Xero), are you sure that you want to take that work on? 

Likewise on turnover. Two companies turning over £1,000,000+ may require very different levels of management from you and your team if one sells high-ticket items and the other fast-moving consumer goods. Do you have the capacity to manage a client with hundreds of weekly transactions and aggregated payments from multiple sources which need careful bank reconciliation? 

The type of client you want to attract will dictate the marketing and sales approach you take so we would strongly advise you to think about who you want to deal with first before you find yourself with a dozen or more clients who take up an inordinate amount of time for little or no extra recompense. 

Marketing your accounting firm 

Once you’ve decided on the typical client you wish to work with, you then need to know which services they are likely to want the most and ensure that, when you sign them up, you’re capable of delivering those services to them. 

Those services should form the core of your marketing message as they will demonstrate the value you offer to future clients. As mentioned earlier, if a recipient of your marketing does not see the value in your proposition, you give them no reason to contact you. 

There are three main ways to market your practice other than networking and word-of-mouth: 

  • online marketing – optimising your website for Google, adding articles and blog posts to your website, collecting email addresses from visitors not ready to become a client yet, 
  • social media marketing – building an audience on LinkedIn and Facebook through daily posting and creating downloadable content in exchange for contact details, and 
  • direct marketing – unsolicited contact by email, phone, and mail promoting your services to the audiences you target. 

Selling your accounting services face to face 

Pre-COVID-19, most clients signed up with their accountant following a face to face meeting. Although this has been temporarily replaced by Zoom and phone calls, we’re certain that face to face meetings either at your offices or at your clients’ premises will continue post-pandemic. 

As you do already, make sure that you listen to the client with a view to understanding their business as much as possible, gaining an insight into what personal and professional success means to them, and assuring them that you’ll successfully serve them in the ways they desire and they perceive that their current accountant is letting them down. 

Let your client know as much in advance about what you’ll expect from them with specific mention of keeping their online bookkeeping platform up to date as possible. 

You may choose to take the approach that, because of the extra backlog created by clients who don’t keep their financial records up to date as much as you’d like, you will only be happy to serve them if they employ the services of one of your bookkeepers to visit them once a month, fortnight, or week. 

In sales, you achieve more by being absolutely clear on the value that you offer and by assuring the client that they will get the service promised as long as they carry out their promises to you. 

Adding Hindsight to your practice as your workload grows 

As you sign up more clients, it’s important to make sure that they use the bookkeeping package you supply them with. By doing that, the work required by client is much more evenly spread out during the year and it avoids you and your colleagues having to deal with near-impossible backlogs at key times of year. 

The Hindsight plug-in to Xero has been designed to do just that. 

Instead of you and your colleagues logging in periodically to each client’s Xero account and running multiple and various reports each time to analyse each client’s key metrics, Hindsight does that automatically every morning. 

You and your colleagues are then presented with a list of tasks and insights related to both financial recordkeeping and business performance for each client. Better still, there are notes with each task on how to explain the importance of each message so that it makes sense to the client. 

Clients particularly appreciate accountants who they believe are monitoring their performance, know their businesses well enough to suggest improvements, and intervene to stop them making mistakes. 

To find out more about Hindsight and how it frees up your and your colleagues’ time and delivers a better service to clients, please click here to arrange a phone call with our team. Alternatively, please click here to email us. 

How an accountant can help a business succeed

Gone (thankfully) are the days of clients dropping in dozens of plastic shopping bags containing the year’s outbound and inbound invoices in no particular order a few weeks before the submission deadline. 

In recent years, this annual ritual has been replaced thanks to the widespread adoption of online bookkeeping and accounting platforms. 

The theory goes that, every morning, your clients will dutifully sit at their desks inputting their invoices and receipts onto these online platforms. 

When period end or year end comes, waiting for you is an accurately-filed and up-to-date set of financial records whose information you can use to complete HMRC and Companies House submissions. 

That’s not the case however most of the time. Sorry for stating the obvious. 

Three types of client, one shared perception 

Some clients rarely update their online bookkeeping platforms meaning that, in essence, you and your colleagues are involved in a similar scramble to complete submissions on time like the old days. 

With other clients, they have kept their records up-to-date to a fashion but entries are misclassified in many cases and getting the entries to reconcile with the bank account takes hours of your and your colleagues’ time up. 

Finally, with a handful of clients, the quality of their bookkeeping is thankfully nearly there and the amount of work you and your colleagues need to do is minimal. 

The problem is however that each of the three types of client believes that they have taken a lot of the donkey work away from you because you sold them an online bookkeeping platform as part of your service, regardless of whether they regularly use it or whether they use it correctly. 

Nature abhors a vacuum. 

Clients expect you to replace that time by providing extra value to them even though, in some cases, the amount of work you have to spend in time and wages sorting out a client’s shoddy financial recordkeeping might be more than is greater than the fee income you receive from them. 

If they don’t perceive the value in the services you deliver them, then they’ll happily drop you for another accountant providing their services for £50 a year less. 

This has led to a race to the bottom for fees and no-one wins when this is the case. 

The problem with online bookkeeping platforms 

As accountants, we do save varying degrees of time spent on most clients’ accounts because the vast majority of clients do use the bookkeeping platforms we sell to them albeit not particularly well. 

As a result, the early promises made to us by the online bookkeeping platform salespeople did not come into full fruition. 

More often than not, these platforms are built for the benefit of the small businesses and not their accountants.  

When we as accountants log into client’s online accounts, they’re not always the way we need them to be for us to do the work we need to do. 

Many of us found this out too late though. 

The supposed extra time we would benefit from through clients’ use of these platforms led to many of us rapidly doubling or trebling the number of clients we served because we thought we’d have the extra capacity to do so. 

We didn’t and, as a result, this led to an unexpected and unwanted decline in the standard of service we provided to clients because there just weren’t enough hours to complete the work we needed to complete. 

Particularly at those times of year where there are spikes in workload, it’s very difficult to manage an estate of 100-500 clients even with bookkeeping software because we’re working to immovable deadlines. 

The opportunity with online bookkeeping platforms 

However, online accounting platforms actually hold the key to successfully charging more per month for our services as well as giving us the time to find opportunities for additional work. 

The key is automation and workload management. 

Whether you have 100 or 500 clients, you should make a checklist of points of concern or points of opportunity for each. From that checklist, decide what it is that you need to see when you log into your clients’ accounts which would qualify as a point of concern or a point of opportunity. 

Share the points of concern and opportunity with your members of staff.  

Set a timetable for you and your colleagues to log into each client account once a month – more if possible but once a month at least. If you have 500 clients and 5 members of staff, each member of staff would only need to check 5 client accounts each day during the month. 

Areas to look out for include: 

  • changes in transaction volumes, 
  • when the last invoice was issued, 
  • changes in average invoice value, 
  • last bank reconciliation and the number of unreconciled transactions, 
  • high credit card or overdraft levels, and 
  • size of bank balance. 

Your staff can check whether there is a problem with an individual client by using the guidelines you set for each one and by running a handful of reports on the online accounting platform. 

The 21st century accounting business model 

Taking this approach solves a number of issues. 

For clients, this is the added value. 28% of clients look for a communicative accountant – a professional who knows them and their business well.  

By examining client accounts for problems or opportunities once a month or more, reasons to communicate regularly with the client present themselves. 

And through that communication, you deliver what clients want the most – business strategy, budgeting advice, and more. 

Your client gets the chance to talk with you or your colleagues about themselves and their businesses. Through these conversations, you get to better understand what they want and you can adjust the definition of “problem” and “opportunity” accordingly when later logging into their online bookkeeping platform to check the health of their businesses. 

In addition, by helping clients better use their online bookkeeping platforms, the amount of remedial work you’ll need to do at period end or year end will be far smaller and the results you deliver to clients when measured by tax saved will be greater. 

For members of staff, you vary their workday and you have the opportunity to train them. 

Behind the financial records of a business are the hopes and dreams of a client. Teach members of staff not only what these numbers mean from an accounting perspective but from a business perspective. 

You and your members of staff can share ideas during these client conversations and ask your clients for feedback. 

36% of accountants admitted they were unhappy with their working environment, reports the ICAEW. 

42% of unhappy accountants said they were unhappy because of a lack of opportunities for development. 

For junior members of staff, behind every accountancy degree is a £21,000 price tag in tuition fees. 

Encourage your junior and senior staff to look past the numbers to see the person and, by doing so, you’ll demonstrate the true value of the work they do for clients. 

Share your knowledge, be generous with your experience, and make sure as much as you can that your staff do not feel neglected by giving them a wider variety of work to do and the knowledge they need to do it well. 

For you, the change will be profound. 

Yours will be an accounting practice which takes a bookkeeper’s approach. You’re not just there at period end or year end, you’re there once a month. 

Unlike other firms, you and your team will truly be in command of your workload – not the other way around. 

Certainly, there will be pressure points, particularly in January, but, because there has been active management of each client’s account, it will be a much less intense time. 

Value, for the owner of a small accountancy practice, is not just measured in the money you pay yourself or the number of clients you have. 

The real value in running a business is freedom. 

By installing a system which keeps you and your colleagues up to date with every business on your books and which delivers opportunities for your colleagues to make meaningful, regular, and helpful contact with each client, your business will not need as much of your time and effort as it did before. 

You won’t have to compete on price either – you can be the accountant which chooses to model their business around looking after 200 clients superbly for £750 a month rather than barely coping managing 750 clients for £200 a month. 

You’ll have a well-motivated and well-trained team your client base values – they won’t see speaking with one of your colleagues as being fobbed off speaking with a junior. 

This is the 21st century accounting business model which makes for higher paying and more loyal clients, a settled and happy workforce, a supremely-manageable workload, and an owner who can lead more effectively but have the option of stepping back every now and again. 

This is how an accountant can help a client’s business succeed and their own business succeed. 

The app supporting the 21st century accounting business model 

We believe in the potential offered by online bookkeeping and accounting platforms but we’re not blind to their problems either. 

We built Hindsight – Hindsight logs into each of your clients’ Xero accounts automatically and flags up what you deem to be potential client problems and opportunities automatically. 

As well as saving you and your colleagues the time needed to access each client account and quickly run reports, it also provides users with prompts on how to speak with the client about the issues or opportunities uncovered. 

You can divide responsibility by client and by issue/opportunity raised between you and your colleagues and, at all time, you’ll have full visibility on how each client and each issue/opportunity is being managed. 

To find out more, please click here.  

The most common mistakes accountants make in clients’ eyes

There are plenty of articles on the internet advising accountants on the most common and simple mistakes they should avoid. 

They all dispense good advice. 

Bill Tsotos writing for Accounting Today’s advice is particularly sage – failure to understand a client and their business and industry is a very bad mistake as is not differentiating yourself sufficiently from your competitors. 

Not billing what you’re worth is very prevalent in the industry at the moment but it’s understandable in a marketplace which has been defined by downward price pressure for nearly a decade. 

Of Bill’s reasons though, I’d like to focus on “not being proactive” because I have found that’s the biggest problem facing accountants in the UK today. 

For the purposes of this article, “proactive” means getting in touch with your clients with actionable and useful information as well as inviting feedback. Email is fine for contacting clients but people buy people first so it’s even better if you can be “proactive” face to face or over the phone. 

Lack of proactivity is the main reason behind the downward price pressure in the sector and it explains why a client turning over £1,000,000+ a year would gladly jump into the arms of a competitor to save £50 a year. 

What do 68% of accounting clients want? 

According to ClearBooks, 68% of clients want an accountant who: 

  • is in regular touch with them,  
  • they can get along with easily,  
  • is down the road from where they are, and 
  • has a bank of knowledge they can tap. 

For only 21% of clients, price was the most important aspect when choosing an accountant. 

If this is the case, why is there such pressure on accountants’ prices at the moment? 

It’s because there is a fundamental disconnect between what an accountant thinks a client wants and what clients actually want. 

Clients want far more from their accountant than accountants believe. 

The big picture from the perspective of an accounting client 

Your client has both short-term and long-term needs of you but you might be only pricing for the long-term needs at the moment. 

A client’s long-term needs generally are to have the reassurance that they won’t miss any HMRC or Companies House deadlines and that they won’t pay any more in personal or corporation tax than they need to. 

And the likelihood is that your practice is primarily structured and staffed to adequately meet those long-term needs. 

There is probably some additional slack within your practice to represent a client if someone has approached them to buy their business and they need you for the due diligence process but not much more. 

There is well-known expression that journalists write the first version of history and, much later on, a historian then summarises the events the journalist was writing about but from a much broader perspective. 

You, the accountant, are a client’s historian and you provide historical summaries of events and financial transactions which happened between 9 and 21 months ago in the form of HMRC and Companies House submissions. 

However, clients more than ever want reporters on the ground as well as historians to help them understand: 

  • how their business is doing today and  
  • how close they are to achieving their personal and professional financial goals within the timeframe they set for themselves. 

The pros and cons of bookkeeping packages 

In the past, clients were generally satisfied with working with a “historian” because there wasn’t really an alternative. 

Since then, the Internet and online accounting and bookkeeping programmes have appeared and they’ve fundamentally changed clients’ expectations. 

Whenever an accountant sells his or her practice’s services to a client, they now almost always come with a bundled online bookkeeping programme. 

And each existing and new client knows that, once they’ve given you permission to log into their platform, you have the ability to monitor how they’re doing at a time of your choosing. 

Nearly every client then convinces themselves that you will be some sort of benevolent, overseeing eye checking in multiple times a day just to make sure that everything is on track. 

What the client doesn’t realise though is that, along with their log-in details, you have the log-in details of hundreds of other clients. 

What they also don’t know is how long it takes to log in to account after account and how long it takes to run multiple reports to assess the health of each client’s business. 

Nor do they appreciate how so few clients using online bookkeeping packages update them regularly or correctly which cumulatively creates a tidal wave of additional work for you and your colleagues. 

Online bookkeeping programmes do save accountants time but not nearly enough and, together with accountants having more clients than ever before, there are not enough hours in the day to provide the type of constant oversight that a client wants. 

But what if there was? 

The importance of immediacy for accounting clients 

If there was a way to use online bookkeeping packages to… 

  • monitor clients’ ongoing financial performance, 
  • alert you and your staff to when there was a problem or an opportunity, and 
  • provide you with the guidance you needed on how to help your client make the most of the problem or the opportunity 

…you could then start to provide clients with their short-term needs, demonstrate your value to them, and charge them more. 

Time after time, it’s what clients tell accountants and pollsters what they want. 

According to ClearBooks, clients value communication over every other aspect when they’re deciding which accountant to use. One in five also want an accountant whose personality agrees with theirs. 

What do they want from this communication? 

They want your help in formulating future strategy for their business (32%) and on budgeting (23%). Only 4% want assistance on tax. 

So while an accountant sees their core job as helping clients save money on tax, what clients actually want from you is for you to be a general sounding board and a trouble-shooter – they want to be able to access your experience in helping them make more money or save money. 

Welcome to Hindsight 

Hindsight is a plug-in app for Xero designed to allow you to offer the services clients actually want and are willing to pay a premium for. 

Hindsight logs into each of your client’s Xero accountants every day and monitors each one to provide you and your colleagues with instant information on how well each client’s business is doing and how well they’re using Xero. 

As well as providing you and your colleagues with generic flags (signifying a threat or an opportunity) on each client, you can also program in client-specific flags covering 12 distinct areas of financial performance and Xero usage. 

Better still, accompanying each flag are instructions for your staff (which you can customise) on how to solve the problem, what it means in both financial and business terms to the client, and what to say to the client to deliver extra value. 

So Hindsight constantly monitors clients’ performances, it attributes responsibility for dealing with certain issues and clients to the colleagues you choose, and it trains staff on the consequences of each red flag and how to explain them to your clients. 

Hindsight offers on the ground reporting as well as the information you need to file clients’ accounts and submissions to HMRC and Companies House. 

 
To find out more, please schedule a call using the panel below or email us by clicking here

Why small is often much better than big for accounting clients

Until you own a business, you don’t quite realise how personal it is and how competitive it makes you. 

For owners of small accounting firms looking at their bigger local rivals with five times or more clients than they have, it’s OK to occasionally think that “it must be nice to be in their shoes”. 

But before you feel tempted to punish yourself because they might be a better businessperson or a better accountant than you, you need to look a little closer, with respect. 

Headache or hangover from hell? 

Having 200 clients gives you and your team an occasional headache especially as year ends, period ends, and Self Assessments loom closely on the horizon. 

As the owner of your company, the responsibility rests on your shoulders to make sure that you and your team get through the workload in time saving your clients as much money as possible. 

Management of other staff is difficult at the best of times. And in the worst of times when the pressure is really on, management of staff under stress prone to occasionally emotionality because of that stress would challenge even the most patient and wise of us. 

The owners of larger local rivals with significantly higher client headcounts than your firm go through what you go through to a much greater degree. 

If having 200 clients is an occasional headache then having 1,000 clients is the worst and most persistent hangover imaginable. 

“Ah”, you might say, “but the guy/girl running the practice with 1,000 clients has five times the number of staff I have so they’ll be able to cope”. 

This is a fair point but you must also remember that the management stresses you feel at pinch points during the year will be greatly magnified for them.  

In addition, it’s a truism that the more number of people you employ, the less influence and control you have over each of them individually. 

So, for owners of large accounting firms looking at their small local rivals with a fifth of the number of clients to deal with than they have, it’s OK for them to occasionally think “why the hell did I let it get to this size?” 

Your size is your greatest strength 

It’s the greatest strength for you because, although you feel the pressure, it’s not always overwhelming. 

For your staff, there are probably less clients to deal with per head than at your larger local rivals. They don’t realise that they’ve actually got it pretty good in comparison and, later on in this article, I’m going to suggest a way to make their lives and your life a little easier. 

Your customers also benefit from dealing with you personally. Your practice, as it is now, will face many of the same issues and challenges as your clients’ businesses. 

This gives you something in common with clients – this is important because people buy from people they like and they buy from people like them. In other words, to them, you’re just like them. 

This gives you a competitive advantage over your bigger local rivals where client accounts are much more likely to be handled by someone without the experience of running a business or working for a smaller business. 

Now how do you take advantage of this so that you, your staff, and your clients benefit? 

Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity 

Your bigger local rivals’ turnover figures will look meaty and impressive but the people who own these practices will pay a heavy physical and emotional price for this measure of “success”. 

If you’ve ever helped a client sell their business and you’re helping them through the due diligence process, you know, the buyer knows, and the buyer’s accountant knows that turnover is important but not in the way that the seller of a business thinks it is. 

For a buyer, the turnover of a company they wish to purchase gives them an indication of how much extra profit and value they can squeeze out of a business after they’ve bought it and re-organised it. 

The seller will not get the price they want or believe they deserve for two reasons: 

  1. in the mind of the buyer, the seller has run it poorly and 
  1. the buyer has to spend his or her own time and money on putting it right. 

Likewise, an accounting practice with 1,000 clients making the equivalent of £250 a year net profit from each client is intrinsically worth less than an accounting practice with 200 clients making the equivalent of £1,250 a year net profit from each client. 

Despite both companies making the same net profit, the buyer of the smaller practice is taking over a much better run, well-organised money generating machine whose processes are probably much more automated and efficient and which requires less management time or post-purchase investment. 

The smaller business is much more likely to have chased profit than chased turnover during its development. 

Not only is that the type of accounting practice someone would want to buy but it’s also the type of accounting practice which is much more pleasant and enjoyable to run. 

So how do you turn your current accounting practice into one which is much more profitable, much more pleasant to run, where the staff are happier, and where you can sell add-on services to appreciative clients? 

Accounting is a process so make the process as simple as possible 

Because the general operating rules of accounting are so well-established and because, when working on clients’ accounts, we’re also following clear rules set down by HMRC and Companies House, our day to day work, although mentally challenging, is not particularly innovative. 

If all of the entries in a client’s financial record are properly recorded and attributed, we can’t save our clients any more in the tax they pay than our local rivals, whether they are large or small. 

To prepare a client’s accounts and the year ends/period ends, you and your colleagues need to perform hundreds or sometimes thousands of relatively simple tasks over a given period of time. 

In many accounting practices, this process of undertaking these hundreds or thousands of relatively simple tasks takes place in the two to three months coming up to year end, period end, or Self Assessment. By taking this approach, the eight to twelve weeks prior to the 31st of January is hell for many small accountancy practice owners and their colleagues. 

But what if those tasks were much more evenly spread over the course of 12 months using the financial information recorded on Xero? 

If you and your colleagues logged into each account once a month to check on how each client’s business was faring and how well they were keeping their financial records, you’d be able to spot many of the issues which cause such stress when submission dates are approaching. 

If there was a particular issue – too many unreconciled transactions, low cash balances, clients’ customers taking too long to pay them – you or your colleagues could alert your client. 

Not only will that mean that there’s a better chance that your clients’ bookkeeping will actually be usable but also your client is more than likely unaware that there is a problem. 

One of clients’ major issues with their accountants is a lack of contact.  

A monthly mini-audit gives your practice a reason to get in touch with your clients to let them know how they’re doing. Take each of these opportunities to learn something new about the client and their personal & professional financial ambitions. 

If, following multiple contacts from you or your staff, the client does not mend their ways regarding the standard and/or frequency of their financial recordkeeping, let them know that, to continue with your services, they have to allow your bookkeeper in once a month or once a fortnight (for an additional fee) or that you will be unable to service them. 

It’s unfair on you, your staff, and your other clients if one particular client takes up a great deal more time than is necessary and your practice is not being compensated fairly for it. 

This is your business – it’s your practice. You decide which clients you take on, you decide the terms and conditions of trade, and you decide what is acceptable behaviour from clients and what isn’t. 

The Hindsight app is built for just this 

I realise that, with the way in which many smaller accounting practices organise their days, the idea of a monthly short audit of each client’s account will seem almost impossible to fit into your existing schedule let alone the support call you make after. 

However, when clients know what is expected of them and you share with them the reason why things need to be done in the way you prescribe, the workload for you and your staff actually decreases rapidly because clients now have the confidence to do what you’re asking them and they can see the value in it. 

The Hindsight plug-in for Xero is something which my team and I have been working on for 18 months. 

It’s the tool I wish I had when I ran a small accounting practice. Every morning, it automatically logs into each client’s Xero account and runs a series of insights. You can either choose to go with the generic insights for a client or customise in your own (we’re on hand to help you do that if you need us to). 

When you and your staff open up, it presents these annotated insights to you and your colleagues – you can assign insights to team members by task, by client, or both. Along with the insights, Hindsight will provide guidance on what to say to each client in each situation. 

You’ll find that, within weeks, the workload on you and your colleagues will be smooth rather than lumpy at particular periods of the year. 

Your staff will enjoy work with much of the pressure off and, for junior accountants, the ability to assign certain tasks to them is the equivalent of learning on the job and this exposure to different responsibilities will make them and your more senior members of staff more agile in times of extreme pressure. 

And for you, the accounting practice owner, you have the benefit of retaining many more of your existing clients through enhanced communications and the ability through your deeper relationships with them and the extra time you have during the working well to sell on additional services. 

Please click here to arrange a phone call with our team or, alternatively, please click here to email us. 

How much do accountants charge?

Most visitors landing on this page are potential clients seeking information on how much accountants charge. If that’s you, I’m sorry but this page is not for you. 

We’ve written this article for accountants who want to benefit from an alternative view of charging clients more for their services. 

Why is this? It’s because there has been significant competition in recent years within the sector leading to constant downward price pressure. 

If you run a small accounting practice and the previous enjoyment and satisfaction you may have derived from being your own boss is rapidly dwindling because you feel you’re working too hard for too little reward, welcome (and I’m sorry you’re feeling this way). 

We’re Hindsight and we’ve spent the last 18 months building a Xero plug-in specifically designed to give you and your staff much more time and space to do what you do better and charge a fair price for it. 

The perception of value 

To understand what you should be charging your clients, you need to be able to understand what value is in the mind of your clients. 

Without potential clients perceiving value in your services, you’re just one accountant among thousands of others and you’ll end up competing solely on price. 

Your current clients – the companies paying you a direct debit every month – will be more likely to leave you if they can’t perceive any added value in your services compared to your competitors’ services. 

But what do clients want to read on your website and hear from you in person or over the phone when they’re choosing an accountant? 

How the accounting market has changed 

The clients of today are different from the clients of 10 years ago. 

In the last decade, there has been the following two significant changes: 

  1. the move to make payment to accountants by monthly direct debit and 
  1. the widespread take-up of online bookkeeping and accounting platforms like Xero. 

Although they may seem like two distinctly separate things, they’re actually very closely related. 

Prior to online bookkeeping and accounting platforms, it’s fair to say that most accountants had a strong bookkeeping element to their service. 

That bookkeeping element would be charged in one of two ways depending on the clients behaviour. You would either: 

  1. make a charge per hour on top of your normal accounting fees because the client sent in their invoices and receipts once or twice a year by post for you and your team to sort out or 
  1. you would charge them a fixed amount per month for a bookkeeper to visit your client’s premises, input and classify all the invoices and receipts onto a spreadsheet making sure that what was on the spreadsheet reconciled with what was in the bank account. 

Many accountants decided to drop bookkeeping support entirely or significantly as they were encouraged by the online accounting packages to sell their software to clients. 

It made sense even though, in a way, it severed a major part of the connection they previously had with their clients through being involved in the ongoing updating of financial records.  

These new online packages were designed to shift the burden of regularly bookkeeping from you and your staff to the client. 

This removal of workload from your practice might free up 20-40 hours’ worth of work per client every year – time you could instead spend expanding the number of clients you had on your books. 

And that’s what many accountants did. They believed that they could replace the 20-40 hours’ worth of work they were going to save per client thanks to online bookkeeping platforms by signing up one or two more clients. 

When accountants were selling their services to clients, they promised faithfully and honestly that theirs was not only an accounting firm but a consulting and advice firm too. 

They weren’t there to just do the books – they were going to be a partner on their client’s journey until the time they achieved what they considered personal and professional financial success thanks to the regular supply of information they got from Xero, Quickbooks, and the like. 

The penny began to drop 

As existing and future clients were transitioned to online bookkeeping platforms, a number of problems began to emerge. 

First, clients weren’t actually very good in the main at using the platforms. 

They didn’t appreciate the importance of allocating every invoice they received and paid correctly – but why should they? It had never been their responsibility before and, if push came to shove, the accountant would just do it anyway as part of their monthly fee. 

If a client took in payments via debit or credit card, it was difficult for them to figure out which invoices had been transferred into their account via the daily settlement from their merchant provider and mark them as such on their online accounting platform. 

Bank reconciliation is difficult for accountants but, for many clients, the process was baffling. 

A combination of these factors and others meant that the software was not used correctly or often enough. 

Clients began to struggle to see the value in their online bookkeeping packages as well as wondering why you recommended to them in the first place. 

Second, accountants became frustrated with the software because they were more designed for small business owners and not accountants. 

Because many took the opportunity to increase the number of clients they served, they didn’t have the time required, particularly at certain points during the year, to make sure that their clients were using the software properly. 

Within a few months and on a seeming continuing basis since, accountants found that, as they prepared clients’ year ends and period ends, the volume of work was daunting because of the remedial repairs which had to be made to each client’s bookkeeping records. 

While that remedial work was less than the remedial work needed by the type of client who brought their invoices and receipts in once or twice a year in plastic bags, they had two to three times the number of customers to deal with than before. 

Small accounting practices soon entered a constant survival mode which came at great cost to: 

  • clients who were oversold the level of service and insight they could expect, 
  • members of staff whose workloads were so high that, when they came into the office each morning, they felt crushed by the pressure, and 
  • owners whose dreams of providing the service they wanted to clients were unrealistic given the workload. 

Clients, particularly those who had been in business 10 or more years, complain about the quality of their accountants much more than they did a decade or more ago – they’ve noticed the change and it’s not been for the better. 

70% of SME owners would not recommend their accountant to other business owners – 39% of millennials are unhappy and this is the next generation of fee-paying clients. 

Over a quarter said they are likely to switch accountants, according to research by Xero. 

No-one is winning in this situation. 

I know – I sold my old accountancy practice because I hit many of the same brick walls as you might have done. 

But I still have a love and affection for the industry so I spent the following 18 months creating a plug-in to Xero with the features I would have really wanted as a small accountancy practice owner. 

Discovering your true price point 

Let’s start this discussion from a base point. 

When I was running my own small accountancy practice, I became slightly obsessed by the number of clients I served as I considered it a mark of the success of what I was doing. 

I was wrong. 

If you don’t have the internal infrastructure and working procedures to cope, 100 clients is a challenge and 500 clients is a nightmare. 

Every new client you add does pay money into your bank account but they also represent an incremental magnification of the problems you and your staff are already going through. 

If I had my time over, I’d concentrate on providing the best possible service and adding the most value to 100 customers for £500 a month rather than providing a poor service and adding very little value to 500 customers for £100 a month. 

So how do you get from one point to the other? 

First, only take on the customers you want to take on. Do you get on with the other person? In 6 months’ time, would you and your staff enjoy speaking to them on the phone? 

Second, charge your services out per transaction and not by anticipated time taken or turnover.  

One business turning over £1,000,000 a year might issue 100 invoices at an average order value of £10,000 whereas another turning over the same amount might make 10,000 sales at £100 a time. 

Set a base price per transaction that you’re not willing to go under and stick to it. If they want a Rolls Royce for the price of a Lada, send them respectfully elsewhere. 

Third, view your clients’ online bookkeeping systems as an early warning system and not an enemy. 

One aspect we’ve built into Hindsight is the functionality to log into every clients’ Xero account each morning. 

We have introduced generic warning flags as well as the ability to create individual warning flags on the plug-in to let you know if a client’s bank account balance is too low, their debt too high, it’s taking too long for their customers to pay them, and more. 

Four, share your knowledge and spread out responsibilities among your staff. 

This will vary their working day and it’ll provide you with an opportunity for short daily one-to-one training sessions as you explain the business significance behind the numbers on the screen. 

With degrees costing £50,000 or more, the barrier to entry to becoming an accountant has never been higher so channel your junior staff’s desire to learn and to justify their investment in themselves by giving them a grounding in dealing with clients. 

Better still, by logging into clients’ accounts regularly either via Hindsight or manually, colleagues will be able to tell who is struggling to use the system and they then have the chance to talk them through what they need to be doing.  

If the client still doesn’t follow through, there’s an opportunity to earn extra fees for your practice by selling your bookkeeping service. 

By making sure clients’ records are up to date, this will greatly reduce pressure points at year end, period end, and at Self Assessment time. 

Five, try to really sell your colleagues’ expertise and experience to your clients so that they don’t feel as if you’re too important or busy to talk to them when there’s an issue. 

Other than calling clients to teach them how to use their online bookkeeping better, you and your colleagues should find some reason to get in touch at least once a quarter – good by email but even better by phone. 

Every interaction makes your service and your input more vital to the client as well as creating a clearer picture in your mind and your colleagues’ mind what would make each individual client happier. 

Building a team and exploiting the information provided to you by clients during conversations and via their online bookkeeping platforms gives you the opportunity to create added value

You and your team will be seen as a partner and a consigliere to your clients – the burden of responsibility will no longer solely be borne by you as principal. 

The level of dissatisfaction with most accountants right now is at a peak level and there is an opportunity to win higher value clients, share responsibility with newly-motivated and engaged staff, and remove some of the pressure from yourself and your team. 

Selling additional services 

The inverse law of sales is true in every profession. 

It roughly states that the lower the order value, the more likely the client is to be an arse if things go wrong. 

That’s because their money is a lot tighter in general and they need to see the value in your services much more than higher-spending clients. 

By serving a smaller range of clients better and faster, you’ll be able to use the trust they’ve acquired in you to sell higher-value ad hoc services like business plan preparation, IHT planning, R&D tax credits, patent box credits, and more. 

And you’ll have a much better idea of which clients need what because of the constant communication you and your staff have with them. 

Find out more 

I’d really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you to find out more about your practice, the types of client you serve, and what you want for your practice and for yourself in the coming 3-5 years. 

My team and I have created Hindsight with the sole purpose of providing the infrastructure a practice needs to operate at its most efficient and to better utilise the time and talents of you and your staff. 

To find out more, please click here to book an appointment time or email us here