By Alexandra DeFelice
Firm owners are always looking for ways to save time and money. So why not take those findings to your clients? In other words, teach your clients what you've learned so that they, in turn, can save time and money and pay you for your consultative advice.
During a presentation at AccountingWEB Live! in Dallas in December, Doug Sleeter, founder and president of The Sleeter Group
, outlined several ways accountants can improve client service and improve profitability by helping their clients essentially do the same thing.
The "old world" of doing things contained a lot of hardware and software, on-premise systems, and paper, according to Sleeter.
Believe it or not, the "new world" has been emerging for ten to twelve years. In this new world, data is put in the "Cloud," meaning an Internet-based security center, and surrounded with one piece of software that the client and the accountant can access through the Internet.
Following are some tips from Sleeter's presentation:
Replace back-facing documents with dashboards. Business owners should look at them every day with all their key performance indicators (KPIs) for their website/web store, etc.
"Chunkify" the business process. Instead of buying one piece of software that does everything, pick pieces that are best of breed. "Chunkification" relies on being paperless in the Cloud and connecting apps that feed data to each other and into the general ledger.
Utilize a "zero entry" product. Several products are emerging in this field. Sleeter gave the example of Xero software, which connects accountants and bookkeepers with their clients through online accounting, bank reconciliation, and invoicing. But there are plenty of other vendors to watch (see sidebar).
Go paperless. Dump the file cabinets (but not really) – make the decision to go paperless. There are several ways to get started:
- Go back and digitize everything (which might not be realistic).
- As of tomorrow, go forward with the paperless process.
- Do something in between, perhaps scan in the last two years of documents, contracts with vendors, etc.
Improve your meetings. Livescribe smartpens record everything you write and hear. Tap anywhere on your notes to replay the audio from that moment in time. Use the pen during your client meetings, take a few notes with keywords, and upload them for later use.
Virtualize yourself. Use online meetings to better collaborate with clients and to view the same document or spreadsheet in real time. Remote assistance tools allow you to make changes to your client's documents and fix problems on the spot – without leaving the office.
Secure the fort. Instead of e-mail, use online sharing devices to transfer files.
Consider hosting QuickBooks.
There are about a dozen vendors Sleeter likes in this space, but he focused on Cloud9 Real Time
during his presentation. He also warned not to host it yourself, although the option exists, because there are too many security issues to keep in mind.
Get yourself organized.
Digitize your own products. Microsoft OneNote
is an electronic notebook with pictures and random notes that comes with Office. Evernote
, which is similar, is compelling because you don't have to be using a Microsoft product, according to Sleeter. You can share outside your firewall and on multiple devices.
Deepen the client relationship. Bill.com
takes AR and AP to the Cloud, offers paperless cash forecasting, and gives the business owner and accountant access. It's essentially online billing with workflow built in.
Transform your value. Use dashboard tools to develop deeper engagements with your clients.
Vet your vendors. No matter how "awesome" a vendor may seem, at the end of the day, Sleeter says 70 percent of his recommendations boil down to the people behind the product.
"Good people create good companies with good strategies, and they treat their people well and their customers well," Sleeter said. While a solution for X is what attracts him to a company's product, he asks: "What is their agenda? What are they trying to do?"
"I've gotten less strict about specific ways a product needs to work and let people innovate," Sleeter added. "One cannot presume to know a better way. I know what customers want and go from there."
Watch the video recording of the presentation.
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