Like it or not, accountants must be technology consultants

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Accountants are their clients’ most trusted business advisors, but what accounting professionals often don’t expect is how many of their clients will also turn to them for technology advice. For clients, it makes sense: Since clients ask their accountant which bookkeeping and other programs to use, they’ll also turn to him or her for advice on how to use it, and how to implement the infrastructure and business processes that surround the bookkeeping software.

So if you’re an accountant, guess what? You’re also a small business technology consultant. And if you don’t feel up to the task of providing technology consulting, you have two choices. A) You can develop the knowledge and resources in your firm to deliver technology consulting services, or B) your competitors will take clients from you who seek what you can’t deliver.

This special relationship between clients and their accountants has not been missed by the accounting software vendors, either: Most of the major accounting software companies have “accountant channels” of some sort. They also know that accounting practices often want as many of their clients as possible to use the same system, because it simplifies and streamlines client services, while reducing staff training costs.

This channel marketing strategy has its benefits for the accountants, because most vendors such as Intuit and Sage offer free or discounted software for the firms to use in-house and they provide advanced training that helps accountants be better prepared to support their client’s needs by having greater knowledge on how the programs work. There are also discounts and reseller programs that provide additional revenue for accountants. Technology companies that make add-on programs that enhance QuickBooks, Peachtree, and others have also joined this trend, offering many of the same benefits.

Yes, there’s some quid pro quo going on and it definitely can be a revenue-enhancer for accounting firms, but this relationship ultimately benefits the client. After all, a good in-house bookkeeping application and specialty programs that enhance that system help the small business be more efficient and productive, but it also helps if the business's accountant knows the program and can assist with implementation and other issues. If the client’s accounting and business process systems can integrate with the accountant’s tax systems, then the working relationship even more beneficial, because it makes it easier and more efficient for the firm to provide services and support for the client.

But how can your accounting practice keep up with the latest changes to those programs? And how can you find  the add-on solutions that can help your clients succeed?

All of these vendors are clamoring for accountants to learn their product by providing Webinars, online demos, and telemarketing activities, but it is really difficult for the firm to sort through all the different solutions and decide which ones to work with and/or recommend to their clients. This is where live conferences can really deliver for accounting firms. By focusing dozens of technology vendors into a dedicated event that lasts just a few days, the accounting firms can very efficiently learn about many different solutions in a concentrated amount of time. But how do you know which event to attend?

Vendor shows are great resources, but often fall short because they do not discuss or engage products or solutions from competing vendors. Society conferences like the AICPA’s Tech+ and those for members of groups like the American Society of Women Accountants, National Society of Accountants, and American Accounting Association are good shows for professionals who want to see and prepare for what the future holds and engage in networking opportunities. Likewise, the several regional and state conferences, such as those in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, give a good overview of technologies for the profession.

When it comes to technologies that small businesses use, and how accountants and consultants can become more knowledgeable and skilled with those programs, specialized conferences such as the annual conference produced by the independent Sleeter Group offers vendor-independent training, expert knowledge, networking and VAR opportunities for all of the major small business software and SaaS options.

Scheduled this year for November 9-12 in Orlando, the Next Generation Accounting Solutions Conference has more than 60 different sessions, covering virtually all aspects of QuickBooks and other small business accounting software products, in addition to third-party “add-on” solutions. Organized by The Sleeter Group, the largest small business technology consulting network in the country, the conference includes keynotes and seminars by the top accounting and technology experts in the country, including Darren Root, CPA.CITP, Randy Johnston, Leslie Shiner, Amy Vetter, CPA.CITP, AccountingWEB's managing editor Gail Perry, CPA, Greg LaFollette, CPA.CITP, and Doug Sleeter.

The conference’s CPE-eligible educational sessions and exhibit hours are focused on giving professional consultants and accountants actionable knowledge that can help them better serve their clients. Of the sessions offered this year, nearly all are targeted directly at accounting professionals seeking to improve their technical skills and marketing methods for improving their practices. Several sessions in the technology, consulting tools, and best practices areas provide attendees with a deep understanding of how the fact that software tools, operating systems, and related technologies work together to create an overall system is critical to succeeding as an accounting software consultant. These sessions focus on how trends in hardware, multi-media, networking, and security will change how you work with clients and what you'll recommend for their internal systems.

According to The Sleeter Group’s founder, Doug Sleeter, another key theme for this year’s conference is the concept of taking your practice online. Several sessions focus on how technologies are changing the whole paradigm for the accounting services business. Online applications and Web services which were once considered too slow and risky are now becoming integral to a number of business processes. From payroll, to A/P, to document management and even inventory management, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) world is changing the whole landscape of solutions for your clients and how you collaborate with them. These sessions will demonstrate practical ways to take advantage of these new solutions to grow your revenues by providing new and better services for your clients.

As technologies are quickly emerging and business processes are evolving, the opportunities are endless. Several marketing, management and business development sessions help accountants understand the opportunities for developing and managing their practice to prepare for the “next generation” of clients. Whether you are just starting out, or are ready to take your business to the next level, you’ll benefit from the experience of successful professionals who will present tips and techniques for success in the lucrative market for accounting technology consulting.

Another key to success is in knowing where to specialize and focus your services. Every industry has its own vocabulary, methods, and processes specific to the business. By specializing your practice, you’ll be better prepared to efficiently work with clients in your chosen specialty. At this conference, several leading industry experts share insights from their experience to help you navigate through the marketplace. These sessions will focus on some of the key technologies and methodologies needed by vertical markets such as Point-of-Sale, Not-for-Profit, and Construction.

No conference focused on small business accounting would be complete without a full set of sessions from Intuit. The Intuit Academy training sessions, presented by Intuit product managers and Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisors will focus on what's new in QuickBooks, as well as dive deeply into Premier Accountant Edition, Client Data Review, and Intuit Statement Writer. In addition, Intuit will give details about new Intuit Payroll options, Intuit Payment Solutions, and the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program.

With so many resources available to professionals, it’s no surprise that prior year attendees have called the annual Sleeter Conference invaluable to their practice and one of the most important investments they’ve made.

AICPA members receive the same discount as members of The Sleeter Group’s Consultants Network, with registration for the three-day conference and pre-conference sessions costing $853. Multi-attendee discounts are also available. The Sleeter Conference is being held November 9-12 at the Wyndham Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. AccountingWEB members can receive a $150 discount by entering AW2009 when you register.

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