As accountants shift back into the true advisor role, we are able to utilize technology to solve problems like never before. Clients are starting to demand better, faster, more innovative, integrated systems, and they expect you to have advice on them. Let’s explore how to get involved in this whole new service line to embrace a holistic approach to advisory services.
Step 1: Learn to Love Technology
We have been trained to do things the same way they have always been done. It is time for a mindset change. If you start with the assumption that technology can and will make your life easier, you will be ahead of the pack. Start finding tools that alleviate the burden of the manual processes and automate as much as possible.
Always start at home. If you are going to experiment on someone, experiment on yourself. Embrace new technology at your firm first.
Step 2: Hire a Technologist
If your practice is big enough to support another human, hire a technologist now. I use the term "technologist" broadly, as this person can have many different backgrounds. A traditional background would be an Information Systems or a Computer Science degree. However, do not limit yourself. You are trying to find someone that has experience vetting and implementing accounting and operations systems. You are looking for someone that believes technology will solve problems, can identify and research solutions, refine processes and implement those systems for your clients. If you cannot support someone as an internal role, hire a specialist externally.
Step 3: Sell the Service
Do not give this service away for free. Identifying and setting up new systems is a VALUABLE service and should be paid for, even if you are just learning.
The easiest way to start selling app advisory services is to reach out to your own client base. Contact clients who have inefficient systems or operations, and see what you can do to help. Start asking questions like, “What takes a lot of time and annoys you?” or call the owner’s admin and ask, “What are you manually doing on a daily or weekly basis?” I promise you will find areas for improvement where technology might be the answer.
Step 4: Deliver on Your Promises
Do not over-promise or over-sell. Even if a technology salesperson tells you the software is capable of something, do not believe them until you try it and see it for yourself. Build in an exploratory phase of the engagement. In this phase, for a low dollar amount, your technologist will research and demo applications to solve specifically identified issues. If there is no solution, the client is only out a small fixed dollar amount. I set that dollar amount at a break-even level to be fair, because if I find something, I stand to make a good margin, but if I do not, my client is not upset.
Start with easy processes, like accounts payable. There are simple solutions to accounts payable workflow issues, and it builds the client’s confidence to have something work really well first.
Step 5: Do It Again
App advisory is not a “set it and forget it” service. You have to continuously review the solutions and technology you have in place. As many of the applications we use on a daily basis improve their features, we are able to eliminate previously needed apps. Additionally, there are always new players in the marketplace. Your app advisory service line technologist should be on top of the changing ecosystem and applying that knowledge to your client base.
About Liz Mason
Liz is CEO of High Rock Accounting, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm and Xero National Ambassador.