Online accounting and the 77% of accountancy firms not offering it

“23% of accounting firms have offered online accounting systems because of client demand.” – Xerocon conference statistic, London



This statistic fascinated me when I heard it.  Not because of the 23% – but because of the other 77% of accountancy firms.  Are their clients not asking for online accounting systems? Or is it that they don’t know what’s possible yet in this area?  Or (worst of all) could it be that 77% of accounting firms are not truly listening to what their clients need?

Granted, not every single client of yours wants an online accounting system.  (You probably still have a few clients who don’t even have an email address.)  But here are some things to consider when it comes to offering online accounting to your clients, and on meeting their needs before they ask you:

Just because the business owner isn’t “online” doesn’t mean he has no need of systems in the cloud.

It’s very likely that his (or her) team members are younger and more in touch with websites, email, social media, and other online aspects. And those team members are often the ones who are inputting the numbers, recording data, producing invoices, recording expenses.  So before you write off either one or hundreds of your business clients because they are “too old” or “won’t care”, stop for a moment and consider the person who is actually doing the bookkeeping or the accounts work.

What if they don’t know what’s possible?

Many small business owners are far too busy to be attending conferences or talking about the latest online trends.  They are sorting out customer issues, taking phone calls, dashing here and there about the country (or the world) to meetings, investigating whether they can get that grant or that funding so they can have the business and life they have always dreamed of.  It is very possible that they have never heard of Xero (or FreeAgent, or any of the other cloud accounting options) and wouldn’t know what to do with it if they had.  Just because they’ve always used spreadsheets doesn’t mean they are opposed to a new option.

It is your responsibility as their accountant to make their accounting life as easy as possible.

As we have discussed before, your clients are not passionately interested in the recent tax tips, updates, or calculators, except as these affect them personally. And it is your responsibility to ensure that they get the information and help they need for accurate accounts, the lowest tax bill possible – and the preparation of their accounting information.  If you come to them and say, “Here is a way to reduce at least a few hours a week that you currently spend on invoicing, bookkeeping, and other accounting tasks”, wouldn’t they sit up and take notice?  (And be very thankful to you?)  Of course.

Could it be that you are avoiding offering this to your clients because you are not yet in the cloud?

Many accountancy firms are still stockpiling boxes in their offices.  Using paper and pen when the rest of the world is tapping things into their smartphones.  Sending and receiving faxes.  Asking clients to bring their receipts in to the office.  If your accountancy firm isn’t in the cloud, it is unlikely that your clients will be.   You’ve got to show them by example that moving into the cloud is the best thing that ever happened to them – because it’s saved you time and hassle, too.

You don’t have to roll it out to every single client tomorrow.

As with all new systems, run a few testers first.  Address your own cloud needs, and at the same time choose three or four tech-savvy (or at least young) clients who are willing to try something new.  Tell them it’s a new thing for you, too, but you’re confident that it will save them time and help you give them better information, and in real-time to boot.  Xero has a great onboarding process that gives you everything you need to start small.  That’s the best place to start.

Don’t give up if it doesn’t work immediately.

If one client uses it improperly, or shows interest and then fades away; or if (gasp!) you make a mistake in their accounts or tax calculation because of the transfer to the new system, don’t panic.  These are the teething problems that quite frankly you probably won’t even have.  Just start somewhere, and help your clients out whilst helping yourself out at the same time.