Thoughts on Xero after attending Xerocon London

xero con poster
Yesterday I spent the day with 400+ accountants at the Brewery in London at the Xero Conference.  It was an excellent day and I thought I’d share some of my takeaways for you accountants who are mulling over whether you want to throw yourself into the cloud or not:

23% of accountants surveyed are using an online accounting system because of client demand.

My question is, do you even know what your clients want – or need?  If 23% of accountants are doing this in response to client requests, what about the clients who have not said anything, but wish you’d get in the cloud?  And, what about the other 77% of you?  Why are you stuck in the dark ages?

“By 2012, 20% of businesses will have NO IT assets.” 

Well, 2012 has been and gone, but that percentage is only increasing.  Small businesses have realised that they can run a successful enterprise without a server, without huge investments in hardware, and even telling their employees to simply bring their own laptop to work.  It’s a different world out there.

“I spent a month on a tag line – what a waste of time.”  (Denis Breen, ProfitPal)

Although marketing is a big deal, there are elements of it that we don’t have to spend as much time on anymore.  Just pick a name, pick a logo, choose a few colours, keep it modern and consistent, and get out there marketing.  Spend your time on a good website, great follow up sequences, clear and consistent emails, excellent landing pages, social media, webinars, client connections.

Adopting an online accounting solution is a change to your entire business – it’s not just a one-off purchase.

Granted, it can be as simple as saying, “Yes, I’d like to go ahead with Xero” – but once you’ve done that, you should not just leave it there and hope all your clients get on board.  It’s up to you to head things up, to help your clients, and (if necessary) encourage or even push them into the current century. Get your team involved, look at your entire online marketing element, keep adapting your website, and integrate everything that you do.

Xero’s add-on partners are really, really cool. 

I spent a good bit of time wandering the Add-On Expo downstairs in the Brewery (okay, part of that was because Xero had the best lattes I have ever had in my life).  Add-ons are extra bits and pieces that connect with Xero and make your and your client’s lives so much easier.  Things like Fathom, which is a very cool-looking management reporting function that is simple, visual, and easy.  Or ReceiptBank, which converts bits of paper into data.  Xero is simply the first step.

The word is, there’s no competition.

Now, I didn’t do a “proper” survey, but having talked to my clients who were there, and others I met, the overwhelming response is that Xero wins when it comes to online accounting systems, hands down.  One of my clients said he was deciding between Xero and SAGE One, and the other accountants who were regularly using Xero practically laughed him to scorn.  “There’s no competition,” they said.  “Don’t even bother looking at SAGE One or FreeAgent.” When I asked why, they said Xero had more capability, much better customer service, and the previously mentioned very-cool-add-ons.

It’s a slow burn.

Taking on something like Xero (or using it, if you already have it), like any marketing effort, is a long term effort.  And the best results come organically, adding things one at a time, slowly building the firm you’ve always wanted to have.  Denis Breem of ProfitPal, who had an excellent session about how his firm has implemented Xero, mentioned that they’ve had at least three revamps of their website, and that’s within the past 10 years or so.  Make changes, continue to make changes, listen to your clients, be the trusted advisor they expect you to be, and slowly see results drip in.

You’ve only got about two more years in which you can proclaim to be a new kind of accountant. 

After that, so many accountants will be on the bandwagon that having Xero (or a great website, or using social media well, or blogging) will not set you apart at all.

Get a photographer out to your clients. 

Some of those attending had done this recently and benefited hugely from it.  Hire a good photographer to take photos of you and your team and your offices – but go the next stage and go round to 8 or 10 of your best clients, and feature them in a short (1-2 minute) video about what you, their accountant, has done for them and how amazing you are.  The clients will love it – they get featured and can use it to help build their business, too – and your own marketing will benefit in a huge way.

Knowing your niche or focus areas is more important than ever.

Because everyone is just now starting to get on board, you cannot stand out by doing taxes faster, unless you are light-years faster.  You can’t say you’re a better accountant unless you have specifics to prove it. You have got to clearly identify your differentiation now, because a great website and nice logo and good accounting work and helpful team members is simply not enough these days.

“Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection.”

This is number 3 of Google’s 8 pillars, and a brilliant one.  Just start changing things, and keep doing it.  Accountants have a tendency to wait until all the ducks are in a row before they start marching.  Unfortunately, if the competition are marching a few ducks (and a chicken, and a goose, and an ostrich) far ahead of you, you’re once again missing out.

[Note – this blog has not been requested by Xero, and our only reason for posting it is that we want you to have profitable accountancy practices!]