360 degrees - April/May 2014
[caption id="attachment_5602" align="alignleft" width="300"] Rob Nixon is an accountant and the
founder and CEO of accounting advisory
firm Proactive Accountants Network.[/caption]
Proactive Accountants Network
Getting the right accounting software for your clients can really help them run their businesses better. In turn, it can help accountants add value to their services and strengthen business relationships.
With server-based or desktop software, off-site accountants are not truly connected to their clients. But cloud software means accountants and clients are connected 24/7. As clients make transactions, their accountants can track what’s going on in real time.
Set parameters for each client (cash, profit and other metrics) and you can be alerted when their business is turning up or down. If you notice something untoward, a quick phone call or email querying a decision or touching base offers enormous value. You may even get opportunities to sell cloud-based accounting services. In the decision between whether to tie your accounting solution to a desktop or take it into the cloud, internet-based software wins hands down.
The second decision is which accounting solution to use. I don’t recommend aligning your practice with just one provider – go with three or four of them.
Next-generation accounting software includes applications that consolidate data so you can determine the financial performance of all your clients at a glance, in real time. The software also promises time-saving, B2B-friendly solutions – specialist content, advice, tips, checklists and the like – so you can keep abreast of the latest information and know how best to advise each client.
[caption id="attachment_5604" align="alignleft" width="300"] Heather Smith runs an accountancy training consultancy and has written
the Xero For Dummies series of books, as well as Learn MYOB in 7 Days.[/caption]
Training consultant and author
I consider various factors when specialising in accounting software.
First, it needs to be compliant with the ATO’s guidelines and able to handle GST and activity statements.
It also needs to be widely supported – and by this I mean the accounting solutions’ provider offers extensive support, and there are expert independent consultants available, as well as opportunities for online and offline training. And you need to be able to find staff who know how to use the solution.
The solution can be either cloud- or desktop-based; I use remote desktop technology, enabling me to access the client’s computer directly, though cloud solutions offer me the flexibility to access client data 24/7.
Your chosen solution needs to have a published application programming interface (API), allowing integration with other plug-in solutions, such as POS, rostering systems, e-commerce and the like, minimising the need for data processing.
Other considerations are ease of use, user-friendly terminology, the reasonableness of up-front and ongoing costs, whether the software allows users to access data simultaneously, whether there are upgrade options, and whether the solution has the capacity to grow with the business.
For me, it’s important to offer each of my clients the best solutions for their circumstances, and I frequently have internal discussions about whether this means I should support only a single accounting platform.
[caption id="attachment_5612" align="alignleft" width="300"] Debra Anderson FIPA is the founder of bookkeeping and MYOB consulting company Legally BAS.[/caption]
It’s an incredibly exciting time in the accounting software space, with major players such as MYOB, Xero, Reckon, Intuit and Sage Handisoft competing aggressively. Of course, the big winners from all this are accountants and SMEs.
But frequent updates, innovative features and enhanced functionality can make the choice of which platforms to specialise in a complex and confusing one.
My first recommendation would be to look at what features and functionality your clients need and want, their reporting and access requirements, and their computer hardware and internet speed and reliability.
I chose to specialise in the platforms that are most applicable to my clients. And since every client is different, matching the client with the right platform has become a speciality of its own.
You’ll need to carefully review your client base. If the majority of your clients are using one or two different packages, it makes sense to specialise in those.
However, the market is changing rapidly, so keep a close eye on it, attend as many roadshows as you can, chat to other accountants and keep abreast of the changes to each of the key platforms.
At the end of the day, realise that different platforms suit different business models.
You must review what services you offer, what you want to offer, and which platforms will help you get there.
[caption id="attachment_5614" align="alignleft" width="298"] Accountant Rhys Roberts is principal of
specialist business advisory service Viridity.[/caption]
Cloud solutions are having profound effects on the accounting profession, enabling us to actively collaborate with our clients in a way that wasn’t previously viable. But these same features are exposing our industry to unprecedented competition, not only within Australia but from low-cost service providers around the world.
The firms that will thrive under these market conditions are those who determine which solution(s) will best help their clients run their businesses, and then developing in-house expertise in those solutions.
Most practices have clients across a wide range of industry sectors, so in reality that means
selecting a solution that will work for the majority (such as Xero or MYOB) and mastering that solution, rather than being a ‘jack of all solutions’.
The challenge this brings is the client that needs something different. With so many specialist software options available to assist retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other industry sectors, it is impractical for you to offer solutions to all sectors. Attempting to do so limits the amount of time you can devote to your clients.
Instead, when a client has software requirements beyond your area of expertise, outsource the selection and implementation of specific business software solutions to a specialist. This will deliver the best possible outcome for your client, while also leaving you free to concentrate on servicing your clients’ needs.