It was ‘accountants galore’ on AdvanceTrack’s webinar, ‘Scaling for Growth? Building an Advisory Mindset and Firm’, which discussed the cultural and strategic approach towards making a practice invaluable to its clients.

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth started the conversation by highlighting the key challenges of changing how a practice – or any organisation – operates. These include altering mindsets, successfully adopting new technology and embedding change into the new normal.

 

“People are fearful of change, and will look to maintain the status quo,” said Sheth. “So leadership is required to change doubters to believers, and champions are needed to keep it all on track.”

Joe David from accountancy firm Nephos said that his background as an accountant in industry gave him a mindset that creating and analysing good data was key in supporting the making of decisions. This led him down the path of creating an advisory- and technology-led practice.

 

Clarity’s Aynsley Damery said that established firms have to go that bit further when it comes to driving change, particularly if ingrained in providing services based purely on clients’ historical information. “It’s about looking forward as a firm, and looking forward on behalf of your clients,” said Damery. He said that ‘champions’ within the firm, who will help instil that mindset while managing change projects, were vital. “They’re so important in terms of connectivity between management and the team – interpreting the vision and how it will work.”

 

Practice Ignition’s Trent McLaren said: “You must set out from the top, across the entire firm, the direction and why you’re changing. You also have to let them know about progression, or you’ll inevitably end up with silos of knowledge.”

Click here to access the webinar.

Some the most popular and well-known advisers and experts have been speaking to AdvanceTrack and accountants about how to lead through the crisis, while reconfiguring your services – and people – in a locked-down world.

 

While physical conferences and get-togethers are currently off limits, that hasn’t stopped AdvanceTrack from running a “mini conference” online via Zoom.

On 28 April, we ran a “Beyond the Pandemic – The Customers Journey”, a 90-minute online seminar, in which experts provided insight about how best to structure your approach to support clients through the crisis, and beyond.

Innovate and communicate

Kicking off the session was AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth. He said that accountants are in a unique position to provide real value to the people they work for – above and beyond a basic and narrow ‘service’.

But they must not rest on their laurels. “The wow of today is the normal of tomorrow,” said Sheth.

Citing the exponential improvements in Amazon’s service provision and constant innovation, he explained that day-to-day consumer experiences influence what people expect from professional services organisations – and they must step up.

“Don’t compare yourself with what other accountants do – consumers and clients are driven by other experiences they have – that represents their expectation,” he said. “So why do you do what you do? You have to deliver value.”

While the coronavirus crisis has proved incredibly disruptive, it has forced accountants and clients to communicate more – albeit via digital online platforms.

“The importance of relationships never goes away,” said Sheth. “And now we see our people increasingly moving up the value chain – with clients and in our business. If you weren’t using Zoom or Teams a month ago, you are now – and these tools are helping you have conversations.”

You might have had two or three client meetings in a day; now you can have ten or 15 – hopefully all incredibly valuable to you and clients, explained Sheth: “Being digital allows you to do that. You’re doing things a lot quicker, communicating more – so take the digital journey.”

Invest in relationships

Karen Reyburn, founder of The Profitable Firm, gave an inspirational talk focusing on the relationship-building you will inevitably be doing at the moment. And that, while billing and charging is a difficult and thorny task at the moment, you are investing in potentially keeping clients for a lifetime.

“Some things have changed in the crisis, some things haven’t,” she said. “Relationships… it’s always important to invest in client relationships.”

Putting yourself ‘out there’ will also engender positive sentiment towards you and your firm from potential clients and other working partners.

“So many of you are already spending time on the things that build relationships – sharing information, blogs, videos… just get it out there! You will get enquiries if you’re doing those things. You are on the front line of saving businesses,” Reyburn added.

Some firms are fearful of giving too much valuable information away in the public domain, via their website or on social media. However, Reyburn’s approach is very simple: “Give information away, charge for implementation.”

If people think that undertaking a task will be exhausting or difficult, they will come to you, whether you’ve given them the basic information or not, she suggested.

“The more you share, the more they’ll want to work with you,” she said. “Use content to build assets. What can I build so that when they have problems, this is the tool they use? This is why video is so powerful: you’re connecting with them faster – the number of accountants who are realising that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but doing so builds relationships faster.”

Efficiency and trust

As founder of presentation training business Speaking Ambition, and MD of Blue Arrow Accounting, Alexandra Bond Burnett is well placed o talk about how you build trust with existing and potential clients.

“How do you give someone the green flag that you’re the best person to choose to help them?” asked Bond Burnett.

Breaking down the elements that are required to create trust was a key part of bond Bond Burnett’s presentation.

The trust equation is: credibility; reliability; and intimacy.

  • Credibility – “Demonstrating your experience, be that talking about things you know and understand, having conversations with people and presenting your qualifications.”
  • Reliability – “This is about ‘showing up’. Doing what you said you were going to do. To be there so your clients don’t need to worry.”
  • Intimacy – “You can be credible and reliable, but you have to build that level of rapport. People make logical decisions but with a dollop of emotion. How do you make someone feel? Safe, challenged, that they can do anything?”

Bond Burnett pulls this together by discussing ‘self orientation’. “It is a funny phrase – but essentially we’re considering who do you think about when you’re communicating?” she said. “It’s more than likely that it’s ‘what will someone think of me?’ Don’t focus on yourself – turn it around and think about the client.

“How can they be helped right now, and then next week and then the week after that… then start communicating that to them. The hero is the client; make them the centre of the story.”

Service clarity

“How do things get done?” asks Trent McLaren, global head of accounting and sales at Practice Ignition. Accountants need to be clear about understanding the work entailed both internally for your practice, and what you do for your clients.

For McLaren, this ultimately means you are looking for a balance between the work your people undertake, the technology used as a tool and the processes put in place to make the work flow.

“When the customer and employee experiences work well, then you as a practice gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

“It means you’re completing work faster, with fewer resources, improving quality and hopefully improving customer satisfaction.”

Another key task is to ‘map’ the customer journey. Do you understand the path a client takes, and the touchpoints they have with you, as you work together? From them becoming a lead/prospect to becoming your client and beyond, think about how you communicate with them and the services you provide.

By doing this you create a ‘blueprint’. McLaren referenced an article by the Nielsen Norman Group on this very topic, which can be found here.

 

 

 

It’s safe to say that AdvanceTrack’s 2019 conference was a great success, with the most attendees ever at one of our now annual events

This year’s theme at AdvanceTrack’s 2019 conference was about building a first-class client experience. A range of speakers, including Paul Shrimpling, Iwoca’s Richard Sutton, The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn and My Accountancy Place’s Paul Barnes, spoke at length about how digitising processes and thinking carefully about the interactions you have (or don’t) with your client will have a massive impact on how they value your service.

MD Vipul Sheth gave the introductory speech, talking at depth about the “journey that data takes through your organisation”, in tandem with how you deal with people.

“It’s about creating time and opportunity for you to speak to more people, that’s what AdvanceTrack is here for,” he said.

Sheth added that most firms’ staff, in five years’ time, will be technologically adept, and that bookkeeping services and management is “essential in terms of delivering a regular conversation”.

 

Building an onboarding process

The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn gave an inspiring talk on using simple technology to build an onboarding process. She referred to the importance of “drip-feeding” information back and forth between yourself and the client during the process, and is not to be rushed so as not to overwhelm them.

Paul Barnes, founder of firm My Accountancy Place, spoke at length about how to set a pricing strategy.

Using GoProposal methodology, alongside bundled pricing, Barnes spoke about the importance of discussing the needs of a potential client face-to-face. When their needs are understood, the bundle can then be moulded to meet their needs. If required, the offering can be itemised so they can see exactly how much the range of services cost.

“If they were to hire an accountant in-house, we use that to contextualise our costs,” he explained. “You’re effectively an outsourced finance function.

“We’re iterating our services and pricing almost daily. Value pricing isn’t easy,” he added. “So make sure you charge on factors and outcomes.”

Nikki Adams, of practice Ad Valorem, said the conference “was great” for two reasons: “I was enthralled with some of the sessions where industry-leading specialists were able to paint the picture of the next stage of the cloud accounting transition for practices of all sizes; it also helped to benchmark us against, and network with, other forward-thinking accountants. We came away buzzing with ideas.”

Wood and Disney’s David Rudd said: “The AdvanceTrack conference re-affirmed that we’re on the right track but have more to do to digitise and optimise our processes. [It had] great speakers and [it was] good to catch up with friends old and new.”

Accountants hit conference season with a bang at the start of May, attending both AdvanceTrack’s annual event and Accountex. Kevin Reed covers the main messages coming out of a busy but fascinating three days

On 1-2 May, Europe’s biggest accounting and finance show Accountex saw a record-busting 9,063 attendees – an event in which AdvanceTrack was delighted to take part.

We spoke to some of the key participants to find out what their new products and services are, along with views on the current issues impacting accountants’ working lives. Key topics included: how some accountants and clients have moved down ‘the digital path’ while others still delay; and differing views on the direction of travel set by MTD bridging software.

 

QuickBooks

QuickBooks’ Making Tax Digital Product Suite was being demonstrated at the show, including bridging software. These new tools, and their importance to the marketplace, were a key focus of our discussion with its sales director Nick Williams.

Williams said there had been “lots of work” by accountants to bring themselves and clients towards MTD compliance, and bridging software was a step on that journey for many.

Its pre-Accountex research found that 89% of small businesses were now aware of MTD, with 84% believing they were now compliant.

And for those accountancy firms using MTD as a catalyst for transforming into a cloud-based adviser, there was more good sentiment. QucikBooks also found that 49% of respondents believe MTD will have a positive effect on their business – up from 37% since March.

“The transition to MTD was never going to be without its stumbling blocks for accounting professionals and small businesses, but it is pleasing to see increasing numbers realising the time, efficiency and cost-saving benefits that digitisation can bring,” said Williams.

He believes that the bridging technology, which some industry insiders believe should only sit in place for a year, will continue to be used beyond that period by some advisers and their clients.

“We’ll always see customers in need of support – that will remain with bridging,” he said.

Williams also referenced a number of other innovations, including SmartLook – which enables QuickBooks to work quickly and interactively to resolve any problems users may have via a one-way video feed and screen-sharing; and Online Advanced Payroll – enabling accountants and payroll bureaux to manage multiple businesses with complex payroll needs.

 

IRIS

Accountants are “bridging the digital divide”, believes IRIS chief marketing officer Nick Gregory.

IRIS also released new statistics for the Accountex launch: some 215,000 documents were e-approved between accountants and their clients via its OpenSpace document sharing platform in January 2019 – a 328% increase on January 2018.

“Accountants are recognising that they have to be online,” Gregory told InsideOutsourcing.

Gregory said that IRIS’s customers were “pushing” the technology house to enable them to use a more “open” software stack and access via mobile devices.

“We want to use data to deliver more from a productivity point, and to link with third-party applications,” he said.

A key part of this process will be an online “platform” from which services can be accessed – the first application it will make available is an anti-money laundering solution this summer. “You’ll be able to onboard clients and run all the necessary checks,” said Gregory.

 

MyFirmsApp

“Many accountants are thinking: ‘I’ve got my cloud clients and they’ll be fine with MTD… but what about the great unwashed?’,” said MyFirmsApp head of product management and customer experience Mike Page, when describing how to deal with swathes of clients that still haven’t moved to digital bookkeeping.

Page sees the app as providing a simple solution to get accountants’ clients moving on the digital path. Its new platform will launch in the summer, providing a new user interface for both accountants and their clients. A new version of receipt capture will also be introduced.

MyFirmsApp has also produced “The Definitive Guide to Bridging Software”, after viewing what it described as a “baffling array” of options.

 

CountingUp

Millions of pounds could be flowing into the coffers of CountingUp, with up to £12m sought in the near future to drive more product development and marketing.

The bookkeeping and banking app is “100% on board with accountants”, chief commercial officer Andrew Garvey said, viewing them as “the most important part of our business”.

“With 4.5 million microbusinesses out there we know how hard it is to get them to use accounting tech,” said Garvey.

Accountants still have many clients “not using anything” to manage their bookkeeping and tax data. “We’re trying to make accountants’ life easier,” he concluded.

In the next year Garvey expects to see greater convergence between accounting and banking from a technology perspective.

 

AdvanceTrack

A new way to help you transform your firm has been developed by AdvanceTrack. The AdvanceTrack Growth Academy has been launched to guide practice owners and seniors towards positive change for their practice.

In partnership with well-respected consultant Paul Shrimpling, the academy aims to have a profound impact on how you and your team feel about the core work at your firm, in turn helping your team enjoy the work it undertakes.

The academy is focused on two main areas: accountability and motivation. You’ll be held accountable with regular calls and visits to review the actions you’ve committed to and agree any steps.

AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth said the programme would not only inspire accountants to make change, but provide them with the support to deliver. “It can be very lonely at the top,” he said. “We believe that the academy will provide both a strong support network, accountability and ongoing practical advice to help you take positive action to improve how your firm operates.”

 

AdvanceTrack is gearing up for a busy time with two big events coming up

It’s events-frenzy for AdvanceTrack, with attendance at Accountex and its own conference just around the corner.

Accountex London is held on 1-2 May at Excel. AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth will once again be at the show with his team, on stand 516 (by the entrance).

Sheth expects Making Tax Digital, which has been in force from 1 April, to be front and centre of conversations across the two days.

“Practices will be talking about MTD and the knock-on effects of the legislation,” says Sheth. “Their clients will be saying ‘we don’t want to do the bookkeeping’… but the accountants can’t really create value out of doing it themselves.”

That is where AdvanceTrack can step in. “Practitioners will ask us whether we can take on this bookkeeping – of course we can,” says Sheth. “We agree with the practice what the technology stack will look like and then get down to the detail.”

  • It’s not all about Accountex, of course. AdvanceTrack’s Client Conference 2019, held on 30 April, is also one of the big dates in the calendar. For those of you that have read our main feature, you will have seen that expert speaker and author Paul Shrimpling is talking at our conference. Other speakers include Ashleigh Lambert, Karen Reyburn and Matt Flanagan.

The ‘client journey’ will be the central theme of this year’s event, which will cover pricing, marketing, onboarding and more. We hope that attendees will learn about taking action and driving change in their practice.

Our next issue will cover some of the highlights of the show.

A year’s a long time…

… In the accounting practice space! Last year’s AdvanceTrack conference saw more than 100 practitioners and tech experts discuss our theme: the business growth accountant. MTD and GDPR – those dreaded acronyms – were front and centre of discussions. In a world of great change and uncertainty, alongside legislative-driven pressure, how can you structure your operations to best serve clients – and at a profit?

Last year’s event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front. While much has moved on in the last 12 months, this thread will continue in our next event.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth. “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role.”

With the accounting profession in a constant state of evolution, accountants are always looking for their next source of inspiration. Whether it be a new tool for your team to use, or a new app to trial with your clients, there’s a plethora of support and events out there to launch yourself into.

Accountex is by no means the least on that list. Every year they build on speakers, apps, education and knowledge available at their 2-day event in London. You might go to demo new software, or learn about the trends defining the profession, or you might be there to simply share ideas and grow your network.

But how exactly do you attend such a marathon of a conference without the risk of overwhelm? How can you get best benefit from attending, as opposed to spending two days out of the office, inevitably returning to 123456 emails, and then letting everything you promised to do after the conference drop to the bottom of the list.

For some, the answer lies in this year’s Client Conference, which once again is being hosted the day before Accountex.

Plotting out your client journey

As we’ve already established, the accounting landscape has radically changed in recent years, and as a result of that, client experience has never been more important.

Marketing, onboarding, app stacks, pricing – it’s all connected, and for firms to thrive in this evolving industry, it’s now more crucial than ever to address the fundamental crux of accountancy businesses – serving your clients.

That’s why our annual conference is this year focused on the client journey. We want accountants to recognise the importance of providing a first-class experience to your clients, and as such, we’ve crafted our conference to cover every element of your client’s journey.

If you’re attending the conference, it’s an opportunity for you to start plotting out what your client journey currently looks like. Take a look at how your team operates with clients. Evaluate your pricing model. Sketch out your onboarding process. Determine your app-stack. Craft your MTD offerings.

By doing this before you attend the conference, you’re going into the conference with an open mind-set of what your client journey currently looks like, and how it might be improved once you’ve heard from the speakers of the day.

Take action at Accountex

Hearing from all the speakers at our client conference will no doubt give you a long list of elements to improve in your client journey.

The good news is Accountex is one of the best places to start taking action. You might need to revisit how you price based on the insights from Paul Barnes’ talk, which means connecting with the different pricing apps exhibiting at Accountex would be a great place to start.

Or you might want to adjust the app stack you offer to your clients, which would lead you to many apps available to connect with.

Whatever your actions may be, our approach would be to go to Accountex with a positive mindset for change. Be open-minded, be willing, be ready to try new things. With that approach, you’re in the best possible frame of mind to refresh the client journey in your firm and begin crafting that first-class experience that people are looking.

What does your client journey look like?

With Accountex a few weeks away, now is the time to start plotting out your client journey. Grab the post-it notes, or the whiteboard pens, and start writing down everything that makes up that experience, and your goals for improving it.

We’ll see you at Accountex and the Client Conference!

AdvanceTrack makes an impression as attendees want to know more

 

Xerocon 2018, held in London’s ExCeL, was another important date for the AdvanceTrack team. With several thousand people in attendance at the continually growing show, we were kept very busy – fortunately we had a couple of existing clients on hand to help talk through what we do to attendees curious to know more about us.

Xero director Damon Anderson spoke about its big news: the acquisitions of accounts prep and tax filing provider Instafile, and financial document ‘fetcher’ system HubDoc. “These acquisitions place compliance at the core of Xero,” he said.

But what does such technology mean? Does it mean outsourcing won’t be for you, with it easier kept in-house? For AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth, any technology that enables accounting practitioners to have access to client data more accurately and quickly is a boon.

“Once practitioners understand how technology improves efficiency, and the data is in the cloud, it becomes so collaborative between us,”
said Sheth. “Previously a client had to do work to package it up; now they just provide us with a login. Firms can give us so much more information and utilise us as a resource – we know that resource is finite in the UK. So our proposition becomes more valuable and compelling.”

Anderson also addressed the issue of potentially ‘treading on their app partners’ toes’.

“There’s no sign of our ecosystem slowing down; there are huge opportunities,” said Anderson. “We work with lots of providers – we complement them and don’t compete. They are specialists.”

Brendan Woods, CEO and founder of invoice and receipt capture provider AutoEntry, said the “market is as vibrant as ever”.

“Cloud was the top priority, but it’s now about trying to remove manual process and transforming processes (see main feature on pages 2-3). There’s no end to the success stories – but the key is making a commitment to change,” he said.

“Very often it’s the clients putting their toe into the water… are you going to walk away from a client? Either you help them or you don’t – so practices get dragged forward,” Woods concluded.

Like its clients, AdvanceTrack has enjoyed another busy month.

For starters, we held our second annual AdvanceTrack Conference. The event, held in central London, brought together more than 100 practitioners and technology specialists to discuss key issues and opportunities for the profession.

We covered the ‘business growth accountant’ in a lively session with Paul Shrimpling, while Martin King-Turner took us through the latest developments on that dreaded topic: GDPR.

The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn talked about the four ‘make or break’ areas for accountancy marketing, while BlueHub’s Matt Flanagan pointed firms to where they should currently be on their MTD journey.

Vipul Sheth, AdvanceTrack MD, said the event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said Sheth.

“Remember, with Making Tax Digital accountants are going to need reliable financials and do it for hundreds of thousands of clients.”

Sheth added: “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry, and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role. If you understand that then we can help you do more of that, and you’ll become more profitable and go home earlier.”

With webinars aplenty, another conference on the horizon and a return to Accountex, there’s no letting up for the AdvanceTrack team

It is busy but exciting times for AdvanceTrack. First, we have two webinars around the corner.

  • 9 May: ‘How to actually get marketing done in your firm’
  • 21 May: We discuss ‘How technology can help you deliver a cost-effective bookkeeping service’ with Tom Port from Auto Entry

We are making a big push to provide accounting firms with interesting and informative online video shows. Our previous webinar was the provocatively-titled ‘Do you have the balls to be a business advisor?’. Held on 18 April, our MD Vipul Sheth and Spotlight Reporting’s Debbie Spooner discussed whether accountants have the ‘courage’ to be a true business adviser.

Our previous recording saw Vipul and BlueHub’s Matt Flanagan discuss how to align the process and technology steps to deliver more advisory work. We are also preparing for our second client conference. Following last year’s successful show, AdvanceTrack is back for more.

There will be an important session covering AdvanceTrack’s GDPR journey which, hopefully, you will have picked up some useful information from in our main feature this month. Popular accountancy consultant Paul Shrimpling will talk about being a ‘value-added’ practice – and why getting to grips with clients’ bookkeeping is a vital step in that journey.

Other sessions will cover marketing; and how to access client data quickly online. BlueHub and Receipt Bank will also be in attendance to provide insight. We’re delighted to be back again at the biggest accounting technology event in the UK: Accountex. It will, as ever, bring together more than 200 exhibitors while running an extensive programme of speakers and sessions. Whether a current client, or just interested to find out more about AdvanceTrack, pop along to our stand for a chat.

More information

To register for our upcoming webinars, and to view our previous shows, visit www.advancetrack.com/webinars.

For more details about our client conference, visit www.advancetrack.com/events or e-mail us at advice@advancetrack.com. Come and visit us at Accountex across 23-24 May; attendee details can be found at www.accountex.co.uk.

 

A webinar featuring AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth delves deeper into outsourcing: future technological developments; its impact on accountants’ skillset; and his approach to working with clients

A joint webinar between AdvanceTrack and Practice Ignition looked to deal with the important topic we’re covering in our main feature: What should you be outsourcing?

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth and Practice Ignition’s Trent Mclaren explored the future of outsourcing, while highlighting how practices are currently driving their business forward by using tools to help implement their strategy of growth through high-value services. Here’s a taster from the session. Make sure to listen to the whole webinar, which really delves into some of the most relevant details behind outsourcing strategy.

Trent Mclaren: How has outsourcing changed since AdvanceTrack was established in 2003?

Vipul Sheth: A big change is that outsourcing is much larger as an industry, and more professional. But the biggest game-changer is technology – whether built by us, or by [software providers] in the market. There’s a massive difference in how we put together accounts even from just five years ago. The way we access data and information from the cloud is very different to receiving an Excel sheet or backup file… we still get those sometimes. We’ll continue to change – we have our own developers because we want to be an efficient and reliable services provider.

TM: People say that technology makes jobs redundant, but it also helps to create more jobs as well…

VS: Outsourcing [and automation] creates an opportunity for firms. We see within these organisations a bunch of skilled people who have client relationships, and [tech] allows us to have deeper relationships. That’s where we come in – they can use the data from an outsourced provider to have those conversations. The challenge is that clients see a set of accounts as a transaction, something they have to pay for. In that sense they’ll look for the cheapest option. But what you do with that information will be the reason they keep coming back.

TM: Who is the ideal customer for AdvanceTrack?

VS: It’s not about size of firm, it’s about leadership of the firm – how invested are they in growing their business? Because then we’ll be talking about outsourcing for the right reasons. The work’s undertaken in a lower cost economy, which will help to save money, but is outsourcing a strategic part of your delivery? The leadership have to want to deliver more to clients. Then you ask: Do those below leadership level have the skills to not be the introverted accountant… can they talk to clients and advise them?

You can visit our Webinars page to view the recording of our webinar with Practice Ignition.