The top 3 issues facing Australian firms (and how to overcome them)

When accountants come to us, one of the first questions we ask “is outsourcing the answer to your problems?”

Admittedly, it’s a rhetorical question, but it makes you pause and think. We’re always preaching that outsourcing isn’t just about handing over compliance work. It’s about changing the nature of the relationships with your clients, but you can’t do that if you don’t overcome the underlying problems your firm is facing.

On the surface, outsourcing might seem like the answer, but we wanted to take the opportunity to address those issues and how to overcome them, and also how outsourcing might play a part in that.

1. Delivering to deadlines without overworking

Your accountancy firm should be 100% focused around client service delivery, otherwise chances are you won’t be in business for very long. So, what’s changed?

Well, for one, there used to be some downtime between the different projects. This allowed an opportunity to reflect on the project, evaluate the time put in, regroup and plan for the next project. But instead, you’re finishing one project and immediately diving into another!

It’s in large part due to technology. With the advent of Xero and QuickBooks, coupled with receipt scanning apps and reporting tools, your clients have more data than they know what to do with, and it’s your job to handle that.

Because of these increasing changes in the industry, the volume of work is naturally growing, meaning there’s no longer any downtime. You’re doing the work yourself because you don’t have a choice. Sure, you could outsource the day-to-day bookkeeping to free up your time, but deep down that’s not the solution. It’s time management. You need the right tools and people in place to handle projects better, which leads us nicely to problem #2.

2. Implementing new tech

Xero published a report in 2017 that revealed that more than three-quarters of firms still use spreadsheets with their clients. Even more alarmingly, 18% of firms are still working on paper ledgers.

We couldn’t agree more with Xero’s comment that “old methods continue to strangle practice efficiency”. Technology has evolved massively over the past couple of years, but the challenge for accountants is the implementation.

Which software do you choose? Which apps do you offer alongside it? What systems do we need internally? Is this going to improve our speed? What if our clients don’t go along with it?

Those are some of the questions that you’re most likely pondering and rightly so. It’s no small feat implementing new systems, and that’s often the reason most firms hold back. They’re scared of things going wrong, of systems not working, of clients disengaging.

For you to overcome these problems, you’ve got to go beyond your comfort zone and be willing to embrace the change and try new systems. You’ve got to be ready to test and learn and ultimately fail. If you’re not willing to do that yourself, what chance do you have of your clients being willing to try new tech?

It’s about that long-term goal of development and building a better, scalable firm, and it starts with taking that first step of trying something new.

3. Finding the right team

All of the issues mentioned so far come back to your team. A lack of downtime or a lack of systems affects them too, or they’re part of the problem.

If you’re the director of a firm, you could be doing a lot of the work yourself, because you haven’t got the right team members in place to support you. Likewise, you might be hesitant to implement new systems because you’re not sure if your team would be on board as well.

A lot of it comes down to how you recruit. You’re not just recruiting for another person, you’re recruiting for someone who’ll embrace the changing environment. It’s about skill set, engagement, motivation, meaning you’re ultimately looking for someone who is resilient and willing to adapt. That’s the kind of team member that will stick by you, rather than hopping from one firm to the next and leaving you to pick up the pieces.

What’s wrong with this picture?

 It’s a vicious cycle: You’re not delivering to deadlines and/or you have no downtime. That’s caused by not having the right systems in place. This can be the case if you don’t have a willing team or the right team to support you, or even if you’re not delegating enough to them.

So, to go back to our opening question “is outsourcing the answer to your problems”, the answer would be “it depends!”

Outsourcing only truly works when you have addressed the problems we’ve talked about, or you’ve at least started addressing them. As we said at the start, outsourcing is really about changing how you work and interact with your clients, and you can only really do that when you’ve begun to work on the problems with time, technology and your team.

But when you’ve mastered that, and once you go on to building incredible relationships, you’ve got the key to success, and you’re no doubt on track to build a firm poised for amazing things.

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