AdvanceTrack’s most recent webinar was one of its most thought-provoking and interesting.

On the topic of ‘value’, three experts joined AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth to discuss what value means in the context of an accounting practice, its people and clients.

Andrew Van De Beek, founder of Australian accountancy firm Illumin8, kicked off proceedings with an intensely personal and heartfelt presentation. This tone supported his message: work with clients you like, and understand the purpose of their business, before you can deliver value.

Clients are usually sold an expectation of what it will be like to work with another party, and are then disappointed with the reality.

“When I started my firm eight years ago, I’d already worked in a smaller firm and a Big Four firm. I hadn’t really enjoyed what I was doing – ticking boxes. That changed when I realised there were businesses behind my work – it changed my thinking,” he explained.

Van De Beek and his firm undertook soul-searching of who they were as personalities, and who they wanted to work with. “It was a transition from ‘pretending to be an accountant’ to ‘here’s Andrew… who is good at accounting’,” he said.

His official ‘work photo’ was him in a suit and tie. “I asked myself ‘why am I putting this shirt on?’ The branding was this picture while I was really [a guy in a t-shirt drinking whisky],” he said.

“In other words, the branding was the guy in the suit, but when clients interacted with us they got something different.

“If we’re pretending to be someone else, act a certain way, do things a certain way… it won’t hit the mark,” Van De Beek added. Accountants often present themselves in a similar way, providing similar services in the same style – “it just won’t hit the mark”.

Karen Reyburn, founder of accountancy marketing agency PF, carried on the thread. She said accountants feared being themselves, but making such a move towards fully representing yourself in your work normally required “small changes over time”.

However, such a move was important in terms of winning and working with clients. “Your brand is not for you, it’s for clients,” she said. “They will ask, ‘is this real? Are these people for real?’.”

When there’s a mismatch “they will hesitate to work for you”, Reyburn added.

The step towards online communication precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic has seen accountants behave more as they are, particularly where they talk to clients from their home environment.

“I hope that those moving through this see one of the big lessons that ‘me and my firm need to be who we are and show it’,” said Reyburn.

Building that authenticity is an aspect of setting out how to understand what value is in terms of clients, said James Ashford.

“Accountants do amazing [technical] things: balance sheets and P&Ls, but I only care
about what’s going on in my life. I want to be able to pick my kids up from school and my wife be safe, along with a storm-proof business. That’s where accountants can have an impact,” said Ashford.

On pricing, Ashford said you should be “consistent and profitable in what you need
to deliver”.

“And compliance isn’t dead,” he added. “It’s our most profitable work [at the accountancy practice where he is a director] because of how we charge it, manage our efficiencies and deliver.”

View the webinar by clicking here.

tech, Xerocon, outsourcing

In September, we were at Xerocon Brisbane. Whilst we were there, we had the opportunity to catch up with our Australian clients, see some new faces and get the latest updates in tech. 

The biggest move we noticed in Australia is the increasing move into SMSF and bookkeeping for clients by accounting firms.  Clients want a holistic service from their trusted friend – their accountant!

Often the two go hand in hand and firms are increasingly asking us to manage the SMSF record keeping for the individual fund, but more importantly, the business owner wants the accountant to look after the business’ financial records.  This trend, which started a while back is turning into a flood, with businesses recognising that their energies are best spent in driving their business forward. 

Their accountant is now better able to help clients with Cashflow management using tools like Float, Fluidly, Fathom and Futrli for example. They can do this, because they are responsible for the regular production of management accountants, all enabled through technology. This was a very important growth area. 

In 2018 we wrote about the top three issues facing Australian firms

Talking with professionals this year in Brisbane we found that outsourcing is becoming more of an accepted way to deliver work. Some firms also wanted to hear about our dedicated offshore resource. 

But most successful firms among them have truly embraced the fact that their role has changed. 

They’re outsourcing as default, from compliance through to reporting, so that they can have a consistently proactive rather than reactive relationship with their clients. 

What moved them to make this decision?

1. They realised they’re not in the business of accounting

 

What?

A confusing statement for an audience of accountants. 

Our friends at GoProposal wrote a really great blog titled ‘You’re no longer in the Accounting business’.

It’s just as true in Australia as it is in the UK, perhaps even more so. 

When we meet accountants we often find ourselves asking them – what is it that your clients want? Yes, they want to save tax. Yes, they want to know that their affairs are sorted. But what do they really want? What are their goals for the growth of their business, for their family, for their future. 

The successful firms are now in the bigger-picture business. They’re having conversations with their clients about the things that really matter. 

There’s a growing demand for wealth management advice

One of those bigger picture conversations that’s in demand more and more in Australia is wealth management. There’s an increasing need for advice in personal and business wealth strategy, pensions and retirement, and many accountancy firms are filling the gap by moving into wealth advisory services.

As more individuals manage their own pensions with a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), the work involved is also rapidly growing for those accountants who have moved into the wealth space. This means two things:

  • The firm will be pushed to deliver more compliance work
  • The firm owner needs to free up more time firm-wide to have bigger conversations with clients and offer more value

As these two things happen in tandem, it means more training, stronger systems and consistent processes. This is where the need for outsourcing has become more than just offloading compliance work. At AdvanceTrack, our goal is to help you create the business structure to have the very best conversations with your clients. 

2. They understood they need to create the right environment for today’s staff

 

We partner with firms in the UK and AUS/NZ and we’re seeing that the same issues arise when it comes to staff retention. Once qualified, if not pushed to their potential, staff are leaving smaller practices for the big accountancy firms or migrating to tech companies. 

Australia is further along than the UK in digital development, and the tech space is an attractive option for graduates who are now learning to add value at an earlier stage in their career. 

At the same time, we’re seeing desktop software being discontinued. BGL, Australia’s leading SMSF admin software, has retired its desktop product in December. 

It’s adapt or be overtaken when it comes to transitioning to new technologies and giving clients real-time information. Business owners can access their finances at the click of a button now, meaning that roles have changed whether we like it or not. Cloud integration specialist, Chief Data Officer, Virtual FD – These are the next generation of job titles.

Your staff already don’t want to be stuck delivering low-level work now, and they won’t want to be stuck delivering low-level work in the future. And remember, it’s not why you became an accountant either! 

The firms who are seeing real growth realised early on that their people are working at the wrong level, and they’re outsourcing their core services to make room for more skilled, challenged and satisfied staff. 

Ask yourself these two questions

If you’re stuck in a compliance cycle right now, and you can’t see a way out of the hamster wheel, first ask yourself:

  • What do my clients really want?
  • What do my staff really want?

Then take a look at how you can go about joining the global community of firms on this outsourcing journey, and realise your new potential as an evolved accountant. 

What can I outsource in my firm?

 

Outsourcing is no longer out of the ordinary. The outsourcing journey begins with accepting that.

We all know that the accounting profession has seen some big changes in the last decade – out with the old and in with the new, the more efficient and the most profitable. 

Some small firms with a handful of tax-only clients may be able to coast along for a while doing things the way they always have. But for those looking to grow and thrive, it’s a case of adapt or be replaced. 

That being said, it seems there’s still some lingering misunderstanding about outsourcing, what can be outsourced, and how it can contribute powerfully to the growth of your firm.

As far as we’re concerned, outsourcing isn’t about just getting some help with compliance.

It’s a tool to help you transform the nature of your interactions with your clients. 

 

Are you stuck hoping the dam won’t crumble?

 

When clients come to us, they’re usually overwhelmed in one way or another.

Remember the story about the little Dutch boy and the dam? 

In the popular fable, a little boy notices a crack in a dam. Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, a leak in the dam could be a fatal disaster. So the little boy plugs the crack in the dam with his finger. The leaking stops. The little boy knows that if he moves, the hole will get bigger and bigger and the town will flood. 

When he is finally found, the boy is hailed the hero of holland! It’s a tale of bravery. The only problem? He is still the only solution for an imminent flood. 

We find many firms in the same position, stuck recruiting anyone and everyone to plug the holes in their own businesses before an imminent flood. Often we find the business owner is doing their own part to plug the dam. At this stage, we find the same issues stopping you from taking your firm to the next level:

  • You just don’t have enough staff or time to find them
  • Your existing staff are doing work at the wrong level 
  • You’re doing, rather than advising as the Business Owner
  • Your team don’t have the skills required for you to scale up
  • You’re unable to retain staff long term
  • Your top talent are recruited by bigger firms with more to offer

Our solution?

 

Build a damn wall

 

Instead of trying to fill the gaps with anyone who is willing, change the structure of the way you do business. Build a wall so that you’re never fighting floods and you can do the work that is going to be the most profitable for you. 

That being said, you don’t have to be in a tax work crisis for outsourcing to work for you. You can outsource at different levels within your business, to allow you to deliver more than just accounts, or find the skill set to break the barrier into advisory work. 

We created the outsourcing journey, to help you identify where you are right now, but most importantly to show you what’s possible. From all of our experience working globally with firms like yours, we’ve identified that this is the route that leads to scalable growth and profitability.

Start – Everything is being done in-house. You’re maintaining, not growing.

Regular User – We combat capacity by starting with one process and nailing it. By outsourcing accounts and/or bookkeeping, you’re scaling up your team’s hours for higher level work.

Strategic user – Getting to strategic level is exciting, because you’re able to revisit your internal roles and really start to level up your team. At this point, you’re outsourcing reporting and the team are reviewing rather than preparing. Your Account Managers are able to step up and have more conversations with the clients. 

Strategic + – At this point, outsourcing is your default method for accounting, bookkeeping and reporting. You now have the ability to increase your billable rates and your departments capability. At this level, your outsourced team are giving prime delivery, allowing your team even more time for advisory work. 

Growth – You have built the wall. You’re growing at a fast rate, with the right structure for having the very best conversations with clients, and the right team skillset to support your client base.

 

It’s not just about freeing up your time, it’s about what you use your time for

 

Ask yourself why you became an accountant. 

You are the most valuable person to your client, which means that you need to focus on what they value the most in order for your own firm to be more successful. If you’re stuck doing work at the wrong level, you’ll eventually become obsolete in the eyes of your clients.

Whether you need to build a wall to allow you time to find the right staff, or get your existing staff in the right seats for scalable growth, or you just want to do more of what you enjoy – outsourcing to a trusted team can help you accomplish your goals.  

Clear on where you are in the journey? Tell us what you need

 

Is outsourcing the same as offshoring?

In short, no. 

But we won’t end the blog there, because this is one of the most common hesitations from firms who are new to the idea of outsourcing, or just starting to dip their toes in. There’s a big misunderstanding that outsourcing and offshoring are just two different words for the same thing. 

At AdvanceTrack, we offer both offshoring and outsourcing, and the model that works best for you depends on the stage you’re at as a firm, and how your processes work. 

The compact answer

Offshoring = giving work to a third party overseas, or moving functions of your own business function overseas

Outsourcing = giving work to a third party anywhere

It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas

The word ‘offshore’ has some negative connotations to it, especially in the world of finance. Don’t worry – when we talk about offshoring here, it has nothing to do with international banking. Offshoring refers to a business contracting work out to another country, or moving their own business abroad, in order to take advantage of favourable economic conditions.

Offshoring isn’t exclusive to product manufacturing. It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas where the cost of labour is lower. It’s all legit and there’s nothing to stop you doing so. 

The benefits of our offshoring model compared to others:

  • You can scale with confidence: Build a team knowing that you can scale it, without the day to day IT and Training challenges
  • It’s secure & quality is assured: It is managed and controlled by international Quality and Security Standards audited by BSI. 
  • You have holiday and sickness cover: You can save yourself time and HR hassles and never lose a day of production.

You can find out more about why we outsource to India here.

You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilise greater expertise

Outsourcing refers simply to the practice of hiring a third party or individual to carry out work that has historically been carried out in-house. You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilise greater expertise, or free up more time for you to focus on the work you love, that you’re best at. That service provider may be in the same country or even the same local area as you, or they may be overseas. 

The benefits of outsourcing:

  • Years of expertise – without having to take on a new employee and train them up to the level you require, you can give the work to a specialist with years of experience under their belt. 
  • You have more time to focus on more important areas – you won’t have to spend all your time and energy on the process you’re outsourcing, freeing you up to focus on the areas that need your attention. 
  • You can save on tech – you can rest assured your expert has the tech they need to do the job. If you’re not having to provide the infrastructure to support the work in-house, you can save on technology expenses. 
  • A difference in time zone may be advantageous – you may find outsourcing outside of your time zone works better. You can go to sleep and wake up to completed work!

You can read more about why we suggest outsourcing here

Saving money is desirable, but the decision to outsource should not be driven by the desire for cheap work

Where the confusion between offshoring and outsourcing is most detrimental is the perceived benefit of cheap labour – that the point of either is to simply deliver your existing services or products at a cheaper cost. Saving money is desirable, of course. Who doesn’t love to save money? But you may find that spending less money results in a higher cost to your relationships with clients. 

Our clients don’t outsource to us because they want us to do the more manual work at a cheaper rate. For starters, how would you go about deciding what your ‘cheaper’ work is?

Your compliance function is your core work – the work that needs to be done well and done consistently. It isn’t something you want just anyone to do. You certainly don’t want to compromise your high level reporting and life-changing advice for the sake of cheap rates either. 

Our clients work with us for our expertise in the industry of accounting, for our desire to make them more proactive in delivering value to their clients – but mostly because they have the right mindset. 

The most successful outsourcing is driven by a growth mindset

It’s not about saving money, but it’s also not exclusive to the big firms either. We’ve worked with Sole Practitioners, two office practices, multi-partner practices and major international groups. We’ve found it’s not about the size, it’s about the attitude. The firms that see the most success are those who are able to look at their current offering and say “I want to be able to do more”. Those who don’t want to be stuck doing compliance only. Those who don’t want to see staff leave to do higher level work elsewhere. Those who want to be an integral part of their client’s business strategy instead of waiting on a monthly conversation. 

We wrote more about those types of firms here.

Choose the engagement model that works best for you

Do you want to:

  • Do more of the work you love?
  • Improve the client experience by having the time to offer more value?
  • Free up space to train more of the team to deliver your high level work?
  • Have the processes in place to make more profit?

Great! All you need is a little help figuring out which model suits you best. 

Scalable Delivery Model (Outsourcing)

  • You have a standardised process
  • You have fluctuating demand across the year
  • You understand deadlines and will work with our teams to get the process right
  • You understand that a team supports you

Dedicated Offshore Delivery (Offshoring)

  • You don’t have a standardised approach
  • You have steady workloads across the year
  • Your service is quite bespoke to your clients
  • You want to speak to the same team members every day

Ask yourself where your business is right now, and what you want to achieve. Then let us help you figure out which option is best for you. Take this short questionnaire to tell us about your outsourcing needs. It only takes a few minutes. 

This issue we are delighted to speak to an office manager for a successful accounting franchise about his work with AdvanceTrack, including how its growth plans will be easier to implement

Q: Please tell us about your practice

A: I have worked with my practice for nearly eight years. We have four staff, 500 clients and are based in northern UK. We have grown steadily year-on-year.

Q: When did you start using AdvanceTrack, and why?

A: We had previously used another outsourcer, but it was time to change. We needed an alternative that could provide a great service level. We are using AdvanceTrack for accounts preparation.

Q: What impact has AdvanceTrack had on the running of your practice?

A: It has been a significant help to us. It has created a very systematised approach to transacting through AdvanceTrack’s portal, so even the small matter of an out-of-office will see the transaction details sent to another one of my staff.

Q: How are we better/different from other service providers?

A: In summary, I would say that it has been much easier to work with AdvanceTrack than our previous outsourcing provider. The information we receive back from you is in an easier-to-use, simpler and understandable format. And we would absolutely consider outsourcing other areas of our offering to you.

Q: What is the future for your practice? What are you looking to achieve, and how?

A: Technology is moving very fast – and we have Making Tax Digital around the corner. We need to be quick to respond to change and embrace technology – and that fits well working with AdvanceTrack. Tech is moving towards the cloud for keeping records, and then there is the enforced changes from HMRC to content with. I wouldn’t actually say that what our clients want is changing rapidly, although it is evolving. But both we and our clients want growth, and information presented to us all in an easy-to-use format.

 

Referring clients to other service providers is a path well-trodden by advisers, but it is often handled by practices in an opportunistic, ad-hoc, and ‘arms-length’ manner. But thinking about a strategy where clients receive high-level business advice from their accountant fits with ‘holding their hand’ for other types of business support they require – even if outside the practice’s comfort zone. However, ‘outsourcing’ front-end services to other professionals requires processes and strategy, much like outsourcing compliance services or back-office functions.

“Clients value having a business partner on their journey; one who can assist them in negotiating the twists and turns of their business life as they strive to achieve their goals and who can empathise with them,” says Wood & Disney’s Brendon Howlett. “While we can outsource a substantial amount of the ‘doing’, we can’t outsource this relationship building and we wouldn’t want to. After all, people do business with people.”

One practitioner told us that their approach was to act as a “go-between” for clients and the third-party service provider – an arrangement that suits all involved. Working with third parties requires research: find out about them from other practices they’ve worked with; learn if your goals and culture is aligned with theirs; and discuss how the relationship will work with them. Finally, start working with them in a strategic way that truly tests the service before rolling it out.

Sole Practitioner sees professional results by moving to AdvanceTrack.

We approached this firm about Outsourcing.

They were sceptical given their previous experience.

Here are their thoughts:

“Prior to using AdvanceTrack® we did use another outsourcing provider. The frustration was the lack of understanding of UK accountancy and basic principles. We would receive work back to have to spend a great deal of time unravelling what had been outsourced. We finally chose AdvanceTrack® due to the attention to detail and superior tracking system. Having used AdvanceTrack® for some time now we have been very impressed with the level of professionalism and understanding of UK accounting principles. We feel we are dealing with professional accountants for the first time.”

We asked this two office partnership for some feedback on their reasons to outsource and why they selected AdvanceTrack®.

1. Why did you decide to outsource?

The decision to outsource was made primarily as a result of a lot of maternity leave hitting us at the same time, together with our historic curiosity surrounding outsourcing as a potential option for our practice that had never been acted upon.

The time seemed right therefore to give it a go.  The advancement in scanning technology was also instrumental in making the decision as this was no longer the administrative burden that it was previously.

2. Reasons why you hadn’t tried it before.

We had heard some good stories but also many bad experiences from other companies who had used outsourcing.

3. The reservations you had before trying it

The quality of the work which would be returned, the administration burden of scanning documents, the unknown, we are accountants and we don’t deal with change very well

4. What made you overcome those reservations and why AdvanceTrack®?

Having known Vipul for a few years made the decision to outsource a little easier. AdvanceTrack® using the same accounting packages that we used also helped make the decision easier as we would not have to load the returned data onto our system ourselves.

The trial jobs went very well and the quality of the work exceeded our initial expectations.

5. How have the staff taken to outsourcing and where next in the development of outsourcing with your practice?

Initially there was a mixed reception amongst our staff as some obviously feared for their own job security, however once it was explained the reason why this decision was taken and the change in their roles to one of more value added work rather than pure compliance their opinions quickly changed.

Our next steps are therefore to utilise our own staff more efficiently on client work and look to outsource the pure compliance function wherever possible allowing us to become a more profitable firm.

6. What’s the greatest benefit you have got from using AdvanceTrack®?

The obvious answer would be the cost benefit which is of significant importance, however by outsourcing the compliance function, it is now allowing us the opportunity to give our existing staff more exciting work on clients allowing them to personally develop and maximise our return on our existing client base.

“We have used AdvanceTrack since 2014, and we have been pleased with the outcome.”

Like so many new relationships, it takes a little while for both sides to understand clearly what each other wants and is able to give; in the early months, we found that we had not explained clearly enough what our expectations were, which led to some misunderstandings.

However, in my opinion, the mark of a good business is not necessarily what goes awry, but how they deal with it once it has. In this respect, I cannot fault Vipul – he came promptly to our offices to listen to and understand our challenges, and since then, the process and outcomes have improved dramatically, and we now get good quality work in the format that we want from them.

They are also very attuned to using IT to help make the process easier – we are avid users of Xero and Xero work papers, and they are quite happy to work with us using this technology. Looking forward, I think Vipul has some great ideas on using Xero to help support us accountants, and I am keen to explore how we can do this better – once we are through our busy season!

In a sentence: they are a good bunch of guys, dedicated team, flexible, competent, and a good cost; a worthy additional resource for us which we use month in, month out. Try them.