How to incorporate Bundled Services into your accounting firm

Accounting firm owners could benefit from taking the time to evaluate their accounting firm as a business. As the owner of my accounting firm, I did just that and realised some changes needed to be made, starting with bundling our services.

Many accounting firm’s follow the traditional model of accepting clients in various industries through recommendations. Others provide clients with valuable services along with business-related compliance services, but don’t highlight those.

We as business advisors would agree that best practices for any business start with an evaluation of current practices so that weak points can be identified and evaluated for improvement. When speaking with other accounting professionals, I find many have similar concerns and “pain points”:

  • We spend countless hours learning tax law, software applications and best business practices. Clients call with a “quick question” and expect an answer without a charge for the time or advice.
  • We set up a plan for “making it through another tax season” and then lose control of our process when the client is not forthcoming with the necessary information to complete the engagement in a timely manner.
  • We bill for the services provided once the engagement is complete and then may have to negotiate our fee or wait for payment until the client receives their tax refund.
  • We start an engagement and then find that there is unanticipated work to be done in order to complete the job properly. We feel we should be paid for this “scope creep,” and then we have to explain to the client why the bill is higher. In some cases, we may not be adequately compensated for this extra work. If our clients are buying our services and advice based upon our knowledge, why are we selling them time?

Our lawmakers have identified us as Specified Service Businesses, they clearly see that we have great expertise as our clients’ advisors. They have also challenged us to interpret the sweeping new laws and provided us with an opportunity to reach out to our clients and start a conversation.

What better time than now to step back and evaluate your accounting firm’s procedures and incorporate a bundled services approach into your pricing and onboarding process? This is an opportunity to redefine how you work with your clients, be specific as to expectations and get paid for your knowledge.

Incorporating a bundled pricing system will also enable you to:

  • Standardise your service offerings into packages that your clients and staff can understand
  • Give your clients what they want, in addition to what we think they need, by separating compliance work from advisory engagements
  • Lock down your fee based upon a service level, helping to eliminate scope creep
  • Get paid up-front when you start the work, thus freeing up time and creating an improved cash flow for your accounting firm
  • Enhance your clients’ experience as you take the time to discuss their concerns
  • Ease into advisory services

When getting started, remember to do the following:

  1. Develop your mission statement. I recommend that you and your staff members get together and create a mission and vision statement that is right for you.
  2. Create a business plan. When creating the accounting firm that you want rather than the one that you have, best practices endorse starting with a business plan. Just as you would recommend to any one of your clients who is evaluating their business and looking to make a change, think about the steps that you need to take in order to reach your goals.
  3. Review your current processes. I recommend you make use of an action plan to help you organise and accomplish your goals. Even though you are excited to create the accounting firm of your dreams, it is important to try going slowly at first by creating tasks you can accomplish.
  4. Evaluate your services. Are there services you wish you could offer but do not know how to initiate the conversation? Start by setting up a list of service categories — you can then identify value propositions that will “delight your clients” and create new opportunities for accounting firm revenue.

Evaluate each one of the services you provide, then review and list all the steps or processes that make up that service. Picture a typical project type, then list the services encompassed in that project. By doing so, you create bundled offers or packages of service offerings.

Your bundles will be specific to your accounting firm and either your current or target clients. Your offerings chart for individual clients may look something like the one referenced in the linked whitepaper, but can certainly be more elaborate. It can contain more lines or services to help your client understand just what they are buying.

Remember that each bundle is a set of services packaged together and each is referred to with a descriptive name that describes the level of service. If you choose to move to a bundled pricing system, you will find that new opportunities will emerge from your regularly scheduled appointments, we have.

Now, our clients call and ask for more and expect the additional services to come with a separate engagement letter and invoice. Incorporating bundled services will help you deliver more value to your clients through advisory work. In turn, you will see improved team morale and cash flow, a better overall client experience and the accounting firm you want.

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Battle of accountants versus machines

It is hard to go a day without seeing an article or a viewpoint in the media declaring Artificial Intelligence (AI) will make certain jobs redundant – but will it be the same for those roles carried out in the finance industry?

Technological advancements are at a faster pace than ever, with computers becoming more reactive and human-like in their responses and decision-making.

In January, a round on the American television quiz show Jeopardy was won by a computer named Watson, beating previous quiz show champions.

The rapid pace of technology advancement will no doubt see computers performing some accounting and finance functions, and this is already happening.

Recent innovations like mobile phone apps that can identify expenses from photos of source documents, and automatically allocate them to the accounting records, are already widely used across a range of industries.

In fact, last year HMRC confirmed it will begin rolling out AI to review tax returns and issue tax penalties.

Deciding to implement such technology in business must be well planned and researched. It is important that management make the decision in the context of their particular business.

For example, do they have the resources to employ this technology – certain pieces of software can be expensive and involve significant upfront costs before yielding any benefits.

Do staff have an appetite to adopt this technology? To maximise effectiveness, it is important that staff are trained and competent in using the technology on a regular basis.

How secure is the software and the devices used?

This is particularly important in the current world of big data, with the real risk of data breaches in large and small businesses across the globe, not to mention compliance with data protection legislation.

Whilst it appears inevitable that technology is developing to take over the more repetitive or basic accounting and finance functions, there are some positive aspects for use of this technology by accountants and businesses.

Not only will technology bring about new types of jobs that will be less repetitive and more interpretive (increasing employee job satisfaction), it will also free up management’s time to focus on value-adding activities.

Activities that can add to revenue (such as focusing on new markets, products and clients) or reduce costs within a business.

If firms are looking to the future but aren’t open to change, they will lose competitive advantage.

As Northern Ireland businesses increasingly compete on a global scale, the adoption of robotics and technologies is essential.

Rather than seeing technology as a threat, accountants and businesses should see it as a growing opportunity.

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How to choose the right accounting software for Making Tax Digital

Many businesses faced with complying with Making Tax Digital (MTD) need to take some time to assess their current business needs, how these might change in the near to medium-term future, and figure out what technology they’ll need to comply.

The key driver behind MTD is to move businesses, no matter their size, to some form of digital accounting. MTD is seen as not only a major efficiency win for the enterprises concerned, but it also enables the government to streamline the tax systems that are in place today. In an ideal world, this would mean an online tax account for every business and self-employed person, for fast and efficient tax filing.

However, how businesses use IT can vary significantly, particularly as access to certain technologies is not always possible. Adopting MTD may be a significant challenge for some enterprises, while for others it will require little more than a few tweaks to their existing systems. The vast majority of companies will, however, fall between these two extremes.

It because of this that calls have been issued to delay the rollout of MTD, currently expected to arrive in April, something that the UK government has seemingly rejected.

Tax shouldn’t be taxing

How your business’ digital accounting systems will evolve will, of course, depend on many factors. Your company may already use some form of digital accounting software, so the question may be, does this application need to be upgraded to be compatible with MTD?

With research from Spiceworks revealing 52% of businesses are still using Windows XP, this doesn’t bode well for small enterprises keeping their accounting applications up-to-date.

There is also the matter of training and competence with the applications, especially if these are new to your company. It won’t be possible to instantly use any of the cloud-based applications without a period of training. Factoring this into your transition period is vital.

Small business owners are also concerned that their level of technical knowledge won’t be good enough to avoid what could be costly mistakes when choosing new digital accounting systems.

Peter Ford, public sector industry principal at Pegasystems, says that his company is working with HMRC to develop their front facing services.

“Digital solutions used by SMEs and their agents should offer the customer experience that allows them to complete online filing without any technical knowledge, and only the level of business engagement that one would expect any other major mandatory function within their organisation. Systems that HMRC provide, including APIs, interfaces and online services should be equally easy to use that will allow an SME to complete digital filing as they would any other regular business function, such as paying staff.”

Your business’s current level of technical knowledge will determine how complex supporting MTD will be for your company. Small businesses, in particular, will have to potentially make the most radical changes, as until now they may have simply completed their own self-assessment tax form. In the world of MTD, moving to a hosted accounting service will be unavoidable.

Understanding your objectives

Mark Taylor, a technical manager in the Technical Innovation wing of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), explains to IT Pro that businesses need to assess their requirements before choosing an MTD software provider.

“Choosing an MTD application should be approached in the same manner as selecting business software,” explains Taylor. “An organisation should start with understanding its business objectives, what problem are you attempting to address? In this case MTD.

“Next, technology requirements need to be considered. Should the application be cloud-based? Do you need to support mobile devices or need to integrate with an existing application? Once these requirements have been established, a business can start to research possible solutions.

He explains that some businesses have found success with a scorecard approach, in which each application is marked against a company’s existing systems and requirements, with the totalled scores revealing the best overall package. How a business implements this system isn’t important – what matters is that it helps to “formalise the selection process and provide more assurance that the right application is being selected.”

As with all software moves, pitfalls are almost certainly going to be encountered, yet, given the fierce market competition that is developing ahead of the April deadline, vendors will be trying to make the onboarding process as simple as possible.

“Software vendors often provide trial versions of their applications for free,” explains Taylor. “The key to making successful use of these trials is to use them with realistic data and in a representative manner. Casually playing with an application will not provide sufficient insight as to how well it will integrate into your business.”

Approaching the transition to digital accounting and tax filing needs all the due diligence you would use when choosing any new services for your business. Today, the cloud-based accounting market has continued to expand and evolve. Stalwarts of business accounting such as Sage have been joined by newer services such as FreeAgent and Crunch. What they all attempt to do is simplify the accounting and tax filing processes all business must comply with.

As each application or service is different, one size doesn’t fit all. Take your time to talk to other businesses in your sector. Case studies and information from your business’s trade associations can often shed light on the shortcomings of some applications or services you may not be aware of. Use this knowledge to make sure you purchase the right digital services to comply with MTD.

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Clive Owen LLP named top financial advisor in North East

Clive Owen LLP, which has an office in York, is celebrating after being named the top financial adviser in the North East.

The team at Clive Owen Corporate Finance has topped the financial volume table following the publication of Experian’s annual UK and Republic of Ireland mergers and acquisitions (M&A) report.

Based on its business research, Experian’s league table shows Clive Owen LLP ranking at number one in the region having advised on 19 M&A transactions in 2018.

In addition to the regional M&A transactions included in the report, Clive Owen Corporate Finance also completed a further five transactions nationally, including some high-profile deals involving private equity firms and multi-national PLCs. The report states that the North East has had one of the best years on record for M&A activity, with “292 announced deals worth over £3.2bn, representing a 27 per cent and 51 per cent increase in volume and value respectively when compared to 2017.”

Clive Owen LLP specialises in corporate and commercial clients and has offices in Darlington and Durham as well as York.

Angus Allan, Corporate Finance Partner at Clive Owen LLP, said: “We are delighted to see Clive Owen LLP named top financial adviser in the North East, thanks to the hard work and success of our teams in Darlington, Durham and York.”

Meanwhile, a financial expert from Clive Owen LLP has been appointed as board director for the York Professionals.

Jonathan Doyle, a senior manager at the firm’s York office, brings a wealth of experience to the board.

After joining the firm in 2010, Jonathan now advises a broad spectrum of clients and owner managed businesses on year end accounts preparation, management accounts, tax planning and audit services. York Professionals represents the city’s professional services economy in the business support, creative and digital, finance, legal, marketing, people and property sectors.

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Accountancy firm celebrates 12 deals of Christmas

The East Midlands office of accountancy firm Mazars says it has advised on 12 deals in the run up to Christmas.

The team says it is seeing resilience across the board at entrepreneurial business, acquisitive corporates, banks and private equity investors, despite economic uncertainty.

Mazars Deal Advisory has hired Tom Boss and Jacob Staten in a move which it says reflects the “sustained demand for high quality business advice” in both M&A and due diligence.

The sale of £20m turnover Premier Workplace Services to Hong Kong-based Crown Worldwide took Mazars’ deal completion tally over the last three months to twelve.

Paul Pownall – M&A senior manager – said “Whilst it’s impossible to avoid the ‘B-word’ in the press, the sentiment towards doing deals remains positive, as businesses seek to capitalise on the economic environment.”

Mazars Deal Advisory partner Julian Clough, said “Activity levels are strong; acquisitive corporates have been particularly busy as opportunities emerge to consolidate in fast moving markets. We see this as a continuing trend and feel well positioned to advise clients – new and old – moving into 2019.”

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What makes a future-ready accountancy firm?

In the world of accounting, “future” hasn’t always been regularly used, but what makes a firm future-ready is something that for the past four years Intuit has recognised in its network of accounting practices.

This year’s Firm of the Future winner Cloud Bookkeeping Services does bear some similarities to the previous year’s winner AIS Solutions, not only in that they are both Canadian, but they are both dedicated to educating other bookkeepers to be more future-ready, and small businesses to be better.

“The educational component to what we do is the biggest deal to us,” said Cloud Bookkeeping founder Tanya Hilts, referring to the firm’s Bookkeepers Bootcamp and Business Bootcamp. “We are teaching other bookkeepers about value pricing, workflow, technology and advisory work. With Business Bootcamp it’s coaching, we dig in with them to show how to work better and to implement plans.”

Hilts’ firm has evolved over its 20-year history, the last nine of which have been focused on bookkeeping and advisory services. With only three full-time staff, this Barrie, Ontario firm currently serves nearly 40 clients, down from nearly 100 over a year ago. In that time, Hilts said revenue has actually increased from £115,000 to £150,000.

“Essentially, we scaled back our client base so we could do more for the right ones,” she said. “We can charge more because we do more.”

Hilts also believes her small firm’s new status as a Firm of the Future is not something they were striving for, but that it is more of a recognition of how they’ve evolved and the services they provide versus just embracing technology. Her firm has been using QBO since 2012 and Hilts admits there were some initial challenges simply because it was not the desktop product.

But networking and connecting with other bookkeepers and ProAdvisors, as well as the evolution of the product itself, made everything easier. It also was the impetus for creating the Bookkeeper Bootcamp, which she feels ultimately pushed her firm into the running to be a Firm of the Future.

“People need an example of what “change” looks like, that’s what Firm of the Future is about,” said Ariege Misherghi, Intuit’s new accountant segment leader. “Emerging as advisor and being more welcoming of technology is what we tend to look at.”