Recent Sage Circle of Excellence Accounting Awards finalist Chenine Humphrey, shares her insights on the potential that networking and joining professional groups can bring to accountants and bookkeepers.
As the Founder of The Bookkeeper Connection Network, Chenine Humphrey has had her finger on the pulse of the Canadian accounting and bookkeeping industry for some time. She recently spoke to Sage Advice about the different ways that professional networks can help tackle some of the pain points that members are experiencing.
Chenine discussed in detail the benefits of professional networking which include:
- The ability to guide members and clients through technology disruption
- Guidance on achieving suitable and organic growth
- Improving health and wellness
- Empowering the next generation
1. Guiding members and clients through technology disruption
For Canadian accountants and bookkeepers, the hot topic of disruption through technology continues to stay on the lips of industry stakeholders. One example of this in action is the automation of manual data entry tasks with software like AutoEntry. This type of disruption takes the burden of tedious tasks away from the bookkeepers while empowering clients, but at the same time makes them less dependent on the bookkeeper’s services. Aware of both the benefits and the wider implications of these advancements, Chenine equates the plight of the bookkeeper facing technology disruption to the effect the invention of the combustion engine had on the transport industry.
“It’s funny, we’ve been tossing around this analogy for the past couple of weeks. I read a book recently that touched on life in the early 1900s, about how the horse industry was disrupted by the automobile. Everyone relied on horses for many years, then the combustion engine came along and they created cars and tractors etc., and there wasn’t that much demand for horses anymore, so they all went off to slaughter in the millions. Furthermore, all the infrastructure that was built around this industry was impacted,” she said.
Resistance to change may be futile, but such disruption does not spell the end for the traditional bookkeeper, rather forces them to adapt their services in a way that can still add value to their clients’ businesses. This is one of the scenarios in which bookkeepers can benefit from networking with their peers.
As a proactive step towards future disruption, Chenine and her network are working to grow a ‘value hub’. This is the collective knowledge brought together by reaching out to industry partners and creating new ways to be ahead of the wave of change by looking at the pain points that bookkeepers and accountants are having right now.
“We ask ourselves the following questions: what are the steps that we can take today, that will help us build towards where we want to go? How can we be ahead of this curve? What is the right technology to get us there and is it the right technology for everyone? Everyone is walking baby steps right now as we change and evolve in this industry and we want everyone to be able to achieve success while adapting,” said Chenine.
“To continue the engine and horse analogy, I recently came across an old picture of a horse being used to pull a car from the same time period. This had happened because people couldn’t afford the gas and the maintenance on these vehicles and didn’t understand what it took to keep everything running. I feel that bookkeepers and the bookkeeping industry are now the ones pulling the client along with their new technology. People go back to the bookkeeper when they need to but eventually, that tech is going to wipe out [some of the traditional work of] those bookkeepers,” said Chenine.
2. Achieving suitable and organic growth
Members of professional networks can help advise each other on the best practices for growing their practice. Although one might think this simply means growing client lists and increasing profits, there is a strong focus on achieving a type of growth that is suitable to each bookkeeper.
“Bookkeepers are people pleasers and they want to make everyone happy and put themselves last on the list behind the clients, the app partners and their family,” explained Chenine.
She added, “We just want to make sure that the growth is a growth they can sustain and something they love or something they jump out of the bed in the morning for…And if that’s not the case, then we’ve got to change it and pivot.”
One of the first barriers that bookkeepers must overcome is resistance to collaboration. A network can play to each member’s strengths, thus enabling a knowledge share than can help bookkeepers retain clients in industries that they are not experienced in.
“Traditionally, bookkeepers try and do everything themselves. When they can reach out to a network and bring those resources and make that connection, multiple people can benefit. We are trying to break-down the barriers of people being competitive with each other,” Chenine said.
3. Improving health and wellness
Perhaps one of the most unsung benefits of joining a professional network is the positive impact it can have on the health and wellness of its members. Collaboration between network members allows for referrals, subcontracting or even assistance with impatient clients. This is a benefit that could positively impact many bookkeepers and accountants who are struggling to manage their current working conditions.
“We’ve had so many of our members have health issues as a result of their work and stress. [As a member of a network] they know they have a safety net in place. We have members who have lost all of their clients because of health issues or they are rebuilding their practice again. Now some of our members have clients that don’t suit them and they feel comfortable to hand them over to the other members, or they can ask a network member to help them with a specific task,” said Chenine.
The results of this cooperation and support takes the pressure off an individual bookkeeper while also keeping the client happy.
4. Empowering the next generation
Another aspect of a professional network is the ability to better the industry for stakeholders. The collective years of professional expertise that the members possess can be passed on to a new generation of stakeholders.
“The younger generation that is coming up…we need to guide them in such a way so that they are not disrupted as they are making their way in,” said Chenine.
This progressive attitude towards the betterment of the industry will help ensure client and bookkeeper success for years to come.