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How to introduce modern accounting to traditional clients

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While the perfect client does indeed exist, most accountants wisely anticipate some complications when serving the needs of any business. Whether that’s poor communication, or a general inability of the client to understand accounting principles, accountants are always prepared to share their wisdom.

However, many accountants dread what we might call the traditional client. They come in a variety of forms but most often-cited is the individual who turns up a day before the year-end tax deadline with a box full of receipts and invoices.

In other words, it’s the client who relies totally on their accountant, and does little to any accounting work themselves. This puts them in a precarious situation—and it isn’t too good for the accountant, either.

The problems the traditional client presents to the accountant go deeper than just last-minute work. It’s ‘accounting 101’ to say that the traditional client is fundamentally incompatible with the efficient way of working used by the majority of accountants today, who have switched to cloud-based solutions for their practice.

These clients all usually have one thing in common: Their resistance to change. Even if it means the way they handle their accounting hampers their effectiveness and that of their business, and even if it means days can be lost to inefficient administrative processes. But they simply don’t realize any of this.

If you mention a new way of accounting to the traditional client—one that’s enabled by technology—you’re likely to get a negative response. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the more commonly-cited examples, and look at how they can be overcome for the benefit of everybody concerned.

“I’m just not tech-savvy”

To this kind of traditional client, technology feels more like a burden than a benefit. They might even claim that they’re luddites, and that they like things that way. Often they’ll have attempted to embrace a more up-to-date technological solution but failed in some way, which only served to harden their attitude.

But there’s a reality here that they’re ignoring because they can’t see it. People might claim not to be technologically literate but nowadays tech is such a staple of our lives that we’re all cleverer than we realise or like to admit.

In Western Europe, 93% of households have smartphone access (source: European Commission). In the US that’s estimated to be around 76% (Source: Digital Market Outlook, 2017). In other words, there’s a very strong chance that even the self-confessed luddite traditional client will probably be using a smartphone.

Similarly, there are over 4 billion email users worldwide, and 2.27 billion Facebook users. The chances of the traditional client not being among their number are slim.

In other words, most of us are accidental technological geniuses in ways that would befuddle our ancestors. This provides a starting point for any discussion of cloud accounting from both a philosophical as well as practical point of view. They’re already involved with technology and it brings so many benefits—so why not just take it one step further and switch their business accounting to the same kind of technologies?

The traditional client can make the move simply by downloading an app on their phone, and even sign-up to a free trial without paying anything up-front. They don’t even need a desktop or laptop computer any longer, meaning they can work on their accounting when out of the office or even queuing up for a coffee!

And with smart assistant technologies they can even use Facebook Messenger to chat to their accounting software using everyday language (“I’ve spent $150 on train tickets – how much does that make my expenses this month?”).

“I’m the wrong kind of business for cloud accounting”

This kind of traditional client clearly has an idea of what cloud accounting is, and what it can do. And they’ve decided that their business is fundamentally incompatible

While the smaller business or sole trader is more likely to be the traditional client with their box of receipts, and will fail to understand how cloud accounting can eliminate the need for that, other businesses might rely upon an esoteric spreadsheet for their accounting (or several!). They might rely upon accounting software so old that the box it came in proudly declares it’s Y2K bug-compatible!

In all cases, the client will probably cling to their existing accounting solution because it works for them—regardless of how much extra admin time it actually eats up, or the problems it presents to you as their accountant. They fail to see how cloud accounting fits into any of it.

Yet cloud accounting works for any size of business—from the smallest, to the largest.

In situations like these, a certain degree of understanding and even respect for the traditional client’s existing solution is the first step in any negotiation for moving them forward in terms of technology. Indeed, that spreadsheet they rely upon might be a frankly ingenious implementation of double-entry bookkeeping with clever tax calculation formulae added in. But it’s almost certainly not the best solution, from a data-protection point of view, or in light of the mandation for digitized tax that’s happening right now.

Similarly, a reliance on paper-based accounting in the form of invoices, receipts and even ledgers served businesses very well for thousands of years before the invention of the computer. But focusing on how modern technology builds-upon, improves and refines these processes, rather than replaces them, is the best method of kick-starting any discussion.

“The way I do things has always worked”

This is a really good point, and one of the hardest to argue against. But all you need do is provide a sense of perspective.

As the client’s business grew in complexity they reached for what at the time was the most accessible solution, and the one that seemed to deliver the quickest results. After all, it’s very unlikely they had time to fully assess the solutions they came up with and it’s equally unlikely they will have considered how suitable it might be in the future when the business size has increased, or the business environment has changed.

As a result, the way the traditional client handles their accounting will probably be adding to their work, rather than making it easier. This is the starting point for your explanation of the benefits of cloud accounting. What was once good for their business is likely to be no longer the right choice, and they need to move on. You can explain how.

Take a patient, step-by-step approach with this kind of traditional client. Ask them to explain each task they have to do and try to understand why they do it that way. By digging into the history, you can simultaneously display empathy and understanding, while also explaining why it’s no longer the ideal situation for their business today.

Take the discussion out to the client business’ staff too, if it has any. Ask them what their pain points are, and what they want as a solution. Once again, it’s likely a cloud-connected accounting solution will be the answer for so many problems across various different functions or departments

Conclusion

With any luck the traditional client will become an endangered species as time goes on, but you can help this process right now by emphasizing the power of cloud accounting and how it can be transformational. The benefits for your own business are substantial. With cloud accounting offering instant access to client accounting, you can spot problems or opportunities, and become a trusted advisor. You can increase value while receiving your own increased satisfaction from a more varied palette of service offerings.

Make conversation with traditional clients part of your standard business practices. You can choose to directly market cloud accounting to clients, of course, but a gentler and arguably more successful way is to simply tag on this kind of discussion to the end of existing communications or conversations you have with clients. Introducing it this way and it’s also more likely to be accepted, or at least considered without the sense of dread that the traditional client might usually encounter when anybody discusses changing their processes.

If you are an accountant or bookkeeper with clients and would like to learn more about Sage Business Cloud Accounting, please click here.

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