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How to help traditional clients see the benefits of modern accounting

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Have you got a group of clients who are failing to see how modern accounting can benefit them and their businesses?

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 no 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. The traditional client is incompatible with the efficient way of working used by numerous 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, or days are lost to inefficient administrative processes.

But they don’t realise any of this.

If you mention a new way of accounting to the traditional client – one that’s enabled by technology – you might get a negative response.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the more commonly cited examples and look at how you can help your traditional clients overcome their tech fears and move to modern accounting – to the benefit of their business and your firm.

“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 they’re luddites – and they like things that way.

In some cases, 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 more able with it than we realise or like to admit.

In western Europe, for example, 93% of households have mobile phone access.

In other words, there’s a very strong chance that even the self-confessed luddite traditional client will probably be using a mobile phone.

Similarly, there are more than four billion email users worldwide, and 2.41 billion Facebook users. The chances of your traditional client not being among those numbers are slim.

In other words, most of us are accidental technological geniuses in ways that would befuddle our ancestors.

How you can help – support them in their move to modern accounting

This provides a starting point for any discussion of modern accounting from both a philosophical as well as practical point of view.

Your traditional client is 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?

Your 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 upfront.

They don’t even need a desktop or laptop computer any longer. They can work on their accounting using their mobile phone, which is perfect for when they’re 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 £75 on train tickets – how much does that make my expenses this month?”).

Read more on modernising your practice

“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 their business is incompatible with it.

While small business owners or sole traders are more likely to be one of your traditional clients, complete with their box of receipts – and who may 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, your client may 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.

How you can help – show understanding

In situations such as these, a certain degree of understanding and even respect for your traditional client’s existing solution is the first step in any negotiation to moving them forward with technology.

Indeed, that spreadsheet they rely upon might be an 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 digitised 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 your client’s business grew in complexity, they might have reached for what was the most accessible solution – and the one that seemed to deliver the quickest results.

And they might not have considered how suitable the solution would be in the future once the business size had increased, or the company environment had changed.

As a result, the way your 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 no longer be the right choice, and they need to move on.

You can explain how.

How you can help – explore pain points and highlight a solution  

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.

And if you client has employees, take the discussion to them too. Ask them what their pain points are and what they want as a solution.

Once again, it’s likely a cloud-connected accounting solution could be the answer for so many problems across various different functions or departments within your client’s business.

Conclusion on helping clients move to modern accounting

With any luck, the traditional client will turn into someone who understands the importance of modernising their business and using technology to stay ahead.

You can help this process right now by emphasising the power of modern accounting and how it can be transformational.

The benefits for your own practice are substantial, too.

With cloud accounting offering instant access to client accounting, you can spot problems or opportunities and become a trusted adviser.

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.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in August 2019 and has been updated for relevance.

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