Recommending software to your clients provides win-win opportunities. For them, managing their finances becomes simpler, and takes less time and effort. For you, clients become easier to work with, and you raise the level of service you provide.
That all sounds lovely.
But it only works if you choose the right software. Get this wrong and you create huge headaches for both parties.
In this article, we show you how to put the right tech in place and enhance your client relationships.
Since there’s a lot to consider, we’ve also created a handy checklist that you can download and refer back to.
Why software choice is so important
As an accountant, you’re in this tricky middle position. You’re like the waiter in a restaurant that stands between the diner and the chef. The diner being your client, and the chef being your software supplier.
If something goes wrong, it’s you they’ll turn to. And if sorting the problem takes too long or simply doesn’t happen, it’s you that’ll be held accountable.
You may have to spend time and money trying to fix the issue, and in worst case scenarios, could even lose the client altogether.
Claire Bartlett, director of Arden Bookkeeping, explains how important software choice is to how you are perceived by your clients:
“Ultimately, you’re betting your quality of work on the software you recommend. If it doesn’t perform, it looks like you’re not doing a good job. Your client won’t care who is at fault, they will just want the software to do what it’s supposed to.”
It’s safe to say that the stakes are high.
But by getting recommendations right, you can not only avoid this situation, but you can also build trust, provide more value to your clients, and potentially generate more revenue from them.
To get started with recommending software, consider building a tech stack.
How to build a tech stack
The main way accountants and bookkeepers consistently recommend software is by building a tech stack—essentially a select group of solutions that they use and stick to.
This often includes a main accounting or bookkeeping solution that supports clients in their most fundamental business processes related to their finances.
Beyond this, they may offer other solutions that are aimed to support specific challenges, such as those in certain industries like construction, ecommerce, or real estate.
The benefits of having a tech stack include:
- Having established relationships with software suppliers.
- Being familiar with the software, enabling you to confidently support clients.
- Less time spent researching new solutions on a case-by-case basis.
- Can easily stay up to date with upgrades, enhancements, and new product launches.
- Full client base working from the same solutions, reducing your support burden.
- Potential for referral and resell partnerships that create another revenue stream.
Something to note about taking the tech stack approach is software exclusivity. Many accounting and bookkeeping firms will establish early with potential new clients that they only use a specific software. This reduces the potential for objection at the earliest stage, and if the client has previous experience with the solution you’re using, it can be a key factor in them hiring you.
Software recommendation checklist
Whether you decide to build a tech stack or only need to recommend a single solution, you should do your due diligence and deeply research what’s available. The trouble is, there are so many options that this can get overwhelming and time-consuming.
“It’s such a flooded market and there are so many solutions for every single challenge,” Claire says. “It takes a lot of your time and effort to research and find the right ones, and sometimes it feels like it’s not worth it. Especially when you could be spending that time on fee-earning tasks. But, if you dedicate a full day to finding the right solution, it’ll save you so much time and money in the long run.”
To make sure you’re investing your time wisely, here are 10 considerations for selecting software:
1. Understand your clients’ needs
To select a software solution that will succeed, you need a deep understanding of your client’s needs and challenges. Think about this for individual clients, and your wider client base.
If you’re focussed on an individual client, or potential new client, book a meeting with them and ask them to share:
- Their current workflows (for those relevant to the areas of accounting your supporting).
- Their biggest challenges and pain points.
- What their goals are.
- What their ideal software would enable them to do.
This will help you identify quick wins, so you can either recommend a solution from your tech stack or gain the criteria for finding a new one.
2. Dive into research
As mentioned earlier, investing the time and effort to properly research your options will always pay off. Book at least a day to focus on this and use criteria from any sessions with your clients to shortlist potential solutions.
Pay attention to:
- Level of customer support available.
- Software features and capabilities.
- Pricing options.
- How well the software can scale.
3. Evaluate suppliers over solutions
During research, it can be really tempting to focus on the software’s features and capabilities. And while these are important, you need to thoroughly evaluate the suppliers too.
This is because your relationship with the supplier will be absolutely critical to how well you’re able to serve your clients.
Make sure the supplier is widely recognised as providing a high standard of customer support, can be contacted easily, and is fast to respond.
4. Look for essential features and capabilities
The standard of today’s accounting software is high, so make sure you’re looking for features and capabilities that will put your clients and your practice at the cutting edge.
Consider these essentials:
- Automation of key financial processes.
- Realtime reporting and analytics.
- High security standards, data protection, and built in compliance.
- Customisable workflows, report templates, and dashboards.
5. Think about integration
To help your clients work as efficiently as possible, look for solutions that can integrate with others, like payments, HR, and CRM.
That way, when you want to recommend another solution in the future, you’ll have options that will slot nicely into the client’s setup.
Plus, with all their systems exchanging the same data, they’ll avoid duplication of effort, reduce human error, and get a more holistic view of their finances.
6. Factor in scalability
As your clients’ trusted advisor, you’ll be helping them to grow their business and become more profitable. The last thing you want is for this to cause them to outgrow a solution you’ve recommended.
So, assess whether potential solutions can not only meet the needs of the current business, but also be scaled up as they take on more people, process more transactions, and their finances become more complex. This will also help them adapt to any unexpected circumstances.
7. Think about budget range
As an accountant, you know as well as anyone the importance of controlling spend and maximising ROI. You need to apply that thinking here by considering your clients’ budget limitations.
That being said, you often get what you pay for. If a quality solution has the potential to deliver tremendous value that justifies the investment, you simply need to build a solid case that illustrates this.
When it comes to pricing, consider the different models on offer, any licencing options, and ongoing maintenance costs.
8. Look for user feedback
To get a better understanding of the performance and user experience of the solutions in your shortlist, look at what other customers have said about them.
Read online reviews from independent and trustworthy websites and keep an eye out for those written by businesses that are like your clients’ in terms of industry or size.
Finally, reach out to anyone within your network that you trust to share their experience and feedback using the solution.
9. Test software yourself
Once you’re down to only a few solutions, it’s time to start testing. Use free trials or reach out to providers to see if you can access a demo version. Have a play around and get a feel for the user experience.
This will allow you to:
- Get used to the interface.
- Explore all features and capabilities.
- Spot potential glitches or limitations.
- See how much it will let your clients self-serve.
This is a vital step in the process as you’ll need to be able to talk confidently about the software, demonstrate how to use it, and provide ongoing support.
10. Assess usability
Software that is simple to use will demand less time and effort from your client, which means less friction in your collaboration. When testing software, consider how intuitive the interface is, how easy it is to find what you need, and how many steps it takes to complete typical tasks.
Another reason usability is so important is because it affects how many people in your client’s business will embrace the software. If it makes their life more complicated, they simply won’t use it.
Where to start with recommendation
Once you’ve got a shiny new solution that’s ready to recommend, take a breather and think about your clients.
Remember that some are not used to using much technology. So, avoid overwhelming them by pushing too much all at once. Start small, with the fundamental financial processes that can be easily streamlined with software. That could be bookkeeping or basic areas of accounting, like invoicing or payroll.
Once the client has been using software for a while and the value has been proven, you can consider recommending a second solution. It’s likely what you’ve achieved so far will have built trust, and they’ll be open to more suggestions.
In many cases, you’ll find even the most hesitant client will one day come to you with a request to find software that can improve a specific area or process.
Claire explains the power of this gradual approach:
“Once you’ve had one solution in place for a while and the client is wowed, you can start to drip feed others from your tech stack. Each time you make their lives a little easier, you provide some extra value to that client. The key is to make as much impact as early as you can, so start with helping them simplify their day to day. Then move onto more niche solutions.”
What to do once clients are up and running
Before you know it, your clients will be using software to save time, be more accurate, and know more about their finances. But your job isn’t done yet.
As mentioned earlier, you are in the middle position. And you need to support your client’s continued use of any software you’ve recommended.
By sharing your expertise, you can empower your clients to optimize their operations and achieve their financial goals.
- Help them to solve any issues they run into. This is where your relationship with the supplier is key. The faster you can get support from them, the faster you can support the client.
- Make sure they take full advantage of features and capabilities. By getting them to use the software to its full potential, you maximise the value of the solution and your service to the client.
- Find opportunities to improve more processes. You might be able to do this with features of the solution they’re already using, or by recommending another one from your tech stack.
Claire says that communication and listening to the client is the most important aspect to providing ongoing support:
“It’s all about humanising the relationship and getting to a point where they will completely open up to you. Then, when they start to complain about challenges they’re facing, you’ll be able to connect the dots and find ways to support them.”
So, check in regularly with your clients, keep the dialogue going, and encourage them to voice anything that’s bothering them. Make yourself available for questions and do everything you can to make them feel confident using the solution.
If you’re trying to strike a win-win situation for you and your clients, then recommending quality software is the way to go.
Just don’t rush the process of exploring your options, as both your profitability and reputation could be negatively impacted by a wrong choice.
If you haven’t already, think about building a tech stack of select solutions that will solve the shared problems of your client base. Start with software that can improve fundamental processes in accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll.
This article and the supporting checklist should make your research a little easier, and you’ll soon be able to extend your role as a trusted advisor to your clients. Good recommendations and ongoing support will build trust, and before you know it, your clients will be coming to you for even more expertise and advice.
Editors note: This article was first published in September 2023 and has since been updated for relevance.
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