It used to be that you looked around for a cloud accounting platform that suited your firm’s needs, and then gradually integrated a few assorted plug-ins and add-ons along the way to bolster your system and tweak it to meet your clients’ needs.
But in 2016, it’s the add-on tools themselves that are increasingly defining the shape of your firm’s systems, with cloud solutions such as Receipt Bank, Chaser, GoCardless and CrunchBoards becoming staple tools for the cloud-based accountant.
If you attended the recent Accountex conference in London, you’ll have noticed the sheer number of software solutions exhibiting or sharing space with the leading cloud accounting platforms. Add-ons and FinTech (financial technology) are here to stay in the accountancy industry – and there’s a pressing need for your firm to get integrated with the add-on community.
So, how do you know which add-ons to choose? How much will they cost and will clients be willing to pay for the additional value? And what are the advantages of a fully integrated online system for your firm, your team and your business clients?
Define your firm’s underlying service strategy
Before you dive into the add-on market, the big question to ask yourself is ‘What do I want to do for my business clients?’
Do you want to streamline their bookkeeping and give them a more efficient view of their numbers? Or do you want to become a virtual FD and get into the nitty gritty of their strategic business planning, long-term growth plans and the profitability of their business model?
If you can answer that question, you’re halfway to defining the software tools you’ll need to deliver your choice of service, whether it be basic bookkeeping or high-level business advice.
Focus on a sector, and consider the tools those businesses need
The second question to consider is ‘What industries and/or sectors am I going to focus on?’.
You’re likely to create a bigger, and more profitable, niche by specialising in working with businesses from specific sectors. Again, the choices you make, help to define the cloud solutions that will be of most use to your firm and the clients in your chosen industries.
For example, construction companies have some very specific challenges around project timelines and dealing with sundry costs and expenses. Putting the simPRO construction-specific workflow tool at the centre of the client’s systems gives them an integrated project management tool. Add to this a smart-scanning app like Receipt Bank and your client’s workforce can scan in expense receipts on their smartphone. That pulls the expenses data straight into their cloud accounts, saving at least a day per week of tedious data-entry.
Maybe agriculture is your niche, and you need an easy way for farming clients to manage their finances and aid the productivity of their farm. Working with an add-on like Farmflo that’s precisely tailored to the agricultural management needs of the farming sector, makes your clients’ lives easier and helps you to improve their whole accounting process.
Find the cloud solutions to deliver your strategy
With a clear overview of the services you want to bring to clients, and the sectors these businesses are likely to trade in, you’re now well-placed to decide on the add-on tools you want to integrate into your cloud accounting set-up.
Think about the flow of data:
Use the Expensify or Receipt Bank apps to help clients pull their expenses, receipts and invoice data straight into their online accounting platform – saving the time spent manually entering this information.
Add the Quotient add-on to clients systems and streamline their quoting and online invoicing processes – so you add value and save time for their finance team.
Work with the CrunchBoards cloud reporting solution to analyse, review and report on clients’ key numbers – and provide forecasting of future performance.
Wherever possible, think about the process-heavy, admin-focused tasks that can be automated using your add-on tools. For example, the Chaser and Satago add-ons automate the time-intensive process of credit control, delivering a time saving that’s equivalent to 3.5 working weeks each year.
When software is doing the heavy lifting, you have more time available to interact with clients. This means you can think about strategic planning or focus on your own business development and marketing.
The practical considerations of costing your system
Building up a bespoke add-on system obviously has a cost associated with it. But you can think strategically to minimise your outlay.
Most cloud solutions charge a monthly subscription fee, so there’s no lump-sum outlay to worry about. But you do need to work spend into your budgets.
Make use of free trials and test out your intended add-on solutions for efficiency.
Talk to your network and get referrals on the apps and solutions that have worked for clients and other firms. Join accounting forums and talk to your peers about their recommendations for add-ons.
Set a clear budget for your whole system and shop around for a combination of add-ons that don’t break the bank.
Make sure every solution has a clear and viable function in your underlying strategy.
The benefits of a cloud system based around add-ons
Basing your practice systems around a core set of add-ons transforms the way you work with your clients, and brings a whole raft of benefits to the firm.
Automation makes you more efficient. When software does the data-entry and number-crunching, the whole team spends less time keying in numbers and dealing with the day-to-day elements of your clients’ financial management.
Your team get more face-time with clients. With less time spent on compliance, you and your people have more time available to build customer relationships and better understand clients’ businesses. So you know the needs of your clients a lot more closely.
Your clients get a more tailored service. The huge breadth of available add-ons means you can find the software tools that exactly meet your client’s business needs: and that helps you to improve the efficiency of their business.
You deliver more insightful business advice. With the right mixture of cloud solutions and business intelligence tools, you have the clients’ key numbers at your fingertips and can deliver true insights and business advice.
The modular approach offers real flexibility. The plug-in nature of add-ons means you can add to, refine, evolve and change your business systems at any point. You’re no longer stuck with the static functionality of your cloud accounting software.
The key to an effective cloud system based around add-ons is to make sure there’s a clear strategy behind your choice of software tools.
Define the needs of the practice, the needs of your clients and create a flexible system of plug-ins that offers true integration with all your accounting systems. Keep your core strategy in mind at all times, and work with clients to evolve and enhance your choice of cloud tools.
How GoCardless fits into your add-on world
Payment collection is one area of the financial process that can benefit hugely from software automation. When you build a payments solution into your add-on setup, you create efficiencies both for the firm and for your clients.
GoCardless is a Direct Debit solution that fits perfectly into a cloud system, integrating with a range of different cloud accounting platforms to give you a payment option that’s fit for the digital age and that meets the demands of a modern accountancy firm.
Automate your own payment collection. Collect your clients’ fees regularly and automatically by Direct Debit and slash the time spent chasing invoices.
Create positive cash flow. With a regular, predictable pipeline of Direct Debit payments, you’ll see a underlying boost to your cash flow forecasts.
Give clients an effective payment option. Set your clients up with GoCardless and solve their late payment and cash flow issues at a stroke.
Want to learn more about how GoCardless fits into your add-on system? Give our team a call on 020 8338 9537 or send a message to our team:
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Thousands of accountants use GoCardless to collect payments on time, every time.