The GST was about to hit when Amanda Gascoigne launched her own accounting practice twenty years ago, so it seemed an ideal time to help clients move from manual cash books and basic spreadsheets into accounting software.
She remembers getting all her clients use MYOB in their businesses, back when it was a physical package: "I was getting all these purple boxes delivered every day, and while the software is so much more robust these days, it wasn't very different."
Although we take online accounting for granted now, at the time it was remarkable Gascoigne could manage the workloads for her clients and her own practice, all while having two babies inside the first two years of her business.
"I think what catapulted me to success was having that technology in place from the very early stage of my practice," says Gascoigne. "It meant I could focus on leveraging a lot of my time, and my staff's time, to deliver really good quality service to my clients."
Today, Gascoigne mostly operates as a trainer and consultant to other small accounting firms, helping them build skills in using technology to run their practices efficiently – and share those skills with their clients.
She sees parallels between the GST transition two decades ago and the opportunities presented by Single Touch Payroll today:
"The accountant's role is to nurture a client to achieve ultimate success," she says. "A lot of SME clients are doing more leg work and looking online, more DIY research. Accountants are potentially missing out on educating their clients about what software is best for their businesses."
Gascoigne believes in educating clients to be more technologically efficient, so she can focus on higher levels of service. A clearer understanding of the value she offers also means she can build better client relationships. "Accountants don't like that sales piece, but it's not really sales. It's actually an education piece on building trust and building strong relationships," she notes.
"I hear accountants say they have a lot of fee resistance, but I think it's about setting parameters at the beginning to show what you bring to the table, and what the skills of a good accountant are."
From boxes to the clouds: accounting software is everywhere
Fee structures around accounting software have changed dramatically since the days of MYOB being delivered in a purple box at an upfront box price.
"When I started implementing a paperless office in 2008 it cost nearly $20,000 to set up," she remembers. "Now, it's no upfront cost. You can take this up and get on board for dollars a month."
"If an accounting practice deemed a technology was out of its budget a decade ago, I'd really encourage them to revisit that same software, or look at whatever else is in that space. They might be gladly surprised it's now within budget."
Similarly, STP has motivated more businesses to investigate bang-for-buck in their business software. But the main consideration shouldn't be price, warns Gascoigne. She recommends talking clients through the extra value they might get if they pay a little more each month.
"$10 a month versus $50 or $60? I know it's more expensive, but you get so much more out of that more expensive product," says Gascoigne. "What about if you said to your client, 'This is an STP enabled product, it's going to cost $60 a month, but you will also be able to create and send quotes to your clients, then turn them into invoices once you've completed the work'. And then tell them: 'When you're waiting for the money to come it'll send order reminders at different intervals. You won't have to do any more data entry of your income and expenses – it's all going to come through automatically. I can see your profit and you can see daily how you're going, and you can start looking at targets. You can have a look at all those things, and you can get Single Touch Payroll.'"
"They'll say, 'You know, yes, thank you, I've actually been hearing about this,'" says Gascoigne.
"That's the piece that I think a lot of people forget, how valuable their time is."
Technology doesn't fix problems by itself
Gascoigne's experience as a CA and as a consultant tells her technology alone doesn't solve a messy business.
"If you have stuff that is not working smoothly you can't just put technology over the top of that thinking it going to be your savior – you'll be really disappointed," she warns. "If you try to automate a mess, all you're going to get is an automated mess."
The other problem she sees with adopting new tech without knowing how to use it efficiently is simply becoming overloaded. Gascoigne suggests using filters and dashboards to focus the data deluge, as well as setting specific times to review new information or even emails, rather than having software windows open all the time.
"We could sit there all day looking at new information coming in, that sheer volume," says Gascoigne. "Accountants can get so caught up in this they don't get a lot of their chargeable work done."
Peer lessons from CA Catalyst are invaluable
Networking with peers is one of the best ways to get practical insights into what tools are having the best impact on practice and client businesses, says Gascoigne. And she highly recommends attending CA Catalyst events if you want to reconnect with why you became an accountant.
"It's great to go along to these CA Catalyst events, whether related to technology or related to anything else, because you just learn so much from each other, and I think CAs are very giving with sharing of ideas and putting people in touch with others," she says. "Learning from each other is something that is often missing, especially in small and solo accounting practice owners."
She also points to the My CA forum as another great way to learn from peers, and another way to ensure accountants take a little time to work on their practice.
"Accountants help clients achieve so much success and to create wealth and legacy and have fabulous businesses, but that sometimes comes at the expense of their own practice, their own wellbeing and their own work-life balance."
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