[IMGCAP(1)]Over the past few years, the world has changed — and so have our customers’ expectations.

And while the cloud and social media have made a tremendous impact, it’s not just the influx of that technology. It’s the fast pace of information-sharing disrupting the old model and creating a brand-new customer.

We are now working with financials that are produced and reconciled in real time. This dramatically affects the way we work and communicate with our customers. As mobile technology increasingly becomes easier, and more software vendors create apps to compete in the market, the expectations from our customers follow.

They also want a simpler experience with their CPA.

It used to be just next-generation business owners who thought this was important. But that is changing, too.

Today, all business owners are leveraging this powerful technology. And the results are transforming our marketplace. Transactions are faster, consumer buying habits are easily trackable, and professional service providers are packaging their value in new and exciting ways that reflect customer demands.

We are creating a new mindset for the accounting profession.

This means we must now rethink and retool all of our old tried-and-true processes to adapt, please and excite this new customer species.

 

PARTNER INSIGHTS

Our business is no longer a fee for a tax return or financial statement; it’s a collaborative partnership of a trusted advisor leading a small-business chief executive through accounting, tax and consulting services. Prospects come to us through social channels — meaning we may be working with new customers from around the world. We have to be prepared to answer their call.

Using the cloud and social media fundamentally changes the relationship and communication expectations with your client and within your firm. It’s not the software itself that is disruptive.

For example, FreshBooks released its new interface recently. They redesigned everything to make it simpler for users. I love it.

It’s the easiest invoicing program out there. We let our customers use it for invoicing and do “hard accounting” on the back end and don’t even discuss the balance sheet with the small-business owners who don’t really care about it.

At New Vision, we have so many solopreneurs with S corporations for tax purposes only and, aside from their bank accounts, they have little need for a balance sheet. I don’t know why we as CPAs think we need to over-educate and overwhelm certain customers with details that are unimportant to them.

So, like FreshBooks, you have to rethink, reimagine and retrain every one of your processes. It starts with the sales process, pricing, onboarding, collecting documentation, creating deliverables, executing deliverables, communicating frequently, and nurturing relationships with current clients. And you have to listen to what your customers are telling you. That is key. They will help you improve your business.

 

THE IMPACT ON SMALL BUSINESS

At our firm, a customer is trained on FreshBooks to do only their invoicing. Internally, a QuickBooks Online file with auto bank feeds is kept “behind the scenes” and bank reconciliations and a balance sheet are discussed or provided when necessary. The customer has full access but typically does not choose to review. Hubdoc, a bank statement-fetching software and document management system, is explained and given to customers with their fixed-fee accounting package. All software is billed to the CPA firm. The customer is not given a choice to accept or reject options. An online payroll solution is also provided, with e-payments required as part of that package.

Small-business accounting and tax has now been simplified so that both the SMB and the accountant have the opportunity to have a frictionless relationship. Everybody knows where they should be doing their work. The limited choices (a.k.a., minimum decision-making) and the ease of what the customer is expected to do satisfies everyone. Since now bank statements can be fetched “automagically,” accounts can be reconciled on our time without having negative touch points with our customer.

After an initial onboarding call to get all the bank feeds synced up, there are no additional “nags” to the business owner to get information to complete the work. Financials are produced and reconciled in real time.

Everyone’s life is easier.

 

SAME PAGE, SAME TIME

Now that you are working in the cloud, you and your employees are mining the data in real time. It’s one file. Repeat: one file! And this is a great thing.

You will be changing, updating and correcting it in real time. You must realize that it brings along many traditional old-firm-model processes that need to be changed, or at the very least updated. How will you review these changes if you don’t have work papers? How will you document these changes? How will you train new staff? How will your customers’ staff react to your changes to their file? There are new questions and expectations that need to be addressed in order to maintain goodwill as you transition your customers into these new ways of working with your firm.

Our practices will need to be updated. The new processes, I believe, are much better for firms but, admittedly, they will create havoc in the interim. But believe me, if I can do it, you can, too. It has changed our firm for the better and our revenue has multiplied!

The accounting profession now has the technology to support new communication and collaboration processes, allowing firms to perform more work in less time with fewer resources. We have created an environment where information sharing has increased exponentially, thereby allowing us to output deliverables markedly faster.

This is a good thing. Embrace it. It’s key to you surviving and thriving in today’s new world.

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal of New Vision CPA Group, as well as an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, and the author of The Radical CPA: New Rules for the Future-Ready Firm.

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