by Wayne Schulz
Your CPA firm may have tried and failed to make money with a computer consulting department. If so, then I say it is time for another try - this time with a smarter approach.
The most efficient way for firms to get involved in consulting is to start with the accounting package that most of your clients are likely to already be using - QuickBooks from Intuit.
QuickBooks is a popular retail accounting package that a large percentage of many CPAs' existing - and prospective - client bases probably already uses. Set yourself aside from your competitors by offering QuickBooks consulting (which many firms already do) and by offering the consulting services in an efficient and a structured manner.
Most experts advise that when you start a computer consulting practice you get "buy-in" from all of the partners. However, if your firm doesn't make money from computer consulting services, then you are never going to get buy-in. So I say that the most important thing to do before obtaining buy-in is to obtain profitability. With profitability in hand - buy-in from partners becomes a done deal.
The firms that are providing profitable QuickBooks consulting all share these traits:
- They produce recurring revenues - either through support plan sales or annual on-site "checkups" or year-end seminars.
- They have dedicated staff with bookkeeping backgrounds.
- All of their accounting staff are QuickBooks experts.
- They bill appropriately for their services and don't write down fees because they are answering a question about a $150 accounting program.
- They recognize that they have the right to charge a higher fee for supporting the program than the software company because they have more insight into how their clients' businesses operate.
- They use seminars to provide most of their training.
- Their on-site consulting is always billable.
- They have formalized consulting areas and don't use the accounting staff as part-time QuickBooks consultants.
- They use monthly newsletters to keep in touch with all clients.
- They constantly look for new services to provide to existing clients.
Here are some ways that you can create a profitable QuickBooks consulting division, or enhance an existing one, within your firm.Require an annual telephone support plan
Every successful accounting software vendor has moved to a recurring revenue model. They require that their end users either purchase an annual tax table update or subscribe to mandatory yearly software upgrades.
You have a golden opportunity when you begin your consulting practice because you will get to create the rules by which you offer the service to clients. Be sure that you require all of your QuickBooks clients to be on a telephone support plan, which covers all phone calls for QuickBooks (not accounting) questions.
Because you are likely to have to answer some accounting questions - you have the right to price this plan higher than the product manufacturer may offer. Consider a pricing model ranging from $495 to $995 per year for unlimited telephone support. Remind clients that this only includes assistance with QuickBooks questions and does not include any time that your staff spends on-site.
You'll be surprised at how many clients sign up with this service and renew it yearly. You will also be surprised that you will not get avalanched with telephone calls from subscribers. The 80/20 rule seems to apply to telephone support, as well as life. Twenty percent of your clients are going to make 80 percent of the calls.
Have at least one inside staff person dedicated to QuickBooks troubleshooting. Once you have the revenue from offering QuickBooks phone support, you can hire a full-time QuickBooks consultant. This person does nothing other than answer questions that you or your staff have about QuickBooks and provide the phone support to clients.
The best person to hire for the QuickBooks inside support position is someone who has previously operated a small bookkeeping firm and already has significant accounting, bookkeeping and QuickBooks experience.
Train your entire staff
Having a staff that is fully trained on the QuickBooks system is a powerful competitive advantage. The other firms in your area are making half-hearted efforts to train their staff. Provide four hours of quarterly training to each of your accounting staff and watch how clients react when staff are able to answer their questions!
Clients love to deal with one source for their questions. Make sure that your staff can answer any QuickBooks question during their fieldwork. Use your dedicated QuickBooks staff to handle this quarterly training.
Use the Internet
The Internet is a fantastic way to reach prospective clients. If you have a Web site, make sure that it highlights your QuickBooks knowledge.
Electronic mail is the cheapest way to keep in touch with clients. Gather all the e-mail addresses of your clients and mail them monthly updates and e-mail newsletters. There are online services, such as www.constantcontact.com, that completely automate the management of an e-mail list.
Imagine how powerful and cost effective it would be to communicate with 1,500 or more people at the click of a mouse! Now think about doing this monthly with a time investment of not more than hour!
- Join the Intuit Professional Advisors Program. For a small annual fee you not only have access to loads of technical QuickBooks information from Intuit but you will be listed online at the Intuit site. This cheap advertising is another effective way to use the Internet so that prospective clients can find you. Intuit also offers certifications for QuickBooks that you can use in your marketing efforts.
Hold seminars. Initial training for your clients should be provided via seminars. For $195 to $295, you can hold a group training session in your office that gives users enough knowledge of QuickBooks so that they feel comfortable.Seminar training is a great way to keep your services profitable. You hold down the amount of on-site training that you have to bill the client for and you can have a dozen or more clients attend.
Consider holding periodic seminars when a new version of QuickBooks is released or during the month preceding year-end. And instead of writing your own training guides, investigate purchasing some of the guides that are available through the QuickBooks' Professional Advisor program.
Associate with software resellers who may provide systems to your clients when they outgrow QuickBooks. Invariably you will find that some of your clients outgrow QuickBooks.The best resellers to associate with are obviously those who aren't CPA firms themselves. Develop a mutual referral relationship where the reseller refers the QuickBooks clients they can't service to you in return for your referral of growing clients who have become too big for QuickBooks.
- Develop a standardized implementation system. Create checklists and lists of frequently asked questions that your staff can use when implementing QuickBooks. Be sure to review some of the written guides that are available, such as those from the Sleeter Group (www.sleeter.com).
Become more profitable by offering additional services to those who already know, love and trust you - your existing clients! Strive to offer additional services to your existing QuickBooks clients.Most clients would welcome any of these add-on services - especially since they can likely be provided by the staff that are already supporting the QuickBooks system. Here are some add-ons to consider:
- QuickBooks procedure manual. Document the daily, monthly, yearly procedures specific to this company.
- Anti-virus checkup. Is the proper anti-virus running?
- Backup checkup. Is the backup capturing all the critical files
- Security checkup. Are passwords in place for QuickBooks and the network
- Technology plan. Is the client replacing a portion of their hardware on a yearly basis to avoid large lump-sum capital investments in the future?
- Seminars. Year-end is the perfect time to invite all your QuickBooks clients to a seminar to review annual closing procedures.
Establishing - or improving - a QuickBooks consulting area is something that every firm should strive for in 2002. Since a majority of your existing accounting clients use QuickBooks, why not capitalize on this to operate a thriving, profitable consulting business - and, at the same time, keep technology-savvy competitors away from your client base.
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