[IMGCAP(1)]Among accountants that service small business, the buzz around the cloud has been strong and steady. From conference sessions to headlines to software providers to industry experts, the cloud has becomes mainstream conversation. And it’s encouraging to see that that talk is turning into action in the form of adoption and use. We’re seeing more and more accountants take advantage of cloud technologies to better all facets of their business—from internal collaboration to actual accounting software and everything in between.

But it’s still just a drop in the bucket. Anecdotally, it’s still safe to say that the majority of accountants serving small business aren’t there yet. And while there are certainly a gamut of reasons for this, one consistently rings true: “I don’t think my clients need or care about the cloud.”

That is an absolutely valid rationale. However, it may sometimes be an assumption. There’s a chance clients may already be employing cloud technologies in various aspects of their business, perhaps even unknowingly. As such, there are subtle hints that accountants should look for that will help them accurately gauge whether or not their clients “need or care about the cloud” which, in turn, will help them gauge whether or not it makes sense to offer cloud-based accounting.

    • Mobile devices. When you meet with your clients, what mobile hardware do they have in tow? An old-school flip phone, feature phone or no phone at all likely indicates that the only clouds they know of are puffy and white. Conversely though, if you’re clients meet with you armed with smartphone or a tablet, they might be using cloud-based apps. The best way to find out? Ask them what smartphone or tablet business apps they use. If they get excited and start rattling off apps like Evernote and Dropbox, you’ve got a cloud user.
    • Office apps. Similar to mobile device usage, an understanding of what office apps your clients use can reveal cloud adoption. Do they send you attachments like Word docs or Excel files? Or do they share documents and spreadsheets with you via Google Drive? If the latter, they’re cloud inclined. If you can’t answer either of these questions, ask! Start with inquiring whether or not they use Google apps like Gmail or Google Calendar for their business. Your clients will likely appreciate the interest you show in the day-to-day workings of their business. And if the conversation leads to an embrace of cloud accounting, you’re more than just the accountant—you’re the trusted business advisor.
    • Communication habits. Are your small business clients more likely to fax than email? If the former, introducing a cloud accounting software suite might not be right. However, if you wake up to 20 new client emails each morning—better yet if those emails end with “Sent from my [insert mobile device name here]” or “Sent from my iPad”—your clients are communicating on-the-go and perhaps using the cloud for business.
    • Payment Habits. Have your clients inquired about how to you pay you in ways other than check? Perhaps they’ve asked if you take PayPal. Or maybe they mentioned Square. Take it one step further: how do they accept payment from their customers? (Either ask them or just look at their accounts receivable.) While the aforementioned methods aren’t cloud, per se, the more degrees the preferred payment method is from a mailed check, the higher the likelihood there’s cloud adoption happening somewhere.

      When it comes down to it, getting past simply talking about the cloud, committing to it and offering cloud-based accounting solutions is about understanding your clients. Look for cloud-inclined hints. Flat out ask them if they are using cloud-based apps in other aspects of their business. And if the conversation warrants, find out if they’d be interested in hoisting their books up there. You may find yourself surprised. Jim Secord is the CEO of Kashoo.