Expanding services during a pandemic: How automation helps

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Even in a disrupted market that is changing daily, accounting firms are still looking to attract new clients — and one way to do that is to expand service offerings. While firms have always been up against steep competition, client demands have increased and expectations have shifted in unexpected ways as the COVID-19 pandemic has added complexity. But demonstrating new value to clients amid these shifts doesn’t have to be an uphill battle — in fact, you may be in a better position to help them now than ever before.

Small business clients often see their accountant as their most trusted advisor, and your expertise is probably in greater need and demand today than it was a year ago. Finding the right opportunities to expand your small business client base means understanding the services they most want—and when that means expanding your service offerings, choosing the ones you can deliver with the help of automation is key.

In partnership with CPA.com and Hinge Research Institute, Bill.com has released a report entitled “Where Opportunity Meets Value: Business Model Trends for Accounting Advisory Services,” which identifies the services clients most value from their accountants and how automation helps accounting firms to implement value pricing for those services. The report is based on survey responses of more than 650 accountants and business professionals across the country.

The pain points that small businesses struggled with when things were “business as usual” certainly haven’t gone away as the pandemic has complicated the way we all do business, the responses show. If anything, these needs are stronger than ever and represent a real opportunity for accounting firms to bring value to their clients.

What today’s small businesses want most

The most effective way to demonstrate the value you offer clients is by providing the services they most want and need. While this may seem obvious, many firms lack insight on what those services are and therefore are missing out on the potential business opportunities emerging today.

To capitalize on that growth potential, accounting firms should be focusing on solving those businesses’ biggest accounting challenges. Nineteen percent of participants said their biggest accounting challenges were getting expert financial insights and planning for growth and expansion. Another 18 percent cited problems with cash flows and minimizing overhead costs, and 17 percent reported having problems with staying in compliance and lacking time to focus on accounting and financial matters. While these issues have long plagued small businesses even before the pandemic hit, they have only increased and expanded as businesses have been forced to operate with a scattered, remote workforce while tackling new challenges. Solving these new and existing pain points is where your firm comes in as a trusted advisor.

Addressing top client challenges through strategic advisory services backed by automation — because automation will make it possible for you to provide those extra services — is one of the best ways to prove your value as an accounting firm in an era of uncertainty and remote work. When clients see that value, you’ll be in the best position to grow your business and attract new small business clients that need you to lead them through new challenges.

Automation opens doors to value pricing and better client services

As you begin expanding your service offerings, if you’re like most firms, you’ll want to adjust your pricing to reflect the actual value you’re offering your clients. While now may seem like an odd time to adjust pricing, value pricing is actually beneficial to your clients. It provides for better transparency and fewer surprises at a time when they’re already facing uncertainty from too many other sources.

Automation is an integral part of making the switch to value pricing and better serving your clients. According to the survey, a firm’s level of automation correlates with the level of internal resistance to value pricing it experiences. Among firms that responded to the survey, 27 percent consider themselves to be highly automated, and those firms reported experiencing fewer internal challenges than less-automated firms. Of those highly automated firms, only 25 percent reported internal resistance to value pricing, whereas 40 percent of the respondents that identified as less automated reported experiencing resistance.

Automation is key for accounting firms that want to offer strategic advisory services under a value pricing model, because it enables both firms and their clients to spend significantly less time on low-value, repetitive tasks while producing more accurate results. Not only does this free up time to focus on services that small businesses value, it plays a critical role in allowing businesses to meet the demands of today’s remote work world.

Why clients need automation in uncertain times

Internally adopting automation is only the first step for accounting firms. They also need to explain the value of that automation to their clients. Only when your clients truly understand the benefits they’re gaining from automation will they see the value they’re getting in exchange for the fees you charge.

Getting your clients on board with automation is key when you want to start implementing value pricing. The survey shows that, once accounting firms adequately communicate the benefits of automation to their clients, those firms are 3.5 times more likely to succeed in increasing their rates for their accounting services. Value pricing is not only about boosting revenues, however. It’s also about improving client service and satisfaction.

Using automated technology, accounting firms can harness the power of today’s technological advances, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to handle clients’ important but highly repetitive manual processes. While to someone who doesn’t understand automation this may look like you’re doing less work, in reality you’re opening the door to creating far more value for clients. Automation is a game-changer for firms and clients alike, particularly in today’s remote work scenarios where many manual processes have been rendered impossible.

The time saved by offloading lower-value, routine tasks to automation can be redirected to focusing on your clients’ biggest challenges — precisely the things that small businesses identify as their greatest areas of need, like gaining expert financial insights, planning for growth and expansion, managing cash flow and overhead costs, and staying in compliance. Automation frees up time to devote to critical accounting and financial matters, rather than handling manual tasks, which is highly valuable when many small businesses are worrying about what the future might bring.

Accounting firms should be assessing the technology and tools they have on hand to determine how those tools can be used to increase efficiency and automate aspects of the services that small businesses value most. Clients don’t always see the benefits of automation right away, but when they observe that they’re getting help with their biggest accounting challenges, especially during difficult times, they’ll be willing to pay to keep you around.

Today’s novel challenges call for a new way of doing business. Giving small businesses what they want and need is easier when you have automation on your side. Pricing your services to reflect the automation and value they bring to your clients will help you maintain the clients you have and attract new small businesses wanting help navigating the post-pandemic future.

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Automation Artificial intelligence Value pricing