Capital One’s Spark Business unit is offering some advice to accountants to help them and their small business clients get through the summertime lull and attract more customers.
• Review and adopt new technologies: According to the most recent Capital One Spark Business Barometer, more than three-fourths of small business owners have not yet adopted cloud technologies. While some accountants may be doing basic file sharing and file storage in the cloud, Capital One believes they should be leveraging cloud-based accounting software to access client data from laptops, tablets and mobile devices.
“What we see right now from small business owners in general is that they’re not adopting cloud storage to the degree that we thought they would and to the degree we think they should to be more successful,” said Capital One senior vice president of small business banking Brian Smith. “More than three-fourths of small business owners haven’t adopted any cloud technology. It’s one of those untapped resources that we really think can be valuable for accountants in particular. The cloud offers you simple access to your client’s data from anywhere.”
• Revive your online presence: While accountants focus so much on their clients, they can forget about building their own brand. Summer is a great time to revamp an old website that needs some work after tax season. Capital One advises firms to ensure their website is mobile-optimized, since an overwhelming majority of smartphone owners access the Internet through their devices.
“Make sure you have a website and then make sure it’s mobile optimized,” Smith suggested. “There are simple tests that Google offers online that can check for how mobile friendly your website is. In today’s world everybody needs to be mindful of what their mobile presence and their online presence looks like.”
Capital One recently showed off its cardless ATM technology and its CreditWise app for monitoring credit scores at Pepcom’s Digital Experience show in New York.
The company also offers Spark Pay mobile payment technology. “Our Spark Pay technology and Spark Business platform both offer you ways to leverage the mobile aspect of technology more and more and integrate it into invoicing, integrate it into finding your customers, and managing your money better by having more complete information,” said Smith. “One of the areas where I think accountants can benefit, just like any other small business owner, is to look into your online presence. Make sure you have that wow factor, but that it’s also effective. Integrate with mobile as you go forward because that’s where people and small business owners are gravitating towards. They want to use their iPhone or Android phone in order to access data.”
Accountants should also choose the appropriate online social channels for their business and maintain consistent branding across all platforms, Capital One recommends.
“In today’s day and age, just about everybody has a Facebook account or a Twitter account,” said Smith. “It has become a mainstream way of reaching people, but the key is to take that to the next level. Just having a Facebook account or utilizing Twitter randomly won’t yield the type of results that it could. Therefore look toward different things. Accountants can easily set up a group on Facebook or engage clients in consistent conversation on Twitter. You’re utilizing it to build your market, but you’re also utilizing it to monetize the efforts.”
Only 26 percent of small businesses say they’re very familiar with the ability to leverage the commerce opportunities of social media, according to Capital One’s Spark Business Barometer.
“Start simple,” said Smith. “Do you have a presence at all? Are you utilizing any of these platforms? But then take it to the next level. Be strategic. What do you want to do? How do you want to reach folks? Then set up a consistent way of turning it into a brand builder or a customer builder, or a way to monetize it. There are multiple ways that you can monetize it, but you’ve got to take the first steps.”
• Invest in employees: Accountants can help retain staff and attract top talent by offering 401(k) plans, according to Capital One. The bank’s Spark Business Barometer survey found that 87 percent of small business owners do not offer a retirement plan.
“You can utilize the 401(k) in two very powerful ways,” said Smith. “Internally, accountants should look to have a 401(k) program for their own business where it makes sense to retain and attract new associates. This will set them apart from others. It’s also a way to leverage long-term retirement benefits. Second, as they understand and enroll in the 401(k), they’re able to share the experiences with small businesses and help them establish a 401(k) themselves. There’s a real opportunity to advise their customers where appropriate to set these up to utilize the tools available to them, and to really add value.”
Capital One provides a ShareBuilder 401k service for small businesses, he noted.
• Evaluate cash flow: The summer slowdown may translate into a drop in revenue for accountants after tax season is over, if they don’t have other services to fall back on with clients. Capital One advises accountants to take time to revisit their budgeting and strategic planning practices to find efficiencies that can help safeguard against cash shortfalls during the off-season.
“Sometimes as an accountant you get so used to advising others and making sure you’re optimizing your business and your inflows and outflows that you forget to check the health of your own business,” said Smith. “Just like a doctor or a nurse might be very good about telling others how to be healthy and they forget about themselves, accountants need to check their own cash flow. Take a good hard look at your invoicing, your budgeting, what are the inflows and outflows. This can lead to hard decisions. One of those could be: Do we shut down during the summer months? Is it worth it to shut down for a period of time and then come back? They really need to take that opportunity to look at their own business models, but also diversify. Not all accountants and not all CPA firms experience the ups and downs. The ones that have been really effective at diversifying their clientele, diversifying the types of services, they’re the ones that stay busy throughout the year, so look at your business model. Look at where you might leverage all the things we’ve been talking about to expand your business and diversify into different channels and smooth out the business cycle. I think that’s some advice they would probably give their own clients as well.”