In this guest article, FreeAgent’s Kevin Lord shares the common pitfalls that can threaten to derail even the most committed practice’s efforts.

Here at FreeAgent, we know that accountants love to spend their time helping their clients grow their businesses but the time-consuming, mundane admin that’s traditionally associated with client work can often get in the way. That’s where digitisation comes in. As FreeAgent’s Digital Enablement Manager, I work closely with practices to help them harness the power of digital tools, techniques and practices so that they can do more of the work they love.

But digitisation isn’t a quick or easy fix and there are some common pitfalls that can threaten to derail even the most committed practice’s efforts. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about why these pitfalls exist and how practices can avoid them.

Pitfall 1: focusing on software instead of systems

‘Systems’ refers to the approaches you take, while ‘software’ refers to the tools that help you improve these approaches. It’s a subtle but important difference. If you find your practice is spending more time than you’d like on drawn-out admin tasks, it can be tempting to jump straight into finding some software to help – but don’t make any decisions before you fully understand the pain points in your systems.

Every practice is different and will have different areas that could be improved by digitisation. Rather than rushing to adopt the latest software that the industry might be talking about, sit down and work out where you can be more efficient and exactly how software might be able to help in your practice. Perhaps you spend a lot of unnecessary time chasing and waiting for bank statements close to deadlines, playing ‘telephone tennis’ with your clients or travelling to face-to-face client meetings?

Once you’re aware of your practice’s system needs, you can start thinking about how you could use software to make those systems more efficient. For example, you might want to set up bank feeds in FreeAgent to get accurate and reliable daily banking data, find a free appointment app to help synchronise diaries with your clients or try software such as Google Meets or Zoom to make your meetings more efficient.

Pitfall 2: neglecting to “level up” your hardware or staff skills

The right software can make a real difference to your practice but only if you have the hardware in place to make the most of it! This could be as simple as ensuring that you and your staff are using phones that can send and receive emails or making sure that you have the audio/video capabilities to handle video calls and virtual meetings.

In addition to upgrading your hardware, it’s vital to ensure that your staff are committed to new ideas and ways of working. Make sure you provide them with the training and learning materials they need to adopt any new software you introduce and give them time to adapt to new tools and processes once they’ve been implemented.

Pitfall 3: making assumptions about what your clients want

According to Forbes, 75% of practice clients will be millennials by 2025. Most of these clients will have grown up using computers, laptops and smartphones laden with software. Despite this, I find that many accountancy practices don’t ask their clients about the digital tools and software they’d be happy to work with and often wrongly assume that they won’t be open to the idea!

Communicating with your clients to better understand their ways of working, common pain points and ability to handle digitisation can help you make smarter decisions about your software choices. Conducting an annual survey of your clients is a great way to do this – and you might be surprised by their answers.

Below are a few examples of the types of question that you might want to ask:

  • What services do you use?
  • What services do you need?
  • What is your main source of income?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • What are your future ambitions?
  • What technology do you use?
  • What common problems do you encounter?
  • What are your concerns at the moment?
  • How satisfied are you with the service you’re receiving from the practice?
  • How would you like me to communicate with you?

Digital tools such as Survey Monkey, Google Forms and Client Heartbeat can help you source this information from your clients quickly and efficiently. The results should help you keep on top of what your clients expect from your practice, understand their common pain points and identify ways in which digitisation could help you work with them more effectively.

Pitfall 4: striving for monumental change instead of marginal gains

The changes you make in the process of digitisation don’t have to be monumental. In fact, small improvements across your practice can make a huge difference with some time and dedication.
This process of making small, incremental improvements is known as ‘Marginal Gains’ theory:

aggregation of marginal gains.png
Aggregation of Marginal Gains theory

By assessing your existing systems and using software to reduce time-consuming, repetitive tasks, these small improvements can provide a huge return in terms of time saved. Here’s an example of what that could look like in your practice:

The impact of making small improvements in your firm

Digitisation might not be easy but if you prioritise systems over software, ensure your hardware and your staff are ready for change, make the effort to find out what your clients want and aim for marginal gains, you will soon reap the rewards. And if you’re unsure whether it will be worth the extra effort, just ask yourself this: what you would do with the time you currently spend on admin if you could have it back? Help more of your clients? Grow your practice? Start a training course? Take some well-earned time off? The choice is yours.

Kevin Lord FreeAgent

“Kevin has worked with small businesses for nearly a decade to raise their awareness of the benefits that digital tools can bring and to assist them through times of change. At FreeAgent, Kevin works with colleagues and accounting partners to promote awareness of the revolutionary business improvements that cloud accounting software can offer.”