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A Shark’s Advice to professional accountants

South African Institute of Professional Accountants
9 April 2018

I can’t tell you exactly what 2018 has in store for you as a professional accountant. But I can say with great certainty that how you approach business this year will determine how successful you are. Here’s my advice for staying ahead of the curve.

Don’t get ahead of yourself

Too many accountants worry about maturing technologies like Blockchain, AI and robotics stealing away their income. Some of you have weathered radical changes in the business environment for decades. What’s different now? Sure, we know these developments will be disruptive, but we don’t even know when or to what extent.

Instead of fretting over what might happen in the unforeseeable future, I suggest that you rather focus on imminent changes we can expect over the next three years, by which time they’ll be considered the new normal. Research those certainties and decide how you can start preparing for them today.

Stop time

If you haven’t heard, hourly billing is dead. Fixed fees are the future. You can kick against it all you want but clients who have tasted fixed fee services won’t be coming back … ever. They like knowing what they’ll pay upfront because nobody enjoys a bill loaded with unexpected charges. Some forward-thinking firms saw an opportunity early on and introduced fixed fees as their competitive advantage.

Now it’s becoming the standard and your only option is to follow suit, so start switching over now. Rather than worrying about how much income you’ll lose, think of how many grateful customers you’ll gain.

Evict the vampires

Keeping customers happy is worth every effort most of the time. But not all clients are right for you and those who aren’t will quickly suck the energy and fortunes from your business. They demand the best service at a discount, but their account is always in 60 days.

Or they’re just never happy, even with quality everyone else raves about. Do yourself a favour: run a Pareto analysis on your debtors, identify the 20% that causes 80% of your problems, and cut them loose. Then spend more time on the 20% that brings in 80% of your sales.

These days we shop, bank, socialise and even hail taxis online. Yet, when it comes to accounting, many practitioners still use legacy desktop software and transport data from and back to their clients on a flash drive, sometimes interrupting business for days. With cloud-based accounting systems gaining traction, employees can work from any location at any time.

Organisations who have switched over will expect their accountants to follow suit. My advice is to get up to speed or risk losing clients. Learning popular systems will take time but the payoff in customer retention and satisfaction is worth it.

Feed your chefs

Accounting is a very personal service. You can automate the basic bookkeeping and reporting functions all you like but your clients still want to deal with people they trust to advise them on their financial management concerns. The ones who do a great job will gain their personal confidence and loyalty.

We’re talking about your employees here. If you treat them poorly and they resign, the clients who believe in them may follow. So, don’t just give them a fair deal. Incentivise them to stay and perform to their best ability. If you look after them, they’ll look after your clients.

The best way to handle change in the business world is to develop a mindset that embraces it. Those who do will survive and thrive. Think of it as a rollercoaster. If you try to stand in its way, you’re going to get hurt. So why not jump on and enjoy the ride?

Former industry leaders like BlackBerry and Nokia lost massive market share because they refused to accept the new direction consumers were heading in or adapt their approach accordingly. But the true entrepreneur remains flexible, expects change and keeps an eye out for the opportunities that accompany it.

As you progress through 2018, keep these simple but powerful ideas in mind, especially the last one. There’s no challenge that can’t be improved by our willingness to accept it and our flexibility in dealing with it.

Author: Marnus Broodryk, Founder of The Beancounter accounting firm

About the author:

In addition to being a Professional Accountant (SA) and a member of the South African Institute of Professional Accountants, Marnus was asked in 2016 to participate in M-Net’s reality series Shark Tank South Africa and he hosts a weekly insert on kykNET’s Winslyn, where he shares advice and tips with aspiring and established entrepreneurs on how to start, manage and grow a business. Visit web site.