Year 2016, in some instances, was tough for the Australian bookkeeper. There was a lot of battering from the industry about the role of a bookkeeper in the future, what that looks like and whether these types of jobs will still exist in the future.
To their defence, we heard from association bodies and spokespeople defending that the role of a bookkeeper will never be replaced but it will change as the software technology evolves. Associations cite that you cannot replace the human element a bookkeeper can bring to the life of a small business.
We also saw a lot of conversations about the rise of outsourcing overseas, and the impact this has on bookkeepers, small businesses, and the new service it offers an accounting firm.
With all that in mind, 2016 was a defining year for the bookkeeper.
Now bookkeepers have come to understand that, yes, their role is changing and it will look very different in the future. I’ve heard of some bookkeepers moving into the add-on consulting space, business coaching, business admin, back office support and the list goes on.
So where to from here? What are we going to see bookkeepers focusing their time on in 2017?
Now because bookkeeping businesses vary between sole traders, working for themselves to bookkeeping businesses with multiple employees, we’ll split the view in two from here, keeping in mind that all points could be relevant to you whether you’re a sole trader or an established team.
Sole trading bookkeepers
1. Digital tools of automation and workflow
I think this will continue to be a key driver this year, pending on the direction of your business. If you’re expecting to be in business for years to come, then find the right tools to help you stay organised in sending reminders to your clients that they need to give you documentation.
2. Pricing your fees
This is a focus that is not going to change anytime soon; if anything, we’re going to hear more and more about it.
Moving away from hourly pricing will be key for bookkeepers as the years progress. Unless you’re charging $120 per hour and the work is flowing through the door (remembering the average is $65 per hour). The faster you work, the less your earn. It’s simple. Don’t focus on how long it took you to complete the work, charge based on the work you completed.
3. Add-on solution consulting
I believe this is a natural path for bookkeepers to keep their focus on this year. As much as there are too many add-on partners to count on two hands, there has been an emergence of clear leaders among the app groups and niches.
Continue to ask what has worked for them or for their clients; do not be scared to experiment with add-ons. I’ve heard before that for every gap, there is an app that can fill that void, meaning whatever your accounting software might be lacking, it can be enhanced through the right add-on applications.
4. Get a website
If you plan to exist past 2017, you need to get a website. You need to have a digital space in which people can find you, contact you and tell who you are.
This also means that you’ll need to know what to write, how to say it and who you want to say it to, meaning you’ll need to know your ideal client and what type of client you want to keep working with this year.
Bookkeeping business with multiple employees, offices, teams
1. Digital Tools
Digital tools and workflows should already be a key part of your business. I would enforce this more so on you.
If you’re still operating in a physical desktop capacity, you should highly consider moving your workflows into the cloud to create freedom, remote working environments and better clarity of work to be completed.
This is where you need to be as we get ready for further enhancements in software, especially artificial intelligence.
Understand who your ideal clients are and what industries they’re in. Then work out what combination of software and add-on solutions can you put together that will enable you to streamline your process, keep your clients engaged in the data collection and give your clients a better view of their business. Find your niche, and figure out how you’d like to target them in finding you.
Overheads are harder to cover when you’re employing team members, especially if you’re pricing everything per hour (see sole trader point #2), meaning you’ll need to look at diversifying the services that you offer that can help generate new revenue.
Now this could mean employing someone with new skills so that you can then offer those services, or it could mean identifying key skills available within your core group and team, and then creating revenue products that can work with your existing client base.
4. New revenue
Following the last point, a lot of people seem to think that you need to gain new clients in order to keep growing. This is not always true. In fact, you could have half the amount of clients and still earn the same amount of revenue.
Therefore you should analyse your existing client base to identify what opportunities there are to engage clients on additional services, reporting packs and budgeting.
Furthermore, contemplate engaging someone to be your sales or marketing co-ordinator. Where there’s focus, the results will follow. This could be the difference you need to help drive new and existing business revenue.
5. Streamline and systemise
If you have clients on every different version of desktop accounting, cloud accounting and the hybrids, you probably have a headache. Consider looking at what majority of your clients you can run in the cloud.
Now, ensure that your cloud products all play nice with your cloud-based tools.
In summary, bookkeepers need to be able to diversify and ready their business for change. You’re not just a bookkeeper anymore. You have the ability to become the digital mechanic, the networker, the influencer, the difference maker in the lives of your client’s business.
Your role is now more important than ever as you move to become an integral part of your client’s world. To be all these things, there needs to be change.
You may need to disrupt yourselves a little. Yes, that’s scary and yes that means change. But that’s okay. Change is the only constant thing in this world. Support is overwhelming in the bookkeeping industry. You’re surrounded by peers from all over the world. Good luck and enjoy your year.