You only need to watch TV or walk past a billboard, to see the battle for the hearts and minds of Australian business owners in the cloud accounting space.
Whether it's Xero's beautiful accounting', MYOBs easy online accounting' or QuickBooks making life simply easy' - the marketing messages are eerily similar. They speak of simplicity, beauty, effortlessness and evoke feelings of love, ease and comfort. They tell the story of small business people like you or I, who want to focus on what we do best, with a world class platform to empower us.
This approach is necessary to overcome the resistance of business owners to change
When Xero first launched in Australia, there were two barriers to overcome. Moving your business to a new accounting platform, and moving your business into the cloud. Reputation capital and trust needed to be built from the ground up.
One of the strategies that worked beautifully was their partner program. A way of harnessing the established trusted advisors to business owners on all things financial - accountants and bookkeepers. The second was that the whole customer experience needed to be simple. Easy. Seamless. There needed to be a connection between the marketing promise, the product, and the experience. And there was. Mostly.
You see - while cloud accounting platforms do live up to their promise of simplifying the accounting process for small businesses, they also make it deceptively easy to make mistakes
Business owners are seduced on the premise of being able to manage it themselves, and so choose to. Some shouldn't. If there is a shortfall in the marketing of cloud accounting platforms - it's exactly that. That they speak so strongly about simplicity of use, without an equal focus on the importance of experts or a good education as the ying to the yang.
Consider the sales process of each cloud accounting platform. Business owners visit a website to do their research, and are encouraged to set up a trial. To initiate the journey themselves. This exists for one outcome - to get the buy in and engagement of the business owner from an experiential point of view. I can do this, its easy'.
Yet there's a difference between setting up a trial as a test, and making sure it's correctly set up for your business. Setting it up right means tinkering with the chart of accounts, report codes, GST settings, filling in the bank feed gaps, identifying transactional anomalies, ensuring payroll is correctly set up, and hundreds of other variables that define the financials of a business. Things your typical business owner won't know to identify.
What we've observed, is an increasing number of business owners calling us to clean up or complete their setups
While help guides and online support are amazing, business owners don't always read them. Sometimes we catch it early and it's minor to fix up. Sometimes they've been using the system for some time, and it's a dog's breakfast. I recall one business owner saying to me "is that what it looks like when my accounts are reconciled? oh wow!". Other times it's been set up properly by an accountant or bookkeeper, but along the journey the business owner decided that it looked easy enough for them to manage on their own, and tried it for a while before realising they need an expert to clean it up again.
In an ideal world, bookkeepers and accountants would be the only advisors able to set up new accounts. Ideally all business owners would need to undergo a minimum level of certification or training to use the platforms. But it's not an ideal world.
This gap presents an opportunity for advisors to better help people
If you understand that the marketing of the cloud accounting platforms will continue to create a scenario where business owners are encouraged to do things themselves, and that the uptake of cloud accounting platforms is increasing, then it follows that advisors need to champion the following activities more than ever -
- Setting up a business correctly
- Fixing up issues where a business owner has managed their books themselves
- Providing education and support, understanding that many business owners would like to give it a shot, but would like someone to be by their side
- Advocacy around best-practices and the value provided by bookkeepers
Over time this will change as the platforms continue to innovate and improve. The onboarding process will become simpler. The standardisation of the charts of accounts, report codes, industry categories, and other variables will simplify setup. Automation and machine learning will reduce the need for intervention and rescues. The marketing promise will match the experience delivered, and businesses will truly be better for it. But for now the need is a real one, and an opportunity to create better outcomes for businesses.