Posted on 18 February, 2018  |  4 min

Accounting has come a long, long way. From ancient Mesopotamia some 7,000 years ago, when pebbles were used as counting tokens, to 2018, when the large accounting firms are now consulting practices, liquidators, cybersecurity providers and even marketing agencies.

Accountants wear plenty of hats, and 2018 might see them take on many more. But it’s not all stress and headaches; the advantage of being an accountant today over, say, a bookkeeper in ancient Babylon is that help is now at hand.

There are a diverse range of cloud apps to help small businesses and their accountants manage everything from inventory to money to staff productivity. But the benefits are not only felt on the client side. Here are five simple ways these tools can also help you become an ahead-of-your-time accountant.

1. Have more conversations about the future

In an age when there’s a discussion around scrapping billable hours for professional services, accountants have to be aware of how much value they can add to a client’s business at all times. By being across key financial data through cloud accounting software and having more proactive conversations based on instantly accessible, real-time information, there’s an opportunity to do just that.

Imagine going into a client meeting with all the information you need, instead of spending half an hour catching up on the month’s financial reports. Real-time data provides an opportunity to spend less time going over what has happened and more time talking about what can happen.

It might also help to abandon the Excel spreadsheets alongside the abacus and counting pebbles. Instead, why not look into a free data dashboard for accountants, like My Companies from 9 Spokes? A dashboard displays real-time information on individual client businesses at once, with one advisor login. From there you can see metrics around money, employees, sales, customers, marketing and more.

2. Build a strong digital brand

There are more than 350,000 members of major accounting bodies in the UK¹, growing from around 270,000 a decade ago² Competition is fierce in accounting, but you and your firm have the means to stand out thanks to today’s digital opportunities.

From SEO to social media and digital branding opportunities, apps like Facebook for Business, MailChimp and Google Analytics can help.

Showing how important this can be for the modern accountant, there’s even a workshop on ‘building a strong digital brand and winning new clients’ at this month’s QuickBooks Connect event in London. If you’re an attendee and interested in becoming a digital branding behemoth, it could be worth checking out.

3. Be the first line of defence

It can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming to spot certain hazards on the horizon for your clients.

Take cash flow forecasts, for instance. They’ve been an accounting staple for centuries, though cloud accounting apps now have the ability to calculate and track cash flow in real time throughout the year.

When this information is presented in one place—which is what a small-business data dashboard offers—an accountant can go into a client meeting knowing what money’s owed, what’s owing, a client’s biggest debtors, how often it takes to pay or be paid for invoices, and much more.

Even outside of meetings, having all this data a mere click away means accountants can spot issues first, proactively manage them and add real, often-measurable value to their client relationships.

4. Spot opportunities first

In a similar vein, financial data from popular cloud apps can unearth plenty of opportunities for your clients to grow, as well as highlight risks.

POS and inventory apps track which products are a business’ most profitable and which are the best-selling, for instance. It’s a quick and simple way to identify opportunities for a client to increase gross profits through a timely promotion or altering their pricing strategy.

Exploring insights on your clients’ business apps is likely to reveal plenty of other opportunities over time.

5. Diversify and cross-sell

We’ve mentioned how many hats accountants have to wear today. Your clients’ data holds the valuable insights you need to decide which of these hats you should keep on, which you might decide to take off and which new pieces of headwear you may want to add to your collection.

Imagine you see through the information on your clients’ business dashboard that they have low cash levels at certain times of the year, or that a particular month traditionally brings with it tardy debtors.

In this instance, you might become the year-round financial adviser, helping to get pre-approval on a business loan or finding alternative funding solutions to ease that client’s cash concerns.

If diversifying your services is something you want to keep in mind, let your clients’ opportunities and pain points (visible through their business apps) be your guide in deciding exactly what steps you take next to help them.

Want to see our innovative small-business data dashboard in person? We’d love to meet you at QuickBooks Connect, where we’re exhibiting on 27-28 February. Can’t make it but want to learn more about the 9 Spokes My Companies feature for accountants? Get in touch and we’ll show you what we can do to help you stand out in 2018.