When a client of ours compiled their monthly business publication at the end of last year on the role technology plays in the business of the future, we were delighted to share our views with them. “Why your business needs the cloud” seemed like the ideal conversation to have with their audience, seeing that they firsthand experienced the transition when we converted their desktop – to cloud processes but also to share our journey on route to becoming a fully-fledged paperless accounting practice.
There has been no time in history where it has been more exciting to start a business than right now.
Business owners across the world marvel and quiver simultaneously at the mere speed at which technology is changing the face of how we do business…so as business owners: “Do we fear or embrace the pivotal role technology will play in our futures?”
Personally, we would like to think of ourselves as early adopters and in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition, we pride ourselves on our forward-thinking culture. It, therefore, came as no surprise when I walked into the office one morning and uprooting everything we’ve been accustomed to for so long when I said: “Guys, I don’t yet know-how, but we need to get in the cloud!”
“Why your business needs the cloud”
Nigh on two years later, as we look back on the journey we have been on, we can unequivocally attest to the fact that it has been absolute blood, sweat, and tears. But without even giving it a second thought, it was a hundred times over worth the effort.
At the time of writing this article, we have managed to:
• Increase our practice efficiency by close to 40%
• Decrease our staff requirement by 40%
• Gain absolute clarity as to whom our ideal clients are, and
• Adjust our marketing efforts accordingly
• Automate close to 85% of our receivable – and payable cycles
We made many mistakes during this 24-month period and although it was a tedious process to go through, we would otherwise probably not have arrived at the point we find ourselves at currently.
Trying to figure out what our “new cloud version” looks like
After dropping the bomb that morning, we immediately got to work. As a big picture thinker myself, one of the saving graces for us was that we managed to obtain a clear picture of what we envisaged this new cloud-based practice looked like, what its core services would be and how this influenced our value proposition.
We quickly realized that we cannot simply think about how the transition would impact us as an organization, but that equally important, we needed to understand how this would influence our clients and the way we serviced them. If there was no mutual benefit, we were dead in the water…
“Guys, I don’t yet know-how, but we need to get in the cloud!”
Our initial efforts were subsequently concentrated around those elements we identified as being critical to us transforming to a cloud-based practice, but also at the same time, streamlining the way in which we interact with our clients. Without delay, we moved our own bookkeeping and accounting to a cloud-based platform. The same platform we envisaged at the time to on-sell to our existing customers. We gained immense insight into the logistics, the day-to-day requirements, and the business processes needed to effectively manage your company’s finances in the cloud. What better way to get the practical know-how under the belt than to be your own guinea pig? Two years later we find ourselves listed as one of the few accredited advisory firms and consult with clients on a national level.
What we underestimated happening through this process, was the mind-blowing discovery of how many opportunities there were on the back of moving to the cloud, to automate or greatly decrease the effort many of the other business processes entailed.
We found that there are so many digital service providers in the online marketplace, that we could overnight enjoy the successes of a more streamlined practice. More importantly, it unlocked opportunities for us to immediately start adding new value-added services on top of our core service offering.
Through the careful selection, testing, and implementation of certain key pieces of software, we managed to among other things,
• Manage our practice and its workflow from anywhere in the world and in real-time,
• Automate recurring billing cycles,
• Have work-in-progress integrated automatically into the accounting software
• Automate our receivable cycle
• Access our document server from anywhere and on any device
• Virtually automate the bookkeeping of our company accounts
• Manage our own finances on the go and in real-time.
As we continue to evolve, we question everything in our business on an ongoing basis. This results in us always investigating new and/or better ways of doing things.
Leave no client behind
Through the significant change we ourselves underwent, we kept reminding ourselves that we are not alone in this endeavor, but that our most precious commodity is invested as much as we are – our customers. We were able to look at the rollout of any new software from another angle as a result. If it does not add to our bottom line AND make our clients’ lives easier at the same time, it is probably not the software we should be using. Our clients subsequently partook in this journey which was primarily ours, but as they could see the benefit they would receive as a result, it was one of patience and understanding. This could so easily have had the opposite effect had we taken one-sided decisions that only benefited ourselves.
To date, we have converted 90% of our clients to the cloud also and have already started to see the impact it has had on their businesses. Not only are they themselves now working more efficiently as well, through the online collaboration between our respective offices, but they have also taken a greater sense of ownership in the financial success of their business. Rather than simply reporting historic figures, we overnight cemented our roles as business advisors instead.
Beware of, but embrace the double-edged sword
It is important to note that this process wasn’t all smiles for us – we soon bled after being struck by the double-edged sword…you see, not all clients liked this new firm we became. We were no longer a 100% fit for 100% of our clients. Not all our new processes suited all our clients’ needs. As a result, we had to say goodbye to some of them. And obviously, it had an adverse impact on our bottom line. It would be for most businesses.
The end result however was profound.
We always thought we knew who our ideal client was. But right under our noses we never realized that this persona was changing as a result of whom we’ve now become. So we started to get frustrated when dealing with certain clients. Customers that used to be some of our model clients all of a sudden became quite tedious to service. And this wasn’t their fault. They weren’t the ones that changed – we did!
As soon as we came to this realization, the proverbial angels descended from the heavens and we saw the light. As a result, we were immediately in a position to end these relationships on a good note and start to focus our marketing efforts on the new ideal client persona. Because this persona was now so crystal clear, everyone in the organization now knew at the drop of a coin whether we’ll be onboarding a prospective new client or rather referring them to some colleagues. This clarity did contribute to the efficiency of our processes, but more so assisted us with greater insight into the needs of these clients and a better understanding of what their indispensable requirements from us as outsourced business partners are.
The future is what you want it to be
There is a reason why people compare the effects of the global digital uptake to that of the industrial revolution – it is here to stay and the pace at which it changes is merciless. We are subsequently faced with new challenges. Challenges for which we may not yet be able to “Google” the solution. This means that for those of us that choose to embrace this rapid change, we need to be relentless in our willingness to change as fast as technology does.
The beauty of how far technology has come is that each business out there has the opportunity to dream, paint the picture that they envision, and make it a reality in a relatively short space of time.
So the only advice we can leave you with?
Dream vividly…continuously question everything… take quick action!