This year has forced accounting and bookkeeping practices around the world to cope with an extraordinary number of changes, from new government assistance programs and reporting methods, to travel bans and social distancing measures. Many have now adapted to the new normal. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we can never be sure what’s around the next corner. Practices need to be prepared for whatever the future may bring.
At Xero On Air, we shared our long-term vision for Xero practice tools — what we’re calling your next generation practice. It’s a unified experience that leverages the entire Xero platform, connecting the tools you need to run your practice more efficiently, collaborate with clients and make the most of our app marketplace. We believe it will change the game for practices. But we also know that preparing for an unknown future is a marathon, not a sprint.
Recently, over 1,100 accounting professionals in 18 different countries took part in a SmartVault survey titled Impact of COVID-19: State of Accountants Report. The results showed what we at Xero know to be true: that practices which prioritise their people, use cloud technologies, embrace change and stay connected to their clients are those weathering the COVID-19 storm best. Here’s how you can use these lessons to future-proof your practice during COVID-19 and beyond.
Adopt cloud-based working
COVID-19 has forced many practices to speed up their digital transformation and as a result, discover the many benefits of working in the cloud. The ability to work remotely in real time, with a flexible subscription and secure data storage, has proven to be vital for practices during the pandemic. In fact, the State of Accountants survey found that practices with cloud systems in place before COVID-19 fared far better than those without any. They also had a seamless transition to remote work.
Tools don’t make or break a business, but when used properly with the right processes in place, they can help you provide a better, faster service to clients. For example, you can save time with digital compliance tools like Xero Tax, and streamline your workflows with collaboration tools like Xero HQ Ask and Document Packs with digital signatures. Having the right technology in place will give you the freedom to adapt quickly and continue your practice when unforeseen events occur.
Focus on your people
Once you’re set up with the tools and processes you need to future-proof your practice, it becomes all about your people: your clients, team (if you have one) and community. The last thing you need during a crisis is to lose great talent or erode the culture you’ve worked so hard to build over the years. These are tough times and how you treat people can have a lasting impact on your business — for better or worse. Focusing on technology and tasks is important, but not as important as your people.
At Xero, we’ve reminded everyone that kindness and patience are critical at a time like this. We try to help our teams stay connected and give people the time and space they need to get through it, however they need to. We continue to support our customers and community in whatever way we can. Supporting your people will pay dividends to your business over the long term, and ensure your business can withstand any bumps in the road along the way.
All practices have had to adapt to COVID-19 in some way. But one of the things that has made successful practices stand out during this crisis is their ability to embrace change. At some point in the future, practices will need to decide whether to revert back to their old ways of working, or retain the changes they’ve made. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s a good idea to think about what’s working well for your practice and what isn’t.
At Xero, we’ve seen many practices take a hard look at their client list to see where they should focus their attention. Some have pivoted their business to take up new opportunities, while others have ditched their old ways of working altogether. This year has been incredibly difficult, but there’s no better time to think about what you want your practice to look like in the future and how you can start preparing for that today.
Stay connected with clients
With ongoing changes to government legislation and business restrictions, keeping clients informed is more important than ever. As a trusted advisor, clients are looking to you for direction and information that is useful and relevant to their business. We know how important this advice is, which is why we’ve established Xero Advisor Directory as a way to connect your practice to the small businesses that need your help.
To future-proof your business, think about how you currently communicate to new and existing clients, and what you can do to build a deeper relationship with them during COVID-19 and beyond. Adding a human touch is important, whether it’s a video call or a face-to-face meeting where possible. It’s also important to recognise the emotional toll of having difficult conversations and make sure you look after your own emotional health, too.
The effects of COVID-19 will impact your practice for many years to come and may well change accounting and bookkeeping forever. With our roadmap for your next gen practice in place and many of our new tools in development, it’s the perfect time to start future-proofing other areas of your practice, so you can continue supporting small businesses in the years to come, no matter what the future may bring.