Your 7-step guide to adopting a cloud-based accounting system

Follow this roadmap or pick your own path within it.

If you’re ready to make the leap to cloud accounting software, this roadmap can help. It’s designed to minimise pain, lead to a good client onboarding process, and get you enjoying the benefits of cloud efficiencies right away. Follow the steps in order or jump in where it makes sense.

roadmap

Step one: Doing the groundwork

When you’re considering a major change of any kind, stating your company’s values and what makes you unique is a hugely valuable exercise. While this step might seem unrelated to the day-to-day business of accounting, it’s a really good way to set yourself up for success.

Consider these questions:

  • What are your firm’s values?
  • What is your unique value proposition (UVP)?
  • What does your firm offer that no one else/few others/no one in your area does?

Write down the answers. Think about how this unique value proposition is embedded into the firm, and how it’s reflected in the firm culture, staff, and presentation – your website, branding, advertisements, etc.

If you feel your UVP or firm values aren’t as well presented or embedded as they might be, switching your accounting to the cloud is your opportunity to change things. It’s your chance to get your leadership, employees and clients on the same page.

Make a firm decision to switch.

This is a leap, not a tentative dipping of toes. Doing things by half-measures may seem easier at the outset, but it’ll cost in the long run.

Change is much easier if you know how it worked for other people. Speak with other accountants or bookkeepers who have done it. Your Xero account manager is also a great information source and can give you the names of some contacts. Consider bringing in external consultants to advise on the cultural change. Do a Google search for change management consultants in your area.

Make sure the firm leadership are all in and that staff understand and agree with the reasons for the change.

  • Schedule an all-hands meeting where you can talk about the need for change, and the positive outcomes everyone stands to gain. Staff will be on board if you show how it will benefit them.

  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. Listen to their concerns and questions. Create a document to record all the feedback, which you can speak to at a later date. Share this document with your Xero account manager, who will have dealt with concerns like yours before.  


Create a mind map or flow chart of what you want your practice to look like after you’ve gone through the transition. This could include all your departments, fee levels, services offered, etc. Once you have a clear vision of where the firm is heading, you will be able to make meaningful change.

Step two: Starting the move

Decide who will be your cloud champion(s). This person will drive the change management to move your practice to your chosen cloud accounting system. They’ll build enthusiasm amongst your team and get the software implemented. The champion could be you, an employee, or an outside hire.

  • Make sure your cloud champion has the necessary authority and buy-in across the practice.

  • Decide on a ratio of cloud champions to pure fee earners. Spreading the load makes it easier for champions, and means you don’t have to worry about investing all your resource into a single person who might leave the practice!
The cloud champion

Decide who will be your cloud champion(s). This person will drive the change management to move your practice to your chosen cloud accounting system. They’ll build enthusiasm amongst your team and get the software implemented. The champion could be you, an employee, or an outside hire.

  • Make sure your cloud champion has the necessary authority and buy-in across the practice.

  • Decide on a ratio of cloud champions to pure fee earners. Spreading the load makes it easier for champions, and means you don’t have to worry about investing all your resource into a single person who might leave the practice!

Create time in employee (and partner) schedules to learn the cloud

  • Schedule in time to do migration and other certification trainings.

  • Create a certification KPI or professional development plan (PDP) for employees.

Conduct a client segmentation exercise. Make a list of the number of clients you have, what sort they are, what industry they’re in, and the systems they use. A surprising number of accounting practices don’t actually know this.

Set targets. How soon can you get as much of your firm as possible on to the cloud? Come up with a target and break it down in whatever seems best – weekly, monthly, yearly. The important thing is that you have a target. Each month, you can track progress against it, and refine accordingly.

Benchmark. Break down how long every significant action takes at a firm, partner, and staff level. Record these figures – you’ll want them to measure progress later.

Book time to meet with a Xero account manager or practice consultant to talk over your firm’s cloud change journey.

For cloud champions:

  • Categorise your team into people that are open to change, and those that will need more encouragement. This exercise will highlight who you’ll need to spend time with to get everyone in the same headspace.

  • Make a list of actions that relate to other change-heavy projects that your practice has carried out. Break the projects down into initiatives, and separate these into categories titled ‘It worked’ and ‘It failed’. For each, identify the reasons for success or failure and keep them in mind as you go through this new process.

Step three: Scaling up

Conduct a client segmentation exercise, part two. Now that you know exactly who your clients are, define those that are best suited to move to your cloud accounting system. These clients will most likely be more tech-savvy or are already using cloud or desktop accounting software.

  • Review your cloud migration targets, and refine accordingly.

  • Use a tool like Movemybooks (UK) or JetConvert (NZ & AU) to move clients who are already on legacy accounting software.

     

Review and consolidate relationships with any existing cloud clients.

  • Make sure they understand what’s required of them, and how the cloud will save them money and time.

     

Review certification progress and KPIs. Everyone should have made a solid start on learning your new software. Meet with your Xero account manager or practice consultant for advice on keeping up the momentum.

 

Identify skill gaps in your team, and put training and development into place for those who are less suited or comfortable with regular contact with clients.

Encourage staff to discuss the following points with clients in order to sell more of them on the benefits of cloud accounting:

  • Estimate how much time they’d save with the cloud.

  • Ask them what they’d do with the extra time saved.

  • Talk to them about the peace of mind of having accurate, easily-accessible and viewable records.

     

For cloud champions:

  • You need to give yourself a platform to work from, so consider planning a launch event to position yourself as the cloud champion. It can be as simple as taking the team out for drinks, explaining a bit about your role, answering questions, and letting everyone know there will be future events or celebrations when you hit KPIs or targets.

Step four: Building cloud confidence

Move bookkeeping jobs to your new software first. There’s no better way to build your team’s confidence than to get them doing bank reconciliations, producing reports, or entering invoices.   

 

Start to reduce the use of spreadsheets for non-accounting work. If it’s difficult to move people from their spreadsheet mindset, ask them to jot down when a spreadsheet has caused a problem – i.e. data corruption, version control, lost files, etc. Chances are that each of these challenges could have been overcome with cloud software.

 

Review your technology. Make sure everyone is familiar with working in web browsers and with multiple tabs, since most cloud software is web-based. Consider investing in second screens so people don’t have to shuffle through multiple windows.

 

Building cloud confidence

Step five: Growing cloud maturity

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to institute weekly targets for individual team members to move clients to the cloud. Keep track and reward team members who hit their targets.

 

Review team KPIs or PDPs. How’s the team going with certification? If you’re tracking well, advertise your expertise. Put the number of cloud-certified employees on your website and other public-facing resources. Clients actively seek out cloud-certified practices, and it’s a great way to differentiate yourself.

 

Likewise, leverage your Xero partnership and attract new business by putting your partner status on everything you produce. Add it to your website, your branding and staff social media bios, even office stationery. Wear your partner status with pride – you’ve earned it.

 

Track, measure and manage your client conversations. This isn’t idle chit-chat. It’s the foundation for advisory. For example, if you see that a client has carried out a project that has returned a particularly high margin, open the conversation about how they can reinvest this gain to drive future developments.

  • Your practice management software should offer you the ability to note and track conversations with clients.

  • You can build client conversation tracking into your workflow. Some of the most successful firms encourage their staff to track these ‘advisory touchpoints’ to the point of making them a monthly KPI or PDP for all client-facing staff.

cloud-based-workshop

 

Hold regular client events centred on the cloud. These are a great way to build rapport and advocacy for a new way of working. Your events don’t need to be complex – a simple drop-in day or monthly seminars will work. Webinars are a great way of reaching more remote or time-poor clients. They also demonstrate tech competence and a willingness to embrace new tools.

 

Step six: Getting even more efficient

Review your cloud targets and team KPIs again, continuing to reward staff that are hitting or exceeding their goals.


Run your benchmarks again.
 How much time are you saving per client, per job? If something’s taking longer than you feel it should, review your procedures and tweak accordingly. Your cloud accounting system will be exactly as efficient as you allow it to be.
 

Your client onboarding procedures may need a refresh. Map out your onboarding process in detail – use pen and paper, or a free online tool like Lucidchart. Ask colleagues to review the process to make sure you haven’t missed any details. If it’s not the first time you’ve looked at onboarding processes in any formal detail, review any work that’s previously been done on the subject.


If you want substantial new client growth, you need to make sure that the overwhelming majority of new clients are open to moving to the cloud.
 Ask a question like, “Can we move you on to the cloud?” on your new client form and include a short explanation of the benefits.


Produce an agenda for client meetings.
 Circulate it amongst everyone who meets with clients, and stick to it as much as possible. This task might sound basic, but it really helps to maximise time and drive the most value from the conversation.


Draw up a list of good-quality standard questions that you can ask any kind of client in any given conversation.
In addition to getting straight to the point and avoiding waffle, this list will help to open up topics for discovery. It’s one of the most simple, effective ways you can increase efficiency.


Create a list of frequently asked questions and answers.
 Clients will often ask the same questions. Having FAQs means you and your colleagues can respond to clients quickly and you can add them to your website or include them in email conversations to limit needless back-and-forth.

On the recruitment side, consider creating a talent pipeline so you have contact with potential job candidates before you start to grow fast. Canvass your staff to find out the qualities that they value most in colleagues. Draw up your own list as well and and use LinkedIn to research candidates personally. Think about offering referral bonuses to staff who recommend new employees (who end up staying!).

Step seven: A fully-fledged cloud accounting practice

Decide whether or not you want to take on more bookkeeping, or outsource it. Some firms find themselves doing more bookkeeping with their cloud accounting software. Because cloud accounting software means you can fly through bookkeeping faster than ever before, doing more of it can be a way to drive up revenue. But, depending on your firm, using the cloud also means you can more easily pass this task back out to clients, or contract out to a specialist bookkeeper so you can concentrate on developing other, high-value services.


Once you’ve been using your new client meeting agenda for a while, review it with other staff to make sure your meetings are as efficient as possible.


Do the same review with your list of common questions. Is there something you haven’t been asking that you should?


Define standard operating procedures for servicing clients. This is a big task, but start with the basics – such as the core information and documents you request from and share with clients. Set out a process and timeframe for completion. Then move to the accounts production process, and finish with client review and close off procedures. Keep it simple and then expand out.



Identify, or set out who does what within your practice. Link this exercise with your standard operating procedures and efficiencies will soon materialise.

pacesetters subscription

Review your pricing models and look at creating subscription packages. Rather than running an entirely time-based billing system, you can now consider charging clients a flat fee for services and tier them according to complexity. This type of billing can do wonders for cash flow and profitability.

Pat yourselves on the back and decide what to do with the time you’re saving. At this stage, many firms begin to experiment with high-value app-based and advisory services. Do you spend more time working on and building your practice? Do you pay staff more, or give them better equipment, flexible hours, or more time off? Do you focus on growth, or settle into building niches and high-value client relationships? Anything’s possible.

Learn more from The Pacesetters

In these best practice books, discover how advisors around the world are using cloud accounting to transform their practices. The Pacesetter series is available to buy on Amazon.

The Pacesetters explores how British accountancy firms are reshaping the accounting industry in the UK

The Pacesetters: Advisory explains how to add advisory services to your practice

 

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These extracts from The Pacesetters series give an insight into how cloud accounting can make your business more efficient and more profitable.

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