This is an account told through the perspective of a business owner who has dealt with inefficiency and wants to go from being mediocre to future-proof. He adopted a combination of cloud-based solutions and automation. Here he shares his rationale for joining the tech revolution.
I’ve been taking the well-travelled road for as long as I can remember. I pursued an accounting degree at a local university, joined one of the Big Four accounting firms as a fresh graduate, and acquired the CPA qualification. It was only later that I decided to strike it out on my own. Fast forward to today, I’ve been running my corporate services practice for several years now, specialising in the provision of accounting, tax and corporate secretarial services.
I wouldn’t say that it was a rocky experience. I live comfortably by most standards. However, I increasingly wonder if my practice is living up to its full potential. Corporate services firms like mine are ubiquitous in the industry. These practices come and go, and nobody misses them when they’re gone. Truth be told, I feel like my practice has hit a roadblock.
The practice generates a steady stream of income, but the margins are not great. Payroll and office equipment take up a large chunk of operating expenses, because the work that we do around here is labour intensive. On a day to day level, we do a lot of manual data entry. My executives spend a lot of time on the itemising of receipt, bills and invoices. We have several cabinets in the office where we store our ever-growing paperwork. Over the years, we’ve painstakingly organised the documents according to a labelling plan, but staff members still make the occasional filing mistake.
The practice also has to produce financial reports and compliance documentation for clients on a regular basis. The all-in-one printer works tirelessly every day. These documents have to be manually cross-checked against supporting information several times before they can be cleared for submission, and human error is inevitable.
Furthermore, the business has been stagnating for a while. I had grown the practice primarily through word of mouth, and most of the clientele are old friends of mine. Every once in a while, I flirt with the thought of launching marketing efforts to acquire new clients, but I never get around to actually doing it. What’s the point? All of my practice’s resources are straining to service existing clients, and we have no spare capacity. I’d have to hire more people in order to expand, but I don’t think our margins can support larger payroll expenses.
The business is stuck in a state of inertia that I don’t know how to get it out of, and I didn’t really have any incentive to do it either. Until recently.
I hear that accounting and corporate management tech firms are storming the market. Osome, a bot-driven corporate services provider, raised $3 million in late 2019. Sleek, another accounting tech firm, raised $5 million in late 2019. The industry has been talking a lot about Zave too, an AI-driven platform for corporate services.
Corporate services firms that have been around for longer are also reinventing themselves. Nexia TS is using a cloud-based accounting platform that it launched. Precursor Assurance has developed an integrated digital solution with corporate functions.
A wave of transformation is sweeping over the industry and I have become acutely aware of my practice’s vulnerabilities in the face of these developments. I don’t think my practice can survive if I continue to leave things as they are. Letting myself feel overwhelmed isn’t going to be productive, and I will deal with this in a calm and rational manner.
Based on my research, I concluded that there were several immediate actions to take.
My practice must start utilising cloud based solutions. I want the practice to go paperless, and our staff and client meetings to be clutter free. I want to be able to archive and retrieve our documents in just a couple of clicks instead of sifting through stacks of paperwork. We should also be able to access financial data whenever and whenever we need to.
Machine learning should be integrated into our workflows as well. I want to automate all of the manual processes that are costing us unnecessary time and money. This will go a long way towards reducing our operating expenses.
The practice also has to redirect its focus to providing higher value services to our clients, where the margins are greater. The time saved by automating much of our operations will allow us to do that. Our clients will definitely appreciate it if we can offer them business advisory and analytical services on top of all the routine tasks that we are helping them with.
When we successfully cut our costs and boost our revenues, the profits generated can go towards finally scaling the practice. We will reinvest the profits into marketing efforts targeted at client acquisition, as well as expanding our service offerings. There will also be more technology trends for us to explore and possibly adopt.
I feel a sense of purpose. I’m heading into unknown territory, but the possibilities excite me. I want my practice to grow rapidly, become indispensable to clients, and to be differentiated from its competitors. The road ahead will require some hard work and perseverance, but it will all be worth it when these goals are achieved. Besides, things will get easier when I find the right tech partner for my practice.
There’s no putting it off. It’s definitely time to go tech.
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