Bookkeeping is a £2bn industry in the UK, providing a vital service to Britain’s small and medium sized businesses, helping companies to grow and expand.
But many bookkeepers are overlooking another lucrative sector of the market: accountants and fellow bookkeepers.
Matt Scott speaks to Claire Owen-Jones from Loud & Clear Accounting to find out how bookkeepers can capitalise on this growing market.
MS: How important are accountants and other bookkeepers for finding work?
COJ: When you set up a practice, your first feeling is: I need to get clients. But a lot of people overlook contacting accountants and even other bookkeepers for work. It is a big market, and it is growing; I get as much as 90% of my work through accountancy firms.
Accountants are recommending bookkeeping software to their clients, as it speeds up their end of year processes, but they don’t have the time to spend to support their clients with that work. So I work with a lot of clients from accountants who have clients saying they want to use their systems, but don’t want to do the work, and then they get referred to me.
For me, that has been a very good revenue stream.
MS: And how different are the markets when you are looking for work?
COJ: What I look for in a bookkeeper is going to be different to what a business owner is looking for; even though we are technically looking for the same service. And in most cases we are also looking in the same places.
I don’t care that working with you will save me time or that bookkeeping is a legal requirement – I know that; I’m a bookkeeper. What I want to know is whether you could fit in with my organisation and my current client base.
So what do I want to know specifically?
Well, I’d like to know your name for a start. I’d also like to know the software you use and whether you have an industry speciality plus maybe an idea of how much experience you have. That is literally all I need to know before I contact you. But you would be surprised at how hard it is to answer these questions.
MS: What marketing strategies are the most important?
COJ: Everyone needs an online presence, even if it is just a photo of you, your name, background, what you do and what software you use – it doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles.
It makes you look more professional, legitimises the business and gives you a reason to contact someone.
And you need to have that personal touch, where you talk about you. I have gone on lots of websites where it says XYZ Accounting has X number of years’ experience and we use this software. Then you don’t know if you are dealing with a team of people or one person. Be brave and say: “It’s me on my own and this is what I like to do”.
Sometimes it is all too easy to hide behind a logo.
MS: So what is the best way to sell yourself to an accountancy firm or bookkeeper looking for work?
COJ: The problem I am finding is a lot of bookkeepers are not selling the software they are using, 86% of them don’t even mention what software they can use on their website. That is fine if you are just selling to business owners, but it is important for other bookkeepers and accountants.
You need to be aware you are selling to two sets of people trying to find you – business owners and fellow professionals: an accountant is looking at whether you will fit into their system; a business owner just wants you to solve a problem and doesn’t care how you do it.
When I’ve been searching for a bookkeeper to collaborate with or do some sub-contracting work, I need to find someone who can use Xero, because the reason I am sub-contracting the work is that I don’t have the time to train someone to use the software. I just need to hand over the work and get it done.
MS: You mention that you exclusively use Xero, is it better to be a specialist, or can generalists also do well in this field?
I don’t expect every bookkeeper to be using just one software system like me, but there is a growing demand for an in-depth knowledge of one or two particular packages.
If you have built up a business on a particular software package, then your clients are going to expect everyone they come in touch with to have that same knowledge and understanding.
It is not very efficient if you can use a lot of systems a bit, but aren’t fluent in the usage of at least one particular software package.
MS: The proliferation of cloud software is changing the world of accountancy dramatically, how is that affecting bookkeepers?
COJ: Cloud technology means we can do a lot more for our clients. It removes the data entry side of things and, while that may take some out of their comfort zone, it draws us into more interesting territory where you can start talking about things like cash flow and profit ratios.
With the accountancy industry moving into advisory services, they need more accurate information, quicker. And bookkeepers will be vital in delivering that. Automation is not a threat to bookkeepers in that respect, it just makes us a lot more important.
It is very exciting and moving the industry away from a low-valuable admin task into something that is more beneficial to the business.
Matt Scott is an award-winning journalist covering the business and finance sectors.