Beyond Bookkeeping: Update your accounting services for the Cloud Era


By Talha Baqar & Daniel Woolsey

As an accountant or bookkeeper, you may have noticed that the market for accounting services is changing. Individuals and businesses have a lot of new options for automating their bookkeeping and handling financial functions in-house. Inexpensive, easy-to-use applications help users with everything from bookkeeping and tax preparation to budgeting and spending analyses. These tools can be invaluable for small business owners and freelancers operating on a shoestring budget, and their popularity demonstrates just how many people want to do their own bookkeeping. However, you might find your accounting services less in demand as prospective clients try out the self-serve approach instead.

Where do you go from here?

Fortunately, these financial apps don't come close to replacing person-to-person professional services. With your knowledge and experience, you have much more to offer than routine data entry and calculations. If you start thinking outside the spreadsheet, it becomes apparent that accountants are in a unique position to help small business owners, who — because of their narrow profit margins and DIY approach to problem solving — often decline professional business services. Since you're probably the only consulting professional working with these entrepreneurs, you can act as a general business advisor, which increases the value of your services while simultaneously helping your clients grow.

One of the most high-value interventions you can make for your accounting clients is to help them implement — and optimize — a comprehensive Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. CRM is software to help businesses close new deals and cultivate customer relationships. Simply put, it's the software that will fund all of the other software your clients use. But what does all this have to do with finances and accounting?

While sales and finance are fundamentally different processes in larger organizations, those kinds of clear disciplinary boundaries don't matter much when you're running a small business. Since a single person can be responsible for a range of activities, it's important to take a holistic approach to the overall "lead-to-cash" pipeline — from first contact to final sale.

How to bring CRM into bookkeeping

Imagine for a moment that one of your clients owns a small wine resale business. They buy from some of the best vineyards in Napa Valley and sell to high-end restaurants around the San Francisco Bay Area. A few years ago, you helped them start using the Zoho finance suite for their eeing an opportunity to build accounting and inventory processes. Now, s on that success, you introduce their sales team to Zoho CRM to help them managing their new and existing clientele.

Roger, one of their best sales reps, sits down with you to learn more about this new tool. You show him how to target restaurants whose last purchase was over six months ago. While he's looking up those customers in CRM, he notices that several of them have unused store credit left over from previous transactions. He decides to reach out to these restaurants first, so he can offer them the chance to apply their store credit toward a new purchase.

There are plenty of opportunities during this sale for Roger to coordinate with his Finance team. You show him how to connect with the accounting app to get the customers' unused credits applied, and how to check inventory levels to make sure he's not offering a product that's low on stock. He'll want to connect to the expense tracker to log the mileage for his client visits, and check the invoicing module to find out when payment has been received so he can collect his commission. If he's really good, he might even sign up a customer for a quarterly wine shipment in the subscription management system. He could do all of this without an integrated system — by sending a ton of emails, leaving sticky notes on paperwork, walking back and forth to the finance desk, and making phone calls from the field — but why would he want to?

Go where they need you

This kind of end-to-end automation isn't just a matter of convenience; it can mean the difference between treating each lead as one more shot in the dark or executing a fully fledged business vision. After all, connecting the dots is what creates perspective. With all that data at your fingertips, you and your clients can make the right decision with confidence. And if you broaden your perspective — from simple accounting to general business optimization — you can carve out a role for yourself that no piece of software could ever fill.

Skeptical? Explore the catalog of business applications crafted by Zoho and see for yourself how putting together an affordable, all-in-one solution for your clients is possible. When accountants and business owners collaborate, companies grow — which is a win for you and your clients.