Meet the other finalists:
- Business Cents (USA)
- Business Works (UK)
- All That Counts (AU)\
- Finalists compared: app stacks + business models
How do you combat disruption when it strikes your profession? By learning everything you can about the impact of disruption, the forces behind it and by studying those who are out-riding it.
Juliet Aurora and Steve Loates, co-owners of AIS Solutions, are passionate students of technology and enthusiastic sharers of the knowledge they gain.
The Canadian finalist in Intuit’s Firm of the Future campaign had a fascinating and very tough decision – whether to hire a dedicated team to do tax returns or ditch them entirely. The outcome says a lot about the opportunity in cloud accounting for accountants, bookkeepers and business advisers.
D1: Why are you a finalist?
Juliet: Our focus is always on technology and being early adopters. Education is probably one of the most fundamental principles that we hold. That’s not necessarily true of all firms.
It takes a three pronged approach. Education for us, so we’re always getting better as owners of the business. Education for the team, so they can provide better service. And we also run Kninja Knetwork which is an education network for bookkeepers so we can give back to the community.
D1: What type of education?
Steve: We’re constantly watching webinars, conferences, QBConnect, Scaling New Heights. We make it a point to attend a personal development workshop or conference once a quarter. We both make very good use of our mobile universities, better known as our cars – we listen to a lot of podcasts and audio recordings.
And we host a monthly webinar where we bring in experts from inside and outside our industry, because we’re trying to learn from them.
The last one we had was a fellow Aussie, Trent McLaren. We had Jenny Moore, who ran the Canadian Firm of the Future from last year. And we’ve had Terence Magnal from Transaction Pro; Jeff Kates, president of Intuit Canada; Misty Megia from Tsheets.
We make those webinars available to our own community to share the knowledge.
I watch three to four webinars every week. Technology and marketing and all aspects of those is constantly changing and evolving.
We use a hosted desktop solution with QuickBooks back in 2010 before QuickBooks Online was what it is today. So we’ve always been very aware and cloud friendly and saw the benefits of the cloud not only for us but our clients.
Juliet: So right now most of them have been within the industry but we also have a business coach to help bookkeepers and bookkeeping firms have the best 2018 ever. We are looking to make it about people outside the industry.
Steve and I firmly believe people do business with people, not with companies. So we’re trying to introduce the person behind the app to the community. We spend very little time talking about their app.
D1: How do you educate your team?
Juliet: We train them in all the certifications and the app partners. It’s mandatory for all our senior bookkeepers to be QuickBooks Advanced and for all our juniors to be QuickBooks Basic certified.
We meet once a week and talk about something new in an app and share it with the others. Every other week we will sit down and go through a new feature in our practice management system, or efficiencies in G Suite and Gmail.
Right now we’ve started a five week, one-hour session program with our senior bookkeepers which helps them have conversations with clients about their finances. It isn’t just our accountants having that higher level of advisory conversation, our senior bookkeepers can do that as well.
D1: What are the conversations about?
Juliet: We want them to have a conversation about financial data management. What KPIs a small business owner would be looking for in an industry. Look at what the numbers mean. We use Fathom to have that conversation. We explain how the KPIs are calculated and the relevance they have to a business owner.
D1: How big is your training budget?
Juliet: More than anything it’s time. There are a lot of great webinars out there, new masterclasses by Intuit, a lot of them are doing that program.
We are taking six people to QuickBooks Connect and putting one through leadership training for six weeks. It’s not about making you a better bookkeeper it’s about making you a well-rounded team member.
D1: What’s the key to that?
Juliet: Empathy. Making it easier to understand a small business owner. We try and give everyone the ability to participate in more than the bookkeeping piece. Social media, advertising; it gives them a different perspective when talking to their clients because they are able to see it from a small business perspective. Not just, ‘Here’s a receipt and this is where it goes on the chart of accounts’.
D1: How long have you been selling advisory services?
Juliet: For the last three years. We always offered a service called part-time controllership services. It was only if we were also doing the bookkeeping, it was basically CFO advisory services. They didn’t need a full-time CFO but they wanted someone to do analysis of their financial statement. Over the last 10 months we have expanded that to our small business clients. We have apps like Fathom which is not as manual and time intensive (to prepare reports) and it brings the price point to what our (smaller) clients can afford.
Steve: It also makes it visual which makes it easier for business owners to understand it. If you put a bunch of numbers in front of them you lose their attention pretty quickly.
D1: Where did you start? Have you always sold bookkeeping?
Juliet: I started the business 17 years ago and it was accounting services and year-end analysis. Every time the bookkeeping was fundamentally different and a huge gap in quality. And so we went in as a team. We have three levels in our office. Junior apprentice role, people with no experience but interest in it. They work with the senior bookkeepers who do the day to day bookkeeping and who are ultimately responsible for the file. And we have the accountant who does a lot of the financial advisory conversations and oversees the bookkeeping. We don’t do tax.
D1: Why not?
Juliet: We used to do tax for many years. In Canada February to the end of April is tax season. All of our clients loyal to us would be ignored because we were focused on tax.
Steve: We also had very stressed out team members because of the hours everyone needed to work.
Juliet: We either had to create a tax team or get out of the business.
Steve: Even though it was a difficult decision to make – it’s never easy to give away revenue – after we got out of the tax business a lot of the local CPA firms viewed us differently. We were no longer a competitor so we found our relationships improved drastically and we become referral partners.
Looking back it was a smart decision.