The Digital Firm – Book review

What is this book actually about?

This book is aimed at those who are looking to move forward into the digital age and adopt the benefits of cloud-based technology. The author tells us that making this transition will only make sense when it is aligned with a clear vision or strategy. Will Farnell, the author owns a UK accounting practice and embraced the concept of cloud accounting back in 2007. In this book, he shares how it has and continues to transform client services.

When I founded Ekstra Accounting Solutions just over 6 months ago, I knew that one of the things that I wanted to achieve was to be a digital accountancy provider. I wanted to operate in a real-time environment, enabling my clients to make informed decisions using real-time and accurate information. All of these aspects lead me to conclude that cloud accounting was the only route to follow.

Chapter 1 – Future-proofing and predictions

This chapter looks at the trends that are affecting accounting firms’ services and why it’s important to take action. The author advocates using cloud-based software to be able to work smarter if you want to become a truly “digital firm”

Chapter 2 – Compliance is dead, so what’s the strategy

I often hear the phrase, “compliance is dead”. Like the author, I don’t believe that this statement is completely true. Yes, compliance accounting has become more automated, with the advent of Making Tax Digital and in years to come it may even be fully automated. Accountants are therefore now needing to adapt to delivering other services. Chartered Management Accountants are well placed for this change, having been professional qualified and trained to be advisors, finance business partners that add value.

Chapter 3 – Efficiencies, fees and clients

Clearly automation makes bookkeeping and traditional accounting for transactions more robotic, meaning that it can be done quicker and therefore the accounting firm can service more clients. That said, customers are aware that software packages are so efficient today, why should they pay a premium for such services. The author suggests that accounting firms will need to embrace the fact that at some point “that they will soon have to do compliance work for free” and turn to offering advisory fee-based services if they are to survive. I genuinely think we are moving towards this and will shortly reach that point.

Chapter 4 – If you build it, they will come – Using business culture and environment to recruit the best

The line from the movie “Field of Dreams” is a commonly used one. The chapter talks about the changing culture of the workforce and the fact that we all need to recognise that millennials are not at all interested in a work environment that others from previous generations accept. What I know from my own experience is that the key to building a good team is to recruit for “attitude and not aptitude”. If you recruit people with the right “attitude” you can always train them to be technically proficient or better still to use digital technology efficiently.

Chapter 5 – Migrating to a fully cloud practice

This chapter examines the challenges of moving from a non-cloud-based practice to a fully digital firm which depending on the size and mix of clients will be different from practice to practice. In Ekstra Accounting Solutions case, we decided at the outset that we would not take on clients who did not wish to embrace a cloud solution. All of our current clients are using cloud-based accounting software.

Chapter 6 – The inextricable link

This chapter focuses on the link between services provided, marketing, sales and communications with clients and staff. New trends in ways to do things and communication are evolving all the time and it is imperative for survival that the accounting firm keeps abreast of these.

Chapter 7 – Putting forward perspectives: High-level marketing and how to start it.

The author states that in his opinion marketing is a waste of time if you do not know what you are trying to achieve. We are all aware that the first step is to help clients find their way to your firm but that needs to be followed by a consistent online presence. He emphasises that millennials are more focused on what they find online rather than on who they meet. They need to see a credible dynamic online presence as they use that as part of their decision-making process. What we must embrace this fact as our future clients are those millennials.

Chapter 8 – Content marketing for the digital firm

Getting a business owner to recognise the value of an accountant means that we the accountants must put ourselves in their shoes, talk, write about and explore their pain points. This means the marketing plan must have a particular emphasis on content. The author turns to Karen Reyburn, a marketing specialist for accounting firms. She champions the fact that marketing is about building relationships with your prospects as well as your existing clients. Having had the pleasure of meeting Karen, I am a fan of her straight-talking no-nonsense approach. The one piece of advice she has given me is that you need to be in it for the long haul, give it time and no matter what be consistent. You are building engagement. She states that people are willing to spend somewhere between 15-40 researching before taking that step to get in touch.

Chapter 9 – From API’s to Xero and beyond

This chapter contains a summary of the benefits of moving your accounting firm into the cloud. The author sets out a number of case studies of practices that have taken that journey. There are many software choices so it is important that each firm makes their own decisions for their own reasons. In summary, the conclusion of this chapter is that the more automated the firm is the more scalable it can become.

Chapter 10 – The onboard process

The author shares his experiences of simplifying and standardising this process in his digital practice. He explains how his firm has done this and the benefits that come from this approach.

Chapter 11 – De-Willing: Letting go so that your firm can grow

In this chapter, we learn how the author was encouraged to step back from being hands-on in his business to carry out a more strategic and visionary role. This means as owner and founder you must be comfortable with trusting that you have chosen the correct team and that they are perfectly capable of getting on with client work. This can be a challenge for some founders as they find it difficult to believe that their staff will ever treat the business the same way as they would do. The chapter concludes that if the firm has the right people, right resources and the right tools it works. Communication is also pivotal to its success.

My opinion of “The Digital Firm”

I found this book an interesting read, particularly when you consider that the author adopted the concept of cloud accounting over 10 years ago.  Technology has moved on so much in that short space of time. I was given this book by a colleague who operates his own accounting firm, when I was considering starting my own accounting firm. The first time I read it, I was intrigued by the fact that cloud technology has and will continue to change the role of the accountant and the accounting firms. I am so glad that I did read the book before I started my company because it helped solidify the idea in my mind that a “digital firm” is the of the future and indeed the only way to go. What I see and hear from day to day, are business owners constantly challenging the fact that their accountants charge high fees for compliance services when in essence they know that automated technology is doing most of the work. As a professional chartered management accountant, I champion the fact that the value of an accountant is not really to do with compliance but with advice, guidance, support, innovation and much more. You will hear me say “Does your accounting only know how to add up or does he/she add value? The ethos of my accounting firm is that compliance is largely automated, the real value comes from knowing your numbers and acting upon the story that comes with them.

As always, if you have read this book or are now inspired to read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on it. You can get in touch in the following ways

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