Launching a new service in an accounting firm can be daunting, especially when it’s not traditional tax or audit services. In this featured spotlight, we interviewed The Whitlock Company’s Melinda Thurman and Anne McCormick about the launch of their outsourced cloud accounting services in 2015. We invite you to read about their success.
Why did you choose to launch a service around cloud accounting?
Cloud accounting seemed like a natural fit for us. We had the right skillsets in the firm and we noticed a couple trends among our clients. The first trend was many of our clients were requesting better access to their books in real-time and mobility; the old desktop versions of accounting software was starting to present a problem. The second trend was moving the traditional accounting functions from within their business to an outsourced provider as an extra layer of data security or to reduce staffing overhead.
How did you gain the buy-in needed to roll this out?
We were lucky. We didn’t have to gain much buy-in as it had been a topic for a few years at our partner retreats. It ultimately became a priority last year because we were looking to grow our consulting offerings and find ways to offer services to clients that didn’t require traditional CPAs, or simply an increase in billable hours.
What does success look like right now?
Success for us has been getting about 6 companies on board over the last 9 months. Most of these companies were existing clients, but a few have been brand new clients. These 6 clients and this service line represents about $160K in new revenue for the firm. The growth here has been higher than any other area of the firm and has the most opportunity.
What challenges did you face or are you still facing?
Most of the challenges we have faced have been around staffing and the service model. The workflow for this service is different than traditional tax and audit services. We tend to be busier at the beginning of the month and then it slows down towards the end of the month. We are learning to work around that model. Also, the ideal skillsets we needed changed a little. While we are using some of our existing staff, our long-term vision is to have these services staffed by non-CPAs.
The other challenge was pricing. Clients in this area don’t want to be billed by the hour. They desire a flat fee. We did take the time to work with a consultant to help us with this. We made a few mistakes in the beginning, but we are learning from them.
What do you attribute to your success?
Before we launched this service, we spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the software options so we would know what to recommend to our clients.
We also took the time to develop a strategy and plan for this service and envision what we wanted it to be. This process allowed us to be more productive.
Lastly, we really focused on bringing this to our clients first. It allowed us to work further with existing clients and help the marketing process be a little smoother.
- Launching a new service can be daunting. Developing a strategy and plan will be very useful; it will force you to imagine what you want your service to be and what will make you different. In addition, having a plan and talking points makes approaching your clients, referral sources and prospects easier.
- Be prepared for a few things to not go as planned. It always takes longer than you think it might. Staffing and pricing missteps are bound to happen. Stay focused on the big picture and learn from your mistakes.
- Define what success looks like and make sure it’s realistic. If you have never offered this service before, don’t expect 10 new clients in 6 months. Give yourself time to be successful.