In this excerpt from her book The Bookkeeper Superhero, Natasha Everard outlines the innovative concept of "software-as-an-employee"—how to use software like an employee to ensure you make optimal use of your time.
In this extract from Natasha Everard's book, The Bookkeeper Superhero, she explains how accountants and bookkeepers can fight back against the costs and recruitment crisis by making intelligent use of apps and software services.
When using software, I imagine that I have an employee to whom I assign certain tasks on certain days, using the knowledge of my client requirements.
And just like with an employee, I expect the results to be ready when I need them. As just one example, in the first week of the month I upload client bank statements to AutoEntry. Then, the next week I have the data ready for checking for VAT return deadlines for the clients.
So, I assign tasks to software just as I assign tasks to employees. I am the CEO for the software I use! I see it this way, rather than simply “using” an app or software. And this really helps me manage my time and effectively fill out my weekly schedule.
This also allows more time for you to be the human. You’re freed-up to provide the human touch, and the interaction that clients value—and that’s also offers the best route forward for growing your practice.
Here are some of the tasks that I get software to help with each week.
Some of these involve exploring all the features in software, and I’m a huge advocate of this. If you pay for software then you owe it to yourself to get every possible feature out of that software, and it’s up to you to learn how via support materials or training, or just keeping your ear close to the ground to see what others say about using the app on social media, for example.
Here’s my list:
Keying-in data from paperwork: As I’ve mentioned, tools like AutoEntry are a backbone of the work I do. I can upload receipts and invoices in the afternoon, for example, and know that the data will be extracted and waiting for me the next morning for publishing through to accounts software. And I use the statement reconciliation feature for clients each month to ensure I have everything I need.
Bank account reconciliation: Nearly all accounting apps nowadays feature automated reconciliation features, of varying sophistication. Some involve AI, for example, to try and match brand new transactions that appear on the bank statement. Using automated bank reconciliation is less about handing off the task to your software employee, though, and more like standing over their shoulder to make sure they’re doing it right. But it’s still a big-time saver compared to manually comparing invoices, receipts and purchase orders against the bank statement.
Document collection: I can get my software employee to visit clients to get their paperwork… Virtually, of course. Cloud storage services like DropBox allow you to provide clients with an email address, or a link for uploading. But with the email address, all the client needs to do is forward any bills or receipts they receive to that address (a feature also available in tools like AutoEntry, by the way, which again can save a lot of time).
Sending emails: Even humble old Microsoft Outlook has automation built in nowadays. Sometimes I remember that I need to email a client about something, but it turns out to be 7am just after I’ve got up, or 10.30pm just as I’m preparing for bed! Well, Outlook lets me schedule the send of emails. I write the email, and then choose I want to send it at, say, 9am the next morning. The client knows no difference, and assumes I’ve sent it at that time. It’s also a good idea to use practice management software to schedule reminder emails. For example, you can send clients an email at the end of certain months to remind them that their VAT return is due at the start of the following month. Therefore, they should send through their paperwork ASAP!
Diary management: On my website I’ve got a section where clients can book time with me. You can use apps like Calendarly for this, but it’s also built into Microsoft Office 365 nowadays, too. I set up this booking system while setting the boundaries I talked about earlier, because many client calls I receive are simply to book meetings with me. Similarly, I ensure clients know that I make use of my voicemail, and regularly check it. This means they feel safe being able to leave a message, knowing that I’ll almost certainly receive it today, or at the latest tomorrow. Personally, I check my voicemail three times a day, on a similar schedule to checking my emails.
Social media scheduling: You can build your client base online nowadays, and a good social media presence is ideal for this. You need to post regularly, so that the algorithm picks up what you’re saying and shares it widely. To do this, I spend around an hour at the beginning of the week writing daily social media posts, and then schedule them to be posted across that week. I use Facebook and LinkedIn’s own tools to schedule my posts but tools like Hootsuite are also available. Remember to schedule time to reply to any comments on your posts.
Once again, much of your success here is going to be down to how you manage the software you use. I’m a great believer that if you pay for something, then you should learn it inside out and use it to its fullest ability.
I’ve never known any software not to evolve as time goes on. The version of Microsoft Office we have today is radically different to what we had a decade ago, for example. It’s had thousands of new features added, some of which have changed entirely how we use the apps. I mentioned in the previous chapter how Microsoft Outlook’s automation features can be useful, as just one example.
Most software lives in the cloud nowadays, in fact, and this means the rate at which new features are added has really started to speed up. With some apps you can expect to see new features released on a monthly basis.
You need to keep on top of this. It’s not difficult. You’ll find updates listed in the help pages for the app, for example. Sometimes you have to search for release notes. Sometimes you’ll be told immediately when you access the updated app, via a pop-up window. There’s often training materials available, like YouTube videos (even if these are produced by enthusiastic third parties who are simply fans of the app).
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