Accounting practices in Australia are going through tough times. Increasingly sophisticated digitisation and automation, offshoring and other challenges have seen a number of well-established practices close their doors. Margins are being squeezed as local accountants are forced to compete (for at least some of their business) with disruptive services and technologies. Starting about eight years ago, there was a significant downturn in accounting graduate employment[i]. One commentator called it ‘accountapocalypse’[ii].
But it’s not all bad news, even amongst smaller practices. Those that have learned to roll with the punches and be that little bit more flexible are reaping the benefits. Here are three of the ways they’re doing more than just keeping their heads above water.
According to research from IBISWorld, the accounting services industry in Australia has actually grown over the last five years or so. But most of this growth has come off the back of a higher demand for industry-specific services[iii]. In other words, SMEs and big companies from more niche sectors are looking for accountants who really understand their business, and can give them the management accounting services they need to get ahead. If you already predominantly work with clients who run a particular kind of business, the way forward may be clear already. Otherwise, it might be time to do some research and see where the demand lies in your local area.
Do the acronyms SEO, PPC, CPC and PPI mean anything to you? If not, it’s time to brush up on your digital marketing know-how. SEO (which stands for search engine optimisation) is an increasingly important part of new client acquisition, especially for smaller local firms. It’s the mechanism by which a firm’s website appears towards the top of search results for accounting services. PPC refers to pay-per-click advertising – any form of online advertising (including search engine ads) where the firm pays for each click on an ad that goes through to their site.
One relatively young Melbourne-based firm (7 years) has expanded its staff from 10 to 100 in tough times by bringing a variety of complementary services under one roof. A spokesperson for the group said that they “focused on technology and (and) finding innovative ways to help our clients become more efficient.”[iv] This trend originated in the US, where major international accounting firms pushed in to the legal services market, inspiring other practices to look at how they could become ‘one stop shops’. Many have found success offering value-adds such as strategic coaching and ‘part time CFO’ services.
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