Raising Standards, Raising Knowledge, Raising Prices in the Bookkeeping Industry | Cassandra Scott
Raising Standards, Raising Knowledge, Raising Prices in the Bookkeeping Industry | Cassandra Scott
“One of the gold positives out of this pandemic has been a stronger collaboration between the accounting and the bookkeeping community. I’ve seen this strengthening of the accounting and the bookkeeping community as a whole, which is continuing as well. And it’s now starting to gain its own momentum.”
Based in Brisbane, Cassandra is a Registered BAS Agent, Xero Certified Advisor, Xero Platinum Partner, mentor and Director of the Australian Bookkeepers Association. She recently gave a heartwarming speech about the importance of the accounting and bookkeeping community at the Brisbane Roadshow, so initially, I am going to share that with you.
Then after her talk, I go straight into our interview, where we talk about technology, community and leadership in the Bookkeeping Industry. In this episode, we talk about . . .
The technology she uses in her practice – including the Xero Suite, Microsoft 365, the customer support software FreshDesk and XBert AI-driven automated manual checks of your client files, surfacing errors, issues and risks.
Successful strategies she’s adopted to introduce clients to the new workflow methods and technology solutions.
Bookkeeping resources and support, including Bookkeepers in Practice (Australia) community on FaceBook and the Australian Bookkeeper Association.
Can you share a little bit about your world? Just a little bit about your world before you became a bookkeeper?
Cassandra: Yeah, that’s an interesting one. So before I became a bookkeeper, I basically went straight into admin office work from the day I left school. And in hindsight, realised that in the very first job I had, I was bookkeeping without knowing it. Ironically that what I was doing, there were the fundamentals of everything I still do today. But it was all being done in the ledger book, sales, ledgers, and purchase ledgers and reconciliation ledgers, and all of those sorts of things. So I’ve always worked in admin, finance, business operations, those sorts of things.
Cassandra: Ironically, I left school and my plan was not to work in an office and not to learn how to type. So, the irony and the naivety of youth I think is really the interesting thing there. From there just worked across small business for years and years in really diverse roles, everything from manufacturing to wholesaling, to jewelry manufacturing, to construction projects.
Cassandra: I ended up working for 10 years for the Department of Defense as a public service in finance administration management roles. The interesting thing about working for somebody like Defense is you’re actually working for a number of different business types under the one umbrella organisation. I worked in, procurement, spare parts, IT systems, logistics, managed one of their health facilities, training international languages, a a really, really diverse range of businesses or sub businesses, if you want a better word, within the one organisation. So that gave me some really broad based experience, which I’ve been able to bring to what I do on a daily basis. You know, managing fairly large construction contracts, 50 odd million dollar construction contracts and managing the finances and admin on those. So it was really interesting.
Cassandra: One stage I did actually work in there for an accounting practice as their practice manager. I was actually told when I was working in there that bookkeeping was very highly specialised and not necessarily something that I’d be able to handle. I would actually love these days to go back to the people that I worked with and say, yeah, guess what guys? That was always a really funny conversation. Defense was the last real real- world job I had. I left Defense after 10 years and literally went home and sat on the couch for six months and sucked my thumb.
Cassandra: Before I started to get back out into it, I was planning on being a little bit of a stay- at- home mom and doing the coffee mornings with the girls. But ended up getting a little part-time job with a training company, not far from where we were living at that stage. Just doing their bookkeeping and general office admin.
Cassandra: I’ve had probably compared to a lot of people, a fairly non-traditional type path, I think into bookkeeping. Never really stepped into it with the intention of doing it. It was I’m, you know, still don’t know what I really want to do when I grow up. That’s where we’re at now.
Heather: I think it’s really interesting for people to hear the background and especially people who may be listening in and be at a time in transitioning in their life and saying, okay, we can have a diverse background, which, and we can use all of that experience to actually become a bookkeeper. Also, the feedback as we go along the way, we really have to maybe listen to it, but maybe put it in a box that it deserves to be in. When people suggest, you’re not capable of it. I remember being told I was not capable of teaching MYOB software solution. And I was like, I think I probably am. But, anyhow, you deal with that. I guess you face those people in your world.
Cassandra: You do. I think history shapes what you do. And I still today, you know, when I sit back and think about it, look at how I’ve drawn on those experiences over the years to actually apply to businesses that I work with today. It is interesting there.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely.
When did you first become aware of the bookkeeping industry and think about pursuing it as a profession?
Cassandra: To be honest, it wasn’t actually until I started my little business, that I even realised that there was an industry and a profession out there. I fell into the industry more so than anything actively pursuing it. I was working for the training company and, some friends of the people that I was working with said, oh, I hear you’ve sorted out their books really well. Would you come and do, do some book work for me? And it was like, oh yeah, for sure not a problem. I can do that. I was only working two days a week, so it was just an extra few hours a week that I was gonna be able to do something. And then that was one set of friends. And then, you know, somebody else asked me as well, and I thought, oh, well, I need to get a little bit more serious about this. And, they said to me, how much do you charge? And I went $35 an hour. I had no idea. Absolutely oblivious to what was going on out there. But basically once I started working with clients, I actually realised at that point in time that I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing, in a professional bookkeeping context. That’s when I started to reach out and try and find resources out there to support me in the services I was providing. I’ve always been a learner. If I don’t know it, I’ll find the answers. That’s where I started reaching out to try and find solutions. That’s where I came across the Australian Bookkeepers Network. That’s when I realised that this sort of little side gig that I was doing had legs and there was a big industry out there that could be stepped into. So it was by pure chance, more so than anything strategically planned.
Heather: By chance and strategically planned. Thank you for sharing that. I imagine the ABN potentially hadn’t been around all that long when you found it.
Cassandra: I think they’d been around for a couple of years. So I look back and I’m still a member today. And I’m member, I think 245 or something like that. I was one of their early cohorts of membership. At that stage there weren’t a lot of options for support and assistance around. I stumbled across them. It’s just been brilliant. They’ve been instrumental in the learning curve that I jumped on and it was a very steep one and a very hard one. But they’ve been instrumental in my ability to succeed.
Heather: That’s excellent that we have these professions who are able to support the bookkeeping community. Cassandra, you’ve been an early adopter of technology and practice.
Can you share more about what the tech stack looks like in your business? What’s your favourite tool, the one people need to know about and what was the last tool that you implemented?
Cassandra: I think when we are looking at technology in our business, one of the things that’s key for me is it’s integration with our two core systems that we use. So we’re well-known out there for being heavily involved in Xero. We use Xero in the Xero practice suite as our core platform for client-facing work. From an internal business operations perspective, we have chosen Office 365. It’s the platform that we want to utilise the business side of things. When we are looking at technology, it has to support one of those two platforms, or has to integrate with one of those two platforms. If for whatever reason it doesn’t integrate with either of those platforms, it’s got to be a real magic unicorn. It’s got to do something pretty special for us to really consider bringing it in and utilising it as part of our practice. So yes, I said we leverage off of Xero and the Xero practice platform. So that’s Xero asks, Xero HQ, Xero practice manager and Xero tax. Office 365 for our day to day ops email. Microsoft teams is just brilliant. We’ve really started to dive into that over the last few years. And I guess one of the really interesting things from my perspective about Office 365 is its evolution. We’ve been using it since it was Microsoft goodness knows what Windows 11 or whatever those crazy versions were. And it had some deficiencies, but over the last five years, I think they’ve really solidified the product and its offering to market. And it’s made it a really easy choice for us for day-to-day utilisation. We still have some legacy systems that we chose to use because 365 or Microsoft didn’t support us well or was cost prohibitive in the early days. But we are looking at transitioning more fully to the 365 platform. So what do we like to use teams? Internal communications is just gold. My staff are dispersed at different locations. They work out of their own home bases. We’re now connecting and communicating with clients through teams.
Cassandra: I’m working with other bookkeepers heavily through teams and supporting their businesses as well. So it’s a really great communications platform. Zoom, we still do use, but whether or not we start to transition away from that is still to be decided. Sometimes I do sit in. I’m really comfortable with that and I don’t wanna change. But then part of me says, well, hang on. No, I need to look at what is progressive in terms of what we are doing. We utilise a product called Freshdesk. You asked me about my favourite tool and I would have to say that is probably – aside from Xero and Teams and our business ops products – Freshdesk would have to be my favourite tool. We stumbled across that. It was actually recommended to me by another bookkeeper in the industry. And my biggest dilemma was managing email and email congestion. Being very much, if it hits my email account, then I’m the person that needed to be able to deal with it and respond to it and solve it. It was just becoming completely inundated, missing deadlines, letting clients down, letting ourselves down in that regard. Freshdesk for us is a ticketing system. And I know the day that I set it up, I think I threw 60 emails straight into Freshdesk and was able to delegate those out directly to my staff. That has just been an absolute game changer, from my perspective, because the staff now hold a greater ownership around the relationship with the clients. It doesn’t diminish my role in that. It actually empowers the staff to take a lead in a much stronger client relationship because they’re dealing with the nitty gritty on a day-to-day basis from a communications perspective.
Heather: Excellent. I’m sure that will be a solution that people will go and have a look at. I’ve seen you talk about it quite a bit. It’s nice when you have those things that can just give you back capacity. Yeah. It sounds like even day one, bam.
Cassandra: And it’s about the functionality, not necessarily the product. There’s a number of similar products out in the market that work on a ticketing basis. They’re all, from what I understand, brilliant. This is just the one that we’ve landed on. So it’s great. It’s about what it solves as opposed to the product itself.
Heather: Absolutely. One of the For Dummy strategies is only tell them about one thing, tell them one route, which is ticketing solution and let them explore, which is exactly what you’ve done. Hopefully, people are listening in and think, okay, maybe that’s the next thing I need to find out there.
Cassandra: Yeah. You asked about the latest product we’ve implemented. It was probably XBert. So we were early inquirers about XBert, but later adopters. And not for any particular reason rather than I’ll get to it. It was about committing the time and the resource to actually jump on board with it in a serious manner for our client base. And start to leverage off of that. So really liking the the organisational visibility that we get through it. I think for me one of the things that I love about XBert it’s actually being built and designed and it’s evolving around the bookkeeping industry. A lot of the challenges that we often have with some software is that it’s been developed and evolved around the accounting industry. Whilst we’ve got a lot of similarities in the way that we work in the way that we operate, there’s a lot of areas where we are very dissimilar. XBert I think has taken that uniqueness around what we do and really started to develop a great product around it.
Cassandra: That answers the questions that we deal with on a day to day basis in terms of our client data and the work we do for our clients. It’s a lot more granular, it’s down in the weeds. It’s not the higher level strategic information. It’s the day to day stuff, which is where we are working with our clients on a daily basis.
Heather: They seem to really be, the team who are based out of Coffs Harbor, actively listening to the community and bringing that feedback into the solution and producing it.
Cassandra: Yeah. I’ve had some really great conversations with Troy and the team. They are absolutely proactive in listening. Even if it’s something that’s insignificant and minuscule, they take it on board. They go, well, hang on, we understand what the complexity of that is and why that’s causing you grief. Let’s see if we can develop a solution around that. And it’s like, oh, thank you. That would be fabulous. Often the problems that they’re solving, that we are identifying that we’re asking them to solve aren’t just routine day to day things. They’re often, issues that have come up through integrations with other systems into the Xero platform. It could be an add on that’s causing a problem in Xero, but we don’t identify it until it gets to a bigger problem stage. XBert‘s able to come in and sit under that and identify it much earlier in the the life cycle of the work that we’re doing with the clients.
Heather: Absolutely. I guess every time they create a new expert or one of the boards for someone like you, who’s raised that issue, all of a sudden everyone else has that in front of them as well. Potentially is identifying an issue they had no idea to even look for.
Cassandra: Yeah. Look, I think that’s probably a reasonable, perspective on that, Heather, you know, it’s the classic, you don’t know what you don’t know. That sometimes will bring that to the four for people, for sure.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I wanted to touch on, just because I’ve actually been speaking to Stela Solar who’s Head at AI at the CSIRO Institute. She and I were talking about with these programs will expert very much uses AI with the Microsoft Office 365 programs sometimes. You probably are doing this. But sometimes you actually have to go in and make sure all the AI options are turned on. So it’s actually doing the smart thinking for you. So for people listening in, that’s worth having a look at because I know I use G suite or Google suite and I had to go and turn a few of them on. I didn’t realise I hadn’t activated them. I can see, sort of weeks later, the difference it makes and the speed that the work actually happens at because of that.
Cassandra: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think I’ve used Outlook for instance, since forever in my business. And even prior to my business. It’s something I’ve got a natural affinity for, but the evolution has been really significant. I know that I don’t even tap into half of what its capabilities are. I think it’s really interesting and I always keen to hear and find out what and how people are using the same sorts of tools that I’m using. Because again, it comes back to the whole concept. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s about this sort of continuous learning cycle around everything that you’re doing.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Trying to tap into that. I understand you, and your business, also assist your clients in implementing technology.
What have been some of the successful strategies that you’ve adopted to introduce clients to new workflow methods and technology solutions?
Cassandra: I think part of that is making sure that we’ve got existing, strong relationships with our clients. When we work with our clients, in the first instance, we make sure that they know that we are focused on outcomes around them and around their business interests. That’s at the forefront of what we actually do. When we start to have conversations with clients around technology solutions, we are not going into replicate necessarily a process or a system that they’ve already got. We are looking at how can we leverage off of technology to improve their outcomes or get us to those outcomes in a more effective way or streamlined way that will provide additional clarity. Or will free up time that will allow either the business owner or ourselves to do something else that a more strategic level within the business. A client I worked with a number of years who, we went in and they had a project management system that was costing them 20 grand a year to run. By their own admission, they said that they weren’t using it well. But they weren’t using it well, they said because some of the functionality that they wanted and the information they wanted couldn’t be extracted from it. It was very labor intensive to get into. And because of that, they were actually supplementing all of their Data entry into their project management system with spreadsheets. So they were entering data. I think we worked out there was eight separate spreadsheets that a single piece of data was being entered into to get them the information they needed.
Cassandra: So we went in and we had a conversation about, okay, well, what, what are the outcomes? What do you need? What are you looking for? Then once we had clarity around that, we were then able to look at the efficiencies and the pathways that we could implement to get to those outcomes. And you know, we, the transition was from, MYOB plus their project management platform across to Xero and Workflow Max. In that process, we got rid of eight spreadsheets. We got rid of a $20,000 system that wasn’t being used well. Their staff were encouraged and got on board with the uptake of the system. I think the key was also the principles of the practice or the business were also on board with it. Focusing on the relationships, focusing on the outcomes, but also understanding who the critical decision makers and the people that need to influence that change within the business actually are. That’s such a great case study and story there.
Heather: Thank you for sharing that. And for people listening in, what I want to maybe highlight here is when you went into that discussion with them, can I be correct in saying that you didn’t have all the answers at that point?
Cassandra: Oh, absolutely not. We had no idea what we were going to do or what we were gonna find in the first instance. And this is where if you know, I go back to the businesses and the work I did pre my bookkeeping life. I was able to draw on a lot of the skills and, experiences I’d had in these other environments to come into this particular business and go, okay, here’s the starting point. Here’s the end point. What’s the pathway between the two? Their pathway was up and down and convoluted and it, you know, segued off in three different directions and eventually did come back. What I was able to do once I understood what their outcomes were, was to start to just put that information on a straight or a slightly windy road, as opposed to everything that diverged off into different areas. It was an exercise. I spent a couple of days with them actually, literally just following their staff around, making notes about what they were doing, asking them why they were doing it. And one of the interesting responses is, well, why are you doing that? Well it’s because what we’ve always done it. My next question to that is always, yes. I know you might have always done it that way, but what does it do for you? What are you getting out of this? What is it achieving? What is it informing? Really diving deep into those sorts of questions. At the end of the day, once you analyse what you’ve been doing and why you’ve been doing it, you often find it’s completely redundant in the process. That’s what we started to unravel and identify as we stepped through all of their workflows and processes that they built these sort of redundancies into the system because this project management system didn’t work correctly. Once we identify what their outcomes were, we were able to sort of reverse, engineer it and provide a recommendation for solutions.
Heather: Excellent. Thank you for sharing that. And so for people listening in, I think the detail orientated people, the bookkeepers, sometimes the management accountants really have a strong ability to do this. It starts with asking a lot of questions and building that workflow out. And you may not have any solution at the end when you first go in, but you’re in a lot better position to have that conversation with them and help them unpack their situations. So don’t put it necessarily in the two-hard box, give it a go. The first one might be really challenging. But as you do more and more of them, if you like them, it’s interesting fun work and you can massive outcomes from it.
Cassandra: It is great fun work. I think one of the keys there too, Heather, is that when you go to a client or you’re developing a relationship with a client around this sort of a deliverable, it’s okay to say to the client, look, I actually don’t know. I think you’ll find that the clients will respect you more if you can be honest about what your knowledge gap is at times and how you’re going to overcome that knowledge gap. If you don’t know, that’s great, the follow-up side look, I don’t know, but give me a couple of hours and I’ll try and find out for you. Then you madly come away and Google like crazy, or reach out to your networks. But saying you don’t know isn’t a problem at all. I think the clients really respect that level of candour and honesty.
Heather: You don’t know the solution or the outcome, but you still have the skills there to assist them. So please charge for your time if you are doing this. Charge for your time.
Cassandra: We made the same mistake. We’d do these things because we thought it was the preparation work that we couldn’t charge for. But over the years I’ve realised that there is incredible value in that scoping exercise. I think once you realise that you actually provide a better outcome, both for the client as well. Because you don’t have that resistance to not charging for this, or, gosh, I don’t wanna spend too much time on it. So allow yourself the time and charge for it accordingly.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Moving on to talking about the software vendors.
What advice do you have for the technology companies who are listening in and who want to partner with the bookkeeping community?
Cassandra: Make it easy, have clarity around your offering to the market. Have clarity around how it’s going to help the bookkeeper in practice or our clients. Don’t give me some highfalutin sales pitch or a website that really doesn’t tell me what you do and requires me to book a call in with a sales rep in three weeks time for half an hour pre-recorded webinar that really doesn’t answer any of my questions and does nothing more than parrot stuff that’s already on your website.
Cassandra: Time is precious. Make it meaningful, understand our industry, understand what our challenges are, understand what we are. We are trying to solve either for ourselves or for on behalf of our clients and understand too that the bookkeeping industry is different to the accounting industry. We’ve got a lot of similarities. We do a lot of things. Our clients are common. We share clients and we’ve both got the client centric focus around what we do. But the relationships that we have with the clients are actually very different. A lot of bookkeepers are much more closely aligned and working with their clients than the accountants do. The accountants have got brilliantly strong relationships with their clients, but from a very different perspective. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a really good thing. I encourage the vendors to understand what our relationship is with our clients, not just what the accountants relationship is with the clients and how we may go in and solve problems.
Cassandra: I’d like the vendors to think about considering pricing strategies for bookkeepers. One of the biggest challenges I’ve often found is that the pricing is bundled on a per user type or a bundled user basis. If you look at the makeup of a lot of bookkeeping practices, most of them are sole operators all with very small staffing numbers starting off at a 10 or a 20. Staff member access is just at some crazy price is really just never, ever going to work. It’s not gonna be economical for the practice to invest in that. No matter how good your product is. So think about your pricing strategies as well for your bookkeeping practices or your accounting practices. There are many smaller accounting practices that are actually being faced with those same challenges around pricing in that the price bundles are too high for the small needs that they have. But understand that we’ve got a really strong pathway to the client. Just because we don’t have large number of staff doesn’t mean we’re not touching base with a large number of clients who we can influence to utilise your products.
Cassandra: Probably the third factor for me is trials. If you’re offering a trial on your product, I like to get in. I wanna try and break it. I wanna apply my thought processes to it. I wanna see what it does. And often put the curly stuff in as well. A seven day trial to me is absolutely useless because, let’s be honest, most of us do this sort of research after hours or on weekends. A number of firms do have dedicated time, but the reality is a large percentage of us choose to do it at odd times. If I’ve sat on a Friday, a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon and set up a trial, done a bit of a playing around with it this weekend, and then wanna jump back in next weekend to follow it through and dive any deeper into it. If you’ve given me a seven day trial, that’s gone, it’s done and dusted. It’s just not useful to me to understand your product.
Cassandra: Make it easy. Look at your pricing strategies and consider trials and don’t make it just a half bake trial either with, oh no, you need to pay to get this feature. Give us a taste of everything that you’ve got available. For, I would say 30 days, if you could please.
Heather: 30 days has been the trial length I’ve been pushing for constantly. Absolutely needs to be that length of time. You raise some really good points. Hopefully, everyone listened into that and it’s something we can refer back to in that important relationship with our vendors. So my next question I suspect came from a massive discussion that was happening in one of the forums that we were involved in.
Heather: Cassandra, what is your opinion on referral fees? So when I use the term referral fees, I use it as an umbrella to capture all the ways a bookkeeper could financially profit from recommending a software solution to the client that could be revenue, share a one-off fee. It could be, a way that the software is selling to the account. That’s at a wholesale discount, enabling them to make a margin on it, et cetera.
What’s your opinion on referral fees using the umbrella terminology?
Cassandra: I probably define that terminology just a little bit more differently, Heather. If we look at the products like Xero, MYOB, QBO, the accounting products that are being used on a day-to-day basis, they’re often offered to practitioners on a wholesale type basis. The product is readily available to the SME. If they wanted to want to sign up and subscribe to it directly. But as partners or accountants bookkeepers, we have the opportunity to access the subscriptions at a wholesale price. And then we are encouraged to resell that to the business owner at its retail price.
Cassandra: I think that’s slightly different. I don’t wanna split hairs here, but I do think it’s slightly different from referral fees where we’re encouraging the client to go to a particular vendor and then get a clip of the fee that the client is paying to the vendor or it’s a non wholesale type arrangement.
Cassandra: Personally, I don’t have concerns about these types of arrangements. I think it comes down to the concept of ethics within business. I’m a hundred percent Xero practice. And I have people approaching me all of the times to move from another accounting platform to the Xero platform. But I always sit down and assess the client’s actual needs and what the catalyst is for them to make those sorts of changes. Why are you going to Xero? Why are you leaving this product and coming over? Oh, my existing product doesn’t do B, C and D. Okay. Tell me a little bit more about your business. Does your business do this, this, this, and this? And there’s been times where I’ve said to the client, you actually shouldn’t move. Xero is not gonna be the best solution for you. You’re going to lose this functionality. I think when we are talking about referral fees, we’ve got to be doing it from a very ethical perspective. Any other business that you work for, you go into, Woolworth’s, they’re selling you an apple or a lettuce these days, at a retail price, but they’re making a margin on it. I don’t think there’s much difference when we are selling the software to the client. We are making a margin. So that’s the commission side of things.
Cassandra: I think it’s a little bit more ambiguous sometimes when we’re talking about the clip on, on the more you sell the bigger your clip is on the fee that the client is paying directly. And what that also tends to remove is the ability for the accountable bookkeeper to build the cost of that into their pricing and provide the client with a sort of a holistic solution to what they need.
Cassandra: I’ve probably seen a little bit dirtier stuff around. Sort of direct referral fees where there’s not a lot of transparency around it. And that certainly does concern me. But if you’re looking at the commissions, for instance, that the biggest software products, they’re very transparent around what those arrangements are.
Cassandra: Again, we have a requirement to disclose a formal relationship to our clients. To be honest, most of our clients really don’t care, that we are getting a wholesale price because what they’re focused on the outcomes that we are providing to their business.
Heather: Yeah. Excellent. Thank you so much for articulating that and sharing your thoughts on that, Cassandra.
Can you describe the community that you founded and also moderate called Bookkeepers in Practice (Australia) community?
Cassandra: Yeah, thanks Heather. So it’s a Facebook group called Bookkeepers in Practice (Australia). It was established, I think, roughly about 2016. Its genesis came about because there are a number of different forums, whether they’d be business forums or tradies forums or all of these Facebook pages that were popping up left right and center. There were lots of people starting to ask questions about bookkeeping and the technical side of things. When I first started business and I mentioned ABN earlier that I was on this steep learning curve trying to find everything about everything. And what I realised is that there wasn’t a lot of high quality information that was out there. A lot of it was being responded to by people who weren’t necessarily registered Registered BAS Agents. It might have been a business owner who old mate down the pub actually given them a bit of advice and it was a bit dodgy. There wasn’t a great deal of quality around it.
Cassandra: I made the decision to set up a community where we could facilitate quality resourced information to the membership. I chose to restrict it to bookkeepers in practice. A lot of this is back to the value that bookkeepers in practice provide back to businesses. I didn’t want it to be a place where mum and dad business could come in and ask questions. By getting the answer to that question would actually remove their need to engage with a formal service provider. So I didn’t want it to be a free for all knowledge transfer to non bookkeepers. It was about transfer of knowledge within the bookkeeping community. And that’s, that’s how it evolved and we set it up and the traction has been amazing.
Cassandra: I think we’ve got over 2000 members in there now. It peaks and troughs in terms of activity. At times of the year change the tempo of activity that’s in there. But one of the things we recognise is the provision of high quality advice. What it’s unearthed is there are a huge number of people out there that have huge amounts of knowledge in sometimes really niche and specialised areas.
Cassandra: That’s gold and it’s so collaborative as well. So it’s, it’s not a, I told you this last week, you know, you should know it by now. It’s actually a really collaborative sharing, environment where people can be vulnerable and say, well, actually, I don’t know this. I’ve not experienced before. It’s been years since I’ve dealt with it. I think it could be this. Could somebody please help me out? Today that person asking the question and getting the solution, in three weeks time, it could flip completely. Because of that person’s knowledge, they could be the person providing the solution or the commentary. It’s open to all bookkeepers who own a practice. And when I say own a practice that so traders. You don’t need to be registered BAS agents. If you are operating a bookkeeping business, you’re more than welcome to join. We sort of support and encourage the BAS agent pathway. It’s not open to accountants and we haven’t done that to be divisive. It’s just that the bookkeeping questions and the bookkeeping community has a different focus with our clients. We do have some accountants in there that said who also have bookkeeping practices. So there’s sort of a little bit of a caveat on the yes, you can come in, but you, because you’ve got the bookkeeping practice.
Cassandra: It’s a really lovely environment. The first couple of years I was really intensive and hands on, but over that time, it’s become quite organic in the way it works. There are a lot of other people now that step in and provide really high quality and qualified, support and advice.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Love the high quality level. It must be probably one of the highest quality levels in terms of that bookkeeping group in Australia. Definitely one, if you are listening in and a bookkeeper in Australia falling under all the criteria that Cass has spelled out there. Go and have a look and join that group because, it can just it is as well as being a safe space, as well as having the interesting conversations that you want to have around bookkeeping.
Heather: There’s so much, knowledge sharing, and go in and contribute where you can and lap it up. Just scroll through and read. I frequently jump into groups and just read how people have solved issues that I have. So I don’t even need to ask the question because it’s already been solved before. That’s the great thing. It’s just this knowledge base. It’s a shame it doesn’t give us a nice way to recreate it into a sort of a Wiki resource of all these solutions that have come out of it.
Cassandra: One of the things I like about it is it’s software agnostic. So we’ve have been very purposeful about making it software agnostic. We don’t allow software vendors in there. So the commentary around those sorts of products is not compromised by bias from a particular vendor themselves. We were very strategic about that. The other thing that we have welcomed though into the group, that is non bookkeepers representatives from all of the professional associations.
Cassandra: One of the things that we strongly encourage is any bookkeeper should hold a membership with a professional association. I think there’s incredible value in that. For anybody that doesn’t have a membership and is in the industry, I would really encourage you to look at one of those associations because the support that they can provide you is absolutely gold. We do allow the professional associations in there because it is about raising ultimately the professionalism of our industry.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Raising standards, raising knowledge, raise your prices. That could be the new logo.
Heather: In terms of community, you’ve provided this really safe and supportive and nurtured community. We’ve gone through terrible lockdowns and challenges through the pandemic, which is ongoing.
Has the pandemic impact of that been positive or negative for the bookkeeping community?
Cassandra: I think there’s been both positive and negative impacts of COVID. On a negative perspective, there are people that have chosen to walk away from the industry after what we’ve been through in the last 2 years. And I don’t think we’ve actually seen the end of the exodus yet. I have people contact me regularly who say, I wanna sell my practice. I’ve decided I just can’t do this anymore. I need to walk away. That’s really sad. But I commend those people that are making those decisions, that’s actually a really courageous decision to make. And we talk a lot about, you know, mental health and wellbeing. It’s fabulous to see that people are making the decisions that are actually going to be best for them.
Cassandra: It’s unfortunate for the industry that we are losing some really highly skilled and experienced people. But, all Kudos to them for having the courage to make those decisions. They should be really proud of that. I think one of the other negatives during this time is there was a lot of work that was done that wasn’t actually charged for. I must admit I used to get a little bit frustrated when you know, community was talking about this and it’s like, oh, these poor businesses are in such distress and you know, everybody’s really stressed out and I haven’t charged for it. To a certain extent, I think some of that is actually responsible for some of the people leaving the industry. Because they themselves then got put in these high pressure situations where they weren’t getting the income that they needed to sustain their business or things were really tight.
Cassandra: Whilst that pressure was being applied, I think it’s also set a certain bar for some clients. Oh, well, you didn’t charge me for that last time. Why are you charging me now? So it’s changed clients’ expectations. You can do this, that short notice and for free. Why do I need to pay for it? And the imediacy too. So, you know, during COVID, and particularly around all of the stimulus and support packages there, we were punching stuff out really quickly. There were short timeframes. I know a lot of our community was working just insane hours to support their clients with what was needed clients were seeing stuff coming out. They’ve done this so quickly for me, which is great. And what the clients are now doing is saying, well, why can’t you respond on today in exactly the same timelines as you were previously? So I think it’s, that’s for me a little bit of a negative about some of the stuff that’s come out of the last two years.
Cassandra: On the positive side, though, I think there’s been a strengthening in the way that we start to set boundaries with our clients. And I know for myself, I’ve become probably a bit of a hard-nosed grumpy old cow some days and I’ve just gone, no, we can’t do it. And you know, where I used to stress heavily over clients, meeting compliance deadlines. If the client hasn’t got the paperwork to me, by the time they need to get it to me, if it’s late, that’s actually not my problem. And you’re not gonna compromise my time because you couldn’t get your poo in a pile basically. A lot of the bookkeeping community is starting to set firmer boundaries with clients.
Cassandra: As I used to say to my daughter, and I’ll soon be saying to my granddaughter, I’m sure, no is actually a complete sentence and it can happen. Even the last couple of weeks with the crazy lead up to end of financial year, I’ve just been saying to people that have approached me, no, I’m sorry. I can’t assist you. The earliest I can do this is in this timeframe. Take it or leave it. Boundaries are really important. There’s been a greater appreciation too, of the value that we can contribute to clients. Clients have started to realise that we do a little bit more than just key numbers into the software and process a payroll and submit a BAS. They realise that we actually have a really deep understanding about what’s going on in their businesses and the nuances of their businesses. They’re coming to us now. It’s been a combination of clients are appreciating more about what we do, but the pressures that were put on them during the pandemic of meant they also need to be a lot more aware. They’re coming to us for more strategic information. Cashflow and budgeting is just skyrocketing at the moment. Clients realising that they actually need that information to have effective businesses. One of the gold positives out of this has been a stronger collaboration between the accounting and the bookkeeping community.
Cassandra: You know, I think historically there’ve been some really big barriers between those two disciplines working more closely together. And there shouldn’t be because, at the end of the day, we are working with the one client. And we both provide very different things to the client that are very complimentary though to what we each do.
Cassandra: But that’s one of the things that I saw during, COVID was this strengthening of the accounting and the bookkeeping community as a whole. It’s really nice to see that that’s continuing as well. And it’s now starting to gain its own momentum. You’re talking about community and social media pages, it’s gaining its own momentum in those environments. That can only be a good thing for our clients and our industry as as a whole.
Heather: Yeah, completely agree with you on that. I thank you for sharing with us. It was challenging watching the community not charging for things. I was very involved with the Chartered Accountants Association. I saw people, staff members, publicly saying you shouldn’t be charging. I then had CA said, chartered accountants, say to me, they hadn’t charged for a full month and very challenging for everyone. Just trying to help as much. You did such a great job in pulling people back and saying, no, the legislation hasn’t dropped yet. Refer to the legislation, the legislation.
Cassandra: The ever revolving door of changing legislation. That was great.
Heather: If you had a dollar for every time, you said to refer to the legislation, you’d be a wealthy woman.
Cassandra: I would be but I’m not as broke as I could have been because I did charge for the work we did. So there we go.
Heather: As you should have done. Those boundaries, they’re so important.
Cassandra: We have value in what we do. We’ve to continue to appreciate the value that we provide to our clients and not diminish it. It’s really important that we own what we can do.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. But I think we both need to agree whatever time Chris Wheatley messages us, we need to respond quickly.
Cassandra: I’ve thought about ringing him and seeing if he’s got his random phone call voice on the 30th of June.
Heather:It’s been truly wonderful in the last few years, to see members of our community, step up and take leadership roles, Alexi Boyd CEO of COSBOA, Lielette Calleja on the ATO BAS Agent Advisory Group (BASAAG), Debra Anderson joining the Tax Practitioners Board, and you as a Director at the Australian Bookkeeper Association.
What advice do you would you give to someone in the community who is interested in sort of stepping up and taking on a leadership role?
Cassandra: Yeah. Do it. Quite hard, too fast, basically. I think as women, there’s often this sense that we are not the best people to be doing this or, or we don’t have confidence in what we can do. We suffer from imposter syndrome. I’m gonna stand here and put my hand up and say, I’ve ticked all of those boxes. And I still tick all of those boxes every single day. But what I do is I step over it, for one of a better word and go, well, hang on a sec., What, what can I do? I want to do this. You’ve got the angel on one shoulder saying this needs to change or you can see these things that need to happen. And then you’ve got the devil on the other shoulder going, oh, you’re not the person to be doing this. The thing is if you want it resolved and fixed and you want to implement influence change, the only way that you can do that is by being involved in influencing change. And the only way to do that is saying yes, when these opportunities arise. I was fortunate, about three years ago now to be approached by AAT to sit on their board and that was terrifying because it’s like little odd me. Why would they want my knowledge? And, you know, I admit I went into that in a very sort of meek way, but learnt so much from the people that I worked with.
Cassandra: And then the opportunity came up to be one of the directors on the Australian Bookkeepers Association. And, I jumped at the chance. I actually made some other decisions about other things that I wasn’t going to do because I did really want to be involved with this professional association. Because they had been so supportive to me over the years and it was my chance of giving back. There’s some great opportunities out there. A lot of the professional associations are looking for people who would like to sit on stewardship groups or working groups with the ATO and the tax practitioners board. If this is something you’re interested in, reach out to your professional association and say, Hey, I’d like to get involved. This is my niche area of interest. Is there anything out there that you are looking to find a representative for? Because I can tell you that of all of the associations, the directors are the ones that are doing that most regularly and yet they need more people to be doing it. You don’t have to be the director of a professional association to hold these roles.
Cassandra: I think the ATO just recently advertised for some additional vacancies. And I think it was BASAAG. Correct me if I’m wrong. You don’t have to be a member of a professional association. You have to be working in the industry and understand the industry. Apply for it. What’s the worst they can do. They can say no, but they can actually also say yes. And it’s a fabulous opportunity to see the inside workings of the world that is actually influencing us on a day to day basis. Do it.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I’m really encouraged. The list of people I read out, five years ago, we were all sort of bookkeeper chums together. That was just a few people I selected and they’ve just gone on. I pinched myself at the levels that people like you Cassandra have reach for and what you’re doing. It is about finding your interest and pushing it forward and speaking. Ask questions, potentially ask questions in the bookkeeper in practice group. You have so much knowledge about small businesses and about how bookkeeping works. If you can sort of, improve the industry and improve small business, the sort of the engine of Australia, that’s a good thing to be doing.
Cassandra: Yeah, it’s a great starting point. It’s been really interesting. And opened up some fabulous opportunities as well.
Heather: The BAS group I used to serve had a really good chocolate cake.
Cassandra: It’s all done online now. I’ll give you a chocolate cake.
Heather: They should send you a DiviPay card.
Cassandra: Have a chat with Trent and ask him to get onto the ATM about that. Yeah.
Heather: That’s what I’ll do. Cassandra, thank you so much for joining me and the Cloud Stories listeners today.
How can people get in contact with you?
Cassandra: The best way is to have a look at my website. So Laurus Bookkeeping. You can email me at email@example.com. Hunt me down on my LinkedIn profile, or tap me on the shoulder in any of the bookkeeping, and social media groups that are around there. I’m generally in them. They’re probably the three main ways, to get hold of me.
Heather: Awesome. Thank you so much, Cassandra. I really appreciate you taking the time off . We’re actually recording this on the 30th of June. Happy EST to everyone else in Australia, listening to us. Really appreciate your time, your knowledge sharing and your ongoing contribution to the community.
Cassandra: Thanks Heather, it’s been lovely to be involved. Appreciated.
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About Heather Smith
USA Accounting Today listed Heather as one of 21 people helping shape (and reshape) the accounting industry in 2020.
A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be implemented and utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. She extensively shares her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, multiple Cloud Accounting books, the Accounting Apps newsletter, blogs and social media platforms.
A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.