From XU Magazine, 
Issue 29

Surviving the stress-test: how to ensure your business thrives through adversity

AI and automation is the key to freeing up billable hours and increasing revenue

It’s been a rough two years right across the globe - and bookkeepers and accountants have been at the coal-face, helping small business stay afloat. But who’s looking after you?

The past two years have been a long and drawn out stress-test for many business owners. For their finance teams, they face challenges on both fronts: helping clients navigate, survive and thrive, while attending to their own business operations.

Like any pain-point in business, this double-header pressure on accountants and bookkeepers, has either confirmed their current systems are on point; or made it glaringly obvious some things need to change. 

When looking at firms and businesses of all sizes that have come through this the strongest and continued to drive efficiency, there is one common denominator: they have embraced artificial intelligence and automation. 

The industry has moved well past the notion that artificial intelligence and automation would make accounting and bookkeeping roles obsolete. What we’ve seen develop over recent years is that humans will always have a place in the workflow process. And that if you’re not embracing these smart tech tools in your business, you’re not just falling behind - you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Why should bookkeepers care about AI and automation?

Technology helps eliminate the need to spend time on tedious, non-income producing tasks such as manual data entry and review, document collection, and even reporting. And it’s absolutely key to helping scale your business in a sustainable way.

If the intense nature of the last 18 months has taught us anything, it’s that embracing AI and automation are the best ways for bookkeepers to free up billable hours and increase revenue potential. This is true for Michele Grisdale of Rainforest Bookkeeping, who tripled her client base in just 12 months by implementing smart automation tools in her business.

“I was working in desktop bookkeeping, using 5 different accounting platforms, was buried in paper and saw no way out,” Michele said.

“When introduced to automation, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and I started planning my way out. Within 6 months I had moved all of my one-day a week clients to cloud apps and was ready to take on more.”

Using Xero, AI audit and workflow management with XBert, along with Receipt Bank, helped her take on those new clients with ease, while keeping the work/life balance that’s important to her.

“Going from one client a day to accessing up to 20 is mind-boggling. I can fill 50 hours a week easily but choose not to. Spending time offline with my family and friends is so much more important and with AI and automation, I can make plans and book time away from the office and know nothing is being neglected.”

“I know how to do my job.”

A common reason we hear from bookkeepers as to why they have not looked at AI audit or set-up automated bookkeeping workflows is the simple fact: you know how to do it. You’re great at your job. So great, in fact, you know the process like the back of your hand. And you’re a perfectionist, so there hasn’t been a need to document or implement an official workflow.

This is a fine way to run your business – until it isn’t. If your business goals include being more efficient, having a better work/life balance, scaling your business or even selling it, it’s time to think about having a safety net across your data and getting those processes and checklists out of your head. When you can begin to automate your data review and your bookkeeping processes, you remove a mental weight. You open up space to breathe. You can start to onboard clients and new staff with ease, rather than with a sinking feeling it’s not being looked after the way you would. And you create an effective and more scalable business.

Sumi Suvalingam of First Class Accounts Doncaster says it wasn’t until she got serious about implementing AI audit and automation that she felt 100% confident in growing her client base and her business.

“Since I have started using XBert, I have started onboarding more clients, because I knew I had the mental capacity to cope with the workload. It was no longer overwhelming, because everything is systematic and organised in the one system. And it’s so easy to see where your staff are up to at any given time,” Sumi said.

“If you’re thinking of growing your business and taking it to the next level - and not be afraid to onboard more clients, or even take on more staff - you have the perfect tool to manage your business and manage your staff.”

Take the complexity out of compliance

A growing business means growing client files. And with the huge shift toward cloud accounting, online services and shopping - the volume of transactions on each client file grows. As the volume of online transactional data increases, so does the potential for fraud, manual accounting error and dishonest payments. This has made compliance a lot more complex – but AI can review the data at speed, in almost real time. Detecting anomalies like duplicate invoices or bills, unusual spending, billing or transactions, GST anomalies, coding errors, ABN checks (even across the attachments on your bills and invoices) – these all save your reputation as a bookkeeper, and both you and your clients’ time and money. Not to mention avoiding the headache of finding these at a late stage - or when it’s too late.

Sumi finds having a neat and easy-to-find audit trail on every task is another level of security and peace of mind as the business grows. 

“Having audit that instantly picks up all the discrepancies saves me so much time. It would take me a lot longer if I had to run through the file myself. That’s one of the great highlights.”

It’s also an excellent way to keep your head count low and remove the margin for human error. For Michele from Rainforest Bookkeeping, using XBert AI Audit is the equivalent of hiring a Part-Time employee, with added extras.

“There is more peace of mind that the checks are being done correctly, and checking data errors the staff members may not consider - for example Payroll settings, duplicate bank accounts, GST registration changes, junior staff birthday and leave settings, lock dates being unlocked.”

Maintaining work/life balance

During times of challenge, that elusive work/life balance so many strive for can seem like a pie-in-the-sky ideal. But not when you have audit and automation working for you.

Zander de Klerk, Managing Partner at Xeta, implemented automation systems from the outset of the firm. In just three years, they’ve managed to triple their business each quarter and grown to the size of a firm 20 years strong. 

Using smart technology solutions, including Xero and XBert, has been crucial to their ability to deliver high quality results for their clients and scale the business rapidly, all while maintaining work/life balance for their entire staff.

“We’ve broken it down into sectional areas; we’ve broken it down into internal controls... and we have the ability to balance everyone’s workload to make it very easy. When your XBert’s are under control and your tasks are ready and set up the right way - that means you can work from the beach...or wherever you want to be, because you’ve got a simple dashboard that tells you what’s working and what’s not working and it’s easy for us to manage our own time.”

Using AI Audit means managers aren’t wasting hours on manual checks, and coupled with full visibility across workflows, means employees are empowered to be in control of their workload and clients without being micromanaged.

“And if you put all of this stuff together, basically what it comes down to is a happy team, a satisfied team, and it’s a flexible team that can deal with anything as it arises.”

Finding your ideal balance

Whether you’re at the start of your journey and building the foundations for business growth, or you’re currently looking to streamline the way you work and manage a team - the first place to look is AI audit and workflow automation.

XBert works tirelessly to help you meet your business goals. If you’re interested in how we can help you, go ahead and start a free, no-obligation trial at xbert.io

Our customer success team will be in touch to help.

Why leave it there?

To learn how AI and automation can work for you

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