Melanie Schroeder is an accountant, counselor, coach, and the founder of the accounting firm – Out Of The Box Chartered Professional Accountant.
How did you start your practice?
Schroeder: A lot of my business just came from me reaching out to people that I already knew. Some people reached out, not even knowing I had a firm, and asked,, “Hey, are you still doing accounting “I’ve started a business or, you know, that type of thing”, so my lifetime of networking is still paying off.
I’ve also found a great source of business is working with bookkeepers or even other accountants that don’t do the same work as me. There are some accountants, for example, who offer consulting, but they don’t do tax, and I do tax and vice versa. That way, instead of advertising, because when you’re small it’s hard to get a foothold, you can build on your existing strengths and relationships. By going out and building referrals and leveraging relationships, you can get some good sources of clients.
How did you differentiate your firm?
Schroeder: I am also a registered professional counselor. So that is one of my unique sales pitches. I’ve always taken a more holistic approach to work with my clients. It’s not just tasks, and it’s not just accounting; it’s treating the whole business, and the owner (and their employees) is part of that business. I have a knack for understanding how the pieces of a business integrate into the whole system and being able to get a good understanding of what the client needs.
How do you approach technology in a human-centered business?
Schroeder: When I started using QuickBooks, I stepped in and liked the idea that I could work from anywhere, anytime, and clients seem to be loving it. So that was actually what started it. I had a client come to me, and they said, you know, l use Quickbooks, can you help me? I was like, well, this is great – look at all these time-saving apps you can use.
That’s what it’s about. It’s not technology for technology’s sake. But the fact that you can keep track of your time. As a single mom, you can imagine that being efficient and organized is of the utmost importance. So that’s really what’s always driven my love of technology: how can we get the most out of the technology that we’re using to get the best information to run our business to live the life that we want to?
How Do You Start Building Client Loyalty?
Schroeder: I say the same things to my clients that, my intention is always to make their lives as easy and as simple as possible and to get the best information so they can have a successful business. It’s not for me to come in and sound smart or for me to come in and put some sort of complicated information in front of them just for the sake of charging a fee. Because that doesn’t bring value to them, and that’s not what created the kind of loyalty that has people coming back to me after 20 years and asking if I’m still doing accounting.
Where do you see accountancy going in the next few years?
Schroeder: I would like to see it evolving in a more human-centered direction, or even just embracing the idea that you don’t have to do it all. But if you do, to take that systems-based approach, and understand that you can’t separate out the human element. It’s part of the system. You don’t have to do it just like me, you don’t have to be a counselor, but just understand that it’s all part of a system. We don’t exist in isolation; we’re part of a cog, in a sense. If you do tasks, don’t do the task in isolation without understanding how that task works with the other parts.
I have been talking a lot lately, with anybody who will listen to me, about embracing those softer skills and getting a better understanding of yourself and mental health and how to better communicate with clients to get the information you need to serve them better.
How do you bring in new clients who aren’t tech-savvy?
Schroeder: I try to do a lot of discovery sessions with my clients first which includes a lot ofPre-framing; We’ll talk a lot about how they are with technology, how they work, and how they learn.
I do rely pretty heavily on the technology support materials that companies put out. Most of the software I work with is great about providing learning tutorials, videos, and other resources. Then I do training sessions with my clients as well, and depending on the type of personality, I usually just sort out information bit by bit.
It usually takes anywhere from one to six months to get somebody fully onboarded and using and comfortable with the technology, and I let them know that. I know other bookkeepers and accountants do that; it’s a good idea to let them know. “Look, this may get r worse before it gets better.” It may seem that way now because it’s all old nonautomated technology, and it feels like you’re taking all this time to do record things in the new way, moving to this new system that sounds great will probably feel uncomfortable and messy, and we’re going to have to take some back steps maybe when something doesn’t work.
As long as people know that upfront, they’re generally pretty flexible and okay.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from accounting tech?
Schroeder: Yeah, don’t be right at the front. Be just behind the show.
I fully applaud and appreciate those people because somebody has to be the beta testers and the guinea pigs for the software. I have done that and have been that, and I love doing it. But you have to have the right resources in your firm to do that. You have to have the right clients to do that with, so if you want to be that person, you need to sit down and assess whether you have the resources to do that.
But if you feel overwhelmed when you go into adopting technology already, then I would just say pick one or two pieces of technology that you want to embrace and start with. Dedicate some resources; if you have more than one person in your firm, there’s always the change champion; assign them to it.
If it’s just you, I would say, find somebody you can relate to and bond with, in the software company, and stick with them. So you need to pick companies that have great customer support. Don’t be afraid just to try and don’t be scared of looking stupid, because you can’t look stupid and if somebody thinks you’re stupid, then that’s their problem, not yours.