Future Accountant profile: Willem Haarhoff

Willem is the Co-Founder of DoughGetters, an innovative accounting technology company.

Who are DoughGetters?

We are a firm that is genuinely interested in pursuing healthy and worthwhile living, not just for our own business and families, but for our clients as well. Our entire team centred around that common goal. 

There’s a couple of things we need to have in play for that to work: First thing is if we want to be different, we’ve got to act and behave completely different. We also decided to fully embrace and adopt remote working and de-emphasise hierarchy. We believe that that is the future of work. 

We also have people who aren’t accountants on our team, because I think accountants have been excellent in creating a lot of mystery around what we do. Part of what we’re trying to achieve is to demystify the accounting process, make it more friendly.

How do you onboard new clients?

We’ve got a very structured onboarding process, we are perfectly happy to invest proper money into that process for every client. So when we sign up the new client, we in our internal structures, we already know, the first couple of months, we’re not going to make money off that client, because of the investment that is required to manage this risk of buyer’s remorse. But we’re in it for the long term. 

What are you doing that’s new or innovative?

From a South African context, a lot of it revolves around technology. If you look at the South African small business environment, my guess is probably up to 60% of small businesses do not yet operate in the cloud. So one of the things that differentiate us from our competition is our focus on cloud systems beyond traditional general ledger applications.

We don’t just help our clients to do their accounting in the cloud. We help them with the digitisation of the entire business. This way a business owner can truly win back lost time so that they can focus their energy on growing her/his own business, generate more profits and well-deserved cash flow.

How do you see accounting changing in the next 1-3 years?

A lot more money is going to be thrown at this problem of accounting and bookkeeping. And I’m using the word problem in the context of the pursuit of demystification of bookkeeping and accounting. And the idea of thinking you’re adding value by crunching numbers is archaic. I am emphatic that you will not survive as an accountant if that is your ideal value add. You’ve got to be a lot more outward-looking than inward-looking, and you can’t do that without technology. 

How can other accountants thrive in that new world?

I think it starts with attitude. And the overwhelming majority of accountants don’t think that this is real. The first step is to undergo an energy change. 

I would say the second thing that you would want to do is to be very clear about how you as a business are going to add value to your clients. And I’m really talking about a mission statement, framed in such a way that it’s both aspirational and very clear about what you’re going to do to change. 

And then you need to think about people’s roles. One of the common messages that we always communicate in our internal meetings is to never think that what you do is enough. Always think about the next thing you’re going to do: learn a new skill, make yourself invaluable.

What challenges have you faced in getting to where you are, and what lessons did you learn?

We’ve made a lot of mistakes since we started. One of those mistakes would be trying to compete on price, meaning that let’s see if we can get the cheapest possible service out there and onboard as many clients as possible in the shortest space of time. The lesson that we learned from that was to understand and know the value that you bring to the table. 

Inevitably some clients still come to the conclusion that they want to go for the cheapest service. We don’t take that personally, because we understand the value that we bring to the table. Once you onboard a client who does not appreciate the value that you bring to the table, that’s when they treat you like just another accountant. And we’re not just another bunch of accountants.

How do you explain your value proposition and pricing to clients?

I think from a client perspective, it’s probably easier because the value proposition is ‘no surprises’. You’re in for a fixed fee per month and in return, you will have peace of mind that your bookkeeping, accounting and tax compliance is always up to date and under control.

Part of the onboarding is re-emphasising the scope of work that is covered by the fixed monthly fee, and how you manage exceptions and overruns and all of that. The development of the flow of information into a continuous process is crucial. If that breaks down, then a fixed monthly fee cannot work. 

What’s the key innovation that has improved the flow of information from clients to you?

Number one, technology: a lot of that you have to facilitate with technology. And today, especially with awesome solutions, like Dext, that takes care of a big, big part of that flow of information. What’s important is you’ve got to get the client to agree that they will in a disciplined manner, submit the expense receipts, for example, on the go. 

If the client agrees, you can extend a courtesy of a fixed monthly fee to them, but they must comply with the rules of the game. If they don’t, then they should expect it to be an additional bill at the end of the month. We also communicate with the clients and regularly ask them how they feel about the process.