25th March, 2022
MYOB community manager and bookkeeper Leanne Berry reflects on one of the biggest trends her profession is facing up to in an era of remote work: outsourcing and how to get it right.
It’s Friday of the fourth week of the ICB’s Australian Bookkeeper Summit and it’s fair to say I’ve now covered more ground in that time than I did in 2020 and 2021 combined. Exhausted doesn’t cover it, but I continue to be energised by the sentiment of the many peers I’ve talked to along the way.
Yesterday saw us complete three events in one week – two days in Brisbane and one day Cairns – delivering the event content to around 200 or so ICB members in a jam-packed agenda.
The conversations continue to be dominated by catching up on everything that’s been going on since we were last able to meet face-to-face, with a specific focus on regional challenges. With more rain forecast in the Brisbane area, it looks like some environmental challenges are set to continue.
One of these topics worth noting is the minimal availability of casual staff, which is hitting hospitality businesses particularly hard in the Top End.
While borders have reopened to tourists, the number of backpackers seeking work in the regions is still well down on pre-pandemic levels, and I’ve heard how some larger hospitality businesses have entered into staff-sharing arrangements with smaller ones – just the type of generous attitude that we love to see from Australian business owners during tough times.
And despite the upcoming announcements that are already beginning to make headlines regarding the Federal Budget, and as the Government prepares to enter full-blown election mode, politics is yet to enter the frame for the bookkeepers and accountants I’ve spoken to. Perhaps it’s the general sense of fatigue surrounding anything to do with Aussie politics, or perhaps this sector has come to accept there’s likely to be little in terms of sector-specific assistance in the forecast run of announcements.
Given the topic of staffing challenges, I wanted to share with you my subject headline for the week: outsourcing for bookkeepers and accountants.
The sudden switch to remote working that occurred during the pandemic has motivated massive changes to the way we operate as a profession, and this topic was addressed by ICB Executive Director, Matthew Addison.
Matthew’s discussion on outsourcing covered a lot of ground, but it’s worth noting this is the first time I’ve seen the subject tackled at length for bookkeepers.
Previously associated with low-quality shortcuts and ‘offshoring’, outsourcing is starting to be considered as necessary by many – including myself – who wish to maintain a level of service for clients when the time and travel resources simply aren’t available to do the rounds with clients as we once would have. As such, it’s particularly well suited to the new paradigm of remote work that we now find ourselves in.
That’s not to say the topic isn’t still a polarising one, and both bookkeepers and our accounting counterparts would do well to carefully consider theirs and their clients’ needs before reworking their business model around it.
All credit to him, Matthew’s presentation gave a strong accounting of outsourcing from both perspectives.
For those who have successfully implemented it, outsourcing doesn’t necessarily mean sending jobs overseas, but wherever and however you achieve it, you will want to ensure it’s implemented in such a way that supports the people who end up working for you, just as you would for staff in your office. They’re motivated to do a good job that sees them paid fairly in their local currency so that they can best support their lives and those of their family members.
To strike the right balance in outsourcing to a new team – either locally or overseas – there are a few key considerations you should make before getting started. These are as follows:
Culture – it goes without saying, the further afield you seek to employ staff, the more cultural nuance you’re likely to encounter. Developing a fine understanding of the people you’re considering working with should be a top priority for any bookkeeper looking to outsource some of their operations.
Legislation – likewise, legislative differences occur from one tax jurisdiction to another, and you can’t expect your new remote teams to grasp all of these from the get-go. Be acutely aware of these differences ahead of time so you can head any confusion off at the pass with exemplary training and education resources.
Language – you may also encounter language differences, and these may even exist when outsourcing to another state, let alone another country. Will you need to employ a translator? This may imply additional costs need to be accounted for when outsourcing.
Time zones – the time zone you work in may dictate where you seek to outsource work. Not only do you want to consider the times you want to be available for team meetings and the like, but also the times in which your clients expect to be able to contact you or get work done.
Security – one of the biggest challenges when outsourcing is guaranteeing the security of yours and your clients’ data. Rather than take this piece on yourself, I highly recommend working with a security specialist like Practice Protect to help with things like geo-locking IP addresses, password protection, additional security software and things like single sign-ons and two-factor authentication for all the solutions you intend on using.
Training and communication – likely to be the biggest ongoing challenge when outsourcing work is the continuing development and upskilling of remote staff with accurate, timely training resources. Yes, you’ll want to plan a cadence of check-ins and team meetings, but you can extend your capabilities a lot further and faster by creating bespoke training documents, delivered in a manner that best suits the needs of your staff.
That last point, on training and education, is where I’d suggest focusing the bulk of your attention before and during the setup phase of any outsourcing project. Creating piles of standard operating procedures can be time consuming and may require translation, so you may find it easier to use software like Loom to record and distribute bite-sized training videos and living procedures, allowing you to walk staff through any given procedure without having to take the time out to attend a meeting.
As such, an area of focus for bookkeepers in the coming months and years will likely see many of us continuing to brush up on our content creation skills. Doing so will not only provide benefits for internal staff training, but could easily be reframed for marketing and sales activity if you see an avenue to provide real value through the content you create. The real benefit of doing this is content creation is a one-to-many activity, whereby you create the material your staff or clients need once, and deliver it to as many people, and as many times, as required.
Another great source of training for new staff is MYOB Academy, which is designed to help new team members get up to speed in MYOB products, join the Partner Program and become certified.
And finally on the topic of outsourcing, don’t overlook the potential pitfalls of compliance when it comes to ATO or TPB requirements. Nor should you overlook the power of a strong network in finding information about these requirements and how to overcome them.
The ICB is a great first port of call when it comes to researching outsourcing compliance. I also found great benefit in talking through the experiences of others in the industry who have already taken the plunge when it comes to outsourcing client work.
We’re heading into the last week of the summit. Next week we’re in Melbourne for an exciting two days of live events, followed by the online delivery of the summit over two days at the end of the week, giving anyone the ability to catch up on the great materials delivered even if they weren’t able to get out to see us in person.
This isn’t a goodbye – I’ll be looking forward to giving you a summary of the tour overall with a ‘Summit by the numbers’ article at the end of the week, and you can look forward to getting a glimpse into what’s in store at the Accounting Business Expo in the weeks following.