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Dear Client, you must use XYZ accounting software or I can’t help you……..

There is a worrying trend currently occurring amongst some bookkeepers (and accountants) regarding accounting software. Some bookkeepers are “encouraging” [a nice word for forcing] their clients to use one specific software only. They are even turning away new clients if they refuse to use the bookkeepers’ software of choice. I don’t like this trend and here’s why………………


Providing a bookkeeping service isn’t (and shouldn’t be) purely about the software used. The goal underpinning all good bookkeeping practices should be to provide a service that is professional and best practice that will ultimately assist clients to achieve their business goals. The software used is an aside and should only be viewed as the vehicle used to achieve this goal.

Best practice bookkeeping isn’t about software choice. Using the latest software won’t suddenly turn you into the best bookkeeper on the planet! Being a good bookkeeper is about maintaining your skills and knowledge and ensuring the services you provide are of a high standard at all times. I believe in the old adage “garbage in-garbage out”. You can use the most up-to-the-minute program with all its bells and whistles but if the data inputted is inaccurate or poorly constructed, the business reports will be rubbish and of little use to the business owner. Business accounts are only as good as the bookkeeper who created them. A bad bookkeeper will always provide bad books despite the software choice.

A bookkeeper should only suggest that a client use different software if the use of this software will better assist the client to achieve his business goals. There really isn’t any other reason to do so. To suggest to a client that they should change to another platform purely because the bookkeeper promotes it is in my opinion, coercive, threatening and just plain wrong! The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is appropriate here. I believe if the software works for the client and his business, then there isn’t any need to change and in fact to do so would be waste of my time and an unnecessary expense for the client.

Those bookkeepers who service one software only are often forced to try to “sell” this software to new clients in order to increase and maintain clientele. But bookkeepers are service providers, not software sales persons! I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go into practice to sell software to clients. If I wanted to be a salesperson, I’d be working in Myer or David Jones! I did however, become a bookkeeping contractor to provide best practice bookkeeping services to clients first and foremost despite the software being used.

Turning away new clientele based on software choice is a very risky [possibly even stupid] decision. To say to a potential client that you won’t help them because of their software choice is the same as saying “No thanks, I don’t want your money”. What? This doesn’t make good business sense to me. Why would you turn away potential new leads on purpose? In my opinion, bookkeepers who are purposely choosing to restrict their practices to one software choice are heading for disaster. In the bookkeeping world, “one size does not fit all” i.e. the software choice for a business is as individual as the business itself. The software must fit the business, not the other way around.

My policy at e-BAS Accounts has always been to assist and support clients in the best way possible, including accepting and using their chosen accounting software. I will never coerce clients to use one particular program and/or turn away potential leads who refuse to use that program. My business is about providing best practice bookkeeping services, it’s not about on-selling accounting software. The software choice is not central to the services I provide – it’s only (and always will be) the vehicle used to provide these services.

If you are a bookkeeper, do you “encourage” clients to use specific software or do you support your clients’ choices? If you are a customer, have you ever been coerced by your bookkeeper to use a particular program even though you were happily using another one? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you. Leave your comments below.

  • Hi Louise. I have to tally disagree with you on this one.

    We take the “one system” approach because it means that we can specialise in that particular offering rather than trying to learn a number of different products and keep up to date with all of them. We don’t coerce anyone to go with our software choice because mostly they come to us because we do specialise. The clients know that we know the product back to front.

    We do turn away anyone who wants assistance with other products. That is our choise, but we also choose to recommend others who specilaise in that particular software choice. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. The client wins because he is getting specilaist advise whatever the product.

    As for turning away work, or “we don’t want your money” as you put it, we see it as time that could be better spent on the product we do know best. I guess if you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of work it is a different proposition but we have set ourselves up in a particular space in the market and that is where we focus.

    I don’t see us, as an example of a one product provider, being the bad egg purely because we offer one product. But by the same token we don’t coerce anyone. We state our policy and if the client wants to use another product we refer on.

    I see it as the best solution for all parties.

    Happy to disagree on this one. 🙂

    • Hey Darren, thanks for your comments. Also happy for you to disagree 🙂 as that’s what this blog is all about – opening up the floor to intelligent discussion. I can see the benefits to specialising in one software and can also see the positives in referring work to other colleagues and vice versa. I suppose I am speaking from experience here when I use the term “coerce”. I know bookkeepers who have given clients the ultimatum – “use this software or there’s the door”. I cringed when I heard this and kind of thought they had lost the plot! It’s unfair to put clients between a rock and a hard place. Anyway, as I said, I like to put ideas out there and see what others think and am certainly not against others putting forth their point of view – it’s a good thing.

    • Dianne Jewell

      Louise, I am not sure where you are coming from with this post. Bookkeeping is only one part of the process of business reporting and should be done with competency and efficiency whichever system you use. You seem to be saying that the bookkeeper may be making a decision based on their own interests in trying to serve the client within a different platform from that already used. This view is a bit harsh on those of us who just want the client to have the best service with the best product as we see it. The whole group of professionals involved should work together to produce figures from the bookkeeping, accounting, financial reporting and tax figures by working to Aust Professional Standards. Some of us prefer different accounting systems and work better and more efficiently with those systems. i love Xero but some other bookkkeeper may work well with MYOB. I want the best outcome for the client and with my skills and abilities I believe I can provide the best most cost efficient service with Xero.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Dianne – this is becoming an interesting conversation!
      Just so you know “where I’m coming from”, my point of view is that bookkeeping is, and always will be about having the best knowledge and skills, not about the software. You can use the best software ever created (no, I don’t have a preference) but if you’re a crap bookkeeper, the results will also be crap i.e. garbage in garbage out. There is just too much emphasis being put on the various software available lately and too many accounting professionals getting swept up in all the hype created by the marketing monsters. If you’re a crap bookkeeper, no software will save you (or your clients) – you will always be crap! Bookkeepers should be concentrating their efforts on acquiring better skills and knowledge, not wasting time “falling in love” with their software. A good bookkeeper can use any software because a good bookkeeper understands the underlying principles of accounting and how to apply them. The software they use is of no real consequence to the most important requirement of bookkeepers – best practice bookkeeping.

    • Dianne Jewell

      I don’t see how you can consider one without the other.The bookkeeper and their tool of trade go hand in hand. I suppose you could say I have been in love with my Financial Calculator when I did Finance at Uni – it did some tricky stuff and saved me alot of longhand calculations! so I can be in love with a system, whatever it is, that I find easy to use and ticks all the boxes.
      The bookkeeping profession is rife with unqualified people – alot of builder’s wives (for example) fit that bill. Accountant’s usually clean that sort of work up fairly easily once a year with success. Professional bookkeepers are good and unprofessional ones arent good; bad bookkeepers won’t become professional just by virtue of using an accounting system but nobody is professing that (are they?).
      I dont see why a community such as the Xero (MYOB or whatever) cannot be part of a group that uses great software and calsl that software fantastic (if that’s how they feel).

  • Gayle Buchanan

    Hi Louise, I’m with Darren on this one too.
    Personally I’m the expert with one accounting software and if that isn’t your preference, please let me point you to another practice who specialise. Over the last 2 years I have concentrated on Xero and only Xero, all the other leads I have passed onto local bookkeepers in NZBAI, ICB/ABN, Xeroites on US website and same in UK.
    Clients come to us for help, give them 2 choices (and 2 filters for us) – Software and You.
    If they want both surely that’s a fab start to a good business relationship.
    PS thanks for the blog Louise (Anna C let us know) – have a good one

    • Thanks for that Gayle. I’m not talking about clients who come to us with a software choice already in mind, I’m talking about our current clients. If they are happily using one particular software, I don’t believe we should ask them to change and/or show them the door if they don’t. There are bookkeepers out there who are doing this and I believe this is very unfair to clients. I agree with you and Darren re sending clients to other bookkeepers who are better placed to offer services that perhaps your practice cannot offer – that’s just common sense. I don’t agree with sending them on just because you, as their bookkeeper, no longer want to use the software that they use (even if you once did!). As per my blog message: bookkeeping is not just about software, it’s a culmination of aspects, the most important of which is best practice bookkeeping i.e. the bookkeeper’s level of knowledge and skills. I currently note several accounting professionals who seem to have forgotten this and who are concentrating on the software and software alone. Good bookkeeping is about much more than the software being used.

    • Gayle Buchanan

      I moved all my existing clients onto Xero because they wanted me. For them it wasn’t about the software it was about removing a problem for them.
      Just thinking out loud, if the clients feel coerced then they need to change bookies, sounds like its relationship orientated.
      If they are shown the door – I tend to wonder if they were worth keeping as a client and a great opportunity to move them on. Probably best for both parties.
      For the few out their who stomp their feet at the thought of change, they probably make the loudest noise.
      Xerocon API Day …. “work with people you would have a beer with”

    • Thanks for your thoughts Gayle. I appreciate your point of view. I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one!

    • Gayle Buchanan

      Cheers Louise

  • Cassandra Scott

    Hi Louise

    This has generated some interesting discussion! Ultimately, I think its up to each of us as business owners to determine the clients that we engage with. If that means we choose not to work with a client who has a specific accounting package, then so be it.

    Its interesting that this issue seems to be garnering more prominence with the entry of Xero onto the market, and the strong visibility that is now out there on those businesses that choose to specialize.

    In reality, bookkeepers choosing clients based on software has been going on for many years. When I started my business in 2004, it was based around the MYOB product – it just happened that all of the clients that were seeking my services were utilizing MYOB, and that was the path that I took.

    I invested in the MYOB Partner Program, and spent a considerable amount of time [which translates to $$] becoming proficient in the software. It was probably 3 years into my business that I had my first inquiry from a client using QB (actually a referral from an existing client). I declined to work with this client, because I didn’t know (and hadn’t used) QB, could not work efficiently with them at my office without undergoing significant training and investment in the QB partner program. Because of my involvement in ABN, I was able to find them a QB specialist who I was more than happy to refer the work to. They were happy with their software, and there was no impetus for change, and it was a business decision for me to decline the work.

    I started looking into Cloud Based accounting, when the MYOB 2011 debacle occurred. I could not get the software working at all, and that was the catalyst for me to start looking at alternatives, and “Cloud” (Sassu and Xero), were on the horizon. I saw both these providers at an ABN Conference, and investigated their partner options. Both products seemed to offer many similarities, and at the end of the day, the decision point for me was the price of entry to their Partnership Program (both programs have changed since then, however Xero was far more inexpensive than Sassu at that point in time).

    I jumped into Xero, and that was based on me planning to support a desktop package (MYOB), and a cloud package (Xero), and become a specialist in each of those.

    Once I started using Xero however, the benefits and effectiveness of it vs MYOB for the majority of my client base became evident, and I commenced transitioning these clients. It should be noted that most of these clients when they engaged my services had no software in place, and were guided originally by my choice of package. For those that had the software in place, we assessed each on a case by case basis as to whether Xero was going to be a better solution for their needs (the industry was changing…..). Some we transitioned in the first 12 months, and some later – we worked with the client, and because we were seen as the Trusted Adviser, and were able to clearly demonstrate to them the benefits of the change (ie: no data files, access anywhere, not needing to be onsite, streamlined bank feeds, etc), all the transitions were seamless

    That said, I still have clients today, that are on the MYOB platform, and I will support them for as long as I can. One client is just waiting for the PO to kick into Xero, and they will transition, however the other clients are on older versions of MYOB and are not under support plans and are not compelled to change. I have made a business decision (again based on MYOBs offering), that I will not support any of the new MYOB products (sorry, but still quite concerned about many of the reliability issues that they are having). I have not shown any of my clients the door if they have chosen not to move to Xero, however I have chosen not to take on new clients who are not using the Xero product.

    I have to take into consideration the ongoing costs of remaining a partner, and continuing to up skill with each of the software providers, and the net benefit that brings to my business. Since moving to Xero, my practice has grown significantly, and again, I have chosen now to specialize in the product (and its associated add-ons).

    If I am approached by a client who is currently not using Xero, but is seeking bookkeeping services, I undertake an assessment of their requirement. If they have no existing software, we see if Xero is a fit (unless the client needs PO’s then I have yet to find a client that doesn’t fit, and with the add-on environment, its much easier to provide a customized solution to clients).

    If the client does have existing software, we find out more about the clients engagement with the software, what their frustrations are, are they happy with it etc. If the client is coming to us because they are not getting the most out of the software, then we look at training (if it’s MYOB), or changing. Ultimately though, we have to build a business case for the client that benefits THEM, not us.

    I have had a couple of clients that I have demo’d Xero to, and they have chosen not to go down that path – not because they cant see the benefits, but because they have been tied to their extant product for so many years. In those instances, I am more than happy to refer them onto a colleague that can assist them. Conversely, I get referrals from colleagues who choose not to support Xero (much the same as I used to from bookies who chose not to support MYOB)

    I’m expecting over the next 12-24 months to have perhaps only 1 or 2 of my existing clients still using MYOB. At that point, I will need to make a business decision as to whether I continue to pay the MYOB Partner fees so that I can continue to support them, or whether they need to move to a practice that does support the product. Not sure I can justify paying for a partner program that does not translate into profit for my business.

    I’m also expecting to continue to get inquiries from clients using another package, but after bookkeeping services. Unless I start to see a critical mass of these moving towards another package, then I will not be accepting them as clients. I feel I would be doing them, and my business a dis-service if I did so.

    I think we are in an interesting time of change, with the movement from desktop to cloud based systems. Its similar to the change that occurred all those years ago when MYOB and QB came onto the market. I’m sure then that there were may bookies who chose to go down the software only path, rather than continue to support the clients using the “big green ledger books”. Perhaps desktop is the ledger book of today?

    • Wow! Now that’s what I call a comment lol! Firstly Cassandra, let me say that I love your style of writing – you’re very good at it – perhaps another career for you after bookkeeping??

      Anyway re your comments, I have no problem with bookkeepers choosing to specialise in one accounting software – that all comes down to personal choice and individual business situation. That’s not really the issue here. What I am concerned about are those bookkeepers and accountants who are just jumping on the bandwagon re the software choice for their practices (and I’m not just talking about Xero here) without any thought as to whether the software will suit their clients. What I see is a group of professionals getting swept up in all the hype surrounding some products, and in the process forgetting about their clients’ needs & requirements. They are so excited by the product that they have forgotten about what is really important – the client!

      I can see that you are not doing this, instead assessing each client’s needs on an individual basis and this is exactly how it should be done. You are the type of bookkeeper that I am not talking about here! The bookkeepers I’m referring to here, have got the wrong idea in my opinion – they have put the software/s on a pedestal and have put their clients somewhere underneath. As I said in my blog, for me, bookkeeping is about providing best practice bookkeeping services; it isn’t about the software – that’s only part of it.

      Thanks for taking the time to write your comment here – very much appreciated!