John O’Nolan is a FreeAgent fan to the point where he has made so many recommendations that they are paying him to punt the service. He says he’s made some 250 recommendations which probably makes him the company’s top salesperson albeit he’s not employed by them but works as a web designer. If that wasn’t enough he floated the idea of opening an accounting agency.
Accounting is boring. I’m sick of new companies that try to make it “cool and edgy” (pretty colours don’t make accounting any less boring) and I’m tired of old companies who have such a mind-bogglingly low level of creativity that when naming a company, they simply combine the surnames of all the founders into a long, meaningless string. It’s amazing(ly stupid) that almost no accounting companies in existence actually use the word “accounting” in their branding.
On that basis, I’d name my company something like “Hate Accounting!” but I’d refer to it lovingly as “HA!”
OK – I can buy that. He says later in the post:
Everything about our business would be about designing an experience for the customer. A pleasurable one.
Is John mad or brilliant? When I first met with the FreeAgent people they said that having tax calculation as a differentiator meant they could almost consider the solution as the gateway to establishing a practice. It is an interesting idea though I pointed out at the time there’s a lot more to it than that. In similar vein, I said much the same to John on Twitter. Stuart Jones was not impressed. In email he said to me:
Before you do this ask yourself the question what would £30 per month buy from “the web design industry” and compare it to what you will have to do as an accountant especially if you’re going to “have an agent give you a ring each month (or whatever time interval you’d prefer) to give you a rundown of your finances, in plain English. They wouldn’t ask you for a single thing, they’d just relay information back to you and then tell you about ways in which you could save money. E.g. “If you purchase X piece of equipment for your company before X date, we can actually write off 50% of that on your tax bill.” Simple.
Simple yes but only if you have the skills!
Indeed. But then I also thought about something I’ve argued for a long time. The profession is ripe for disruptive innovation. Take away 70% of the reason why people need accountants and there isn’t a lot left unless you can re-invent. If someone like John can come up with a business model that works and which can accommodate the employment or outsourcing of tax work for his chosen niche then why not? If you take his proposed cost plus the FreeAgent monthly cost then you’re only at £55 per month max. That’s a long way below what SJD (for example) want to charge at around £90/month with you doing most of the donkey work.
It’s an intriguing idea and one that could just work for those that only want a bare bones service but still need some hand holding.
In the meantime, Xero is taking an alternative but interesting approach. Things just got a bit more interesting…