The role of e-commerce in professional services

The key takeaways from this session

This summary is based on the discussion conducted as part of the ACCA Practice Room initiative.  The session was hosted by Arshad Gadit, global CEO of athGADLANG.

E-commerce has entered the world of professional services, and is disrupting a space previously seen as the stronghold of a few, large firms. COVID-19 has expedited the growth of e-commerce, and businesses such as Upwork and GoAudits are becoming super-aggregators of talent, rather than just part of a burgeoning gig economy. Now it’s possible to build a whole business online and offer a wide range of services. 

There is also an opportunity for these professional services firms that go online to be more agile than larger firms. It takes a long time for companies with a lot of staff and legacy ways of working to adopt new technology. And small and medium-sized practices that choose the e-commerce route can form a cohort that can challenge larger firms for bigger business. 

But how can you take your practice online, or even start a new business with e-commerce at its heart?

  1. Pick the components you want to digitise: which areas of your business would benefit from a cookie-cutter approach? Maybe you can digitise invoicing, or client reminders? You don’t have to digitise everything at once - just pick one or two components of the business to start with and go from there.
  2. Ensure integrity: it’s important that, before you begin to digitise, you have the correct governance in place. You need to insure the integrity of your online space, and make sure the rules and regulations are in place for you to work and transact online safely and smoothly.
  3. Use digitisation to improve advisory: don’t worry about digitisation and automation taking away your job. Pick the tasks that take up your time, but not much of your brain. Digitise those, and this will give you and your team more time to focus on value-add activities, such as providing trusted advisor services to your clients. Additionally, once your team sees that the drudge work is no longer in their in-tray, they’ll stop worrying about redundancies and start thinking about competing to become the best advisor.
  4. Make things scalable and repeatable: for everything you digitise, ‘scalable and repeatable’ should be your mantra. That way, you get the most out of your investment in digital. The tasks your technology can do should work at scale, and many, many times over.  
  5. Leverage your network: remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. There is a great network of e-commerce accounting practitioners for you to tap. Find the right kind of partners to bring in further capabilities, or join incubators and accelerators to help you get your ideas off the ground. 
  6. Consume new-age technology: there is a real opportunity when digitising elements, or even all, of your practice to use the best-in-class of new technology. If you start using this when you’re small and nimble, you’ll find it easier to scale and educate new starters as your company gets larger. 
  7. Develop knowledge repositories: often when small practices start working, they don’t have the talent to cover all bases. It’s important that, as you go along, you should pool your resources to capture knowledge from each engagement, and stack it in the CRM system. This will mean you have a repository of information to which you can all return when making pitch decks, or writing proposals. 
  8. Upskill and re-equip: if you’re taking your business online, it’s unavoidable that you’ll have to learn some new skills on the way. Many e-commerce practitioners find that they have to pick up social media marketing skills, for example. When it comes to developing new knowledge, don’t hide away, but work out what you need to do to make your practice stand out from the hyper-automated solutions that are certain to arrive soon.

When you first strike out on your own into e-commerce, it can seem daunting. But it is possible to break it down. Ask yourself questions like: how do I acquire, retain, or re-engage customers, and really break your answers down into the touchpoints customer have or could have with your business. The old adage rings true: how do you eat an elephant? Bit by bit.