Many bookkeepers continue to run their practices in the way they have been for years: focused on compliance–related services, battling compressed work schedules and lamenting the hourly rate pricing pressure. That is despite the overwhelming array of evidence pointing to increased automation in almost every sphere of life.

A case in point: U.S. labor market studies indicate that up to 50 percent of employment will be automated over the next 10-20 years. And if that is a bit remote for you, note the huge amount of marketing dollars being thrown at the small business sector by accounting software brands like Myob, Xero and Inutit. Banks too are in the game with the big four releasing online tools for their business customers to automate data entry. This is yet another lesson to be learned, think about what has happened to bank tellers. When ATMs first came out, they were a great invention of convenience (and new revenue for banks). But tellers weren’t yet fully replaceable. But as a career choice, it would’ve been wise to learn additional skills, since the position would only contract – and eventually disappears – as technology advanced.

Changing habits

Steven Covey famously coined ‘The Seven Habits’ and whether you subscribe to his belief system or not, it sorely underlines the human condition; changing habits is hard. One Sydney-based bookkeeper who took the initiative several years ago to employ two part-time bookkeepers to do the manual aspects of her bookkeeping role, changed her habits towards delegating those tasks which were manual in order to reduce her workload. In time she became proficient at delegating – a habit she had previously not known.

If you don’t want your bookkeeping business to go the way of the bank teller, you need to change the approach to how your business is run. Technology is moving faster than ever, so I doubt we have as much time as tellers did to refocus.

Apart from changing habits that are self-destructive, the challenge is that high-paying work is not going to be compliance-facing; it is going to be come from forging relationships with business clients founded on offering services that save them time and money.

Building skills and self-confidence

Most bookkeeping (and accounting professionals) openly admit to having more confidence in their technical acumen than in their ‘soft’ skills. Moving back to the habit theme; one way to build skills and self-confidence is to build the habit of working on the business of bookkeeping rather than being the technical professional. To transition smoothly, even spending 90 minutes a day before going through the email inbox is a sure-fire way of enabling the strategy stuff of running a firm.

A strategic approach can open up the higher value, soft-skills side of working with a business owner. First, recognize the specific ways that you can provide high-value advice to your clients that they will immediately recognise as a core need for their business success (services that enhance their profit and cash flow).

Second, differentiate your services from the competition and position your practice for premium level fees. Now that’s habit worth striving for.