MTD ITSA: 6 ways to help clients go digital in time

by
Keir Thomas-Bryant
August 30, 2022
Woman pointing at a screen that reads, "Go digital"

Adapting to a very new way of working for many self-employed and landlord clients impacted by MTD ITSA will be quite a challenge.

This is not least in coming to terms with the legal requirement to keep regular digital records.

From the perspective of an accountancy practice, segmenting your clients and working out what tech will suit them are important first steps.

But there will come a time shortly after when they will actually need to start getting on with the business of digital record keeping. Will it be a sink or swim moment?

You are more than likely adept at helping your clients with some of their technical challenges, having been through something similar with MTD for VAT. However, some of the six steps outlined in this article may help kickstart your approach when it comes to MTD ITSA..

Here’s what we discuss:

  1. Create and communicate personal timelines
  2. Train clients on and offline
  3. Train them only in what’s needed
  4. Be available
  5. Expect lots of questions
  6. Keep things simple

1. Create and communicate personal timelines

It’s to everyone’s benefit for you to manage timelines. You need to manage your own practice resources, of course, but clients need to know when help will be arriving and when they’re expected to take action. And each client needs to receive the same level of attention, so you need to consider the wider picture at the same time.

You certainly don’t want all your clients to try and make the transition at the same time—and definitely not just as the April 2024 deadline approaches!

To manage this, and leaning on any client segmentation work you have done, it can be useful to spell out what the process will be for each client.

Specifically, you can use the following as informal headers for the timeline document:

  1. An outline of the requirements.
  2. What they need to do and when.
  3. What you will be doing for them.
  4. Their next steps.

This could be communicated an email or indeed a letter or phone call if need be.

Batching up similar clients and staggering the timelines will help streamline the sending process, so you can send out a similar email to as many people as possible. This also helps you allocate resources for the actions that come off the back of them.

2. Train clients on and offline

Helping clients to get used to the tech they need will require patience and some persistence.

Some inevitably will take to it very quickly, while others may come to realise that they need to outsource more of the record keeping to you, or perhaps a bookkeeping service.

There are many ways in which you can demonstrate how something will work, and you can consider whatever mix suits the circumstances.

The main outcome from these sessions should be to show the tech in action, focussing on how tools like AutoEntry are easy to use and easy to get started on.

Online

Running webinars via video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom can work well. It’s obviously an efficient way to bring together a group of people in one go, and providing that the group is still small enough, will provide the opportunity to answer everyone’s questions. Organising these on a regular basis allows you to market them over a long period and provide options for those wanting to dip back in, or who need to reschedule.

You can record the sessions for viewing later via a service like Microsoft Streams or you could even make them public on YouTube (although be sure to get permission from anybody who’s identified in the video, for data protection reasons).

Along with this, you can also pre-record short sessions and upload them to your YouTube channel or make available for download and viewing through file sharing sites like DropBox.

Offline

Face-to-face is also a good option, especially as some will prefer this to doing things online. Organised as one-to-one slots, or as a seminar or workshop, the added benefit from this format is that it is likely to be easier to have more staff available to help troubleshoot or answer questions.

These can be combined with broader social events, such as networking evenings. It’s even been know that accountants hold events like this in a local pub, where room hire can be a minimal cost.

Grab them when you see them

Being opportunistic isn’t a bad thing either! As post-pandemic routines evolve, many more clients are dropping things to the office or arranging meetings. Using these opportunities to also ensure that they are aware and on track with the new arrangements and tech is a useful safety net.

Use materials from trusted sources

Your chosen tech partners should also be able to provide useful resources, and also training materials that you can distribute or point clients towards. Sometimes there may be co-branding opportunities.

3. Train them only in what’s needed

With the focus on ease of use of software applications it’s also important to remember to only show clients what it is they need to do in relation to digital record keeping.

Introducing them to the full capabilities of the tool can be something saved for a later date, or they can be encouraged to make this kind of exploration themselves in their own time.

Stripping things back to the essentials helps  reduce any of the additional anxieties they may have around using something new.

For example, you can show them that with AutoEntry all they need to do is take an image on their phone, or send or point supplier invoices to an email address. You can help with the initial set up of any regular bills to fetch.

The advanced aspects can be saved for those that are both keen and capable of doing more.

4. Be available

Usually it’s the first few attempts that people are worried about, so being around when they initially try things out is really useful.

This is easier to manage in a group, especially if you can start with everyone making the initial download to their phone of the required app.

But it’s also possible on a one-to-one Zoom or even phone call. The pandemic has left many of us not fearing this kind of interaction and, in some ways, it might even be preferred over one-to-one meet-ups.

Taking away the fear is probably the single most important benefit of making yourself available as clients take the new steps.

If you have lots of clients, designate several members of your team to help out as it’s important that users feel comfortable quickly.

Being ‘available’ to help may seem like an additional burden, but it shouldn’t be for too long and the rewards for boosting confidence are significant.

5. Expect lots of questions

As they start to post more regularly and become familiar with the process, it’s likely that this is the time when clients will generate the most questions.

This shouldn’t be about becoming a technical support function! In fact most questions will inevitably be around asking what they perceive to be ‘stupid questions’. However, once they are dealt with they should be able to move on with confidence.

If your team spots a pattern forming around certain questions, then it might be useful to create a short video or even web page FAQ to explain the solution, or perhaps raise it with your supplier to see if they have material on hand.

Remember that HMRC intend there to be at least one "free" MTD ITSA software offering. Although there are no details yet about this, you should ensure your staff are very well trained in it, because it's sure to be a popular option for clients.

6. Keep things simple

Although it’s a little bit of a cliche, keeping things simple is by far and away the best way to ensure the transition is as successful as possible.

You know that clients don’t necessarily like technology, and they almost certainly won’t enjoy accounting. Yet MTD ITSA requires them to have a firm foundational knowledge of both.

Even if they’re happy to hand off the majority of their accounting or bookkeeping work to you, there’s still a necessity for them to understand the requirement for digital record keeping (e.g. creating and receiving invoices or purchase orders, dealing with receipts, and other day-to-day tasks).

AutoEntry really is step one in helping your clients. It’s straightforward to use and can be tailored around different abilities, needs and your existing systems. With its ability to capture data and seamlessly move it into accounting systems, it really is the first step towards keeping everything as simple as it can be.

Conclusion: Helping clients make the switch

A basic foundational knowledge, along with clear communication and no ambiguity as to what is required, should help each of your self-employed and landlord clients on the important process of change.

Considering the ever-decreasing timeframe until MTD ITSA becomes a reality, starting transitioning clients now is vital if you’re to avoid a last-minute rush—and deteriorating client service as a result.

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