To stay ahead of the curve and maintain client satisfaction, today’s firms must use technology that automates and properly manages their practices–but how do you find the right technology stack? Also, if you’re comfortable with your current stack, how can you embrace some of today’s new technology? If what you’ve been using to manage your practice is lacking, your clients and your profitability could suffer.
But how do you scoot away from the ledge of security you feel with your current practice management? Learning new ways to accomplish your tasks can be scary, but with today’s business management solutions, there’s little to no learning curve. Best of all, most management apps sync with other apps, meaning you don’t have to stay on top of which app hosts what data and you can better focus your attention on your clients.
What Types of Practice Management Solutions are Available?
Today’s accounting practices have access to several different types of management solutions, including apps for:
- Invoicing–Stripe is a user-friendly invoicing app that syncs with QuickBooks
- Accounts Receivable tracking–you can do this within QuickBooks
- Payroll–The Payroll add-on helps you manage your firm’s payroll with ease
Other management apps include:
- Time tracking–If you already have QuickBooks, you can keep track of employee hours from within your Dashboard. You can add as many employees as necessary with just a single license. Other options include Android Time Card and ClockedIn 2 for iOS.
- Billing–Paymo seamlessly integrates with your accounting company management software and syncs with the above time tracking apps.
- Job costing–TSheets assists with time tracking, job costing, payroll, and other data entry types, plus it comes with a wide range of add-ons for increased functionality–not to mention it integrates with QuickBooks seamlessly. You can even use TSheets to save passwords for easy access to your productivity tools, whether you’re in the office or working from home.
- Workflow management, General Ledger–These are both components of the QuickBooks suite of accounting software
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Content Management System (CMS) sites like WordPress and Squarespace may look like just another way to create your own website, but in reality, these are two of the best CRM and CMS applications available. You can save all your client’s data and manage your company’s blog from the same space, plus WordPress offers hosted or self-hosted options for added versatility.
How Mature is Your Firm’s Technology Stack?
Now, it’s time to evaluate the technology stack your company currently uses. Depending on the size of your accounting practice, your stack might be just what your firm needs–if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? Evaluating how your current solution is working against the types of solutions available today can help you decide if you need to rethink your overall practice management solution.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Customer relationship management is arguably the most vital part of your firm’s survival and its ability to grow. The majority of accounting practices don’t require a complete CRM system, but instead, they need small office management software that handles basic tasks, such as contact organization. Does your current CRM track your clients and all of their contact information? What about accounting and tax details that are specific to each client? Although it’s not required, today’s CRM systems can even track other information specific to each client, such as birthdays or management preferences.
While your clients are certainly central to your firm, your ability to grow and thrive as an accounting practice depends on your ability to effectively bill for the services you provide to your clients, meaning invoicing is a crucial piece. As an accountant, you already have some form of billing management solution as your general ledger, such as QuickBooks, but you can also use this system for your own internal books management and for client billing.
Time tracking – for employee payroll and for client billing
If you have a staff of any size, managing their weekly hours properly means payroll will be correct. But another aspect of time tracking is that of managing the amount of time you spend on each client’s account. You must be able to easily transfer all of these figures to your general ledger. If you don’t charge your clients hourly, say if you charge fixed-fees, you don’t need to track for time, but rather plan for capacity and resource allocation. Having a solution that allows you a sneak peek across all the workflow within your firm means you know if you can handle new clients, and when. Take a look into project management solutions that provide all of the above aspects, if you require them, otherwise, standalone solutions can also work.
Do you currently have processes in place to manage your workflow? If not, begin documenting the processes within each type of project you currently run. This can be items such as data entry, payroll or invoicing. Begin documenting the steps involved with each process and how long each step takes. If you decide to transition to a workflow management system, you can reap the benefits of reduced time spent on repeatable steps. This can raise your level of client satisfaction and even improve your firm’s service delivery quality.
When choosing a workflow management system for your firm, consider the system’s user-friendliness, if it can automate some of your processes, and if it has the capability to schedule and assign tasks to your team members. Both small and large firms can benefit by using an option like QuickBooks Practice Management.
Project and task management
Managing each project, along with all the tasks necessary for its completion, requires a more short-term management solution that gives valuable snapshots of your current workflow. Many of the options available for project and task management are horizontal, meaning some are for managing projects while others are more suited for managing the individual tasks. Being able to have both solutions bundled means that tasks remain within the specific projects they’re assigned to. The overall best solution for your practice is one that also syncs with your accounting software. These solutions can also be used long term.
Timeline of communications and collaborations history
Your accounting firm is service-based and client-centric. The combination of the aforementioned management systems creates a new category of aspects that you should consider tracking, including:
- The history of clients who have used your firm
- All of the related communications your firm has had with clients
- When each communication took place, and if these communications were internal or with the client
You want to log the call date and time each time a client calls. For each project that’s handled by your firm, there should be a detailed listing of all communication that took place with each client contact. For instance, if one of your team members is out sick and someone else needs to jump in and handle the account, that person should know exactly where the project currently stands to avoid redoing completed tasks, or worse–reaching out to a client to ask a question that they have already answered.
Managing your documents – internal and client-centric
Your firm creates many types of documents daily, including internal documents, such as memos, as well as client-centric documents, such as proposals, work statements and tax forms. Some of the most widely used document management platforms, such as Box or Google Drive, are great for small business and even for content management. But for accounting firms, of any size, you need to incorporate a client portal, tasks specific to each client, a means of e-signature capture, and other related workflow items. ShareFile is an app that does all of the above, and it offers instant integration with QuickBooks.
Which Practice Management Technology is Right for Your Firm?
Having a solid practice management solution in place for your firm can mean the difference between satisfied clients and a need to close your company doors. Simply put, it’s a necessary aspect of your practice. You can provide better service for your clients and boost team morale by helping them to complete tasks more efficiently. To choose the stack that’s right for your team, think about your firm’s future and where you see your company headed. If all is well and you’re not thinking of scaling up in the future, maybe just a few of the above suggestions could help you streamline some functions. But if you know there are aspects of your practice that could use a tune-up, or if you see your firm growing substantially, it’s vital that you choose the right technology stack for your practice.
It’s never a good idea to opt for a free practice management solution. If you’re a one-person practice, it might be feasible–but if you’re a practising firm with several clients and staff members, free software just isn’t going to cut it. Your practice management solution has to be able to pass the test–your test–of worthiness, and with free software solutions, there usually hasn’t been enough resources dedicated to its creation. In the end, you’re still going to need staff members to compensate for whatever features the program lacks. So, how do you decide what’s best for your company?
How to Choose the Right Technology and Practice Management Solution
In just the past few years, technology overall has radically changed for accountants. With the invention of cloud accounting options came a new age of applications specifically designed for the accounting industry. Today, you can take into consideration things such as compliance, identity management, backup/recovery, offline access and integration. Each of these are very important aspects that can get missed in the glow of cloud application goodness. It’s common for businesses to sign up for a variety of programs offering different solutions. With these sign ups comes the need to manage a dozen different systems, along with managing various staff logins and passwords, or funnelling information. Many of the products geared specifically towards accounting professionals take into account the uniqueness of their workflows.
With this evolution, you’re presented with game-changers. Do you want to be more efficient? Is automation essential for your practice? How do you choose the right practice management solution from the smorgasbord of available choices?
Begin by identifying issues and opportunities. No matter what solution you choose, it’s only as good as what you’re using it for. Take a look at what’s not going as well as it could in your firm. For instance, examine which of your processes might be inefficient, creating bottlenecks. Which processes are taking too long? On the flip side, take a look at what is working well while considering potential improvements.
The following steps can help you narrow down your options and decide what’s best for your practice:
1) Prioritize and review
You can’t tackle every problem at once. But with proper planning, you can address the most important priorities for your team. After you’ve compiled your list, research the top providers of applications for each specific task or process. Keep in mind that any applications you choose should have integration functionality, so you can continue using any programs you’re currently using that you want to keep.
2) Evaluate providers
By now you understand the issues your firm might be facing, and you have a pretty good idea of how to solve them. Armed with that information, begin evaluating the providers you identified and investigate their differences and similarities, and shortlist those that you’d like to evaluate further.
3) Decide importance
At this point, you have a good grasp of which apps you absolutely need, some that you could probably use, and the ones that aren’t relevant. You also have an idea of the criteria you’re going to use to evaluate what’s most important to you. What characteristics of your current system are the most important to you, your staff, and your firm as a whole? The following are other questions to research:
- Does the solution offer product training?
- How are their customer service reviews?
- Will the solution work for your workflow?
- Will it scale with your practice if you grow in the future?
- What report types are available?
- Will it integrate with current systems?
- What is their overall performance rating?
- And, how much does it cost?
Your answers to those questions will help you evaluate your shortlist.
5) Assign a weight to your options
Based on the features you already know you need, assign a weight to each feature and then give appropriate “points” to each solution provider based on that criterion. Scoring your choices this way not only helps you choose, but it also helps eliminate any bias you might assign to a provider based on your own personal opinion, or the opinion of a friend or colleague who’s used the solution. All practices are different, and what works for some may not work for everyone.
6) Score your shortlist
Now that you’ve decided your criteria, ranked them, and shortlisted solution providers, it’s time to give a score to each option based on the criteria you evaluated. A good way to score your shortlist is by evaluating each one for each criterion you chose and then giving the provider a score from 1 to 10, with 1 being very poor and 10 being perfect.
If your most important category is customer service, you would score the solution with the best customer reviews a 10 for that category. If you’re scoring for something else, like user-friendliness, give a 10 to what other users say is easy to learn, and a 1 to the products that look like they have a steep learning curve.
7) Tally your scores
Now, you add up all the scores from the providers you shortlisted. The solution provider with the highest score is your overall “winner” for providing your firm with the tools you need that will work best for your practice.
8) Sign up for a trial
Now that you know the practice management solution you want for your business, you need to give it a trial run. If you had a tie, trial both options. Taking the software or app for a test drive helps show you how well it works for the intended purpose. Lots of solutions offer free trials, product demonstration videos, and other ways to see the solution in action.
After you’ve signed up, take a look at their tutorials and then import your data to the new solution. Give the product a go for a couple of weeks, taking notes on what works and what might need some fine-tuning or simply getting used to.
After your trial, you can make your final decision. Should you go back to the drawing board? Or, did the solution live up to or exceed your expectations? Did it solve the problem you were having? If it did, congratulations! You’ve found your product. If it didn’t, no worries. You can go back to your shortlist and check out the solution in the number two position and start over at the trial phase.
As you’ve seen in your research, there’s a lot of solution options available for accounting practices. Adopting the best technology when you need it can keep your practice running efficiently and give you a competitive advantage.
How to Implement Your New Technology Solution
After you’ve trialed and chosen your stack, it’s time to put it to use. These five things are most crucial during the transition phase:
- Offer support–Brief your staff about the new solution, and provide all of the training opportunities necessary for your team to master their new tool.
- Don’t rush–There’s no need to hurry the implementation process. You want your staff to feel comfortable in their positions, and you also don’t want to make costly client-centric mistakes. You might find that your first choice simply doesn’t mesh well with your current operations, and that’s okay.
- Have transparency–It’s not a good idea to implement a new solution and then alert your staff. Your team should always be abreast of company changes that pertain specifically to the work they do–and how they do it. As you maintain transparency with your employees throughout the process, the more likely they’ll see their role in it and help bring about a smooth transition.
- Build value and improve morale–Let your team know what wasn’t working and why you feel implementing a change will bring about better results. If you have a dedicated, highly efficient staff, someone probably already knows that something isn’t quite working as well as it could. In this case, you’ve likely already discussed the potential for changing or adding solutions. Ask your team what features they enjoy and what user-friendliness means to them. They’ll appreciate that you value their opinion.
- Maintain the momentum–Designate a staff member, or even create a team of staff, who are responsible for ensuring the ongoing processes after you’ve transitioned to your new solution(s). Create a mission statement for your team. Set specific daily, weekly and monthly goals, and prioritize work to ensure you always complete the most important tasks as soon as possible.
Options for Practice Management Solutions
There are a lot of practice management solutions available, as you’ve now seen through your research and consequent scoring. This comparison of top solutions highlights side-by-side the pros and cons of each, and also shows price points and other important aspects.
Every accounting practice is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all tag when it comes to any software or solution. Follow these steps to determine the best practice management software for your business. In the end, the technology you choose will allow your practice to operate at peak efficiency. Ready to dive in? QuickBooks Online Accountant helps you manage projects, tasks and clients together. Sign up for free.