Going green has gone mainstream; if you haven’t yet thought about how your tax and accounting practice can lend a hand, now is the time! There are so many ways we can contribute to the cause – and the great news is that it will clean up some pain points and cluttered areas in your practice’s workflow.
During the course of our engagement with a client, the ways a firm can impact the tried and true “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto starts with the very first step we take with a client, and continues all the way through the very end of the engagement.
#1: Engaging With Your Client
How do you communicate with your clients at the beginning of tax season? Are you still printing out tax organizers with letters and mailing them? Digital is the new mode! If you don’t want to give up the traditional organizer and newsletter, consider an email blast to your clients with a tax organizer attached.
There is a PDF tax organizer with a letter you can tailor to each client in Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online. What’s great is that the organizer can be sent via email because there is no sensitive information it generates. The feature also pulls up a checklist of the documents the client had the previous year. Not only will you save time; you will also save postage, paper, printer ink, gas from the trip to the post office, and wear and tear on your printer.
Let’s take it up a notch. Go the extra mile and use the live tax organizer in Intuit® Link, where there is also a virtual questionnaire and letter of engagement. You’ll get encrypted documents that are ready for data import directly into the tax return. You can custom build the virtual questionnaire to suit your needs, knock out some due diligence questions and get verifiable sources for sensitive data. For example, I use this questionnaire to obtain the client’s bank account number for direct debit or direct deposit, and also ask due diligence questions about foreign financial assets and cryptocurrency. This gives us a reference within the return to double-check data entry, as well as documentation on what the client gave us should any questions come about later, all in a secure environment that is downloadable as a .csv file. The savings of time, money and resources, and the tightening of procedures that will occur as a result is mind-blowing.
For accounting or bookkeeping practices, the concept is similar. If you use QuickBooks® Online Accountant, documents can be requested through the Work tab, or your client can simply upload documents in My Accountant. Now, the documents you need are nested inside where you need them, you just saved our environment, and everything is way more secure than having loose papers or a USB drive.
#2: Interacting With Your Client
I am a strong believer that the personal touch is best when it comes to dealing with clients. There are many ways to deliver that, maintain a Firm of the Future and save the environment. Here are a few suggestions:
Virtual meetings. When you start offering virtual meetings as an alternative to meeting in person, you will be surprised how many clients will take you up on it. Meeting online also shows your clients that if they move away, you know how to go the distance by working remotely. For going green, this one is a no brainer.
Document Control. Reducing paper in your practice is a matter of routine and habit; converting to a paperless process will help keep documents in control. Make sure you have something to scan documents in easily and simply. I recommend a phone scanning app, such as Microsoft Office Lens or Adobe Scan, where it’s easy to grab scans on the fly. If you are proper in your naming protocol, you will never lose another document. Unless there is a large stack of documents, all paper leaves with the client and does not stay.
After scanning docs, you’ll need a process to keep track of them; if your practice is in the cloud, chances are your cloud file storage is much more secure than where you would normally keep client documents. File date and time stamps leave you an audit trail with no effort at all. And, using a secure cloud file exchange to preempt the gas and driving it would normally take to get those docs to you will make Mother Nature smile.
Other Choices to Bring That Special Touch. When I moved my firm into a larger space, the choices I put around us were noticed by all our clients, and I believe it truly makes them feel comfortable and special when they are here.
- The coffee I have available for all is free trade, organic and locally sourced.
- Instead of buying new coffee cups, I repurposed a lovely set from my mother.
- We don’t have a coffee pod machine because of the waste it produces. Likewise, there are no plastic water bottles. They get water served in a glass, also repurposed.
- The swag from tradeshows is not thrown out, but handy for clients to play with while they are here – and they do!
- Many chairs in our office came from the tenant that was moving out as we were moving in. They are beautiful, distinctive chairs that give just the right splash of color.
- I bring in fruit from a local farmer to give to clients if they didn’t have a chance to eat before coming.
- Company vehicles are electric and plug-in hybrid.
#3: Doing the Work
The next way to cut even more paper out of your office by transitioning to a digital notebook. There are even digital sticky notes that never peel off or get lost.
With the aid of a digital notebook such as Microsoft OneNote, searching images for text and keeping logs to document the client’s work and history is effortless. The data can be in many forms outside of traditional text, such as screenshots or attached files, and the flexibility to have it all in one place can be tailored as you see fit.
#4: Collecting Information
What about collecting all those other things we need from our clients, such as payment and signatures?
One of my favorite green choices is eSignature, which reduces the time it takes to secure a signature to a matter of cyberspace seconds, while collecting payments from clients is easier with automated processing and credit cards. In addition, if you are using QuickBooks Payments, there’s plenty of posting going on in the background to keep your own account receivables up to date.
#5: Your Firm’s Health
What choices are you making for your firm’s health? Green choices make a healthy and secure practice, especially in the cloud with encrypted platforms, while a file drawer full of thumb drives contains non-recyclable materials, not to mention the risk of a data breach. If you are part of a team, give your staff the choice of workplace by tapping into flexibility of the cloud and reducing driving.
The foundation of our practice is health – not only our systems, processes and security, but the health of you and your team. Our health is integral to deliver the service and value we bring to our clients. Most of the time, green choices are the healthy choices. Visualize lifting fewer cases of paper every year!
Editor’s note: There are several new features in eSignature; check out this article for more information on using eSignature with ProConnect Tax Online.