Bring on the tech stack! What it takes to be a modern firm

Practice Management Tech Stack

I’m willing to bet that if you asked someone on the street what kind of technology accounting firms use, their first guess would be Excel spreadsheets – and for good reason; Excel was the go-to technology for many firms in the past.

Then came stand-alone accounting applications loaded onto local computers. This proved to be only a slight upgrade because they required a lot of manual processing and shifting of files to summarize, re-key, and reconcile information and generate reports.

Fast forward to today, and it’s all about cloud technology — again, for good reason. Cloud-based technologies support the real-time digital transfer of data across applications via Application Program Interfaces (APIs). This makes much easier work to build a custom technology ecosystem to support a firm’s unique needs.

At the center of a firm’s tech stack is a powerful accounting solution, such as QuickBooks® Online. QuickBooks Online serves as the hub, offering built-in modules and supporting hundreds of app integrations to cover other key business functions, including payables and receivables, time tracking, online payments, payroll, expense reports, and more. This is what a modern tech stack looks like — and what’s required to be a modern firm.

The benefits of a modern tech stack

When you build a modern tech stack, you set your firm up to create automated, standardized workflows, the holy grail of productivity and profitability. This allows staff to follow repeatable processes to work and serve clients with unprecedented efficiency. It also offers clients a standardized model to work within as they collaborate with your firm.

Overall, efficiency leads to enormous time savings, which means freeing professional staff to concentrate on higher-value advisory work. It’s a win on all fronts.

Now, let’s dig deeper into the technology stack. There’s a lot to consider as you move forward with vetting and adopting solutions, including your business model, the client experience, connected apps, and more. Before you “bring on the cloud,” consider each one carefully.

3 ways to build your business model

A well-defined business model will help you identify the right solutions for your firm. You can’t begin to know what applications you need until you identify key business model elements, such as what you’re selling (services), who your ideal clients are, and the value your products offer your client base.

  1. Define the products you’re selling. The goal is to create an “off-the-shelf” set of client accounting products. Your services should be repeatable across clients, scalable, and support growth with fewer staff members. Define multiple package levels and remember: Not all business clients are created equal.
  2. Identify your ideal clients. Ideal clients represent those you’re good at serving and like to serve. Are you skilled in a particular industry (construction, retail, and dentists, for example)? If so, go after specific verticals. Are Individual 1040 clients lucrative, and do you like this type of work? If not, start to move away from it. At the end of the day, the goal is to build a clientele that makes you love your job!
  3. Communicate your value proposition. Make sure you’ve clearly defined your value props. This is how you’ll attract the right clients, and build a product offering that’s appealing and ultimately profitable. To communicate properly, you’ll need to create online and PDF versions of a professional sales kit. This should include a presentation, a one-page information sheet summarizing your products and pricing levels, and a proposal. Design your sales materials to educate and prompt prospects and clients to purchase – and support your business model. If you feel the need to print out your materials, do it on a just-in-time basis and avoid fancy printing that costs money and takes up a lot of space.

Focus on the client experience

A frictionless client experience — one that mitigates work for clients and streamlines the process end to end — should always be at the forefront of the technology decision process. Your modern tech stack must support on-demand access to technology, real-time data and communications exchange, and an intuitive interface. This begins with your website.

Your website must serve as the communications hub of your firm. It’s where clients should go first to access their business-critical applications, including client accounting (QuickBooks Online) and bill payment solutions. Make these apps easily accessible via a “Client Center” for a truly rich experience.

Today’s client experience must also extend to mobile. This requires you to identify technology that provides a dynamic online and mobile experience — one where business owners have virtually everything they need in their pocket.

Communication. Set up a channel for each of your business clients in a collaboration/messaging app such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, and connect them to their contacts at the firm. Have your team send messages and share files directly with the clients and vice-versa. Use a video app to offer scheduled or on-the-fly online meetings.

Documents. For all non-transactional financial information, have the client set up a cloud storage drive (Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive) to digitally store non-transactional documents, including tax returns, financial statements, insurance policies, and real estate documents.

Overall, the goal is to create a smooth client experience — because that’s what clients want- and, don’t forget, clients that embrace technology should be your ideal clients.

Strut your stuff with Integrated apps

As you build your modern tech stack, it’s important to consider the integrated applications required to support your business. Here are few to consider:

Payroll. It’s important to select a payroll tool that can scale with your practice, is cloud-based, and offers clients a superior experience. You’ll want a solution that seamlessly integrates with QuickBooks Online, such as QuickBooks Online Payroll.

Accounts payable. In this category, Bill.com is the market leader. It’s the most robust of the tools available and deeply integrates with QuickBooks Online. In fact, Bill.com is listed as a Premium application with QuickBooks.

Receipt management. A significant portion of business expenses are paid via credit card or an online banking tool. It’s important to educate your clients on the need to capture those receipts for IRS purposes. Dext Prepare (formerly Receipt Bank) is our tool of choice to solve this challenge because it supports deep integration with QuickBooks Online, and offers an elegant mobile solution for your clients.

Employee expense reimbursement. This tool needs to perform a bit of a balancing act. It’s important to manage receipts and approval for client employee reimbursements with a tool that’s easy for the client’s employees to use, provides robust management capabilities, and offers deep integration with your core accounting solution. At Rootworks, we recommend Expensify to solve these challenges.

Summing it up

Today’s business clients have a real need for client accounting services. The ever-expanding complexities of managing a small business keep them in the back office and away from their true passion: growing their business and interacting with their own clients.

Help them lose the headaches associated with figuring out an accounting system on their own by offering an affordable and streamlined service that uses advanced cloud-based solutions and a modernized approach. They’ll quickly see the value of working with your firm for all their client accounting needs — which will also be the gateway to strengthening your client-advisor relationship and growing your advisory service business.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Firm of the Future.

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