Technology has shifted nearly everything to do with running a tax and accounting business.
Today, it’s possible to automate workflows and processes that were once manual. You can communicate instantaneously with clients and partners around the world, and collaborate seamlessly with colleagues wherever they are.
But along with these changes comes frustration, particularly around trying to figure out where to start your journey in optimizing your firm’s processes – and trying to keep up with the ever-changing accounting tech ecosystem is overwhelming.
Do you feel like your company could be better prepared for the future, but aren’t quite sure where to start?
A good place to begin is with your accounting firm’s workflows.
Karbon’s Practice Excellence report shows that the majority of leading firms use a workflow management system. Workflow software can streamline interactions by centralizing client communication, and allow for higher transparency and visibility into how work is progressing and where you have bottlenecks.
Streamlining these interactions and automating workflow routing can lead to substantial efficiency improvements and increased accountability in your teams. Workflow management systems have a variety of applications, including client onboarding, internal and external client communication, advisory services, and compliance production.
In short, your accounting firm needs a suitable workflow solution. The difficulty here is that there are many systems available, which can make choosing the right one a real challenge.
Choosing the right software
If you’ve decided to explore your options for workflow software for your firm, it can be tough to know where to start.
How can you decide which one is right for you? What sort of things should you look for? Is there a process that you can follow to make sure you’re considering all of your needs?
It can be overwhelming, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make your job easier:
- Needs: There are a lot of options, some suitable for you and some not so much. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need to understand your firm’s needs before selecting the right tool.
- Price point: With the right solution, you’ll be able to push ahead. The wrong one will hurt you. Don’t rush the process, and don’t select the first one you see. Do your research, and don’t select based on price.
- Process audit: Don’t forget that as a rule, your electronic systems will only be as good as the manual processes they are mirroring. The same applies to workflows. Implementing electronic solutions for inefficient processes with complex rules can be difficult.
- Take the time needed: More up-front effort from you to set up your requirements will make the selection process easier.
Evaluate your firm’s needs
After deciding to implement workflow software, the most important thing to do is evaluate your firm’s needs. What’s important to you about a workflow system? What does it need to do?
It’s a good idea to write a list of must-haves – the functionality and requirements that any workflow solution you implement needs to cover, then a list of nice-to-have – a usually slightly longer list of features that would be useful, but aren’t deal-breakers.
What’s your budget?
Choosing the cheapest workflow software can leave you with many avoidable headaches.
Working out how much you’re willing to spend can be a great method to reduce your options from the get-go, so do this step in the early stages of your selection process.
Although it’s important to look at the full cost of the implemented system, it’s also critical to consider the benefits as well. How will they offset the initial investment (both effort and money) and annual cost?
If you make the right choice, your accounting workflow software should actually be able to increase your top line and bottom line through cost savings and time saved.
When defining your budget, it’s also important to consider the tradeoffs you’re prepared to make. Is more functionality and a more complex deployment worth having a system that is easier to use?
Talk to your peers
One trick to finding great accounting workflow management software is to ask around. Talk to other people in the profession that you trust or look up to.
Find other firms in similar niches or with similar scopes, and ask them about the tools they’re using:
- What did they implement and why?
- Are they satisfied with the solution?
- Is it worth the investment?
Generally, they’ll be happy to share their experiences with you.
Pick your key criteria
Align with your management team on a list of key requirements. It’s important that everyone is on the same page going in. Try deciding on three to five key criteria you’ll use to evaluate the available options.
Refer back to your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, and make sure you and your management team agree; they might have a different take on what your firm may need.
You may find it useful to assign each of your identified criteria a weight based on how important it is to your firm. The combined weighting of all criteria should add up to 100.
Prepare and assess possible solutions
The field of available solutions is large. Narrow down the pool as much as possible by choosing only those that fit all or most of your needs. Having clear requirements will make this process easier – this is where your identified criteria from the previous step will come in handy.
Rate each possible solution for their strength in each of the key criteria you defined. If you allocated a weighting to the criteria, you can then calculate a weighted score for each solution by multiplying each criteria score by the criteria rating, and aggregating these together.
You can use this Technology Prioritization Template to assist with this step.
Whatever method you use to evaluate, try to keep a strict time limit when looking at each solution. Don’t spend too much time on one vendor while you’re still narrowing the field. This can cause an over-investment and potentially lead to a poor decision.
Once you’ve got a winner, engage in a trial or ask for a demo. If you have two solutions that are on par, try them both. Most will offer a free trial period.
See how you like working with each system:
- Which one is easier to use?
- How accessible is the support?
- Are you able to solve simple problems yourself?
The bottom line
Every firm needs a workflow solution that works for them. Your workflow software can bring productivity to your own firm, while increasing your value to your clients.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking the time to pursue the best in class options to make your firm the strongest it can be.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Karbon. Find out more about how Intuit® Practice Management powered by Karbon can centralize your firm’s contacts, automate tasks, collaborate in real time, and track your progress.