If pressed to sum up 2020 in one word, I’d have to say “change.”
2020 forced the profession to disable auto-pilot mode, and as a result, very few firm leaders came out of the year the same as they went in. 2020 also sent us home to work, and through distractions and learning curves, we managed to create a new – and many would argue better – way to operate.
The year also drew a defining line between those who were prepared for the shift to remote work and those who weren’t. Firms that transitioned more easily and continued to thrive were those already focused on technology and operating in the cloud. Firms that put technology changes off found it more difficult to find their bearings.
The good news is that it’s never too late to transform your firm into a successful modern business or to take your already-modern firm to the next level. The technology is out there, so let’s dig in.
The Modern Firm® wheel
The Modern Firm wheel illustrates how the right tech stack can bring a firm’s front and back office together for end-to-end streamlined workflows. The concept is similar to that used by successful modern businesses such as Amazon and QVC, companies that have taken the time to think through their processes and remove any friction from the client experience.
Why should tax and accounting firms be any different?
Before you answer, “Because they’re massive businesses and I’m a small accounting firm,” the concept is the same for any size business. It’s a matter of putting some thought into your end-to-end processes and taking a holistic view of operations, which include the client journey and the technology that supports it.
Firms are more than aware of the back-office technologies available, from tax and accounting suites to stand-alone browser-based tools. What is less well-known are the front-office solutions. The front office represents a new space and requires a new way of thinking about firm operations. Front-office technologies promote your brand, enrich the client experience, and further fuel efficiencies.
It all starts with your website
At the heart of the front office is your website, the digital front door of your business. Modern firms have deployed advanced, mobile-friendly website platforms that promote positive brand awareness; offer prospects timely, helpful content; and provide clients with a convenient online option to confidently conduct day-to-day business with your staff using technologies core to business operations, including QuickBooks® Online and portals.
Further, best-of-breed website platforms enable you to collect and organize valuable visitor data. This makes easy work of identifying and following up with qualified prospects. You can also aggregate and review client data in real time to better understand client needs and proactively offer advisory services.
In line with your website, you should consider other online presence tools that support a modern firm, including:
- Google My Business: This free, easy-to-use tool enables you to manage your online presence – reviews, information, search, and maps – across Google.
- Google Analytics: A free service that lets you analyze details about visitors to your site, measure your advertising return on investment, and track your social networking sites and applications.
Expanding the modern front office
Beyond your website, there are multiple applications that foster efficiency and convenience for clients and staff:
- Videoconferencing: Whether you prefer Zoom or another video conferencing app such as Google Meet, it’s essential to stay face to face with clients without relying on in-office visits. Beyond the necessity of virtual meetings due to COVID-19, many clients demand the convenience of virtual meetings.
- Appointment scheduling: Give clients and prospects the ability to schedule meetings with you conveniently online. Tools such as Calendly integrate with advanced platforms to offer scheduling right from your website. Office 365’s Outlook or Google Calendar are powerful cloud apps that help keep your days organized.
- Instant messaging: Slack and Microsoft Teams are among the most user-friendly apps for internal staff communications, and so much better than email.
- Document collection: Make collecting documents for tax work easy with applications such as Intuit® Link and Intuit Practice Management powered by Karbon.
- Signatures: Intuit eSignature and DocuSign are two fast and efficient applications for gathering the e-signatures needed at tax time and throughout the year.
- Payments: Accept client payments quickly and seamlessly online, right from your website, with QuickBooks Payments or CPA Charge.
- Client accounting: QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop with Hosting for Lacerte® Tax and ProSeries® Tax, Bill.com, Receipt Bank, CashFlowTool, and RUN powered by ADP can all put your client accounting into the cloud – where it should be.
- Payroll: Payroll can be a profitable service to offer when you have applications that make it easy, such as QuickBooks Payroll or ADP Run Wholesale.
- Tax preparation: Whether you use Intuit ProConnect™ Tax, Lacerte Tax, or ProSeries Tax, you’ll be able to work in any remote situation.
- Advisory: An application such as Rootworks ClientView™ enables you to aggregate, filter, and analyze client data to quickly identify opportunities, including advisory and other value-added services. It also allows you to move from a reactive to a proactive business model.
Technology is one of the keys to creating a modern firm and can help you become an irresistible place to work. Clients aren’t the only ones looking for ways to make their lives easier. Your staff and future employees who are increasingly digital natives want tech that can help them do their jobs efficiently and keep the work-life balance the changes of 2020 have granted them.
It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t just adopt new technology for the sake of it. You must be intentional about selecting and implementing the right technologies – those that support your modern business model. If you’re not sure where to start, no worries! Rootworks has already created a roadmap for you. Rootworks Business Model Basics represents the 13 core elements that every modern firm must implement, and when you do, you’re well-positioned to build and grow that irresistible place to work.
There’s a whole new world waiting for us in 2021. It’s not too late to take advantage of it, and create the life and business of your dreams.