As technology has grown, we’ve not only been bombarded with opportunities to run our tax and accounting practices more efficiently; we’re also overwhelmed with the numerous app options that supposedly help us better manage our workflow.
I will be the first person to admit that I love all things tech, and will be the first in the group to download and test a new app. If you take a look at my cell phone, you’ll see hundreds of apps, neatly nested in folders, constantly used and tested – okay, maybe not hundreds, but it sure looks like it. Some are better than others and some do the exact same thing, but deep in my heart, I love them all and refuse to delete them.
What I’ve learned from trying out all of these apps is that some of the technology I use is overkill. Technology can make a simple process more complicated or add an extra layer of complexity that doesn’t need to be there, all because I wanted to say that I was using a cool new app.
Here’s how I streamlined some of my tools to truly automate my practice and make my life easier.
Answering the phone. How many times have you answered the phone and got stuck on an unexpected call with a client? I know telephone service doesn’t sound like cutting-edge technology, but I couldn’t imagine having to deliver messages by pony express. Today, most of us aren’t necessarily chained to a desk that is close to a landline; in fact, did you know studies show the average American checks their phone every 12 minutes?
It makes more sense for calls to be forwarded or directly sent to a smartphone, and there are tons of apps and companies that can do amazing things. For example, calls can be rerouted to one of your team members or even make it seem like you have a team, transcribe a voicemail, and send and receive texts, all of which can be managed via an app on your smartphone. Some popular phone services include Ring Central, Ooma, Grasshopper and Google Voice.
I personally took phone automation a step further. I use a Google Voice number, have all calls routed to an answering service to accept all incoming calls, and they take a detailed message I receive by text and email. I read the message and then decide if I even need to actually speak to the caller, or just provide some requested information via email or through the client portal. The service I’m using, Answering Service Specialists, can even take the time to schedule appointments on my behalf. Not having to answer the phone saves me around five hours a month, which are much better spent on actual client work and advisory services.
Scheduling appointments. Google calendar has been a lifesaver because I manage my schedule from all of my devices. However, it takes too much time to find an agreeable meeting date and time. One common solution is to create a doodle.com poll to find the most common date, especially if there are more than three people joining the call. If you are holding one-on-one meetings, another option is to use an automated scheduler that allows the person you are meeting with to select one of several preselected time slots on your calendar that works best for them. I use Vcita.com, but there are others, such as Calendly or Acuity. The great bonus about using one of these services is that they can send reminders via email and/or text to the person you are meeting with; this has the positive side effect of cutting down on no shows and lost productivity.
Email. I’m guilty of having an inbox full of messages and have yet to master inbox zero, but to tell the truth, this has never been my goal. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t want a more manageable inbox filled with less spam and sales pitches, and more new client inquiries. Richard Roppa-Roberts introduced me to Mailstrom.co – and it is blowing my mind! My inbox had about 9,000 emails (hey this is a safe space … don’t judge me), and in about an hour, I got it down to half. This service made it super easy to unsubscribe and delete unwanted emails just by organizing them.
I’m one of the few people I know in this profession who doesn’t use Gmail or Microsoft Office 365, so it makes it a little more difficult to wrangle in my email. If you are feeling overwhelmed and you use Gmail, look at Boomerang. It has some amazing features that help you pause the increase of your inbox and schedule emails to be sent later. How cool is it that you can set up emails to be sent in the future? This way you can work late, sleep in the next day and your client is none the wiser.
Another tip is to create a swipe file of standard email responses. This way you can copy or paste from a swipe file, use canned responses in Microsoft Outlook, or use keyboard shortcuts on either your iPhone or Android device to respond quickly.
Logging into websites. Remembering passwords, and making them secure and unique, can be a chore, especially if you not only have to remember them for yourself, but your staff or family as well? Who knew 123456 was the most popular password? Instead of using your brainpower to remember these passwords, use LastPass, Dashlane or 1Pssword to store passwords and suggest unique multi-faceted passwords for all your websites.
In addition, if you ever need to give someone else access to your accounts without having them actually see the password, most of these apps allow you to share your login credentials securely. And, did I mention these apps usually work across all your devices, including cell phones, tablets, laptops, and computers? It makes me happy when all I need to do is show my face to log into a website or app on my iPhone using LastPass.
Onboarding new clients. Onboarding can take a ton of work. You need to get the engagement letter signed, assign access to the software, and collect a ton of paperwork and data, all while keeping the client from feeling overwhelmed with requests and keeping them in the loop. There are tons of tools available to help streamline this process, and some are made specifically for the accounting community, including Karbon and Practice Ignition.
In my firm, I mashed together a few tools to achieve results. My process starts with my favorite form builder, CognitoForms, which is then supercharged by connecting to Zapier. Using these tools, I have built tax organizers, engagement letters, surveys, data collection and payment forms, and more. Zapier automates the most mundane tasks, such as adding new clients into QuickBooks® Online, creating new folders and users in ShareFile, adding the task to my to-do list in Trello, and adding clients to an email list in ConvertKit that sends an automated series of emails to keep the client in the loop on all the next steps.
I’ll be the first to admit setting up all the steps in Zapier took quite a bit of time, but it allowed me to not work any Saturdays this past tax season – so I say it was well worth it!
Recurring payments and transactions. We log into QuickBooks Online just about everyday, so why aren’t we using tools to automate this process? Did you know it’s possible to set up recurring sales receipts and invoices in QuickBooks Online, allowing you to get paid faster? Electronic payments hit your bank in just a few business days and cost you little-to-nothing in time. I know there’s a merchant fee, but that’s the cost of doing business, and probably equivalent to the cost of the gas you used to drive to the bank to deposit a check you waited three weeks to receive.
We talked about receiving money, but what about entering in monthly data for your clients and your own books? Are you currently using the bank rules features in QuickBooks Online? These rules can make it super simple to get transactions entered and matched much faster, thereby reducing the time it takes to close the books each month. Many of my clients shop and spend with the same vendors, so I set up rules to get those transactions reconciled in minutes. This gives me back time to do more meaningful work, such as advising clients instead of doing manual data entry.
Driving. I wish we were in the Jetson’s future with cars that float in the sky, but we aren’t. Instead, we’re stuck driving to an office – or are we? With all the tools I mentioned, it’s possible to work from a smartphone, tablet, laptop or anywhere where there is an internet connection. You can get tasks done from the beach (this may be a little harder with the ocean calling you), your back porch, or even an office or co-working space. The possibilities are endless. Just don’t be afraid to let the technology unchain you.