The software solutions we use to perform our work are the TOOLS of our trade – and are critical to the success of an accounting services firm. Yet we often don’t pay much attention to how we choose and use these tools– and ignoring this important piece of running a firm can affect our bottom line.
Select your Tools
Selecting the software solutions (or ‘apps’) that your firm will use can be completely overwhelming and is often left to chance. There are so many options that sometimes it’s easier to simply easier to stick with what you know (Excel is pretty powerful after all!) or use a software solution a client asks you to use. But ‘going with the flow’ is not the best way to maximize your firm’s efficiency and profitability.
Instead of picking up whatever happens to be lying about, be deliberate about choosing the tools your firm is going to use. Identify a particular part of the accounting cycle that you want to optimize and then research apps that will fit. Talk to other ProAdvisors. Attend conferences to see what’s out there. Test drive more than one app – the vast majority of apps offer a free trial – and compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. Don’t forget to evaluate how much data each app integrates. Tools that work well together are key to increasing efficiency and reducing errors – and improving your bottom line.
Try to look for apps that will work for many or even all of your clients. The more broadly applicable an app is, the fewer apps you and your staff need to master!
Know How to Use Them
Once you have selected an app, you and your staff need to master it. Learning about and understanding the app and its integration of data is a core component of harnessing the efficiency that will create additional profit for your firm. Most apps have free training programs for its users and many even have certification programs. Take advantage of everything they have to offer– it will teach you how to use the app, how to troubleshoot errors, and even how to implement the app in conjunction with other apps to form a complete software solution.
Your staff may know all about debits and credits, but they might not be experts in all the tools your firm uses. Requiring training and/or certification in the apps you have selected is the perfect way to make sure that they are using these tools appropriately and efficiently. It’s also a great way to kick-start training for a new employee. Training and certification benefits the firm, but it is also an opportunity for professional development for your staff – becoming certified in a variety of apps increases their accounting services skill set.
Once you and your staff are certified, many apps offer badges you can display on your LinkedIn page or website. Some even list certified professionals on their website, giving you a nice, free marketing opportunity!
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
As you select and implement the software solutions that your firm uses, keep the big picture in mind. Be deliberate about selecting solutions that integrate with each other. Remember that you are not selecting a few apps, but a set of tools that will enable your firm to work at peak efficiency and profitability.
So map it out – design your overall workflow solution and all of the tools that you will use. This is not something that will magically happen! Be very careful about ‘temporarily’ adopting a solution that a client uses or one that seems like a good idea ‘for now’. Always remember that temporary solutions tend to become permanent.
It’s important to remember that you are in charge of the tools that your firm will use. You have carefully designed the system of apps that you and your staff can use most effectively and successfully – in order to maintain profit for the firm. Be firm with your clients that these are the tools you’ll be using– you’re the expert who has selected the tools best suited for the job. If you hire a skilled plumber, you wouldn’t expect to tell him to simply use whatever tools you had in your garage, would you? It is much more profitable to perform your work using a core set of apps that you and your staff are experts in than it is to change apps when you jump from one client to another.
Once you have selected apps, mastered them, and have integrated them into an comprehensive system, don’t put your tools on a shelf and forget about them. Apps, especially SaaS apps, are ever-changing and evolving. What you selected as the best solution last year, might not be the best fit now. Make sure you stay on top of the latest in all the apps you continue to use so that you can take advantage of any new features that will increase your productivity and enhance your bottom line. Watch for new integrations as they are announced and evaluate them to see how they fit into your system.
The world of cloud accounting offers huge rewards to the firms that are willing to do their homework, spend time gaining mastery, and stay on top of the latest offerings.