Future Proof Your Firm: Secrets of the Cloud-Powered Accounting Firm (CPAF)

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Bob Hollander is a senior executive who has spent years working in the cloud space. As Swizznet’s President and CEO, Bob is a champion for businesses of all sizes as they accelerate growth by moving critical accounting applications to the cloud. Find Bob on LinkedIn.

Question: has cloud accounting been on your mind recently?

With social distancing measures still in effect due to the coronavirus, many established firms have transitioned to the cloud to stay afloat. But creating an online accounting practice is not a necessary evil but rather brings a silver lining. For years we’ve seen how cloud tools are empowering the future of work and helping businesses scale. The same goes for your CPA firm — but only more so. When your critical accounting apps — like QuickBooks, ADP, Bill.com and many more — are in the cloud, you can pave the path for long-term success, whatever curveballs the future may hold. And here’s the “more:” not only will you be positioned to serve clients instantly, from anywhere, you’ll also be able to find new billings and add in recurring revenue to support your growth outside of the all-consuming tax season.

So, let’s get practical. At Swizznet, we’ve worked with hundreds of thriving accounting firms and supported them in their journey to building a cloud-powered accounting firm (CPAF). We want to help you grow your accounting firm into a highly profitable cloud practice too, so we put together a list of secrets behind successful online accounting practices.

1. Invest in Accounting-Oriented Hosting Technology as the Foundation for Your Practice

When you think about new technologies, it may cause you to hesitate. Managing IT and the tools you already have is time consuming and costly enough. Technology should help make your life easier, not give you another thing to worry about. And with the right hosting, that’s the case.

When setting up an online accounting practice, at the minimum hosting should provide you:

  • Anytime, anywhere access to applications
  • Easy set-up and easy use across all devices and operating systems
  • Minimal, if any, training or changes to accounting business processes
  • Robust security backups
  • High-touch customer support for you and your clients so you don’t have to play IT support for everyone

These are the minimum ante to even play in this space, and not all are typically available on commoditized solutions from generic hosting providers. The best technology goes beyond the basics by addressing the specific needs accounting businesses face. Think of technology as a foundational tool for building stickiness with your customers. It supports collaborative bookkeeping by allowing multiple users to work in the same QuickBooks file. It leverages cloud hosting, so you can focus on your business growth instead of worrying about servers, storage, and other IT headaches.

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An accounting cloud helps on the financial side as well: you’ll boost your bottom line through lower IT costs but more importantly it will help you develop new monthly revenue streams. Your clients are essentially sharing the cost of a much better accounting system, usually at the same or at lower prices then they are currently paying. Tools, such as automated reporting, help you surpass commoditized tax return solutions and Craigslist bookkeepers. Selecting the right technology is key to all this, since it allows you to collaborate with customers while boosting revenue.

Insider Tip: The best technology providers understand the industry and coach you to grow your business using your hosted QuickBooks solution. For example, our Swizznet team members are all Certified QuickBooks Pro Advisors that get it. They'll show you how to leverage features, such as reconciliation and payroll services, to build new revenue. A solution provider that only provides technology is a cost. They are not bringing value to the table and offsetting the monthly fee.

2. Put the Focus on Online Customer Collaboration

Great customer interaction gives you a way to stand out from competitors and build long-term relationships. The number one complaint we hear among accounting clients is that they don’t hear from their CPA or bookkeeper often enough. It’s a challenge to deliver great customer service without face-to-face interactions, so you’ll need to build a system for it. This should include:

  • Regular status video calls using Microsoft Teams, Zoom or another solution
  • A regular schedule of correspondence deliverables
  • Monthly or quarterly calls
  • Delivering monthly financials with reconciliation
  • Sending the current cash position every Friday

You can further smooth your client processes by providing online collaboration tools through your cloud hosting provider. This will allow your clients to upload invoices directly. They'll avoid having to take the time to drive across town.

3. Train Your Employees to Ensure Consistency

Not everyone is digitally savvy, but with the right training and encouragement, digital accounting will soon be second nature. Workflows are a key part of this. They eliminate confusion and hesitation. They help people get over the paper-only mindset and see all the benefits of cloud technology.

Start by carefully designing workflows to avoid wasted time and effort. Document those workflows, then train employees and clients on them. Review and revise the process to look for ways to reduce time spent and increase accuracy. A best practice is to start with a current workflow (monthly close, monthly reporting, quarterlies, etc.) and add digital collaboration to the process.

Don’t forget the clients. Start slowly, don’t overwhelm them, and make sure they have a dedicated person for troubleshooting. Document exchange is almost always the first and easiest place to build online collaboration.

4. Encourage Teamwork from Day One

Working from home can feel like you are working in a silo, but the cloud gives you ways to improve collaboration and communication among team members. Online accounting means client information is all in the same place and readily available to everyone with access at all hours of the day. You don’t have to rely on an on-premise server or physical folder to access it. Your team can access and collaborate on documents from anywhere. Encourage them to take advantage of this by collaborating on workflows from the start.

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5. Spread the News About Your Cloud Business

Marketing and education are two important pieces of the bigger picture, especially when it comes to communicating the benefits of your cloud processes to your clients. In customer-facing communications, make it easy to understand the changes that are happening in your organization. Use direct mail, email campaigns, social media content, and easy-to-read PowerPoint presentations to help educate clients on what cloud accounting means for them. You can also set up your Google My Business account to help with searches in your area, and hire an expert to help with Google paid search. These are easy to do, and can quickly raise your profile in your community.

Marketing isn’t only about communication. Every interaction with a prospect or customer demonstrates your organization’s capabilities. Ensure each interaction positions your firm as modern, knowledgeable, and secure by spreading best practices throughout your team. Use a continuous improvement model to help best practices rise to the top and are adopted by your team.

Your Partner in the Transition

Swizznet stands ready to support you in your transition to a cloud-powered accounting firm. Our hosting solution is specifically designed for accountants and CPAs and the work you do every day. You’ll have all the benefits and features of the desktop software you’re used to and it will look exactly the same in the cloud, so there is no learning curve for you, your team and your clients.

Further, partnering with Swizznet gives you access to HostShare®, our competitive referral compensation​ program. As you refer clients to Swizznet hosting, you’ll earn monthly payouts and set up your business to scale by adding in new, recurring revenue streams. We make it simple to spread the word with free marketing tools, including custom branded login portals, online demos and desktop plug-ins.

One of our most successful cloud-powered accounting clients, Florida-based Maven Strategic Solutions, LLC, provides outsourced financial consulting services to small- and medium-sized companies. Its founder, Steve Singer, says his first decision was to find technology to power his business. He needed a solution that would support business growth and help with compliance.

After investigating a few tools, he realized an online option wouldn’t be enough. He needed a cloud-hosted solution that would provide real-time access to financial reports. He ultimately chose Swizznet, and since partnering with Swizznet, Maven Strategic has grown approximately 30% year over year.

"With Swizznet, I didn't have to become an IT expert," Singer says. "I'm able to focus on my clients, while knowing we are always in compliance with real-time anywhere access to their financial documents thanks to Swizznet."

Swizznet's high up-time and stellar customer service have helped power Maven Strategic's growth. We’d love to power your growth with our enterprise-grade hosting solutions.

Click here to learn more about why Swizznet is the cloud hosting choice for thousands of businesses.

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