insight magazine

How to Launch Your Virtual Firm

Checking out of the office and into a virtual practice is easier than you might think. By Derrick Lilly | Digital Exclusive

Remote Work

“Aligning your personal finances with a life you love,” is the tagline for Eric Roberge’s virtual certified financial planning practice, Beyond Your Hammock. Want to follow his lead?

Truthfully, have you ever wished you could work for yourself, from anywhere, with clients everywhere? Well thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web, you can do just that—by launching your very own virtual financial services firm.

So forget the costs and confines of the traditional office and step into the FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) generation, because if you’re not online, you might as well be out of business.

OK, maybe that’s a little drastic, but you get the point—today’s consumers love technology, and when they want something, they want it now. With some tech savviness and crafty marketing, you can give them that.

Roberge is part of a new breed of financial services entrepreneur—think CFPs, CPAs, even CFOs—who are taking advantage of today’s technologies and cloud computing to launch successful Internet-based financial, consulting and advisory services businesses. No matter if your specialty is payroll, turnarounds, tax, estate planning or financial planning—or any number of things, really—taking your financial services business online has some distinct advantages. Here are just a few.

Cost: Launching and sustaining a new business can be a costly challenge, but the small and mobile footprint of a virtual practice has substantially reduced startup and operating costs thanks to the lack of overhead associated with maintaining a physical office space and staff.

Convenience: Having a virtual financial services firm means online access to clients anywhere an Internet connection exists; in other words, prospecting and client retention reaches a whole new level. No more worrying about losing a client that moves, for instance, because you “move” right along with them.

Clients: If you’re specifically looking to work with younger clients, then you need to realize that they’re  typically comfortable with technology and the Internet. Without the confines of a physical location, you can immediately expand your geographic reach. Even for local clients, a virtual practice means that both you and your clients avoid traveling; instead, you can connect basically anywhere. In fact, a Sage survey found that 42 percent of accountants say there’s a growing interest from clients in online collaboration. “For the generation of entrepreneurs brought up with Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, sharing information online with their accountant is as natural as online banking, and there is a significant opportunity for accountants here,” says Jim Scott, Sage’s vice president of Global Partner Programs in an interview with ACCA Global.

Balance:
Increasingly, we’re becoming a culture where working virtually is more beneficial for professionals, because they can live their lives the way they want to, while being just as productive as they would be sitting in an office.

So how can you get in on the action and make launching your own virtual practice a success? Here are some questions to consider.

1. What’s your area of expertise?

It’s a matter of not only expertise, but also whether the services you offer and clients you have or want mesh with the virtual mold. Will clients value this approach? Will this environment enhance your personal and professional life? Can you make a name for yourself in this space? If you’re interested in working with Millennials, for example, then a virtual firm makes perfect sense.

2. Are you tech savvy enough?

If you’re not comfortable with technology, no matter how appealing a virtual practice might be, then setting up your practice is going to be tough. For example, if you’re using video technology to communicate with clients, and you’re uncomfortable in front of the camera, it’s clearly going to show—and it’s all downhill from there.

3. Do you have Internet presence?

Building a successful Internet-based business obviously requires a strong Internet presence, which means you’ll need a great website, a good grasp on social media, and the knack for landing some appearances in digital media to boot. The better you are at exploiting these tools, the easier it will be to connect with your clients, market yourself and build your brand. Add a blog and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts to share your insights and connect with current and prospective clients and other professionals, and you’re well on the way. Other avenues to explore include participating in podcasts and live speaking engagements, and writing for business and industry publications. These all will boost your credibility.

4. Are you accessible?

Sure, a website, blog and social media accounts are good at building a public presence, but people need to be able to reach you. This is still a people business after all. Scheduling software can be a huge help. ScheduleOnce, for example, integrates with other productivity tools and your website so that clients and visitors can see your availability and schedule a time to speak or meet.

What’s more, the availability of connectivity, conference calling and video chat tools reaches far and wide today. Google Drive allows you to securely work on and share documents, images, videos and more through the cloud. Google Hangouts and Skype, for instance, work great for desktop and mobile video calls. FreeConferenceCall.com provides free on-demand conference call, video chat and screen sharing services.

5. What can you integrate?

Another thing worth looking into is whether the professional tools you already use have enhanced cloud features. Many professional services software providers are moving programs to the cloud, creating apps, and launching secure file-sharing services to enhance their products, which means that the popular accounting, bookkeeping, financial planning and tax applications and software you’re already accustomed to may have integrated online tools and features that could make transitioning to a virtual practice a whole lot easier.