insight magazine

Firm Journey | Summer 2019

Turning Small Tech Bets Into Big Wins

From time management to business development, there are several cost-effective technologies than can boost the bottom line for CPAs.
Tim Jipping, CPA, CGMA Owner, Journey Advisors & CPAs

From costs to awareness — the reasons are many — I’m willing to bet you or your firm (or maybe both) are underutilizing technology. But I submit that it’s time to overcome any unwillingness to change and begin to challenge every element and understanding of how you do what you do to keep moving forward in a technology-driven future.

Us CPAs, we’re technicians, specialists. Our creativity is most often exercised in solutions for our clients rather than for ourselves. And while it’s great to be client-focused, improving our workflow is an extension of client service. Not only will our clients benefit from a more efficient process, we will be able to better converse with them as business operators, supplementing our technical expertise with business advisory even in its most simple forms. This brings us a step closer to obtaining or retaining that coveted “trusted business advisor” moniker.

It’s said that doctors make the worst patients and, in similar fashion, we CPAs shudder at the thought that we might not already be operating our firms at the highest level; so, we often avoid asking the tough questions. Heck, we’re making money and business is good. Maybe we aren’t leveraging technology fully, but it’s not that big of a deal. Right? Wrong.

The reality is that not keeping up with the times could be diminishing the perceptions of us being the most trusted and most valued business advisors that we strive to convince our clients that we are.

Don’t feel too bad, yet. We are largely products of a system that has traditionally placed minimal value on creativity and innovation and leveraging technology to become more impactful business advisors. Fortunately, we don’t need to remain prisoners to SALY (same as last year).

While I can’t possibly cover even the tip of the iceberg in technology offerings that could dramatically improve you and/or your firm’s performance in this column, I’d like to present a handful of tools that I know of that can help boost your productivity today.

Survey Software: Survey Gizmo and Survey Monkey

If you’re still using paper tax organizers, you must begin to phase them out — especially for newer (younger) clients. Modern survey and questionnaire software, like Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo, allow you to electronically capture the same types of client data and responses you want without any need for pushing, managing, tracking, or scanning paper forms. And while certain tax products have begun dabbling with versions of electronic organizers, many outside applications are more customizable and allow you to apply the technology beyond the traditional tax organizer questionnaires and checklists. From onboarding new clients to capturing performance feedback, these services allow you to rinse and repeat with the click of a button.

CRM: Hubspot and Insightly

Even if you’re not in marketing or driving business development activity within your firm, at minimum you should utilize a database of some sort to organize your current, past, and potential client data. At worst, think of customer relationship management (CRM) software as a glorified spreadsheet that allows you to call up client information quickly. At best, a CRM solution could help facilitate mass client communications, drive prospecting and business networking, and create other connections. Some of the loudest groans I hear about utilizing a CRM solution are the maintenance aspects (data entry, activity updating, etc.), but as you’ll see in the next point, when you use the right platforms, almost all these steps can be automated.

Automation Tools: Zapler and Automate.IO

If you remember only one section of this piece, let it be this one. Automation tools have the power to revolutionize your practice and your life. This is not hyperbole but may in fact be an understatement!

What I’m referring to when I write of automation tools is building a system, or systems, of rules (think if/then formulas) that are automatically executed to follow certain actions or triggers. You may even use a form of this with your email application. For example, you can set a rule that when you receive certain email messages (by sender, subject line, etc.), they are automatically routed to a predetermined folder (even the trash bin!).

It may seem simple enough, but there are applications available that allow you to automate between disparate systems, not just within them. This could be as simple as creating a rule that automatically takes a post you make on one social media platform (say, your Facebook page) and shares it across all your social media accounts. One post becomes many, with no additional time.

Other Efficiency Tools 

The following is a rapid-fire list of other miscellaneous tools that, when used effectively, can save you massive amounts of time and energy on some of the most mundane and tedious administrative tasks:

1. DocuSign allows you to automate and authenticate how your agreements, contracts, and other documents are prepared, signed, and managed — quickly, securely, easily, and paper-free. 

2. Slack, at its core, provides cloud-based chat and collaboration functionality for your teams and clients to help cut down on email. 

3. Calendly saves you time by monitoring your calendar and automating call and meeting scheduling with your contacts. 

4. Asana is an online application for managing workflows, projects, to-dos, and more for you and your team.

5. Zoom offers business solutions for your phone, video and web conferencing, webinar, and screen sharing needs. 

6. Practice Ignition is a client engagement, proposal, and payments software solution that can serve as the backbone of your practice, whether you use it as your engagement letter library, CRM, billing module, collections manager, etc.

Putting it in Practice

Just to get your creative juices flowing, I thought I’d provide a simple example of how some of this technology could be used in practice.

To set the scene, imagine a good client refers a colleague of theirs to your firm to help them with their personal tax return. You receive this referral via email and immediately respond with a templated response containing a quick summary of your practice and process. In that templated email response, there’s a link to a short survey the prospect will fill out that provides you with enough background to understand their situation in order to best advise on next steps.

Once they complete that survey (which is customized and wrapped with your firm’s logo and branding), several things will automatically happen simultaneously:

1. A new folder was created on your network with the name of this new client as they entered it in the survey (this is where you can begin to store relevant client information instead of in that paper tax organizer). 

2. A copy of the survey results is added to the newly created folder. 

3. An email is sent to you letting you know the survey has been completed with a copy of the results. 

4. Considering the new client has entered their name and contact information, they are automatically entered in your CRM.

5. The client is routed to a webpage (or receives an email) inviting them to set up a 15-minute introductory call with you through your scheduling software, meaning they can see when you’ve blocked out time for such calls and can select the slot that works for them. 

6. Once they’ve chosen this, both of you receive a calendar appointment that includes the call-in number (or link). Within that invitation, you may have chosen to include a templated message regarding information to have available for the call, or even a copy of the results of the survey they submitted. 

While there are many other tasks we could have automated in the above situation, you can see that when you set up your system properly, you could eliminate hours of administrative work with a simple 10-second email reply. Now that’s ROI!

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