Strategy, Legal & Operations

Why the cloud can help accountants with practice management

Find out how working in the cloud can help your accountancy firm to deal with practice management in an effective manner.

Managing your client list in the right way will benefit your practice

Like any small business, running an accounting practice can be challenging work.

But at the end of the day, you want to deliver the best service you can to clients or customers—and make good money doing it.

Running an accounting practice sees you doing anything from giving clients valuable advice to admin tasks such as keeping your client lists up to date.

If you don’t manage your clients properly, that could result in unnecessary extra admin—leading to extra stress for you, your team, and your clients.

You’re not competing with other accountants and bookkeepers around the products you offer.

You’re competing on your quality of service, relationships, and expertise.

It’s what will let you offer more value than the likes of Joe Bloggs, the old school accountant down the road—and allow you to charge more for your services.

Using the best technology can help you set your practice up for success.

Look at using cloud technology tools to manage your practice—with some under the label of ‘practice management’.

In this article, we highlight why practice management software can help you offer the best service to your clients.

Here’s what we cover:

What is practice management?

Working for the customer

7 benefits of managing your practice in the cloud

Track potential leads and win new customers

3 tips on choosing the right technology

Look inwards, pick the right tools and beat the competition

What is practice management?

You’ll already be familiar with the accounting software and payroll software that produces tax returns and payroll outputs.

Practice management is a term used to describe certain types of software that helps you manage day-to-day accounting and bookkeeping operations.

You can think of practice management as managing the back office of your accountancy practice—such as delivering services, winning, and keeping customers.

It should, at a minimum, help you produce, collaborate and track work, manage clients, and carry out vital business tasks such as proposals, payments and reporting.

But it can get confusing.

If you speak to different accountants, they might have varying understandings of practice management, what it can do, and the kind of systems you need.

So, let’s try and keep it simple.

If you need to remember anything, remember this—using active practice management software in the cloud can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your business.

Here are some examples of what practice management in the cloud can do to help you manage your accountancy practice:

  • You’ll have contact details always readily at hand, so you can quickly get in touch with clients for marketing purposes or any communication requirements.
  • Your accounting team no longer has to ask around to find vital details about a client, such as who last spoke to them, who said what at that time, or what work was done.
  • You won’t need to remember separate logins for different systems or manually transfer data because everything is in one place.
  • Much more data about clients can be retained, including individual communications, which allows you to provide more personalised, professional, and responsive services—and it allows anybody on your team to pick up on work tasks just by viewing this data.
  • You can implement industry-standard security for client data, something mandated by data protection legislation such as the GDPR, which says privacy should be by design and not a secondary thought.
  • You’re not up against the limitations of technologies like spreadsheetor Word documents, which, while useful for many tasks, aren’t designed to store lots of discrete information.

Another good point to remember:

Without good practice management, you reduce the level of professionalism your clients experience each time they contact you, fundamentally limiting the services you can offer.

Working for the customer

Our Sage research, The Practice of Now, reveals your accountancy and bookkeeping competition are upping their game when it comes to customer service.

According to the research, 79% of respondents are confident in providing business management and advisory services, such as marketing, cash flow, HR, people management, and growth modelling.

An overwhelming majority of accountants (82%) agree that customer expectations have widened to include advising on relevant finance and accounting technologies.

What can you do to ensure that you elevate your accountancy practice to the best it can be, maximising impact with clients and running the most profitable business you can in a time of increasing complexity?

If you’re looking at cloud-based practice management software, you want confidence that it’ll manage and handle any kind of customer data.

Ideally, you’ll want an intelligent, open and connected platform that ties together multiple systems, has rich data storage, and is intuitive and efficient to use.

Ensure that the software puts the client at the centre of your practice by design.

Basing your client management in the cloud using practice management software could be the ideal way of ensuring you’re ready to meet client expectations.

You want software that can periodically remind you to contact clients on any topic — including but not limited to accounting crunch times — and can also provide a thorough method for your practice to keep notes about each client contact.

This makes it easy to add a personal touch every time.

7 benefits of managing your practice in the cloud

So, what are the perks of practice management in the cloud?

Here are some examples.

1. Unified client list

You have just one live client list that’s always up to date.

Because you store this list in the cloud, it’s accessible by multiple staff members simultaneously across a wide range of devices in any location there’s an internet connection.

2. Key dates management

Key dates can be created and tracked for each client to ensure you keep on top of deadlines.

These might relate to client accounting periods but can relate to any event, such as one that’s important to the industry your client is in (seasonal variations, for example), to provide timely business advice.

3. Notetaking and discussion

You can easily take notes whenever you contact a current or prospective client.

Think of it like seeing a doctor, where they will always make notes of what you say to them so they can rely upon those notes if required in future.

Now your practice can have the same in-depth insight into your clients and their concerns. You can even attach documents to a client’s file, such as PDFs or spreadsheets.

4. Contact management and email integration

Look for integration with your office apps to ensure you can integrate your existing contacts database. Ideally, you’ll want to send and create emails from within the software itself.

It can save a massive amount of time and create a super-efficient workflow. You might want integration with Outlook and other apps within Microsoft Office.

5. Single platform to access all your clients

Look to have your bookkeeping and compliance services all in one place. Don’t tolerate having to run multiple systems with different logins.

You should run everything from one platform to deliver an outstanding client experience with the latest information always available.

6. Manage client software subscriptions

A good software setup will support the digitalisation of your practice and the moving of your clients to the cloud.

It will make it easier to for you to manage access rights and integrate all your data under one platform.

7. Logging all client details

While a spreadsheet might have inherently limited the number of details you can record about a client, within practice management software, look for an ability to record any details you want by simply creating a new data field — financial or otherwise.

Beyond all this, a practice management-based approach to client management moves the client right to the heart of your workflow.

Their data is always available, and it is always up to date regardless of who in your team last contacted the client.

As a result, it becomes easy to move your practice toward adding more value for your clients and being their trusted adviser.

Track potential leads and win new customers

More clients mean more money. You want to win new clients, while keeping your existing base happy and well supported.

Now you could track leads in a spreadsheet.

But if you’re serious about growing your practice, you might want to look at customer management.

With customer management, look at tech which can capture leads from your marketing, automatically feed emails to these prospects, score this prospect on their interactions with you, and alert you when you should engage more.

Customer management done well gives you a significant advantage. Most accountancy practices don’t pick up new clients that well—if processes even exist—so embracing customer management will differentiate you from the competition.

With customer management, look for one source of client data rather than having it spread across multiple systems or spreadsheet documents. Up-to-date data gives you a live view of your clients and your firm.

You can easily see what to focus on and make faster and better-informed decisions.

All of this is especially significant if your customer management ties in with practice management and there’s a seamless flow of data.

Yet the value is even more than mere convenience or ease of use. Because you free up your time, you’re able to focus on those lucrative value-added services for your clients that are so vital in today’s accountancy landscape. It’ll mark you out from the crowd as having value for your client base.

3 tips on choosing the right technology

There’s never been a better time to think about an active practice management approach. Your practice needs it but so do your clients.

Here are the steps that define some best practices.

1. Evaluate the options

There’s a variety of approaches you can take when it comes to cloud technology. Still, a vital feature is to ensure that all apps work with your practice management software and potentially with your client’s accounting systems.

Look to see whether you can add in extra functions via an app marketplace.

These might not relate directly to accounting but could, for example, better integrate DocuSign within your practice workflows or help you send out marketing emails.

2. Set aside time and resources to adapt

Switching from a manual spreadsheet-based process to a fully cloud-based practice management software system will take time and resources.

Commit to switching a certain number of clients to it each week. This can be a small number, but the real aim is to learn the ropes and anticipate any problems.

Assuming you have an existing contract with your client, you have a legitimate reason to process their data, so even under GDPR there should be no need to request permission to move their data to a new system.

3. Use the opportunity to build relationships

Switching your software could be an excellent reason to make fresh contact with clients.

You might need to do this to gather new data, or at least check to ensure the old data is still correct and relevant. But it’s also a chance to ensure the client is aware of the range of services you offer.

And as for telling them you’re upgrading to new and improved technology, well, that’s simply good PR.

Look inwards, pick the right tools and beat the competition

Your practice needs effective client management. Your staff will thank you regarding efficiencies, and your bottom line will immediately show results.

Your clients will see better service too.

And there’s never been an accountancy practice that’s gone out of business because it improved the services that its clients required.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in October 2018 and has been updated for relevance.

The Practice of Now

Discover how accountants and bookkeepers are preparing for the future and learn what you can do now to keep your practice successful.

Download the report