CPA firm disasters come in many different forms:
Accounting firm server crashes, hard drive failures, disgruntled employees and of course the all too unfortunate natural disasters. When the storm hits – how prepared is your accounting practice and your clients?
Every accounting firm should have a Disaster Recovery Plan, here are the essentials to get you started:
1. Offsite backup of all accounting firm data. Tape backups are not reliable. Backups need to be regularly scheduled and automatic.
2. Know your accounting office functions. Being able to recognize what materials, procedures and equipment are essential to keep your business running is the first step to taking inventory of what needs to be recovered promptly.
3. Have a list of your accounting firm employees phone numbers readily available. Have a person in charge of contacting accounting clients during a disaster, communication is key.
Cloud Computing For Accountants White Paper
Accounting Professionals are bombarded in literature, emails, conferences and by consultants to move to cloud computing for accountants. They think they know what it means and they know there are some benefits to the technology, but have a hard time grasping exactly how it can benefit their firm, and more importantly – their clients. In an attempt to gain a competitive advantage over their competition, they want to stay ahead of the game, offer the latest in services, technology and security while minimizing costs during a global economic downturn.* (The answer of course is Cloud Computing For Accountants)
*Related – 2012 Accountants’ New Year’s Resolution Survey
This conundrum has led to many questions that will be addressed here, but first lets answer the most important question: What is Cloud Computing For Accountants?
What is Cloud Computing for Accountants?
Doug Sleeter Chunkified
Doug Sleeter makes some excellent points about the future of Cloud Accounting, the breathtaking pace of new add-ons that enhance QuickBooks and other accounting applications, the potential (soon?) obsolescence of the old strictly ‘billable hours’ business model, and whether you and your firm have what it takes to be ‘Lego Masters,’ those artists who excel at building beautiful and complex Lego art by selecting pieces from thousands of shapes, sizes, colors and textures, and assembling them using the right connections – a great analogy for how accountants will succeed with clients in the new ‘chunkified’ world of cloud-based accounting.
Sleeter gave his original schpeel at his November Las Vegas conference where Cloud9 Real Time presented, and we suspected and have since confirmed that, yes Mary, “chunkification” really is a new word… and we like it.*
*Sleeter’s conference presentation HERE - Full CPA Practice Advisor article HERE
The main premise of Sleeter’s talk was that clients don’t just desire to be served, but rather they want and need to be lead masterfully into the new paradigm. And what is this brave new world for accounting clients?
Sleeter says that these are some of the primary attributes -
The iPad was a phenomenon overnight. It has spurred a tablet craze that rendered your local Best Buy sold out for months and every employee vying to get one. The question then becomes, is it really a useful tool for my practice or a “toy” that could lead to distractions?
I can attest that when traveling my productivity has more than tripled due to the iPad2.
Not only does it save me time and money by not having to power up the laptop every time I want to get on my email or Skype but it also saves my battery life on the laptop for more intensive projects. Additionally, I find that while I may use the iPad2 for Internet browsing or the occasional movie on a plane, at least 75% of the usage is work related.
Benefits of the iPad and other next-gen Tablets to the Accounting firm:
I get asked daily about security in the Cloud and I welcome these questions as it is not only important for users to understand but also opens the discussion about moving to the Cloud, meaning progress for the acceptance of our technologies.
Is It Secure? Recently I was speaking at a seminar and during the lunch break a gentleman said to me, “I don’t know, I just feel so much more secure knowing I can go in the back room of my office and see my server.” This thought and sense of security is not only misguided but it also seemed almost antiquated in today’s modern society. I responded by asking him if he still keeps his money under his mattress and he said, “Of course not” and I think he understood from there where I was going with this.
We hear this question asked more and more: if I don’t have internet access and I’m in the Cloud, I won’t have access to any of my data?
Yes, correct – but I think the bigger question is – if you were on your current system and lost internet, what would you do? You wouldn’t have email. If you are on a network server you would not have access, and any type of online services that you use now would be down. If you have VoiP phones, you wouldn’t have that either. The benefits of moving to the Cloud far outweigh the possibility of a minor negative like if you lose internet (cost savings, security, disaster recovery plan, convenience and reliability).
If you do lose your web connection – just grab your laptop or tablet and head down to Starbucks!
And if you are in an area that is at high risk of losing internet access, or you have an unstable provider – I recommend having a backup plan. We keep a cell phone in the office at all times charged in case the phones go down so we can redirect lines there. The same should be done for internet, invest in a wireless device like the Verizon Hotspot so that you can be back up in no time. It is a small price to pay for a backup plan that could save you days of lost productivity waiting on the internet company to get you back online.
There are a myriad of reasons to move to the Cloud and utilize QuickBooks hosting solutions. Here are our Top 10 reasons and we think David Letterman would be proud…
10. Work Anytime, Anywhere
9. Automatic offsite backups
8. No more sending Accountant’s Copies back and forth
7. Full Desktop version in a multi-user environment (not like QuickBooks Online)
6. Disaster Recovery Plan
5. You don’t want to go through the hassle of becoming a “self-host” with Intuit
When Cloud Hosted Application & Load Speed Isn’t Everything
It’s funny the things that are “deal breakers” for firms looking to move to the Cloud. Recently, a colleague asked me about the approximate connect time with hosted solutions. “Is it 3 minutes, 2.5, under two minutes?” I believe this was her exact question. In fact, she had been testing multiple hosted solutions and recording and evaluating connectivity speeds. She was so focused on this one small factor that she was completely missing the true value that cloud-based applications offer.
The benefits of moving to web-based cloud solutions far out weigh the extra seconds it may take to connect—
Especially when you consider the overall time saved by operating in a virtual environment. The Cloud eliminates the need to manually backup client data, update and maintain software onsite, or coordinate data exchange with clients. Trust me…this adds up to hours of time savings! But wait! There’s more. Within my cloud system, I can collaborate with my clients in real time— accessing files and data simultaneously, while assured that I’m always working with the most current data. I no longer have to ask a client to close a file when I need to get into it, or log in after hours to avoid disrupting the client’s workflow.
Management guru Peter Drucker once famously said, “that which can be measured, can be managed.” And this certainly applies to marketing. Think of it as keeping score. You want to find out what’s working and what’s not, what are the hot buttons of your prospects. Keeping score will allow you to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts and react accordingly.
Make sure you collect metrics from all of your marketing activities. Collect open, bounce and click rates for your email newsletter, and a call to action or freebie will help you measure the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns. In terms of measuring the effectiveness of your website, Google Analytics is the best tool for quality feedback, and it’s free.
No-one should have ‘/Marketing’ in their job title. When Marketing gets added to a job description it immediately becomes the second priority. In tax season there’s no way marketing is going to happen when it falls to the Admin/ Marketing person. And while marketing is everyone’s responsibility, it’s also an important function that requires a dedicated person to coordinate the activities in the marketing plan.
Not every firm needs someone in a full time role. A part-time position 2 days a week to coordinate direct mail, the email newsletter and make 20 phone calls to prospects might be all you need. An intern from the local college is the perfect candidate, in fact they’d love the experience for their resume. Larger firms with more ambitious growth aspirations will need someone, with a marketing background, in a more permanent, formalized role. Look at what you want to achieve, how much you want to spend and go from there.
Some of the responsibilities for the marketing person include:
- Adding prospects names to the database
- Coordinating the direct mail
- Updating the website and social media platforms
- Setting up breakfast/coffee/ lunch appointments for the Partners
- Coordinating seminars
- Coordinating the email newsletter
- Finding events for partners and team members to participate in.
And the list can go on.
If you’re serious about marketing, make it a dedicated role. Establish your needs and then find the right person. Make sure they have the right attitude – that business is great and we’re looking for more.
Too often marketing is only done when there is capacity to fill. If this is your strategy, you will be disappointed with the results. For best results, marketing needs to be consistent. You need to create an activity plan outlining the activities you are going to do, who is going to do them and when they need to get done by. A simple spreadsheet is all you need to plan and track your activities. You don’t need an exhaustive list on your marketing mix. One direct mail piece a quarter and a monthly e-newsletter might be sufficient to keep your firm top of mind with your clients and prospects. Just make sure it happens every quarter or every month. Your phone won’t immediately start ringing, and don’t be disheartened by this, but the more regular and consistent you market to your prospect list, the more your phone will ring.
To help make marketing more consistent dedicate a particular day to marketing, for example Monday. Also make marketing everyone’s responsibility in the firm. Make sure everyone has business cards and knows the 30 second elevator pitch. Brainstorm with your team on how to respond to “what do you do?”
When developing your marketing materials make sure you do more than just promote. This is your opportunity to demonstrate the value you could potentially bring.
A final tip developing your marketing pieces, use twice as many ‘you’ and ‘yours’ than ‘I’, ‘we’, and ‘ours’.
Look for technology and implement systems that that will make this easier. An email newsletter is the perfect starting point. Once it’s created, it should look after itself.
Never assume you know what your clients want or what they’re thinking. If you do you risk losing them. In a survey done by the 2020 Group of over 12,000 entrepreneurs, more than 45% of respondents said they are “open to talking to a new accountant”. This number is significantly higher than accounts think. Unfortunately many accountants overestimate their level of client satisfaction. Ask your clients how your firm is doing. Find out from your client how you can better serve them. You’ll be surprised how much new work you generate, both with current clients and new clients.
There are many ways to survey your clients. You could:
- Have them fill out an online survey
- Conduct a survey internally
- Have a 3rd party survey your clients on your behalf
Each method has advantages and disadvantages. For example, an online survey is inexpensive, but the response numbers are likely to be low and the responses will lack detail. If you have someone from your office call to survey your clients, you’ll likely get a better response rate, but the respondents might be unwilling to be completely honest in their responses in fear of offending you. A 3rd party is more expensive, but the response rate is highest and the value of the information from respondents is most valuable.
Some suggested questions that should be a part of your survey include:
- Based on your most recent engagement with us, rate how satisfied you are with:
- How often we keep in contact with you
- How quickly we return your calls and reply to your emails
- How quickly we are able to get your work completed
- Our level of technical expertise
- The overall level of service you receive
- How aware are you of the complete range of services we offer our clients?
- Tax preparation
- Accounting/ Bookkeeping
- KPI Analysis
- Strategic Planning
- Estate Planning
- Financial Planning
(You’d be surprised how much business this question generates.)
- Other than reduce fees, how could we better serve you?
- Based on your most recent engagement how likely are you to introduce or recommend us to a friend or colleague?
The questions can go on and on, but try to limit people’s time to 10 – 20 minutes and inform them of that at the front end. For online surveys, offer an anonymous response option. And also think about offering a reward for completing the survey. Sending a coffee reward card is a great and inexpensive way to thank you for the feedback.
When was the last time you said thank you? Unfortunately it’s something we don’t say often enough. However from a marketing standpoint a sincere thank you will immediately set you apart from the competition. Just start with the top 20% of your clients. Thank them following an engagement; thank them for being a longstanding client; and make sure you thank them for a referral or introduction.
Encourage your team to get involved, 5 thank you cards a week shouldn’t be too much of a burden, and before you know it your client base will be covered. For the greatest impact, handwrite your cards – blank cards with your logo on the front are extremely versatile and inexpensive. If you’re sending a printed letter, make sure you sign them as a printed image of a signature lacks sincerity.
So what do you say? Keep it simple.
Just wanted to drop a quick line to say thank you for being a client. We truly value our relationship with you and hope we are able to bring value to you and your business. We’re always here to help, so please give us a call if there’s anything we can do.
So what results can you expect? It’s difficult to measure, however increased referrals, improved goodwill will certainly flow from regularly saying thank you.
Another tip. In addition to saying thank you – also say welcome. A welcome letter (and “welcome to ABC Accounting” in the first line of an engagement letter doesn’t count) for new clients will definitely differentiate you from firms they have previously worked with.
Cloud9 Real Time CEO, Robert J. Chandler, has been honored with the award of “Top 40 Under 40” by CPA Technology Advisor and the NSA Technology Advisor. The magazine’s 2010 list of honorees recognizes Mr. Chandler for the 3rd time in four years making him an acknowledged industry visionary and leader.
Robert J. Chandler is the founder and CEO of Cloud 9 Real Time , a managed service provider and application hosting company.
Cloud9 Real Time received accreditation by MSP Alliance in 2010 as well as licensing by Intuit for their Commercial Host program. Cloud9 Real Time provides QuickBooks hosting for anytime, anywhere access to both Accountants and their clients through a privately labeled virtual office. Cloud9 Real Time virtual portal is a proprietary software called the e-Dashboard which includes a Document Management and Storage system as well as gives users access to their 3rd party applications and QuickBooks files.