Guest Blog by Andrew Flanagan, Digita Managing Director
If you’re starting your own accountancy practice, it’s vital to ensure that the technology you choose is fit for purpose, will help you stand out from the competition and will support you in the long run as your practice grows, in attracting and retaining those all important clients. Here, Andrew Flanagan, managing director at Digita, offers some advice on how to plan to achieve this.
Before you select software solutions for your practice, take the time to put together a technology plan that will help you realise your business plan over the next five years. This should be complementary to the overall plan for your practice, reflecting assumptions such as the rate of growth of the practice, number of clients and staff etc. Your choice of software in the early days of your practice will be key – there are many solutions for practices on the market, but select the wrong one and you may find that you have to “live with it” for some time, since switching will require staff retraining and you will have increasingly more clients to service…
Here are some things to consider when putting together your technology plan:
• Cloud-based v desktop – most solutions are now available hosted or on the Cloud, thus minimising requirements for local IT infrastructure and management thereof. All you need is a reliable internet connection. This avoids the need to buy and maintain expensive IT kit (servers etc) and the need to load updates to the software – but you need to be prepared to store confidential client data in the Cloud (Yes, outside the four walls of your business!), so it’s vital to choose a suppler that you trust to keep your data safe.
• Get a website – It’s amazing how many firms of accountants don’t have a website. Your website will be your shop window – a vital way to gain new clients and work with existing clients; so get your site live as quickly as possible. You may want to start small with basic information about your business and contact details, but look at what others are doing and think long term about how you want to use the web. To achieve good visitor traffic (and generate leads that you can follow up) you will need to have interesting content like advice and guidance on regulations. Video can work well here. You may also want to obtain some specialist help on Search Engine Optimisation so that prospects can find you.
• Prioritise your requirements – you may not want to offer a full range of services on day one, so think about what you actually need in the short term versus long term when setting up your business. For example, if you are mainly focused on individuals as clients, you may not need corporation tax compliance software and company secretarial software. But choose a supplier that can grow with you so that these can be added in subsequently.
• Get recommendations – make sure you get references for any and all software solutions you are considering, preferably from a party known to you and who you trust. In a recent survey carried out by Digita, this was the number one recommendation for selecting new solutions.
• Mobile solutions – tablets and smart-phones are revolutionising the way we work, so make sure that the solution and technology you choose will allow you to access your practice solutions on the move – at a client site or when travelling. Nowadays many clients will expect you to have their information available instantly, wherever you are.
• Communicating with your clients – many practices are moving away from paper and using technology such as secure portals and e-signatures to share documents on-line with clients. This not only speeds up the process of approval and checking, but is cost efficient and more secure than post or e-mail. A portal that is branded as your firm will help you to differentiate yourself from the competition.
• Single or multiple suppliers – there can be advantages in dealing with a single supplier (for example you will only need to call a single support help-line and the solutions should be integrated). There may be some specialist solutions, however, that do not come as part of a package.
• Build a multi-year budget – your technology budget needs to consider the ongoing cost of compliance software and not just the costs arising in the first period. Pay special attention to renewal rates as some providers may offer an attractive deal to get you on board but will charge much higher rates after year one.
Soaring Falcon Accountancy, a new start-up practice took a bold approach when developing their technology plan. Owner Alex Falcon Huerta decided to run the practice 100 per cent in the Cloud and is already picking up new clients who are attracted by this increasingly popular technology. Alex offers this advice to other accountants thinking of putting their own business in the Cloud. “Invest some time researching what is right for both you and your customers.” she says. “…trial your chosen solution and also to choose a provider who wants to work with you for the long-term and be a part of making your practice a successful one. I believe the Cloud is really helping younger accountants to set up their own businesses and offer something different from the traditional. It’s all about attracting the next generation of business owners and I’m very proud to be at the front end of that shift.”
Keeping up with constant and ongoing technological and regulatory change can be overwhelming, especially when your main focus should be on your practice and customers, so my final word of advice would be to find a technology partner. One that wants a relationship with your firm in the long run and wants to work with you and be a part of making your practice a successful one.
Andrew is a Chartered Accountant and following qualification with a Big Four firm has worked for practices large and small, both in the UK and overseas. He is responsible for all aspects of the Digita business, including customer satisfaction and growth.
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