Using tech to improve practice efficiencies
Did you spend most of January struggling to keep up? Lucy Cohen has some tech hacks for you that will make your practice run more smoothly and to free up more time for more important tasks.
As accountants, we are no strangers to software and technology. Almost all of us have used several different pieces of software for our core service, such as accounts, tax returns, VAT etc.
Many of us are even no stranger to advising clients on the right software for them. In recent years, app and tech stack advisory has become a staple part of the modern accounting practice.
But what about running our practices?
A friend’s partner is a plumber, and it’s a running joke that theirs is always the last house to get any work done on it. As accountants are we guilty of the same? (full disclosure, yes I am!)
Often we can get so embroiled in making sure our clients are running smoothly and efficiently that we forget to take stock and make a bit of time to work some efficiencies into our own businesses.
Before you start working on your efficiencies, I’d advise taking a little bit of time to look at the real challenges in your practice. Because they’ll be different for everyone depending on the sort of practice you run, the clients you work with and your comfort level with tech.
As we know, the term tech can range from an automated newsletter to full artificial intelligence. And their degrees of investment of time and money vary greatly. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away over the years is to always make sure that the juice is worth the squeeze.
So now that we’ve all distanced ourselves from January and are maybe peeping out again after storm Ciara and Dennis, here are a few of my favourite hacks to make life a little easier on a day to day basis. Some of these I’ve been using for yonks, and some are new – but they are all making me more efficient and freeing up time for more important tasks.
This is my favourite email marketing software. We use it not just for all of our newsletters to clients and prospects, but also for an astonishing array of reminders and automations. Within Mailchimp you can set up lists for different types of contact, you can segregate the lists by many different tags and definitions, and you can really easily set up recurring emails to remind your clients about important dates.
We’ve been using Mailchimp for about 10 years and as time has gone on they have refined their product and added more and more features as well as improving the UX. It’s a really easy way to start automating the more mundane reminders that you might want to send to clients.
As an example, we send out an email to clients once their year-end has passed – just reminding them that we’ll be getting in touch soon for any additional bits of information we may need.
Then we provide a list of the sorts of things we may ask for. Roughly 70% of our clients respond to that email with the missing information which cuts down the admin involved in chasing up for the final bits and pieces for the year-end.
Depending on the size of your practice will probably depend on whether you’d want to use an email ticketing system or not.
It may also depend on how much you use email for your client contact. As we use email heavily and have thousands of clients, we needed a way for emails to not risk getting lost or ignored in someone’s inbox.
The pros of Zendesk are that you can set up your staff (or agents) on it and auto-assign emails (or even tweets) from certain clients to them. These emails sit in lists that you can see centrally as an admin, therefore making sure that you’re keeping on top of your response times. It also easily allows you to reassign emails to other people if someone is off sick or on holiday.
The cons are that it can seem a little impersonal before your clients get used to it – clients get given a ticket number which one of them recently complained made them feel like they were waiting in a queue at the doctors for a blood test. Obviously that’s not really the vibe we’re going for so we’re looking at how we can fix that. But for us the pros have outweighed the cons overall.
We use an SMS system provided to us via our VOIP phone company, but there are plenty of others out there. To be entirely honest, it isn’t my favourite form of communication any more.
A few years ago it was great – but with other systems like WhatsApp becoming more popular, I personally find that the only text messages I get are from delivery companies and Domino’s Pizza (that’s probably a little insight into my personal life!).
That said, it was useful as an additional reminder for tardy clients in January as a final nudge for them to get their returns signed. We also use it to chase up new clients for their ID information for money laundering admin – it’s a neat way to double down on something that is important. In all honesty though, I imagine in the next year we’ll probably move to something more like a WhatsApp for business.
I am a huge fan of a Trello board! For the uninitiated, Trello is a web-based list-making application that lets you create lists and cards to organise and prioritise your projects.
It’s absolutely invaluable if you’ve got a project with multiple people working on it. We’ve got a few long term developments we’re undertaking that have multiple complicated steps.
Trello boards make it really easy for me to see where everyone is at with their various parts of the project without the need for me to bother them with requesting an update or calling too many meetings. Compared to running other longer-term development projects in the past, Trello has definitely enhanced the process this time around.
Ooh I love a zap! Zapier is a platform that connects seemingly thousands of different web apps together so that you can create workflows (zaps).
It’s basically an automation tool that connects your apps together to save you time. For example, we get quotes that come in from our website. We could spend our time manually taking the lead information, adding it one at a time into our Salesforce system and then uploading to Mailchimp. Or we can build a zap that does it all for us. Likewise, within the aforementioned Trello you can assign deadlines or dates to cards – a zap will automatically create a Google calendar event for them. Creating zaps can become a bit addictive – well, for me anyway. So start off with one, review the time saving and then add to it.
Most of the tech I’ve mentioned above starts from a free account (at least for a trial) and can be upgraded. As with all these sorts of things, the cost of anything should more than cover the time saving it makes you.
It can be really tempting to add automation or efficiency for the sake of it. We’ve over-automated certain things in the past and lost the personal touch, so have scaled it back.
It’s a very individual thing to both you and your clients and you need to find the right fit for your practice. We try to use the mantra of “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should” when it comes to our tech efficiencies. But overall, if it improves your service and saves you time, you’re probably on to a winner.
Lucy Cohen is on the AccountingWEB Live advisory board. If you want to speak or present at the event, you can submit a formal proposal through this link.