Starting Your Own Firm: Tools You Need for Success

Practice Management Digital tools

In my previous article, “Should You Stay or Should You Go? Opening Your Own Practice,” I focused on how to decide whether you want to leave a firm to start your own accounting or bookkeeping practice – the most difficult part of the process. By the time you’ve made the decision to go out on your own, you have most likely already started thinking about what your practice is going to be like and working out many of the details in your head. That, for me, is where the fun begins!

Here’s what you need to know about creating a plan and related specifics, including the type of computer equipment you’ll need, and the software and applications you’ll use in your practice.

Your first step is to determine how you will work with your clients and what services you’ll offer. Will you meet face to face somewhere onsite, or do you plan to be a virtual firm and meet online? When I left my old firm to start Satterley Training & Consulting, I made four decisions:

  1. It would just be me for a while.
  2. I wanted to work with my clients virtually, from my home office.
  3. I knew the type of services I wanted to provide.
  4. I knew the type of clients I wanted to serve.

These pieces of the puzzle set the foundation for deciding on the tools and applications I would choose for my practice.

Which Comes First – the Application or the Computer?

The most important tool in our profession is a computer, but before you run out and buy one, first consider the types of applications you’ll be using. If you are planning to use any desktop applications, such as Intuit® ProConnect™ ProSeries®, Lacerte® or QuickBooks® Accountant, you’ll need to know the technical requirements of each one before you start shopping to purchase a computer that has enough storage and power to accommodate your needs. If you are planning to use cloud-based applications, such as QuickBooks Online Accountant and ProConnect Tax Online, this won’t be much of a concern because you only need an internet connection and a browser to access those programs. That is one of the major benefits of having a cloud accounting practice!

Because I planned to be a virtual cloud accounting firm, I knew I didn’t need much horsepower in a computer to run most of the applications, but I also planned to meet with my clients via video conferencing and create training videos. That meant I needed to have a really strong internet connection, pay attention to the video and audio quality of the computer, and acquire video editing software. I use Camtasia, a desktop program, so I had to pay attention to technical requirements that would support my editing needs.

Choosing the Right Apps for Your Practice

Many computers come with pre-installed productivity apps that many people adopt simply because “they came with the computer,” but this can be a mistake. Just because something is free or discounted doesn’t make it good or right for your individual needs. Take the time to document the processes you’ll be using in your practice, and then explore how you want to complete them. Once you’ve identified the business need for the app and how it will be used, you’ll have the information you need to actually choose the right one.

Let’s take a look at some business apps you may need:

Office Productivity Suite (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, email and calendar): Options include Microsoft Office (desktop or cloud versions); Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, or Google G Suite (cloud-only); Corel WordPerfect (desktop only); LibreOffice (desktop only); or Zoho (cloud only). Compare them here.

What I use: Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite. I use both because I need multiple formats for different purposes and to collaborate with clients. Both are cloud-based, but subscribers to Office 365 can download and install included programs locally on their computer, and the desktop product has more functionality. A huge benefit of Google apps is that it saves changes in real time as you are working; however, just recently, Microsoft added the same functionality to its desktop version if you have an Office 365 subscription.

Video Conferencing: Options include RingCentral, ClickMeeting, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting and a ton of others (too many to name). All of these are cloud-based since they use the internet to connect to other users, although many applications have an installed component to allow users to start meetings quickly and record sessions. Many of these solutions have a free version, but you will need to pay if you want certain features, such as the ability to record the session or host a lot of people on a call. Compare them here.

What I use: Zoom. I switched to Zoom when I started my firm and love it. I almost never have issues with the connection, and it is easy for my callers to join. The free version allows you to host up to 100 participants, but you will be limited to a 40-minute call. This is a great value for the money and includes end-to-end 256-bit encryption of sessions.

Scheduling: Options include Acuity Scheduling, Calendly, Timely and Schedule Once. These apps connect to your calendar and allow others to schedule time with you. Some have free versions with enhanced features available for paid uses, such as a custom-branded landing page for your firm and the ability to embed a page on your website. Some even allow you to set up recurring appointments and manage group meetings or classes. Compare them here.

What I use: Acuity Scheduling. I use Acuity because it has all the features I wanted, plus it connects to my website. I have a link to my schedule in my email signature, too. You set the times that can be scheduled, with the option to require clients to pay before they are able to book an appointment with you (love that!). Acuity also integrates with many of the other apps I use in my practice and my website.

Document Management: Options include SmartVault, Sharefile, OneDrive, Box and DropBox. Document management is essential for accountants and bookkeepers. The top priority is to keep our clients’ information safe and secure, so this will be one of the most important apps you’ll buy. Most document management apps provide a plugin to your website, allowing you to control the permissions for staff and clients. Many programs, such as QuickBooks Online Accountant and productivity suites, include a document storage solution in them, but they may lack some of the features you need or want.

Compare them here; note: this article doesn’t include Sharefile or SmartVault, which are solutions built just for accountants. You can read reviews of these solutions at the QuickBooks App Center.

What I use: Sharefile. I use Sharefile mostly because I am familiar with it and it integrates well with the other apps I use in my practice. Sharefile just introduced a new workflow component that lets you request documents from others and track the status of the uploads. It even emails you a daily digest of your workflows so that you can stay on top of document collection progress.

The Rest is up to You

These are just some of the essential tools you’ll need when you start your own practice. Other tools you may want to consider include workflow or practice management apps such as Karbon and Aero Workflow, social media management apps such as Hootsuite, Buffer or Sproutsocial, and expense management apps such as Concur, Tally and Expensify.

With so many options out there, make sure you do your research, talk to your peers and understand that success is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride and have fun building your dream practice!

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