If you are anything like me, you like the feel of paper, especially the act of marking things off your to-do list. The act of going paperless is fundamentally easy, and there are amazing tools available that make the digital office an amazing place to work, but jumping off the “paper cliff” into the digital abyss is the hard part. Here are some ideas for how you can start moving to a paperless office and work stream to help make that leap just a little bit easier:
Assess how your customer likes to work. Finding the right balance between electronic, online and digital tools for you and your clients is one of the keys to understanding what action you need to take. First, you have to know your audience, which can be as simple as surveying your clients to ask them if they prefer online tools for data collection, electronic copies of their returns or paperless billing. ProConnect™ Link is a tool that streamlines the process of data collection for your clients. Link is an intuitive system that allows you to customize questionnaires and outline what information you need in a personalized portal. Once this is done, your clients can simply upload their information.
Evaluate your current processes to find the best places to initially transition to paperless processes. Billing is a great place to start, and can be as simple as emailing invoices to your clients, instead of printing and mailing. You also can use online tools that capture time, generate invoices, email clients, send reminders and collect payments. Creating an automated billing practice not only helps you achieve your paperless goals, but also tends to speed up the time to pay from clients. Imagine getting client payments at the same time they sign their return!
Pick the right time to adjust your practices. The 2015 tax season is behind us, so now is a great chance to evaluate your workflow from this year’s preparations to determine where there are opportunities to automate. Don’t wait to make changes until November or December; instead, find new tools and ways to go digital now, then implement them during your extension process to see how they work and how you feel about them. This ensures you’ll be ready for the 2016 tax season, be more comfortable with the change and have time to make adjustments to your processes without the pressure of the heavy tax season.
Now is a great time to also integrate Link into your practice; it’s free to sign up with your current tax software. When you use it to collect data from clients and communicate with them during the extension period, you can leverage the time to set up your workflow and maximize the efficiencies Link can bring.
Streamline internal processes. Getting rid of paper isn’t just for client communications; you and your firm can go paperless as well. Consider using eStatements for your business vendors and online accounting tools to run your practice. If you aren’t ready to commit to a more expensive tool, consider using Microsoft Office 365. For a really reasonable fee, you’ll get access to storage, shared document collaborate tools, and the programs you already know and love, including Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Keep calm and stay focused. The transition to a paperless environment won’t happen overnight, and there will be bumps along the way. However, the benefits to your practice and the improved effectiveness of your client communications will start almost immediately, and will be worth the effort!
Now is the time to review how the 2015 season worked, breaking down what you learned, the obstacles in your way and what you’d like to do differently. Once you have those insights, rely on your key business partners to share their innovations with you and help you understand to transform your business practices, communications and efficiency.