Use These Automation Tools for an Unstoppable Accounting Firm
You’re an accounting professional with some degree of success at your firm. You’ve got a high degree of skill and experience already, but you’re looking to take your workflow game to the next level. You’re certain automation is the ticket to that next level of efficiency and scalability at your firm. Every firm in the world needs it, and we’re here to help put you on the right track.
At Jetpack Workflow, we think of firms in four major maturity stages:
- Launching Your Business
- Workflow as You Grow
- The Effective Client Chase
- Leadership and Leverage
Let’s evaluate these stages with examples and automation tools to consider for supporting your firm’s growth to the next stage.
Stage 1: Launching Your Business
This is your firm if you’re a sole proprietor or have one employee. Your firm is nimble and agile. You can change processes at the drop of a hat, and you have little administrative work. You still need to standardize your processes and create good organizational habits as a company to ensure repeatable and scalable growth.
At this stage, you should consider adopting softwares to help standardize, organize, and automate your firm. In the next 100 years, perhaps the most important business skills to have will be selecting and managing vendors. Your company probably has more vendors than employees, and that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The two biggest decisions to make for your practice as you grow are your CRM and your practice management systems.
Pick softwares that will play well with others that you will need as you grow. No single software is going to give you everything you want, but you can pick a software for the long haul based on its integrations.
Once you’ve chosen these two softwares, the next solution is an automation tool that works for multiple needs. Let’s look at billing-focused automation tools and the integrate-with-everything tool, Zapier.
Start your firm off on the right foot by automating as much of your accounts receivable as possible. No one likes to chase down clients for money, and the way you bill clients is entirely under your control. Consider requiring clients to prepay for services. Or, consider setting up a recurring payment processor like Stripe. Stripe allows you to collect payment on your website and will automatically collect payment from your client each month or year.
If you want to stick with accounts receivable, we recommend Invoice Sherpa to automate the process.
Zapier is an automation nerd’s dream! Think of zaps as “If… Then…” statements, but for the apps in your tech stack. For more zap ideas for your firm, check out Brian Clare’s top 5 zapier-based automations.
Here are two example zaps helpful for your firm:
Create Invoice in QBO –> Update a Line in a Google Sheet
One example zap could be triggered when you create an invoice in QBO. This trigger starts the process of updating a line in a Google Sheet. Ultimately, this zap will create a constant running list of your invoices without any extra effort on your part. You could even pair this zap with Invoice Sherpa for extra automation credit. ✨
Add Client in QBO –> Add Client to Other Software
Perhaps the best use of Zapier is to create one true source for your client list. You’re going to manage multiple softwares, and each software may require you to add your client list to it. You can create a zap whereby, if you add a client to QBO, then the zap will also add the client to another software. This removes the need for double entry of client information.
Stage 2: Workflow as You Grow
Your firm has achieved some success, and you’re well on your way to making that success repeatable. At this point, you probably have 200-400 clients to manage. This number of clients will likely require a lot of recurring work. Chances are, you do tax work. A good percentage of those clients will be individuals. But, there will always be business clients that require multiple regular projects that need to be done on time and the right way, every time.
This level of firm sophistication requires a lot of organization and discipline. Now it’s time to investigate and invest in systems for managing client work, time, and documents.
Client Work Assignment
No firm owner enjoys starting out each month from scratch. You don’t want to reassign each job for each client and ensure the work is done correctly and try to keep tabs on what everyone in your firm is doing. You need a software that will generate the jobs for you.
Jetpack Workflow allows you to get your firm up and running with automatically-generating jobs with a simple 5-step set-up process. Once you’ve set up your account, assign each job to the specific employees responsible for it. You can make each job unique to the client, ensuring that each client gets all of the attention they deserve. Once that’s done, Jetpack Workflow automates the generation of the jobs forever into the future. The same people will do the same work for the same clients for as long as you need them to.
Reduce manually inputting information by using systems like Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. OCR services like SurePrep, 1040Scan, and Filestack will scan PDFs of client documents, extract information from those documents, and pre-populate forms in your tax software.
There are two issues to consider when trying OCR at your firm:
- Some softwares don’t correctly read photographed text, so you need to manually enter them. It can be hard to discover why something can’t be scanned as well.
- OCR softwares have trouble reading spreadsheets.
These concerns considered, OCR softwares are meant to save time and energy on manual data entry. This saved time can be spent evaluating strategies sooner and easier.
Automating Bookkeeping Journal Entries
Journal entries may be low-value work for business owners and accountants. For bookkeepers, though, accurate journal entries are incredibly important. Instead of reviewing each entry to categorize it, why not use a software to categorize entries for you? Shoeboxed, Receipt Bank, Hubdoc, and Neat are all softwares that automate journal entries you need for bookkeeping work.
Key to Workflow as You Grow: Reduce time spent managing your employees while you increase your employee’s accuracy and accountability.
Stage 3: The Effective Client Chase
After you finish figuring out how to standardize, automate, and track your work in-house, it’s time to focus your efforts on your clients. You’ve got 10-30 employees now, and it’s time to gain a better grip on your throughput. Every project you do for a client requires the client’s help in some way to get done.
Remove the client from the client chase, and get direct access to the information you need for the work they need you to do. If you can get direct access to the client’s QBO account or bank account, then you no longer need to wait for the client. You are free to do the work when you’re ready to do the work.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember to check your local applicable laws governing access to client accounts.
Get Direct Access
Assuming that you’re legally ok’d to access the client information you need, the next step is to communicate this ability to your clients. When you’re courting a new client, explain how your firm offers a concierge service that eliminates the need for them to send you information:
- Instead of collecting data to email to you, the client can click a button, and you have instant access.
- Reinforce with the client that your firm handles the minute details of fulfillment while they focus on running their business or life.
- Ensure that your onboarding process contains a client acknowledgement that your firm will be given direct access to the client accounts.
After you set the proper expectations, you will need a way to fulfill those expectations. We highly recommend using a password management system and/or softwares like QBO Accountant or adding a Client Organization in XERO.
The point of using a password manager is to keep access to your client accounts secure. You own the “parent” account, and you give your customers each a “child” account. You can roll the cost of the password manager into your monthly fees, and it will help to ensure you have direct access to the client’s accounts.
Automate the Client Chase as Much as Possible
At some point, you’ll need to call the client to get information. Reduce the amount of client outreach you do to minimize the time spent on the effort.
Your firm needs a way to text your clients. Open rates of texts are 98% as compared with 20% for emails. Plant the seed that your firm likes to text early in the marketing or sales process. It will guarantee that the prospect reads your messages, and it will help you to get in contact with the prospect after they become a client.
Right now, the easiest way and free way to create a shared text messaging inbox for your firm is to sign up for a Google Voice account, and share the login details with the rest of your firm via your password manager. You can also look into options like Liscio, Slicktexts, or SimpleTexting.
Email automation providers allow you to create a drip email sequence with automations that branch off from the main drip sequence. For example, you could send out an email to all clients offering a new service. If one of your clients responds with “I’m interested,” then you can automate an acceptance email with a link to a form the client must fill out to sign up for the service. If the client doesn’t respond, then you can automate the next email in the sequence to encourage client engagement.
Marketing automation software is a huge market, and email automation is a pretty standard feature. Capterra has almost 600 softwares for you to review here. At Jetpack Workflow, we use Hubspot, but we’ve also used Active Campaign, Mixmax, and SalesLoft in the past.
Key to an Effective Client Chase: The secret to direct access to client information lies in updating and automating your marketing, sales, and onboarding flow.
Stage 4: Leadership and Leverage
Leadership and Leverage is for firms that have reached around ~50 employees. As you scaled, the magnitude of the problems you’ve faced has gradually increased. The more people you empower and employ, the harder it becomes to turn your ship around.
At this size though, you have the ability to magnify and multiply. Even a small increase in efficiency of a repeated task has magnification effects which can greatly reduce operational costs. At this point, it’s more necessary than ever to pay attention to your customer journey. It’s time to ask about the messages you’re sending and expectations you’re setting for prospects, potential clients, and during the fulfillment process.
At this point, you should aim for leverage, not only in automation but also in personal interactions.
Each time you have a one on one meeting with a direct report, you should aim to help that direct report to move along their projects. Ray Dailio, the author of Principles and founder of Bridgewater, works on a 50:1 leverage ratio. For every one hour he spends with a direct report, the direct report is empowered to complete 50 hours worth of work on their projects.
Your time is valuable. Use it to help move productive projects along which are blocked. You don’t have to aim for an exact 50:1 ratio. But you should prioritize your time with your direct reports to accomplish the company’s and employee’s long term goals.
How to find leverage in automation? If you spend one hour doing something, then you can expect X amount of work to be completed. Let’s say you’re a tax firm and you’d like to improve your automation leverage.
- Create a recurring postcard to send to your clients during the holiday season.
- Set up an automatic yearly recurring email that sends on January 1st, 15th, 30th, etc.
a. This email can stop following up if the customer responds back.
b. If the customer does not, then it will keep sending to get them to respond. Or, you can include a link to a tax organizer directly in the email or to a fillable input form like Google Forms to gather the information you need to prepare the client’s return this year.
3. Request needed documents from the client and send an email to all the clients who will require the same forms. You can personalize these emails with client-specific names and addresses thanks to your up-to-date CRM.
4. Automate every part of the customer lifecycle for your 1040 clients and automate some of the journey for your business clients.
If your firm doesn’t have a marketing department already, it’s time to invest in a talented crew. Your goal now is to create a Cash Machine that can forecast revenue generated by marketing efforts.
Your organized and centralized marketing effort should rely on automation to identify your prospects. This will allow your sales process to take over when sufficient interests have been obtained.
Every communication and piece of content your marketing team creates needs a purpose and one call-to-action (CTA). Be intentional about how to guide your prospects from the top of your marketing funnel down to where sales can take over. The only way to achieve this is with constant messaging discipline and organization.
Key to Leadership and Leverage: Consistency and repeatability. You want the same people doing the same tasks for the same clients again and again.
No matter what stage your company is in, Jetpack Workflow is here to help your firm to level up to the next stage. Check us out for free for 14 days to automate your processes and save time to focus on building your business!