Gone are the days when being part of an accounting firm meant sitting together in an office and passing papers to your coworkers to review.
These days, your team may be spread throughout the country or even throughout the world.
For more than a decade, virtual accounting firms have taken over a growing portion of the public accounting market. With the Pandemic, this trend has accelerated even faster.
Accounting professionals can start their own Internet-based financial business with very little overhead. In addition, you are no longer limited to a local talent pool.
Curious about how to get your own virtual firm started? Need advice about scaling your existing small business? Read on to see how experts with decades of experience are managing their virtual teams.
These firm owners have joined Jetpack Workflow CEO, David Cristello, on the Growing Your Firm Podcast to share their insight into the field of virtual accounting firm management.
Ean Price Murphy
Ean Price Murphy is the manager of Moxie Bookkeeping and Profit First Professional. While her team size varies a bit, it generally hovers around 10 people spread throughout the country.
Jamie Nau is the CFO and Director of Summit CPA Group. His company has over 35 professionals working on several teams to service clients in various industries. His team consists of bookkeepers, accountants, and CPAs and provides fractional CFO services for their clients.
David Worrell, Partner and CFO at Fuse Financial Partners, has created a virtual accounting firm based on the idea of having several teams that can function independently to service their clients.
Based on the interviews with the experts above, we have compiled a list of the best tips for you to run (or start) your own virtual accounting business.
Lesson #1: Create Goals for Your Teams (and Your Company)
“We look a lot at gross profit and then we look at our client’s MPS score. How our clients are rating us on a 1-10 scale.” – Jamie Nau, CFO & Director of Summit CPA Group
While setting up your virtual accounting firm, you may have certain revenue or income goals. Those types of goals are useful because they are easily measurable and, as an accountant, you’re good at tracking finances.
But your team and company goals need not be limited to finance-related goals. You should also consider monitoring other measurable key performance indicators such as employee satisfaction, client engagement, and project completion time. Anything that can be tracked and measured can be made into a goal.
Lesson #2: Monitor Your Team’s Metrics
“I got directly into a meeting with all the accountants, the senior accountants, the ones that are putting the books together and answering questions on a day to day basis. That’s an hour-long meeting and the first thing we do is go over our goals.” – Jamie Nau, CFO & Director of Summit CPA Group
Once you’ve created your company’s goals for performance, you need to regularly monitor their performance on those metrics. The metrics that your company tracks might be long-term growth goals or project-related goals such as moving your clients into a new client management system such as Jetpack Workflow.
Ensure you have your own financial reporting set up and functioning efficiently so you can track growth in your client base. This will also help you gauge your capacity to continue hiring more team members with additional expertise.
Having regular team manager meetings to discuss issues that each team is facing (whether internally with team dynamics or externally with client management) can allow managers to share their insights. If there is a drop in performance in one team, another team may have figured out a way to achieve better outcomes.
Lesson #3: Ask For Client Feedback
“I was able to play the underpromise overdeliver card and make the client feel good.” – Ean Price Murphy, Manager at Moxie Bookkeeping & Profit First Professional
Setting appropriate client expectations is key to the long-term success of your firm since referrals or reviews from your current clients can make your business grow faster. But other than a client remaining a client (which may just be a result of inertia), how do you know if your clients are satisfied?
Regular check-ins with clients can yield some feedback. However, clients are often reluctant to personally share negative feedback. Providing clients with the opportunity to give anonymous feedback through surveys or virtual suggestion cards may give you a more robust, uncensored feedback mechanism on your operations and your team’s performance.
Lesson #4: Review Deadlines
“You want to walk through projected hours and responsibilities, who’s going to be on vacation, and who needs a little extra work to do.” – David Worrell, Partner & CFO at Fuse Financial Partners
When you’re offering virtual accounting services, your team is always (literally) out of the office, so it’s important to manage unexpected time off to ensure that you can still meet your deadlines. If your team is consistently not meeting their deadlines, it’s time to either reevaluate the way you are allocating resources or if you are being overly optimistic in projecting the time each project will take to complete.
If the deadline is based on internal goals, you may want to adjust the deadline so you can review the upcoming workflow and availability of your resources. Leaving an outdated deadline on your task list does not help you determine when the task will actually be completed.
Lesson #5: Consider Splitting Your Team Into Pods
“The business and management textbooks will tell you – somewhere around 7-8 people you start to say ‘Wait, this is too much for me to handle.’” – David Worrell, Partner & CFO at Fuse Financial Partners
When your business is starting out with just a couple of employees, it’s easy to take on the management of those employees yourself. However when your business starts to expand, having a flat structure no longer makes sense.
When you reach that point, you may want to consider having separate pods that can completely service a client’s needs. Do you offer virtual bookkeeping services, as well as tax preparation? It might be time to create a pod of experts for each discipline.
Worrell’s teams consist of bookkeepers, accountants, and client-facing leads that can complete a client engagement independently from his other teams. This gives the clients a set of professionals that they are used to, and it allows the team to monitor itself and ensure that their projects are being completed.
Lesson #6: Allocate Work Appropriately
“If they’re doing more than 10% admin work, that’s probably too much and we need to know why.” – Ean Price Murphy, Manager at Moxie Bookkeeping & Profit First Professional
Because your team is virtual, it may not always be easy to tell when someone is overloaded. When accountants worked together with paper files in the same physical space, it was easy to tell whose desk was piled too high with paperwork. Now that most of the work exists digitally, it’s not as easy to figure out who may be overwhelmed.
As a manager, you need to review the hours being worked by each of your teams and team members.
Lesson #7: Use a Weekly Mindset
“Even if it’s just 15 minutes, let’s look through this week and what’s due this week.” – Jamie Nau, CFO & Director of Summit CPA Group
One of the main appeals of working at a virtual firm is the flexibility to work when you want. While clients still need to be met with and team meetings will require everyone to attend at certain points, a lot of the work can be completed outside of standard business hours. If your team covers several different time zones, this is certain to happen.
By adopting a weekly mindset and setting goals for the week instead of each day, you can stop micromanaging your team. The team is allowed the freedom to complete tasks throughout the week when it is convenient for them. This will cut down on virtual meetings, increase your employee satisfaction, and lead to better employee retention.
Lesson #8: Understand Your Role in Client Engagements
“If we’re really worried about a client, then it’s my job to call that client.” – Jamie Nau, CFO & Director of Summit CPA Group
Because clients no longer stop in to your office and you don’t hear phone calls made to your employees, you should have a clear idea of your role in the relationship with your clients. Do you want to regularly check in with the clients or do you want to let your teams work directly with them and only step in if there’s an issue?
By going into each engagement with a vision of how the relationship will work, you can create a roadmap for your interactions and project how much of your time each new client will need.
Lesson #9: Don’t Be Scared to Pick Up the Phone (or Meet in Person)
“Sometimes I have to apologize to the customer and say ‘hey, you know what we’re accountants, we’re not great communicators.’” – David Worrell, Partner & CFO at Fuse Financial Partners
Just because you’re running a virtual CPA firm doesn’t mean that all of your client interactions need to be via video. While the recent expansion of video conference call options is helpful, it can still be just as useful to pick up a phone and call a client. You may even consider meeting with a client in person.
Each of these real interactions allows you to connect with clients on a more personal level and quickly resolve issues that may require several back and forth emails.
Lesson #10: Remember to Create a Sense of Belonging Among Your Employees
“Meetings are famously warm and fuzzy… there is a lot of this relationship building and trying to suss out what keeping you from doing your best work.” – David Worrell, Partner & CFO at Fuse Financial Partners
Most employees are thrilled by the opportunity and flexibility of remote work, but it takes extra effort to create a sense of belonging and loyalty to your firm. Though team outings may be out of the question due to location and other factors, you should consider scheduling time for employees to interact and talk about non-work topics.
This might take the form of a weekly question, a fun quiz, or virtual competitions. Creating a sense of camaraderie will increase employee satisfaction and give team members an additional reason to pitch in and help their colleagues reach their goals.
Lesson #11: Make Sure Employees Aren’t Burning Out
“I try to call a team member personally and ask them, so what’s going on with this person or this account.” – David Worrell, Partner & CFO at Fuse Financial Partners
Virtual teams are great because team members have the tools available to work at any time.
Virtual teams are hard because team members have the tools available to work at any time.
It’s your job as a team leader to monitor your team and make sure that your team is not burning themselves out because they are working all the time and their schedule is packed.
By reviewing billable hours and team goals, you can get a sense of who on your team needs to slow down or take a break to maintain better work-life balance throughout your company.
While it’s important to make sure that you’re available to your clients, you should also review your policy about after-hours emails and vacation time.
Lesson #12: Review Your Virtual Tools
“When I started my business, there was no such thing as a virtual business manager.” – Ean Price Murphy, Manager at Moxie Bookkeeping & Profit First Professional
Though you may have started with one set of tools for creating a virtual team, you should monitor new technologies as they appear to see if there is an upgraded option that will serve you better. It’s easy to fall into habits and continue to use a program because it works without seeing if there is a new option that can streamline your operation and save you time.
For example, you may have started out tracking your own work on a paper task list and moved to a shared online task list as your team grew. You may want to consider upgrading to a workflow management system such as Jetpack Workflow that allows you to monitor project progress throughout your firm and the allocation of your resources in real-time in one central platform.