How to Start a Thriving Virtual Accounting Firm
Author: Financial Cents
Kellie Parks is an expert bookkeeper whose dream has always been to travel to warm destinations whenever she likes, work from her cabin (with her dog by her side), and volunteer with an organization she loves without missing out on work and client engagement.
But her in-office work kept her from all these until cloud accounting technology came along.
Now she advises accountants and bookkeepers to buy back their time for whatever makes their lives better. Whether it is:
- Making more time for family.
- Avoiding work commute, or
- Working on passion projects, etc.
Going remote will make your employees happier and more productive, increasing client satisfaction and employee retention.
Why You Should Start a Virtual Accounting Firm
Going remote also makes you more accessible to businesses that require the unique accounting services you provide but live miles away from you.
This is why clients prefer virtual accountants over traditional accounting firms.
Traditional accounting firms are also limited to hiring from their physical environment, but remote firms can draw from a pool of global talents to improve work quality and customer service.
Differences Between Traditional and Virtual Accounting Firms
The difference between traditional accounting and virtual accounting firms is in their approach to service delivery, which affects:
In traditional accounting, employees have to be at the office to access work files and programs. If they need to work late hours, they will spend that time in the office—alone and away from their loved ones. This reduces their concentration, work quality, and work-life balance.
But with virtual accounting, employees can access their files and work programs to complete tasks and meet client deliverables while sitting next to their spouse or daughter. Besides, most virtual accounting software solutions are accessible on mobile devices, which also helps you to track the status of client work.
What virtual accounting firms lose in physical interactions, they gain in tech tools that notifies team members when there is an update or when their work is ready to begin. This keeps things from falling through the cracks.
But in many traditional accounting firms, you need to constantly update work and client data from device to device, office to office to keep everyone on the same page.
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Virtual accounting firms rely on cloud security providers for data protection. These companies encrypt and store client data in remote servers to prevent unauthorized access. Plus, their experts spend most of their waking hours assessing and addressing security vulnerabilities in their systems.
Most in-office accounting firms rely on passwords for protection because they do not update their security often enough. There’s also the tendency to leave bits and pieces of sensitive data in employees’ computers and offices. This makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks and loss of data.
How to Know You’re Ready to Go Virtual
You’re ready to go virtual the day you decide to. The stars may never align to show you it’s time to go virtual. Nobody was ready until COVID-19 came, and suddenly, progressive accounting firms made the switch overnight.
If you insist, these two factors should show how ready you are to make the switch:
If the cost of managing a brick-and-mortar office space has gotten too high for you, that may be your sign to switch to virtual accounting. Remote teams do not care about office cleaning, rent, or conference rooms getting booked.
Trust for Your Employees
You need to know that your employees will complete their assigned work.
Once you can trust your employees to be as productive and efficient working from home as they are working from the office, you’re ripe for online accounting services.
Plus, a good work management solution should give you visibility over where your employees are spending their time.
You may be interested in: Can accountants work from home? Here’s how.
4 Things You Need to Start a Thriving Virtual Firm
These four tips will help you build a virtual accounting firm that thrives in good and bad times.
1. Standardize your systems and processes
The number of repetitive tasks in accounting is both a strength and a weakness. It’s tedious going over the same set of tasks for each client.
But creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) helps you run through tasks with minimal distractions, guesswork, and errors while delivering consistent client work and creating memorable experiences for your clients.
You can achieve this through accounting workflow automation, accounting and bookkeeping firm owners in this report shared insights about its benefits.
You may be interested in: Virtual Accounting: 5 Ways to Set Up Processes that Work.
2. Get the Right Tech Tools
There’s no remote work without technology. The right technology helps to automate manual tasks so your team can focus on more strategic and analytic problems that take your firm to the next level.
3. Hire the Right People
Finding good talents is still a problem in the industry. You need to be clear on the role you’re hiring for and the requirements.
Getting this right will put the right people in positions and allows you to focus on growing your firm.
If you are unsure about how to hire remotely, you can read our detailed guide on Hiring and Retaining Remote Employees for Your Accounting Firm.
4. A Solid Marketing and Sales Strategy
The right marketing and sales strategy will bring you your ideal clients steadily.
Sharing your accounting knowledge creates awareness and builds trust in your prospects which might be all you need to get clients walking through your doors.
Use these Steps to Start a Virtual Accounting Firm Successfully
Here’s all you need to do to build a winning remote accounting firm:
- Decide You’re Ready.
- Register Your Business, Choose Your Services, and Build a Website.
- Create processes for common tasks.
- Set up systems for every aspect of your business.
- Make a list of the tech stack you need and sign up.
- Hire the Right People.
- Set Expectations with Clients and Staff.
- Create a Thriving Digital Presence to Attract Ideal Clients.
- Make Client Satisfaction Front and Center.
- Join a Community of Like-Minded Owners for Support and Learning.
1. Decide You’re Ready
Like we said before, you’re ready to start your virtual accounting firm when you decide you’re ready. If you’re waiting to feel 100% ready, that time may never come.
You can even reduce the number of slip-ups you make by:
- Defining your vision to know the services to render, how you want to solve them, and where you want to be in any number of years.
- Know the kind of people you need to bring your vision for the business to life. Thankfully, working remotely puts global talents at your fingertips.
- Plan if your client acquisition strategy will be word-of-mouth referrals or any other marketing strategy.
- Establish your work management systems so your team can access the tools they need to work and collaborate from wherever they are.
2. Register Your Business, Choose Your Services, and Build a Website
You might have done this already, but if you’re just starting, follow every procedure your local laws prescribe for starting a firm.
And, you need to define your services and create a website to market your business to win your ideal clients.
3. Create processes for common tasks (like workflow template for monthly bookkeeping)
Managing work from your head is unreliable because you have several other things vying for your attention at any moment. Documenting the processes and steps that go into completing tasks frees your team up to get work done.
Having used both Google Sheets and Freedcamp, Casey Haines says he now uses Financial Cents workflows because they “already make sense” for his firm’s processes.
Documenting your accounting workflows also reduces the time you spend on training new hires on the processes in the future.
The more of your processes you document, the less the amount of time you’ll need to perform those tasks in the figure. Take client onboarding or new employee training, for example.
Here’s how you can document processes for common tasks:
- Document the tasks processes and add the steps a random employee can take to arrive at the same results as you.
- Add details for context.
- Add more steps as your processes change.
Better still, record your screen (with tools like Loom) while completing a process. You can explain (with your voice) why you take the steps you take. That way, you’ll be killing two beds with a stone.
4. Set up systems for every aspect of your business (like client onboarding and staff onboarding)
Nothing kills productivity and efficiency more than overwhelming your team. With project management, marketing, and other administrative functions to take care of, you’ll want to create structures that help everyone focus on completing their work without reinventing the wheel each time.
That’s where systematizing your business processes comes in handy, frees up more hands to deliver client work with speed, accuracy, and consistency.
Also, standard operating procedures enable colleagues to continue the tasks others started with the same accuracy.
Jessica Fox recommends saving the emails you send to a client so that if you need to send that same email in the future, you wouldn’t spend another 2-3 minutes drafting it. 2-3 minutes might not be a lot, but if you add them over the year, you’d have saved your firm hours.
The same thing applies to all other business functions at your firm.
5. Make a list of the tech stack you need and sign up
“A good tech stack is the heart and soul of virtual accounting firms.” Shahram Zarshenas.
Remote accounting is possible only because of cloud technology, which gives firms the ability to:
by developing and sharing processes and information that allow your team to complete their work.
This could be:
➔ Recurrences to automatically recreate client work that your firm performs with any sense of regularity.
➔ Task Dependencies so each team member knows when to start their tasks in client work that involves multiple assignees.
➔ Workflow Filters to find information by client, assignee, and work type.
- Manage Team Communication
Because when you work out of an office, employees can get updates on client work just by hearing their colleagues converse at their desks. But this isn’t the same for remote teams.
Fortunately, remote teams can also enjoy team communication (thanks to tools like Slack). Slack offers robust communication features (like channeled communication, instant notification, and client message reminders).
Financial Cents’ communication features are tailored to accounting needs. It allows teams to collaborate within client work by tagging and mentioning people to pull them into conversations.
- Store Files
Your employees do not have to fear losing client receipts, documents, and bank statements because they can easily save them in their client management portal.
In fact, the best accounting workflow software should save you the stress of logging into too many apps to access work files.
Financial Cents, for example, lets you save client files directly to the client l dashboard so that you can find all you need to complete client work in one place.
To get paid, you need a software solution that lets you receive your money in one piece. Invoicing tools like Anchor takes the stress out of that process.
It allows you to automate your invoicing so you can focus on completing and earning more. Instead of going back and forth with clients over delayed or unpaid invoices.
- Data Entry
For your virtual firm’s data entry needs, you will need a system to record data or capture your clients’ files. This will allow you to measure your client’s profitability and offer guidance where necessary.
For instance, Dext allows accountants and business owners to electronically capture and store the files they need for financial compliance.
If you want to be able to work for a client for years without meeting them, meeting software solutions will make sure of that.
If you need to discuss anything in real-time, you can jump on a zoom meeting with your client at a moment’s notice.
You can record these calls for reference sake. And if you want, you can access the meeting transcript at the end of the call, although you may need to edit it for accuracy.
- Client engagement
They need a secure and easy-to-use client portal. You need to guide them on how to share files with you. Financial Cents make this easy. When requesting client files, your client will not need to sign up to share files with you, and you can add information that clarifies what they need to do to get their files across to you.
Liscio is a great option. It helps you store client data and manage client communication from one place. That way, all team members can have the information they need to complete client work at their fingertips.
For ensuring prompt payment of salaries, you need gusto. Payment problems can push your employees to other firms in an industry where great talents are hard to find.
So, having a system to track your team’s work hours so that you pay them their due wages is critical.
6. Hire the Right People (Plus, Make Work Engaging and Collaborative for Them)
Some firm owners believe you can hire for character and train for skills. Others believe you should hire for skills and find ways to manage character defects. Whatever you think about this, you must hire the people you believe will strengthen your team and fit your company culture.
Great talents are hard to come by these days, so when you find one, be sure to make their work enjoyable.
The following tips are helpful:
- Let your employees work at the time that suits them best since positive results is the most important factor for your firm.
According to Casey Haynes, “I have somebody on my team that likes to sign on early in the morning. Work from 7 AM to 11 AM and then take a nice midday break to take care of her horses and then come back and put in hours towards the afternoon. If they are getting the job done, hitting their deadlines, I’m happy with it. And it has made them happier and more satisfied.”
- Encourage open communication, which makes employees feel seen, heard, and valued. Organize team building activities, including monthly, quarterly, or annual retreats and social events such as accounting conferences, that help your team bond together (Working remotely can get lonely).
- You should also encourage them to learn and acquire new knowledge to grow in the job. They can do that by taking courses online. We created a list of the best free and paid online bookkeeping courses, you can look through and see if there’s any they may be interested in.
7. Set Expectations with Clients and Staff
Communicating what you’re going to do for your clients and going ahead to deliver on it will not only help you retain clients, but it will also prevent complications down the line.
But you need to define what your services will be for the amount your client is willing to pay.
Your staff also have to know the role they play in all of these and what they will get out of it.
”If there are any customizations in your services to a client, spell them out to avoid resentment or contempt. So that you don’t do work you never signed up for, or the client doesn’t feel they should be getting something that they imagined was part of the service.”
Timely response to clients is a key part of managing client expectations. Casey Haynes recommends responding to client emails within 24 hours, even if you can’t deliver the request they are making. He believes you should acknowledge your client’s request and state when you can grant it instead of ignoring them.
And if the day comes and you still can’t grant their request, reach out to them again so that they know where things stand.
8. Create a Thriving Digital Presence to Attract Ideal Clients
With a traditional accounting firm, you have a measure of physical accessibility, even if it’s not enough to be profitable.
But online accounting firms depend almost entirely on the internet to attract and convert clients. So, having a digital presence is critical.
There are several opportunities to reach your audience online. Paid advertising, blogging, PPC, social media, and email marketing are some of them.
With a solid digital strategy, you will be able to share your expertise to build the trust and authority you need to win clients. Because the more people see you, the more they’ll trust you.
Here’s what you need to do to maximize digital platforms for your virtual accounting firms:
- Understand your Audience
- Choose the Right Channel
- Start sharing your knowledge.
We cover the ways you can build yourself a digital presence that attracts, delights, and converts your ideal clients in How to Get Bookkeeping Clients.
But bear in mind that the earlier you start, the better. As Ryan Lazinis puts it, “Really good marketing takes time and you need to carve out a bit of time during the week for sales and marketing.”
9. Make Client Satisfaction Front and Center (Use Automation and Tech to Make this Efficient)
With so many clients willing to change their accountants, you need to prioritize client satisfaction (to stay profitable) by:
- Meeting client deliverables consistently.
- Making client data collection easy for clients.
- Erring on the side of overcommunication
In both cases, using work and client management software will help your team and clients to cut out manual tasks to focus on what matters.
For example, automating client data collection and communicating what they need to do when sharing files with your firm will save your team hours of chasing clients for files. It’ll also help your clients know what to do on the client portal, which saves them time. Either way, this boosts your ability to deliver satisfactory work to your clients.
1o. Bonus Step: Join a Community of Like-Minded Owners for Support and Learning
Online communities are the new social clubs. They help to bring people with similar goals and pain points together to find inspiration and help from the struggles and successes of their peers.
In the Firm Founders Community, members share what they are struggling with and get help from other firm founders who might have faced similar issues or link them to places where they can get help.
Networking with other firm owners will help you learn tips, tricks, and techniques that would have taken you years of trial, error, and failure to learn.
Financial Cents’ Firm Founders community, for example, offers firm owners a safe space to vent work and client frustrations while sharing and learning from other accountants. It also features weekly live webinars hosted by a firm founder like you, , where you can share and receive insights that will help you scale your virtual accounting firm.
Everything Revolves Around Tech in Virtual Accounting Firms
Growing your virtual accounting depends on your ability to combine technology with a global pool of accounting talents to meet client deliverables at scale.
Virtual accounting firms owners like Casey Haynes and David Leichter pick Financial Cents as the accounting practice management software they can’t do without. It’s not hard to see why. Its suite of features is built specifically for virtual accounting firms’ needs.
Virtual firm owners love the:
Accounting workflow software feature that allows you to
- Track the status of client work to hit deadlines and provide accurate feedback to clients.
- Create standard operating procedures for your team.
- Enhance collaboration between your clients and employees.
- Turn client emails to projects to keep things from falling through the cracks.
Client management feature that allows you to
- Store client information and files in one secure location so assignees can find and use them for the client.
- Automate client data collection.
- Get visibility into what your employees are discussing with your clients.
- See which client is most and least profitable.
Capacity management feature lets you see what your employees are working on (and who is overworking) to prevent burnout.
Manage your remote firm with our accounting practice management solution.
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