I’m speaking 100% from experience as a tech-savvy, finance-loving, small business owner. I’ve owned the finance role in my company since the beginning, and I love it. I love it because I get to try out new technologies and automate our back office. I’m going to share some of my experiences with you in hopes that you’ll be inspired to at least try out some of these tools for your own firm and then offer these value-add services to your clients as well.
I started Tech Guru in 2004 on Peachtree Accounting for Windows and a shoebox full of receipts. That has now evolved to a highly automated cloud-based technology platform, but it didn’t happen overnight. Nowadays, I spend 1-2 hours per week in finance and we have a part time controller, Mike, who works about three days per week. He’s semi-retired and I like to joke that the only reason he took the job was his wife wanted him out of the house (now that he’s working from home, that’s not working so well, but he’s staying busy at least!) and that his top priorities in life are to spend Mondays on the golf course and Fridays at his cabin up north. We’ve enabled Mike to live his ideal life by automating as much of our back office as we possibly can.
As a CPA firm working closely with your clients and their finances, you have a unique opportunity to identify ways to help your clients improve their finance workflows saving your clients time and money and improving security and financials controls at the same time.
For me, the transformation occurred around 2010 when I found our financial processes were extremely manual and I was asking our contractor to taking on more responsibilities (namely billing) and she wasn’t able to do so because she didn’t have the time. At that point, I decided to find someone who could do it all and realized how manual and redundant our systems had become since I had delegated the finance tasks years before. The company had grown considerably, but we were still doing things the same manual ways.
So, I decided to take over all financial responsibilities and work to streamline them as much as possible. It was a lot to take on along with my other responsibilities, and with my first son having just arrived, so I had no choice but to find ways to streamline and automate.
One of the things I spent a lot of time on was teaching clients how to read a statement and help them sort out their accounts and pay their bill to us. I thought, there must be a better way and thus it all started with an online invoicing and payment platform called Freshbooks and our finance systems and processes have continued to evolve to this day to include Xero cloud accounting, Expensify for expense tracking and approvals, automating HR with the Gusto people platform, automating vendor payments with bill.com, and cash flow forecasting with Float.
Even as Tech Guru has grown significantly over the past several years, financial tasks take less time than they used to thanks to our robust and integrated set of financial apps.
Your clients have the same growth pains as we do and have the same manual processes as we did. This is where you can step in as a trusted advisor and partner to help your clients automate the finance function in their businesses and at the same time become even more valuable and more indispensable than ever.
I mentioned that we started using Peachtree when I started the company, but within a few years we migrated to QuickBooks Pro and we were finally able to move to Xero Cloud accounting when an invoicing integration was offered that connected Xero with our business management software, Autotask. We had a lot of pain around QuickBooks, mostly around how slow it was, clunky to access through a cloud desktop, expensive to host, and most of all, it didn’t integrate well with any of the great online tools that I wanted to use.
Which of your clients are on QuickBooks Pro or Peachtree? Can you help them move to the cloud? You can learn how to do migrations or partner with a Xero partner who can help support the migration. In our case, I utilized a service provider that did all the heavy lifting for us and made the transition seamless. As a CPA, you can help ensure that your clients setup their chart of accounts properly and once you get them established on a cloud accounting platform, you can login and provide support/consulting without waiting for them to send you reports. This also opens the door to integration with many other platforms that you can help them setup to simplify and streamline the finance function of their organization.
Just a few things I love about Xero is the ability for clients to view and pay their invoices online, the budgeting tool, and the dashboard. You can sign up as a Xero partner to get access to a portal so that you can access multiple client’s Xero accounts and there are lots of other benefits of signing up as a Xero partner as well. Intuit has similar programs and functionality as well as a robust set of integrated apps.
Does this sound familiar? Here’s how we used to do expense management. Our controller goes through the credit card statement and tried to match up charges with receipts that have been emailed to him throughout the month. He spent hours trying to track down expenses and documentation from people just so he could reconcile the card. Not anymore! We now use Expensify to automate the whole process and at the same time have incorporated an approval workflow. You can help your clients do this as well.
Card transactions are imported automagically into both Expensify using bank feeds. Each week, individuals’ transactions are put into a report and at the end of the week, each person goes through their transactions, categorizes them with the matching GL accounts, and submits the report to their approver. It takes just a few minutes. Throughout the week, any invoices or receipts can be added to expensify by forwarding them to a specific email address or taking a picture using the Expensify app. Then, the reports are approved by their manager who is familiar with the charges and submitted for processing by our controller who double-checks everything and then syncs with Xero. We have hundreds of charges per month and doing this any other way would be unimaginable. Now it’s a breeze and I’m not paying my staff to do paperwork!
How can you help your clients streamline their expenses? Expensify is not the only tool but it’s the one we use. Start by looking at the integration partners under expenses or receipt management for the accounting software your client is using to find the one that’s right for them and help them set it up! These apps often have free trials of free, entry-level editions of the software that you can use to try it out and make sure it will work. This is a fantastic consulting engagement with your clients and one that you can provide ongoing support for as well.
Cash Flow Forecasting
For cash flow forecasting, I used a hack of an Excel spreadsheet and manually calculated starting and ending cash each week. It was time consuming and imperfect, but it worked. If you have a client who would benefit from cash flow forecasting, there is a better way and one of the tools we have used in the past is called Float. I love this app for so many reasons, particularly for how it integrates right with Xero, synchronizes with the budget, and provides a live visual representation of cash flow.
Which of your clients would benefit from a better understanding of their future cash flows?
Bill Payments & Approvals
When we switched to Xero, we lost the ability to send check payments to our vendors directly from within QuickBooks through an integration available from our bank. We were able to solve this by using bill.com! Bill.com integrated directly with Xero and imports bills that have been entered and need to be paid. This is where the financial controls come into play. Our controller enters the bills after matching them up with a client invoice to make sure we billed the client. Then, he submits them to me for approval and payment. This way, even in a small company, no one person is writing the checks and reconciling the books. While our system of financial controls is not perfect, it’s certainly better than before!
Are you or any of your clients still printing, signing, stuffing, stamping, and mailing paper checks? If you can do it for less than $1.69 per check, then you’ve got a great thing going! Otherwise, consider outsourcing and automating your bill payments to bill.com.
You can also pay participating vendors through bill.com. Our biggest vendor accepts electronic payments, so we enter ours and submit our payments to them right within bill.com.
Born out of a need to spend less time on manual and repetitive tasks, I found myself looking for a people platform to spend less time dealing with payroll, employee onboarding, and managing benefits. We started down the path of streamlining our broad range of benefits from multiple vendors using Zenefits and then we automated employee onboarding with them as well, but it still wasn’t a streamlined experience and we found ourselves manually entering data to process payroll and contribute to health savings accounts and 401(k)s.
Enter Gusto. I was at an entrepreneurial accelerator training where I was a coach for early stage entrepreneurs and learned about what these young companies were using as their people platform. I was there to coach but learning about Gusto was a huge take-away for me. I immediately went to work migrating. It took time, but we are now completely on Gusto and their closely integrated 401(k) partner, Guideline, and we couldn’t be happier.
Our entire new hire process is automated with Gusto including benefits enrollment and employees have a handy self-service portal where they can change and adjust contributions and download reports on their own. It’s a huge time saver. Plus, Gusto integrates directly with Xero saving time with not manually entering journal entries. Gusto helps us keep a pulse on our team, particularly helpful now that everyone is working remotely, with a monthly employee survey.
Are you still manually processing payroll? Are you processing payroll manually for your clients and having to chase them down for payroll numbers every two weeks? There is a better way. Gusto also offers an extensive partner program for CPAs and while they certainly aren’t the only great payroll provider, we’ve been really happy with the platform and I’m glad we switched.
Where to Begin
This can all seem a bit daunting but start by automating your own back office one app at a time. We utilize the concept of “eat your own dog food” and you should too. Setup these tools for yourself first and you’ll experience first-hand the time savings and efficiencies gained with using these power cloud-based tools.