How much more efficient would your practice be if you could make technology work better for you and your clients? How much would your practice grow?
Just a few years ago, I was overwhelmed with new technology; there weren't enough hours in the day to learn what was new, let alone implement new technologies in my practice. However, once I made the commitment to follow through, my firm increased tax revenues by more than 64%, in 2012 and 2013! I now meet fewer than a dozen clients in person; in fact, 98% of my work is done through the Internet. This allows me great flexibility with managing my workload.
I’m not opposed to face-to-face meetings, but with better and constantly evolving technology, there’s no reason why we should continue to operate the old fashioned way. Many people in our profession are reluctant to change and adapt to new technology in their business. Those who don’t adapt to the new generation of technology will soon be left behind. Our clients, especially those of the younger generation, want to work with accounting and tax professionals who are in tune with technology. Forget about the days of waiting for your office phone to ring or waiting for the client who is running late for their appointment and putting you behind with your other work.
In my practice, I deal with clients of all ages and nationalities. Some are located across the United States, while others are dispersed internationally with a time zone difference up to 12 hours. Waiting for the phone to ring at midnight or trying to meet clients in person would put huge limitations on the number of clients I work with. Operating the way I used to operate 19 years ago, when I first started my firm as a young 21-year-old college graduate, would be a lost cause.
Times have changed, and you must change, too! The various technologies I implemented have allowed me to work with clients all across the world. More often than not, I don’t have to speak with my clients on the phone or see them in person. If I need to see a client, I use Skype, which works just as well as having the client in my office.
Here’s what you need to do to operate more efficiently; I can tell you that it’s not by having a paper fax machine, telephone line, or an ancient computer system:
• e-fax allows me to receive faxes on my computer through Outlook on the iPhone, iPad, or anywhere I have a computer with an Internet connection. This is a great way to receive important documents without having to stay in the office waiting for clients to fax paperwork.
• The next great technology is Evernote, an online service that allows you to upload all types of files and to access them on a secure remote server from any computer, iPhone or iPad app. Evernote is probably the single best piece of technology I have implemented in my firm. With Evernote, I can share files with clients, whether they are PDFs, Word or Excel documents, tax return files, QuickBooks files, or any other data that needs to be shared. Evernote can also be used as a filing cabinet by uploading files and labeling them, which enables me to access the files and easily search for them by name or description when I am out of the office.
Imagine being out of the office and your client emails you, asking if you can provide them with a copy of their tax return because they need it urgently and aren’t at home to access it on their computer. In the old days, you would have had to reply to your client to let them know that you were out of the office and didn’t have access to your computer. With Evernote, you can access the files from your laptop or iPhone and email the file to your client with a simple touch of a button. This is how you can offer great customer service without being stuck in your office. Being able to work remotely, and still take care of your clients, is the new way of doing business.
• Another piece of technology that not only helps me be more efficient, but also allows me to market to my clients, is the use of my website with a secure portal. I can set up a portal for my clients from any computer, iPhone or iPad, as long as I have an Internet connection or WiFi. Clients access their secure portal to upload and download documents I send to them. The beauty is that I set the portal preferences to send email notifications to my clients each time I upload files for them, and receive emails when they upload files in their portal. It’s an easy way to work, while still continuing to market to clients each time they go to the website to access their portal. Just as important is having a vanity domain, such as www.savvytaxguy.com or www.savemefromirs.com,that you can link to your website and help clients remember how to access their portal.
• Another well-known subscription that I use is Dropbox. I’m not as big of a Dropbox fan as I am of Evernote, but I do use it to accommodate some of my clients. Just like Evernote, I have the Dropbox app so that I can access files remotely when I am not in the office.
• People may fear that being out of the office will limit their ability to be productive and service their clients’ needs. With today’s technology, this should no longer be a concern. Remote access services, such as www.logmein.com, allow me to access my office computer remotely from my laptop or any other computer. Although I can access many files through Evernote, the secure portal on my website, and Dropbox, there are times when it is necessary to access my office computer remotely. Having a low-cost and affordable remote access service allows for easy access to the office computer.
• I mentioned earlier that you no longer have to sit in the office waiting for the phones to ring. Technology has revolutionized the phone industry. Voice over IP (VoIP) is becoming the new standard for phone technology, while the old copper landlines are becoming obsolete. For example, I have a local and toll free number through Ring Central in my practice. With my Ring Central account, I have e-fax service and can route my telephone calls to either ring in my office or on any phone out of the office. When my clients dial my number, the call goes to whichever phone I have it set to dial. Best of all, my clients don’t know if I am in the office or answering the phone while I am on vacation at the beach! With a simple touch of a button, I can access my Ring Central account from any computer or my iPhone and designate where I want to route the phone calls. I can listen to the voice mails on my iPhone or my laptop, instead of having to wait until I get back to the office to listen to voicemail.
For some, these types of technological changes may be a bit drastic. You have to analyze how your business operates to figure out what type of technology you should implement as part of your daily operations. If you have staff, some of this technology might not be necessary. However, if you are a sole practitioner who wants to streamline your business, become more efficient and productive, and have more freedom in your life, these types of technological changes may be the best thing, ever!
Some practitioners will take action and adapt to the newest technology available; while others will be hesitant to change. Fear of the unknown can paralyze people. That’s the reason why some are able to stay ahead of the competition, while others struggle to maintain the status quo.
What kind of practice do you want?
Andrew Poulos, EA, ABA, ATP
Poulos Accounting & Consulting, Inc.,