by Jonathan Godwin, CPA
I wasn’t alive when calculators were first invented. I can only imagine that they took the world by storm. I was working in public accounting when the idea of working in a largely integrated and digital environment came around, and it’s still taking our profession by storm.
My firm decided to reduce our use of paper in 2006 by scanning client backup instead of adding it to existing files. We finally shredded the last paper file five years later in 2011. However, we told clients we were paperless at that time, and we were to a large degree, just not completely, I suppose.
Over time, we explored moving our stored data to the cloud for quicker, remote access. We now utilize a hosting service for our QuickBooks Pro client files. In recent weeks, we decided it was time to transition away from natively installed tax preparation software and look to a cloud-based (SaaS) solution. As with any software application change or systems change, the transitions are never easy. Knowing the desired end result of the change is critical and something we had to learn the hard way. We learned a lot on our journey to become a digital and integrated CPA firm. For instance:
- You must have a documented system for everything you do. We had no systems for anything…we only had technicians doing those things.
- You cannot successfully shift from paper and native software to a cloud-based/digital environment without setting up systems for everything you currently do. The idea here is to replicate the system throughout your firm and teach your team, and with no system that is impossible. We are currently working on a documented system for every function in our firm.
- You must know why you want to make a change from your current system. We made the call to go paperless before we knew why we wanted to do it. So, when we decided to explore cloud-based tax preparation software, we took two years to analyze every reason why this change would benefit the firm. Now, we are ready and I have confidence it will work. Blowing things up and starting over takes time, so we decided to do things right the first time.
- You must explain the changes to your clients so they’re comfortable with them. In our case, some were open to changes in our technology and some were very nervous. We didn’t roll out our ideas in a comforting way, and we paid for it with push-back, hours of questions, frustrated emails and confusion.
Clients don’t care how things get done as long as they are done correctly, in a timely manner as promised, and with as little inconvenience to them as possible. When you make a change such as introducing portals, make sure to ease your clients’ minds about potential problems and security.
We continually look for ways to be more effective for our clients, even if we sacrifice efficiency in the short-term. Moving to a more digital environment was the right move for us because it allowed us to serve our clients better. What is your next move?
Jonathan Godwin is the President of Godwin & Associates, CPA, specializing in assisting small businesses with tax structure matters and planning/advisory/preparation. Visit www.godwincpa.com to learn more.