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A Step-by-Step Guide to Switching Your Accounting Practice to a Digital Firm

Published: May 9, 2023
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So, now that we’ve discussed what an online-only practice is, reviewed what modern clients want from their modern accountants, and discussed the benefits of making the switch, it’s time to go through how to change your current accounting practice to a digital-only firm.

The change won’t happen overnight, Meagan Ledden of AutoEntry warned on a SmartVault webinar, and that’s okay. Generally, depending on where you are in the process and how tech-savvy your clients are, you can expect the transition to take about six to 12 months, especially if you’re highly motivated to make the change happen.

6 Tips for Switching Your Accounting Firm to a Digital-Only Practice

 Below, you’ll find Ledden’s tried-and-true tips for transitioning your current firm to a firm of the future.

  1. Create a bespoke tech stack and ensure you’re fully trained in how to use it. “This is central to operating purely online,” Ledden says. She also advises looking for an app to help you bring everything online. Without an app, you’re simply not thinking “digital first.” And you’ll need to make sure you’re fully trained. Once you start using new tech, many of your clients will think of you as their “IT guy,” and you should expect to have to help train them how to use it.
  2. Create scalable, repeatable processes. “From Day 1, any process you create must be as easy to apply to 100 clients as it is to one,” Ledden says. “If your client has to call you on the phone or send you something in the mail, you’ve failed.” Work out every step, even down to the smallest details, such as how you’ll get receipts and how your clients will know you received them.
  3. Be inspired by pain points. Figure out what’s currently being done manually and/or during in-person meetings with your clients. These are your pain points, says Ledden. Decide how you can “tech” these pain points. For example: All accountants can agree that the big box of receipts at tax time is a huge pain point, right? The answer to getting rid of them is data automation. As for the in-person meetings with clients, there’s technology, such as email and Zoom, that will enable them to get a hold of you without having them come into the office.
  4. Design digital-first package offerings that grow. When clients initially join your practice, they may come in as sole traders. Design your package offerings so that as clients get to know you and grow their businesses or plans for their families, they can choose to add to their packages and incorporate more services.
  5. Consider security and data protection. This is especially crucial, says Ledden. Are the apps in your tech stack in compliance with your country’s technology and data privacy? For example, in the United States, the IRS requires you to have a Written Information & Security Plan (commonly known as a WISP) for every accounting and finance practice. The WISP is extremely detailed and covers everything from identifying individuals responsible for being data protection officers, what document safety measures you’ll be taking, and the objectives, purpose, and scope of your WISP. Additionally, look for vendors who take security seriously.
  6. Get in the right mindset. You’ve likely heard the saying, “Attitude is everything.” That applies to transitioning your accounting firm from the traditional ways of doing things to a digital-only practice. “Change management is now a key professional skill,” Ledden states. She continues, “[It] requires a daring and confident approach, as well as constant evolution. Always be ready to adapt to and prepare for different ways of working.” Tech is changing all the time, and you need to be adaptable and ready to change with it. Chatbots are a perfect example. This new form of technology is rapidly growing in popularity. See how you can use it to your advantage.

Efficiency is Key for Digital Practices

As you transition to the cloud, don’t forget to focus on efficiency. You don’t want to get your clients and staff on board only to realize you don’t have the proper workflow or processes to work online.

Fortunately, many ways exist to create efficiencies in your daily workflows, especially in the cloud. Tech has seen the rise of document management systems (DMS) that help you manage and store documents entirely online. You’ll want a DMS built for accounting practices with features that will support your business. 

One of the most popular features among digital practices is email capture, for example. Look for a DMS that offers an automated way to sync Outlook emails with your DMS client folders. You’ll want one that syncs emails based on different criteria, like sender and subject line, so you can be confident all your email communication is automatically saved in the right client’s folder. Why is this important? You’ll be able to go to one folder to see all your client communication and documents instead of searching through your Inbox to find what you need. This saves you time and lets you focus on higher-value tasks.

Accounting Firms Can Protect Data with a Document Management System 

A document management system (DMS) that’s built with security and compliance in mind will ensure your firm can confidently protect its data, which in turn helps you retain client trust and adhere to data security compliance needs. SmartVault is the easiest and most secure way to gather, store, share, and eSign documents in the cloud. Learn more today.