Cloud Accounting Practice Management

Building Your Cloud Toolbox

Written by Patti Scharf

Now that more and more accountants are not only taking the leap into the Cloud but are also integrating more Online support. Toolbox with tools on laptop. 3dand more tools to work together, I thought it would be a great time to share some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way as they relate to building the right toolbox for your firm.

When our cloud accounting firm first started, we decided that as long as the software was in the Cloud, we would support it for our clients. We felt that we were tech-savvy enough that we would be able to integrate any of the tools our clients might want or need. However, we quickly learned that even if that was true, it is really darn hard to scale that model into a business.

Pick Your Niche

It is absolutely critical that the needs of your clients drive your tool selection.

This is not the days of old when you literally had one or two technology options (typically your desktop general ledger) and you needed to squeeze all of your clients into one standardized box—and everything had to be keyed in by hand. Now there are literally hundreds of apps to choose from, and different software serve different needs.

If you are trying to be all things to all people while simultaneously embracing streamlined data entry through cloud apps, the tools you need will naturally follow. This means that instead of having a core toolbox of handy apps, you could end up with an unwieldy conglomeration of dozens or more. That becomes expensive, not only in cost of apps but even more so in terms of time researching, testing, implementing, and training.

The best way to serve your clients is to find a common customer base, all of whose members need more or less the same tools. Then you can become an expert on just a handful of tools yet provide superior service to all of your clients.

(For other benefits of picking a niche, I hope you get a chance to check out my session at SleeterCon on 11/19/15, Riches Are in the Niches.)

You Are the Expert

If you have tried to talk to your clients about implementing new technology, it’s likely that you’ve heard one of your well-intentioned clients tell you about software that their cousin’s friend’s nephew’s dog used with great success, and they want to try that out.

Umm… maybe. If it just happens to be the right solution.

But you are the one living and working in this space day to day, and you should presumably know more about what they need than they do. That’s why they came to you in the first place, right? So remember that you need to help guide them to the right solution. Ask lots and lots of questions about their business, their processes, and their desired results. Then research and implement a tool that gets them where they want to be.

Whatever you do, don’t let them push you into implementing a tool that isn’t right for their business. That helps no one and frustrates everyone.

If you need help becoming an expert, start by checking out SleeterCon, where all the best of the best accounting technology providers share their wares, and where accounting technology experts hang out and share their experiences with other accountants.

Process Is Paramount

Process, process, process.

Process drives virtually everything in our business. If a tool conflicts with or can’t adapt to our internal processes, we don’t adopt the tool until it can. Period. Process is that critical to the success of our business.

As an example, we have a client who uses a tool for capturing details for particular trip bookings. They came on board with us early in our history and we had free rein to determine the cleanest process with whatever tools we felt were best.

During the height of our client’s busy season, they have 100 to 200 bills that need to get processed for payment each week. Before us, they had a full-time bookkeeper who was manually entering, printing, and mailing those payments in QuickBooks Desktop. It seemed obvious to us that we needed to use Bill.com for the payment processing part. Done. The trickier part was figuring out how to efficiently work out the system between their tool, Bill.com, and the general ledger we’d use. We obviously wanted to avoid double entry; after all, all the data was already keyed-in and living in their booking system.

With Xero, we found we could do a quick and standardized export from their booking system and import that into Xero as bills. Then we could sync the bills from Xero to Bill.com, run them through the payment process, and then sync the payment detail back into Xero. The ultimate result would be 100% accuracy in minutes instead of hours through their old system.

BOOKING SOFTWARE ⇒ XERO ⇐⇒ BILL.COM

The workflow for using QuickBooks Online with Bill.com, however, goes in the other direction. You have to start by entering data into Bill.com first, and then push bills and payment information into QuickBooks Online.

BOOKING SOFTWARE ⇒ BILL.COM ⇒ QBO

I know that Bill.com has an import feature, but we just found the import to be so much easier and cleaner to use with Xero, so it was a no-brainer to choose Xero.

That end result became a crossroads for our firm.

We used Bill.com with both Xero and QuickBooks Online clients, but they each had a different process, so our team had to be doubly trained, and the multiple processes had to be documented. It increased confusion and frustration for our team, and we finally decided we needed to pick just one general ledger and go with it.

We preferred Xero, so QuickBooks Online got the boot (sorry, QuickBooks Online).

We’ve had similar experiences when evaluating time and expense tools, payroll systems, and on and on. We would test all that we could and would ultimately choose our favorite ones.

This is how you build your own Best of Breed toolbox:

  • Research to find a few key tools already touted as best in the industry.
  • Test them out in your own firm to figure out what will work best for you and your clients.
  • Save the best for each function (A/R, A/P, payroll, time and expense, sales tax, etc.).

And… Presto! You’ve built your toolbox.

The goal isn’t to accumulate as many tools as you can. The goal is to use the fewest number of tools necessary to streamline your internal processes, improve your firm’s effectiveness, and, of course, produce amazing results for your clients.

Feedback Loop

Once you’ve built your toolbox, don’t think that the work ends there.

Cloud software is constantly evolving and improving. If the tools you’ve picked are the same in form and function as they were two or three years ago, the tool is likely not a good long-term solution for you. The best software companies are driven by the needs of their clients (i.e., you), and if they’re not listening to feedback and improving their products, there are plenty of other players willing and able to step into that space to fill any gaps.

And, of course, it should almost go without saying that for vendors to improve their products, they rely on you to speak up and tell them what needs to be fixed. If you’ve tested their product, but it’s not ready for primetime, give them a chance to win your business by telling them (respectfully) what you think they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. The way they respond will tell you a lot about the company and the direction they’re heading. Maybe the key feature that you really want and need is due to be released next week. If you don’t ask, you might abandon the perfect tool moments before it is about to fundamentally fix one of your core problems.

And always keep your eyes open for new players. The cloud accounting technology space is changing every single day. Do what you can to keep up with the changing landscape—your clients will thank you for it.


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About the author

Patti Scharf

Patti is a blogger, speaker, and thought leader in the accounting technology industry and is the co-founder and Chief Controller for Catching Clouds LLC. She is a CPA and holds several current software certifications: Xero, Bill.com (Guru), QuickBooks Online, and FreshBooks and was previously an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. She absolutely loves designing effective accounting systems for ecommerce businesses and is committed to advancing the artistry of accounting through the use of technology.

4 Comments

  • How do you niche if you just starting your business, especially if you have bills to pay? Do you niche when are further along in your business?

    • Hi Ben,

      Yep, this is a hard one for sure, and I think it depends on the circumstances of your individual company (and your risk tolerance).

      When you’re just starting a business, you have the opportunity to do things exactly the way you want to from the get-go. You have a clean slate and no baggage. This is a huge advantage. Of course, the downside is that you may have no money, so you have an excess amount of fear which can cause you to make choices out of sheer desperation that you wouldn’t otherwise make. As long as you are able to keep that at bay, I think it’s much smarter to specialize from the start.

      When you specialize you’ll get where you need to go faster. Having a niche makes finding clients easier because you’re not using a shotgun approach… it immediately narrows your focus – where and how you market, which tools to use, and what you need to learn and know. It makes you more nimble and quickly deepens your experience as well as your appeal to potential clients in that space. Also, you’ll be able to charge higher fees which means you won’t need as many clients to get to your target baseline.

      But I won’t lie. This isn’t for the faint of heart, and you may not always make perfect choices. In order to get to the “next level” we took on one last client that didn’t fit our niche, and we paid a huge price for it. They were a huge distraction that ate up time, resources, and ultimately slowed our growth by an extra six months at least.

      Remember that you’re a finite resource. So if you’re working on an undesirable client and/or for an undesirable fee, you are not available to take on your perfect client at the perfect price. It’s simply not worth it, in my opinion.

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