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Software suite or best-of-breed cloud apps? The choice is yours…

By Darren Root, CEO

After more than 30 years in the accounting profession, I find that many firm leaders continue to ask the same question: Should we use a software suite or build an ecosystem of cloud-based apps? Having just closed out Rootworks’ annual virtual Inspire Conference (with nearly 1,500 in attendance and a lot of fun!), I found this topic to still be front of mind for many partners and their lead staff.

The answer is not black and white. It’s not either/or. It’s more a question of what works for the firm and how you build upon what you already have in place. The fact is that most firms are already operating under a hybrid suite-cloud app model. With so many software providers offering open APIs (Application Programming Interface)—a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other—it’s easier than ever to build a tech stack made up of suite-based and best-of-breed applications.

Times have changed dramatically over the past several years. The days of operating a firm solely using an all-in-one software suite are over. Firms now have a choice of the solutions that comprise their technology ecosystem. Thanks to open APIs (Application Programming Interface), the same level of connectivity can be achieved that has traditionally been available in software suites.

Today, firms can have the best of both worlds—powerful solutions from software-suite and stand-alone vendors. And just imagine how much faster your firm can adapt to change and solve issues when you adopt innovative technologies that are constantly innovating to support accounting professionals in the modern digital age. Overall, this means you no longer have to rely on a single vendor to fulfill your firm’s technology needs. 

Be intentional about building a modern digital ecosystem

With so many premium cloud technology options available, firms have the ability to build a modern digital culture with relative ease. This means building a technology stack that allows staff to perform duties at peak productivity, work remotely or from the office—while also supporting clients with the convenience of online capabilities.

Like your firm’s broad work culture, your digital culture is made up of the collective beliefs and behaviors within your organization that drive your internal processes and client interactions. The big question is: “Do you have a strong digital culture?” Have you created one that is modern and one that meets the needs of today’s technologically savvy and mobile-focused workforce and clients? You have to be intentional about your firm’s digital culture—always looking for new innovations to meet the modern needs of staff and clients.

To be intentional about your digital culture requires that you consistently research and select only the best solutions. It means implementing modern, best-of-breed applications that connect with other tools and enhance your digital stack.

Considering the needs (and demands) of today’s tech-savvy clients, the idea of selecting a tool for your digital stack just because the “parts” integrate no longer makes sense. You have to think differently about your digital environment and look beyond basic integration. Be sure to ask a few core questions:

  • Does our digital culture embrace modern applications and tools?
  • Does our technology support a modern, frictionless client experience?
  • Does our tech stack support mobile capabilities?
  • Does our technology offer the highest level of security?

To keep up in a rapidly changing technology world requires time and attention. It requires firms to actively seek out and evaluate multiple solutions to identify the best fitting and most powerful solutions to support the ever-changing needs of staff and clients.

Make 2021 the year you redefine your digital culture

It’s safe to say that many accounting professionals are creatures of habit. Software suites have been around for decades, and the comfort of an all-in-one suite is hard to let go of. However, the fact remains that most of the leading cloud applications offer APIs that enable cross connectivity among disparate solutions. So why stick with the status quo? Make 2021 the year you shake things up and really put in the work to evaluate and redefine your tech stack.

The choices you make over the next few months will set the stage for the types of employees and clients you attract—modern, tech-savvy, ideal. We are firmly in a new digital era, which demands a new, modern digital strategy. Resolve to bolster your digital culture in the new year!

About the Author

Darren Root, CPA, CITP, CGMA is GM at Rootworks—the source for all tools, resources and guidance required to create a Modern Firm®. Rootworks supports members with The Performance Platform™ for the Modern Firm®; dedicated coaching and education; and an established, seasoned peer network. Learn more at rootworks.com.

Subscribe to Darren’s Better Every Day podcast on iTunes or listen from the Rootworks website at rootworks.com/podcast for a deeper dive on the topics discussed in this article and more.

The final stretch

 By Sean, Education Team

As we enter that final stretch of the most unique year of our lives, it is time to finish up any remaining projects for 2020 before we get right back into tax season. It is also a time to remember that communication with our clients is key to making 2021 as successful as possible. Here are some common projects and some communication examples to consider before year-end.

Common year-end projects:

  • Refine your tax process before the upcoming season:
    • Level returns–Determine which returns can skip a partner review and either get reviewed by another staff or not reviewed at all.
    • Adjust internal workflow–Document your process and ask yourself if all steps make sense and are necessary.
    • If you do not currently scan up-front for paper clients–work on implementing that.
    • Make sure you have easy and electronic options to pay your firm for the work done.
    • Ensure you have an electronic signature option for clients.
    • Make sure you have easy-to-use digital options to collect and deliver tax documents.
  • Get ready for 1099s:
    • Make sure you have addressed the changes for the 1099-NEC internally.
    • Plan your internal process to gather and update information and eventually file the 1099s for compliance.
  • Take an inventory of tax-only clients. Rank them, and decide who needs pricing changes or who is not a fit for the firm.

Plan your communication strategy. If you want tax season to run smoothly, you must communicate. Here are some key items to consider:

  • A year-end newsletter can consolidate key new tax items, office information, and key dates for the upcoming tax season.
  • Set your internal deadlines and communicate those internally and to clients. If you don’t push clients to get their info in (and have a consequence of not guaranteeing the return gets done), then the extreme volume near deadlines will never change.
  • Communicate now that you need info for Personal Use of Auto, Shareholder Health Insurance information, and 1099 requirements and deadlines.
  • Put together a schedule and process you will use to send out reminders during tax season of those key deadlines your firm has. Think of it as a bi-weekly nudge.
  • Plan an internal communication strategy to keep the entire team on the same page. Using Slack/Teams, keep the team updated on the status of where the firm is–are you behind projections, etc.–to keep everyone informed and motivated.
  • Post all external communications on social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.) for the clients that tend to ignore emails and look online.

Rootworks members have access to resources for many of these items. Items in the resource center include a Sample Newsletter, Client Communication Sample, Personal Use of Auto calculation spreadsheet, and resources for Tax Strategy and processes to make the process better.

Password management pro tips

By Chris Dickens, IT

Here are a few pro tips on password management. 

Password managers > browser password storage. The reason this is true is that the browser option, while improving in features and encryption, still doesn’t measure up to dedicated password managers. They are also not cross-platform, meaning you cannot share credentials between Chrome and Firefox, for example. Trust the best-in-breed solutions. Load the Keeper or LastPass extension on your browsers and your mobile device, and use those instead of a browser’s built-in solution.

Length > complexity. The passphrase “I love Jar-Jar Binks!” is greater than the 8-character random password “x45Ft-2G” as once you see the passphrase, you can usually type it out easily. You may ask, “What difference does it make if you’re using a password manager as recommended above?” The answer is that you may occasionally still need to type in a password manually, like on another computer, etc. 

This question still gets asked:

Are offline passwords > electronically stored passwords? If the offline storage (i.e., a password book) is not an Excel spreadsheet printed out, meaning it’s also kept in electronic form, and it’s kept in one place where the physical realm of security is tightly controlled, and you have no need whatsoever to ever collaborate with someone on credentials, and just love typing passwords all day long, sure. 

Security professionals are reporting that people who use password managers tend to practice better overall password hygiene. Specifically, they tend to use different passwords for different logins. If you make the password manager’s passphrase the most obscure or complex password in your arsenal, enable MFA on the app, and then use the built-in password generator to create unique passwords for each record, you have lowered your risk profile substantially compared to someone who uses one complex passphrase for most of their common logins. 

Mastering and managing your firm’s online presence

By Chris, Marketing Team

Make sure people can find that online “front door to your firm”

More than ever, buyers are relying on the internet to research purchases long before they take the step of contacting a business. Online is where the majority of buyers—both consumers and B2B—research products and services before they make a purchase decision, which means it’s where your firm needs to be as well. Consider just a few of the statistics: 

  • > 90 percent of consumers read business reviews before making a purchase 
  • 68 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from businesses with positive reviews 
  • Consumers read 10 reviews on average before trusting a business enough to make a purchase 
  • 78 percent of people trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family
  • 92 percent of B2B customers are more likely to buy after reading a trusted review 
  • Google continues to be the fastest-growing reviews platform—holding 75 percent of search market share
  • 60 percent of customers check Google My Business for reviews 

Those are powerful numbers. Buyers are greatly influenced and motivated by the information they read online. Client reviews represent a highly persuasive online mechanism. And with Google dominating the search market, having an active and comprehensive Google My Business listing is also a must. 

Online reviews: Get them in; keep them coming 

Online reviews are the first stop on the buyer journey for the majority of consumers. The more positive online reviews you generate, the better you can educate prospective clients on who you are, the quality of services you offer and your dedicated role as a trusted advisor. 

But, where do you start? 

Automating your client review process is a great starting point, and Grade.us is the online review management solution to do it. With Grade.us, you can easily and efficiently: 

  • Send review request emails to clients
  • Upload and manage custom client lists 
  • Aggregate your reviews in one place 
  • View reports
  • Access additional review-generating tools 

Automating the client review process is the best way to efficiently and effectively manage online review activity. It also ensures that you stay on top of responding to reviews as needed (good or bad). 

Google My Business: Stay active; stay on top of the page 

There’s an old joke among digital marketers: Where’s the best place to hide a dead body? On page two of a Google search. This underscores the importance of ensuring your firm moves to the top of the search page—and stays there. 

Optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) listing is the first step in boosting your Google search ranking. What is Google My Business? In short, GMB represents a free business listing that enables you to easily connect with customers across Google Search and Maps. Using Google’s intuitive GMB dashboard, you can augment your listing at every level—from adding service descriptions and products to uploading current photos and posting helpful, relevant content to your GMB social media stream. The meatier your listing, the easier it is to find your firm online. 

Your firm’s online presence is a front door for prospective clients in the digital age. Be sure you clear a path for them to find it!

Want to know more? Check out this recorded webinar on Rootworks.com.

What we’re working on

  1. Inspire 2020—We had a great time with Inspire 2020! Thank you to those who participated! Event attendees: Recorded presentations and presentation materials are available by clicking this link https://rootworks.com/resources/events/detail/3c41ca09-da02-4169-a402-c1d4151fabe8/description and then clicking the Event Materials link that you will see at the left.
  2. .CPA Domain Guide—As many will already know, the AICPA and its business and technology arm, CPA.com, introduced .cpa as a domain in the second half of 2020. The .cpa domain is restricted to CPAs. Rootworks has a concise resource here: https://rootworks.com/resources/online-learning/7bdf24fd-3228-4c40-a0ca-7e85dc276cef that outlines our thoughts on purchasing a .cpa domain for those who may be considering it.

Upcoming Webinars

  • December 9 – Staff Training: Onvio Day-to-Day Use
  • December 15 – Winter Culture Webinar
  • December 16 –  Staff Training: Getting Ready for Busy Season Pt. 1 of 2 (Part 2 will be in the first half of January)
  • December 17 – Winter Rootworks.com Update Webinar

Register in Rootworks.com under Resources > Events > Virtual Events.

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