The Radical CPA: Meet Your Clients in the Cloud

People often ask me: what makes a firm a radical “New Firm?” There are four fundamental tenets. Although adopted differently within each firm, these four tenets comprise a new set of values that most of the “movement” firms embrace.

Ready? Here they are:

1. Cloud/technology;

2. Social/communication;

3. Pricing/value; and,

4. Process/experience.

There are many ideas and a lot of articles about how the above four tenets impact a firm. But I haven’t seen anyone really explain how these tenets holistically and radically change a firm at its core. It’s this transformation that allows the new firms to rock it in today’s world.

Let’s begin with cloud and technology.

Due to today’s fast-moving world, your clients’ expectations have now changed. As a result, you will need new technology to serve them in the way they expect to be served today — in real-time, anytime.

For those of you who may not be aware, the cloud is not an actual cloud. It’s your software in a computer room, miles away from your physical location.

The most important thing to know about the cloud is that your data is not on your laptop. You use a browser and connect
and somehow it works. It’s true, you have to be careful about security, and you need to make sure your vendor is secure, but believe me, when you’re in the cloud, your data will be much safer, and you will be so much happier. What’s critical to understand, though, is that the cloud requires a new type of management.

Why?

The cloud is disruptive to CPA firms’ core management philosophies. It disrupts what we are selling and how we interact with our teams.

As you dive in deeper, you’ll be surprised as to what our customers are buying from us, compared with what we’re selling. It’s an eye-opener. It will change the way you work and that change is what becomes priceless to a CPA firm. The real-time, anytime is the game-changer for the firm. This “new” technology creates an awesome opportunity for leaders that get it to fundamentally change their firm’s culture and services at their core. You can blame the technology for the way we will deliver new services, even though in our CPA hearts we know we should have always added this value.

Practically speaking, however, in the past we were always  constrained by the time it took just to get it correct. You should not just insert cloud software without rethinking and retooling all of your customer communications and processes. If you do, you are wasting the core benefit of the cloud and what it will bring to your firm’s new core transformation.

Accountants are used to working in the past, and being somewhat slow. But the disruption comes from the real-time possibilities that the cloud software creates.

However, it’s not about software. It’s about how the data sharing is now in real-time and how you’re going to respond. Your clients’ expectations now have changed. How are you going to deliver the service and make sure they’re happy? What are the expectations you’re going to have to set?  What are the new expectations for your team and their workflows? How will you manage them? It’s not just that they can work anytime or anywhere — their work product will be updated in real time. That means you will have to train more on the front end because something that is updated to the customer can’t sit on a senior’s desk for a week before it goes out the door.

That’s what makes the cloud a disrupter to a firm’s management — yet that is also what makes it awesome for the firm’s team members.  They have the ability to learn and grow as professionals so much faster in real time.

Working online is definitely going to make you do things differently. You probably think the biggest thing is overcoming your clients’ objections to the cloud, but what you’re going to be surprised by is how many of your clients are actually using pieces of the cloud in their business already. They’re just not using it for their accounting needs. They might already be doing online banking or another activity online because their suppliers or vendors require them to use online programs. More than likely, your own fears have transferred onto your clients.

The cloud will no doubt restructure your firm’s communication and workflow. Be prepared, because the first few months are going to be bumpy as you transition. As you move forward, here are a few benefits of the cloud to consider:

  • It supports new firms. Most cloud software is sold in a subscription-based model. You get started and you start paying and you don’t have this huge upfront cost to start. This removes the barrier for those wanting to start a new firm. You can also add new clients and scale your subscription up as you bring them onboard. That’s a critical benefit from a cash-flow perspective.
  • It forces communication to be different. The cloud makes everything user-friendly. We can now run our firms from iPads and tablets. We use Skype, GoToMeeting, Lynx, screen-sharing, and video conferencing all on a regular basis.
  • There are cloud accounting tools for everyone. There are a lot of choices out there for accounting software, including Xero, QuickBooks Online, Sage One, Kashoo, and FreshBooks. Do some research and figure out what will work best for you and your firm.

Remember, the bottom line is: The specific technology you use doesn’t matter. It’s how you use the technology to run your firm more efficiently and more effectively to serve your customers and your employees better.

Originally posted on AccountingToday.com on June 1. 

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