Cut Through the Tech Noise & Get the Right Productby
There's a lot of technology out there, so much so that choosing the right product can be an overwhelming task. However, there are effective ways to cut through the information chaos. Will Baker of Once Accounting talks about how to work better with vendors and find the right voices to listen to when you're seeking new technology.
I recently wrote an article about how to implement conference lessons for lasting change. If you haven’t read that I would encourage you to do so, as this is somewhat related to that content.
CPA firms are inundated with a large number of technology offerings on an almost daily basis. Whether it be a new practice management solution, a payroll automation tool, or a cloud-based trial balance solution, there are so many areas of your practice that technology touches. It could also be technology for a niche service area, in which case there may be several offerings for your firm to consider. All of it can be overwhelming, and the thought of entertaining multiple demos and salespeople is probably enough to make you give up altogether.
However, I hope that, at the end, this article makes you feel like you can effectively take in information and research new technology in a way that helps you take steps forward instead of feeling like your firm is in a constant state of information overload.
Why It Matters
It’s true that there is more technology than ever before in the industry, but the need is also higher than it’s ever been. With capacity issues at a fever pitch, more client needs than ever, fewer professionals incoming, and some truly dated tasks that CPAs still do, technology is the most important thing a firm can invest in.
If you truly hope to grow your firm in healthy ways, how you handle that work is going to be key. Your workflow needs to be efficient so your staff is not hamstrung by tasks they have few or no tools to complete.
Determining the Right Technology
You know your firm's needs better than anyone else. What pain points do you need to solve? And, more importantly, how do you prioritize those pain points? I asked Once Accounting’s sales director Terri Edmonds, who has worked with CPAs for over a decade, how she would tell a firm to determine what tech to look at. From her perspective, the most important thing is standardization.
“It is key to standardize workflow within the practice, [have] a standard way of doing client projects helps streamline on a day to day basis, and cut down on the chaos when there is an emergency, like a pandemic or someone leaves the firm. Standardizing allows you to not miss a beat for your clients.”
It’s true. I’ve witnessed the benefits of standardizing at my own dad’s firms and practices across the country that have stopped doing things a variety of ways and started doing things “their way.” The benefits of building a standard process are that some of your pain points in capacity and efficiency get solved almost as by-products, and you get to ask more important questions that will allow your business to grow. When it comes to tech, “standardization” could mean a lot of things. It could be using the same accounting software across all clients. It could go deeper than that, involving standardizing the chart of account items for all those clients, and, if you’re doing more CAS, providing the same bookkeeping tools to all clients.
The question I think one should ask themselves is: “Will this benefit the majority/all of my clients?” That doesn’t mean it needs to be rolled out across every individual client day one, but that it has a long-term value proposition that can impact all clients. This also helps you build a solution within your practice and allows it to grow more organically.
The other question you should ask is: “Will this help me serve all my clients well?” While you may have different clients that are given different levels of service, the tech you chose will still impact how you work with a client regardless.
Listen to the Right Voices
I am constantly inundated with advertising opportunities for us to list our technology. The challenge is choosing the right places, the ones our market is paying attention to. The challenge for firms is different: When trying to determine which technology solutions to look at, it’s important to have a list of voices you trust. You’re likely to be skeptical of advertisements as well, and trying to understand if a product is being featured simply because they paid to be there or if it’s a product that actually carries weight can be hard to determine.
As a vendor, I can also tell you that there are many people with platforms or publications or vendors who do not do the lift of vetting a product to determine if it will effectively serve their market. Here are some places and people I believe give solid recommendations that have been evaluated. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a group of people whom I have worked or interacted with who do the work to ensure they understand powerful technology for the accounting industry. Whether you’re actively looking for new tech or just keeping your eyes open, go ahead and connect with them on social media.
I recommend paying attention to the following:
Randy is one of the most well-connected individuals you will ever meet. He also runs a comprehensive podcast with his partner Brian Tankersley, who is a CPA, called the Technology Lab. Randy does a good bit of work to understand technologies and works hard to recommend the right things that will help meet clients’ real needs. He also consults with CPA firms, and it’s worth working with him if you’re looking to grow your practice.
Jason is a successful practitioner based out of Oregon. In his spare time, he sends out one of the industry’s most comprehensive and consistent tech newsletters. It does typically include sponsors, but having worked directly with him, I know they are not only well vetted, but products that he himself sees value in. The newsletter is resource-rich and has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you in terms of research. Jason also provides good commentary on the current state of the industry and is not only worth following via his newsletter, but on Twitter as well.
I have been blown away by the #TaxTwitter community. The people who participate in this “channel” are practitioners seeking advice, and there’s typically a lot of tech talk from actual users. There’s also a great deal of humor that may help alleviate some of the busy season slog.
If you see writers, such as myself, who work for vendors, there’s typically been a good bit of vetting that happens with not only that writer but the company they represent. Before our team was ever allowed to publish, we had plenty of meetings about how we want to serve the market as a whole. And I know we are not the only ones who did that. So the authors, both practitioners and vendors alike, will have solid recommendations and a pretty vast knowledge of the landscape. And many publications, like AccountingWEB, vet their experts well and ensure they publish only trusted voices.
- Will Hill Consulting: Will had a long career at Thomson Reuters and has recently pivoted to private consulting for CPA firms. He has in-depth knowledge of the tech space and can help firms navigate change in meaningful ways.
- Randy Johnston: See above
- Geni Whitehouse: Geni is a practitioner who also runs Impactful Advisor, which is a group that helps practitioners grow in their advisory skill set. With her expertise comes a wealth of knowledge regarding the tech landscape for accounting.
- Networks: BDO Alliance, RSM, Boomer Consulting and many other organizations have plenty of resources and vendors which are thoroughly vetted to ensure they effectively serve their client firms.
Firms that successfully navigate the noisy tech landscape have consistent systems for evaluating both current and new technology. Large firms typically have staff members or whole teams dedicated towards innovation, but if you are a smaller firm, that doesn’t mean you can’t implement some of these same strategies. Schedule time monthly or quarterly to review your current tech stack and demo new tools, and if you are going through certain avenues for demos, you may be able to snag some CPE, too. If you are a firm owner, having members of your team take the lead on this can be helpful because they may find something that resolves a pain point you were unaware your staff was encountering.
And demoing new techs doesn’t mean you're constantly implementing them – building out schedules and goals of how you and your firm are leveraging tech can help prioritize implementation of new techs or further investment in a technology you are currently utilizing.
Being Successful with Vendors
Leveraging technology does not mean that you are constantly implementing new software. I recently asked one of our earliest clients how we could help their firm outside of using our product. The partner noted that they had a practice management solution that they didn’t love, but it was one of the largest practice management solutions on the market. He didn’t ask, “What’s your preferred practice management partner?” or anything like that. Instead, he asked if I knew anyone there that could help us leverage it better. I cc’d him in an email with someone I knew within the hour.
He noted that our company, as a vendor who frequents conferences and events, has a lot more connections with other vendors and people in the space and can help him navigate other changes. And that is true of most vendors in this space. Whether they work in payroll, ERP, hosting, workflow or middleware, your vendors are well-connected people who can help you be successful, not only with their own product but others.
My role is to help accountants be successful with Once Accounting and help accountants run a successful business overall. If I can use my network and my knowledge to do that, I am happy to do so.
Learn more about being successful when working with vendors by tuning into the Tech Pulse Live Digital Webinar "How to Effectively Partner with Vendors" next Thursday, August 11, at 1pm EST
Will Baker has worked in Client Services in the marketing and technology space since graduating from the University of Oklahoma. A son of a CPA, he has developed a passion for helping CPAs improve their practices and gain more work-life balance through technology and attracting the right types of clients. Will has been able to help firms across...