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Grow Your Practice and Profits With a Distributed Workforce

Feb 25th 2016
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If you want to operate a next-generation accounting firm, you’re going to need to expand your horizons, both figuratively and literally. You’ll need to use the latest accounting tools to extend your abilities and reach out to hire employees and contractors, not only in your own geographic region but across the United States, and even around the world.

Those firms that are evolving are leveraging top-quality people, wherever they are. They’re tapping the talents of a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) in New York who has temporarily stepped away from her 9-to-5 job. Either that or they’re getting help from a CPA who’s gone back to school at Stanford for an advanced degree.

And if they have a client with offices in the United States and Australia, they’re hiring experts down under to help provide full service to that client. They’re leveraging accountants everywhere who are looking for project work to make your business more productive and profitable. The trick is finding them.

Fortunately, there are networks just a click away, such as the Xero Advisor Directory of Xero Certified advisors, which lists accountants and bookkeepers who know how to use Xero software and may be looking for project work. But there’s more, and resources like this are especially valuable now, during our profession’s busiest season.

The point is, you can take on more clients and maximize your output – and your income – without taking on permanent employees by contracting the work seasonally. Here’s how:

Virtual is the New Reality

According to the Freelancers Union, one in three working Americans is an independent worker. This includes people at all skill levels. A couple years ago, the Harvard Business Review wrote about “The Rise of the Supertemp,” managers and professionals, from lawyers to CFOs, “who’ve been trained at top schools and companies and choose to pursue project-based careers independent of any major firm.” Many of them are accountants. Accountants saw 43 percent growth in freelance earnings from 2013 to 2014, on a global basis.

There are many reasons for this trend toward independence. Foremost among them is the rise of platforms that make it easy for accounting practices to find freelance talent. But to make the most of this talent once you have found it, you should get comfortable with tools that help you communicate seamlessly with people working remotely – apps like Google Hangout, Skype, FaceTime, and GoToMeeting, which enable video conferencing with a click – because it’s important to maintain a personal relationship with your contractors even if you don’t have a physical office.

Tear Up Your Spreadsheets

In fact, you almost don’t need a physical office anymore. With the right applications, you can distribute tasks among remote workers and manage them with ease. For instance, a cloud-based job-management tool like WorkFlowMax makes it simple to track time spent by employees and contractors and pay them for it. You can assign jobs, monitor timelines, get notifications when projects are delivered and alerts if they’re running late.

You can even move beyond work-in-progress spreadsheets, which are the bane of every accounting firm. At large accounting firms, there is often a person on staff whose job it is to figure out who is working with which client, and when, to make sure that everyone’s time is maximized.

The problem with this sort of system is that on Monday you might assign one of your CPAs to work on client X starting Tuesday, then Tuesday arrives and work can’t start because a crucial document has not yet arrived – so then that CPA has to sit around until you find something for her to do.

With a distributed workforce, this is not a problem. Your contractors work only when there is work available. And with a practice-management tool like a Practice Engine or a WorkFlowMax, it’s a simple task to distribute work when it is available. Plus, it works both ways: if one of your contractors suddenly has two extra hours of availability, day or night, he can log into your system, access your practice-management tool, and take work that’s available. The tool manages work for you – and you create efficiency and profitability.

Distributing the Work

Practices that have deployed some of the solutions described above are saving an average of 628 hours of time and $22,000 every year. Those are the sort of numbers that every accounting firm can appreciate.

The distributed workforce is a growing trend in the accounting practice because it’s profitable in so many ways. It’s a win for finance professionals who prefer to work remotely. And it’s a win for your firm because it grows your business while saving you time and money.


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