Web-based Tools for Small Firms

By Bette Hochberger

Now is a great time to be a solo practitioner or a small CPA firm.  Why is that? It’s because technology makes running your practice a breeze! From automation to integration, cloud-based technology keeps your practice running smoothly and efficiently, and can even help you keep your overhead costs down.  In this article I am going to share with you the group of applications, otherwise known as a “cloud stack,” that I use to run my practice.  Things I look for in a cloud app are ease of use, integrations with other systems I already use, time savings, and cost.

1. G Suite by Google - https://gsuite.google.com
G Suite provides email, calendaring, documents, and a storage drive all in one place. In fact, G Suite does so much I couldn’t possibly go through it all in this article.  Instead I am going to give you the highlights of what I like about it.

Using G Suite to set up my email was a no-brainer. I already used Gmail for my personal email , so using it for business meant there was nothing new to learn.  I use  different backgrounds on my personal and business accounts so that I can easily tell which account I’m looking at.  

Google Drive is fantastic cloud file storage. All files are easily accessible on my desktop, cell phone, tablet, and laptop.  Nothing ever needs to be checked in or out – it always lives in the cloud.  You can also create new documents even when you don’t have internet access.  When you have access again the file syncs to the Drive.  You can choose to share out specific folders and customize the edit permissions.  This lets you collaborate with clients and staff easily without worrying someone can see information they shouldn’t, such as another client’s personal information.

You can create all sorts of documents including spreadsheets, forms, and slides.  Since there is only one file kept in the cloud you never have to worry about whether you are working with  the correct version.

2. Quickbooks Online - https://quickbooks.intuit.com
Xero- https://www.xero.com/us/
Cloud accounting systems are the future, and if you haven’t gotten on board already, you need to.  All the reasons that your clients want to move their accounting to the cloud are the reasons you should put your firm’s accounting in the cloud.  You can run your practice from anywhere on any device. Working on site with a client? You can create their invoice on your phone before you leave their office.  You will always have the most up-to-date version of the software, and your data will always be secure. I think my favorite thing is bank feeds.  Transactions appear in my system overnight from banks and credit cards and I never have to log in, download, and import anything!

Quickbooks Online and Xero are the two most prominent cloud accounting products.  Both offer copious amounts of training on how to use their products, as well as partner certification programs. As a CPA you can get access to the software for free.  Try them both and see which one you like better. They each have their advantages and quirks, but ultimately the goal, which is to get your accounting in the cloud, is the same.

3. Karbon - https://karbonhq.com
Practice management used to be an area of my firm that I struggled with greatly. It was so hard to find modern software, and working on a Mac made it nearly impossible!  I was thrilled when I found Karbon because it meant I could ditch my ever expanding, color-coded spreadsheet I used to try to track everything. Karbon lets me track clients, the work I need to do for them, the deadlines I need to meet, and who is working on it.

There are so many great things that Karbon does.  One of the best features is the Triage. You connect your email inbox and this gives you a very clean way to look at the messages that come in, sort them, assign them to clients and staff, and turn them into action items. I don’t miss or lose email, and I have improved my response time to usually the same day.  If you are on a lot of mailing lists, like I am, there is an option to mark them as low priority. This means they stay in my Gmail inbox, but out of the way of my important work messages in Karbon.

Karbon recently released Client Tasks.  How many times do we get stuck on a bookkeeping project or tax return waiting for the client to send in their information?  Once you assign a task to a client in Karbon it will send them reminders that they need to get you the information and provides a portal for them to deliver it to.

4. T-sheets - https://www.tsheets.com
It seems like every year I try a new time tracking system, each year hoping that this will be “the one.”  I finally found that one with T-sheets.  T-sheets is extremely powerful, and I’m sure I only use a fraction of what it is capable of .  For my practice, the best feature is that it integrates with my accounting system in two directions.  That means that all of my clients and work items sync into T-sheets from my accounting system, and I can create invoices from timesheets in T-sheets that sync over into my accounting system.  This has turned billing from something I dreaded spending hours on to a process that only lasts a few minutes. You can even get  T-sheets for free for life by becoming a T-sheets Pro.

5. Chaser - https://www.chaser.io
Just like any other small business, cash is king for CPA firms.  That is why accounts receivable chasing automation is so useful. I used to hate having to bug clients to remind them to pay my invoices, plus it put a crimp in my cash flow.  With Chaser I create automated emails that I write myself, set a schedule, and let Chaser remind clients for me.  It integrates with my accounting software so it knows which invoices are paid and which aren’t. I think the best feature is the thank-you reponse a client receives after they pay an invoice. It’s a nice touch that I wouldn’t have time to send without Chaser.

6. Acuity Scheduling - https://acuityscheduling.com
Anyone who has ever tried to set up a meeting and has gone through the endless rounds of back and forth email trying to find a date and time that works for everyone will appreciate the calendar and appointment management of Acuity Scheduling. When someone wants to set up a meeting with me, I simply send them a link to my Acuity Scheduling page.  I even have the link in my email signature and  on my website so anyone can find free  time on my calendar. It integrates with my calendar so that it blocks off time if I already have something scheduled, and I can set the schedule in Acuity to control when clients can set up meetings (for example- no bookings on Friday or after 6 pm).  Clients can even prepay for meetings through Acuity and fill out questionnaires, such as new client intake forms. I can’t even begin to quantify how much time I’ve saved with Acuity Scheduling.  

7. Receipt Bank - https://www.receipt-bank.com and Hubdoc - https://www.hubdoc.com          
I put both of these apps in the document retention category and actually use both of them.  I have a paperless office, but it always seemed that I held onto a lot of paper related to my practice. Both of these apps let you take pictures of receipts or scans or emails of invoices, submit them to the software, and turn them into information that can be sent directly to your accounting system.  This reduces the paper you have to hold on to and streamlines the bookkeeping data entry you need to do for your practice.  

ReceiptBank has an extremely easy to use interface.  Use the app on your phone and take a picture of a receipt, then submit it for processing. A little while later all of the information from the receipt has been read and with a few clicks you can send that information to your accounting system, which will then create the transaction and include an image of the receipt. Automate recurring expenses, such as gas from the station down the street or your morning coffee from the same coffee shop and there is even less work for you to do, saving you time.  

What makes Hubdoc special is that you can connect accounts, like your bank account, and it will pull in all of the documents from that account, such as statements and cancelled checks. If you are using multiple banks, this pulls all the information into one convenient place.  You can set up Hubdoc for clients and never wait for them to send you a statement again.  It is not limited to bank statements. Log into your various accounts and have your telephone, internet, electric, water – nearly any account you can think of – bills all saved in one place.

8. ProConnect Tax Online - https://proconnect.intuit.com
This isn’t an article reviewing tax software, so without getting into a comparison of the pros and cons, here’s why ProConnect is in my cloud stack. I have a need for remote staff to be able to access my tax software, which means that it has to be hosted on a server somewhere.  I tried having that server in my office, and it would usually malfunction at  the height of tax season, leaving me in a huge panic, hoping to find an IT professional who could bail me out.  I tried using a private cloud server, meaning it was in someone else’s office.  Companies that provide you with this service are far better equipped to handle any problems that come up with your server, but this comes with a hefty price tag.  

I had been keeping an eye on Intuit’s online tax program for a few years since I was already using Intuit tax software, but it was only recently that I started hearing good reviews from other CPAs. I have to say that I was very pleased with ProConnect Tax Online. The support was very  good and you can send them a return you are working on if you can’t figure out a problem. When you set up users, you can control which clients they can access.  There is also a client portal called Intuit Link, which will document chase for you on a schedule you set up so you don’t have to do it manually. With the integration between ProConnect and Quickbooks Online, data entry for those clients you have on QBO is streamlined, saving you data entry time. If you have a tax practice and you want to work in the cloud, ProConnect is the way to do it.

9. Docusign - https://www.docusign.com/
Docusign makes getting signatures extremely easy.  I use Docusign for signatures on all of my engagement letters, tax return electronic filing forms, and other agreements.  One of my favorite features is the reminders that you can set up in Docusign to make sure those individuals that need to sign do so. The “Waiting for Others” screen lets you see all the unfinished documents you are waiting on. Docusign has eliminated hours of clerical work for me because I am never chasing anyone to sign off on a document.

Developing this cloud stack for my practice did not happen overnight. I’ve tried many apps over the years and these are the ones that have worked the best for my practice’s needs.  If you want to start moving more of your practice to the cloud, I suggest picking one area of your firm that you would like to automate or streamline and start there.  Usually this is an area that costs you  a lot of money, or takes more time than you feel like it should.  Start with the apps listed here, or ask other CPAs about what tools they are using and do your research.

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