Working Online With Clients: How to leverage the internet and cloud computing to work closer with your clients
When it comes to using technology and the Internet to work closer with bookkeeping and consulting clients, it is important to recognize that there is never only one way to accomplish something, and different clients will have equally different ideas on and tolerances for how you work with them. In order to serve each and every client to the best of your ability, you have to carry around a “toolbox” of solutions and services which will assist you in delivering the most effective and efficient service in each situation and under each set of conditions. While you must do what you can to streamline and standardize your processes to be as efficient as possible while delivering a high level of service, but you can only work within the parameters allowed by each client and circumstance.
I think we can all agree that, whenever possible, it is wise to avoid situations where you have to get in the car and drive somewhere just to pick up information or paperwork. These are the activities which are most costly in terms of time and resources. Using file sharing solutions, such as DropBox or ShareFile, is a great way to get documents from clients. That is, if the documents are in electronic form already. If not, then either scanning the files and saving to the Dropbox or web folder, or faxing them to a service such as eFax, is the process.
Sometimes Internet connectivity is the issue. Using a fax-to-email solution like eFax takes that out of the picture, in terms of getting documents and other paperwork from the client. But let’s face it… there is no good way to electronically exchange or share QuickBooks or other computer data files safely and quickly unless the client has broadband Internet access. You can always go back to dialup modems and PCAnywhere remote control, the way we did it years back, or you can recognize that sometimes you just have to get in the car and bring a USB drive with you.
Internet-based remote control solutions, such as LogMeIn, provide you with the ability to connect your computer directly to the client computer in order to perform tasks on their system and with their data. This is an awesome solution to use instead of going to the client office and doing the work there, but it doesn’t address a situation where both you and the client need to be working at the same time. If you are controlling their computer, you take over the workstation while you are connected, which prevents the client from doing independent work while you are doing your job.
A good alternative to this might be MyQuickCloud, which is a remote access solution that can be applied as both a remote access and remote working solution. It is better than remote control because it can potentially allow more than one user in an application at a time, but more importantly it can allow more than one user to access the computer at a time.
In some cases, working online with the client may mean working in the same applications and data files by accessing a centralized online solution, such as QuickBooks Online Edition or hosted QuickBooks (QB Online and hosted QuickBooks are not the same thing). When both people (the client and the accountant/bookkeeper) have access to the same programs and data files in real-time, it allows them to work together more closely yet at times and from locations which work for the individuals. This arrangement works quite well when the accounting professional and the client can both serve their requirements with the same software solution. If the client uses QuickBooks to perform their daily tasks, the bookkeeper and accountant are able to simply log in and use the same solution to perform their work.
A model which more people are beginning to recognize as valuable is the model where each user or functional area in the business has the solution which works best for them, and the various solutions in the business each integrate and share data as necessary. For an accountant or bookkeeper working with a small business, this may mean that the software or solution used by the client to handle their daily tasks is different from the solution used by the accounting professional to do their job. Just as a tax preparer will use accounting data to prepare a tax return using a tax preparation solution, accountants may use transactional or financial data from other systems to perform accounting functions in an accounting software solution. As long as the data is easily accessed, via built-in integration or sync tools, it makes a lot of sense to give each user a solution designed to meet their process needs because they will use the solution more effectively. Giving a user way too much functionality can be confusing, and expose them to areas of business activity or information they should not have access to (or which is meaningless to their job) can waste time and introduce risk.
Examples of this approach might be where a small business owner uses FreshBooks accounting to manage their daily invoicing, but the information is then exported to and integrated into QuickBooks financial software, where the accountant or bookkeeper handles the rest of the business accounting functions.
Another example may be when services such as Bill.com, TSheets, Expensify, Concur, and other “point” solutions are in use. These web-based solutions provide specific functionality, such as bill payments and approvals, employee timesheet management and reporting, expense management, and more. They make it easier for the client to handle certain functions and address related information management and reporting needs, and facilitate the data integration with core accounting and finance. In many cases, this approach delivers not only more relevant functionality and process support for the business users, and still allows the accounting professional to do their work with the tools which work for them.
Providing a high level of service to your client while embedding as much efficiency in your processes as possible can be a challenge for any outsourced accounting or bookkeeping professional. Your profitability and the goodwill you develop with your client depend on finding the best way to engage and deliver on the promise of great service. Your toolkit – the connected services and solutions you leverage to this task – can positively impact the “degree of success” you experience with each client or project.
Read more about Data Warriors: Accountants in the Cloud