Have questions about accounting practice management software? We cover it all here. Learn what it is, how to use it, and much more!
20 min read
The thought of modernizing the way you manage your accounting firm can be overwhelming. After all, there are a lot of steps involved. To truly modernize you have to invest in different kinds of software, transition to the cloud, go paperless, and more. But the switch is worth it. Not only will your firm become more efficient than ever, but your clients will love the improved, convenient experience. We will review the following in-depth:
Simply put, accounting practice management software is used to help improve organization, communication, and efficiency in firms of all sizes. Accounting professionals can easily track time and billing, create projects using detailed templates, delegate and communicate with team members, and ensure that projects are completed on time.
See the status of projects, collaborate with team members and clients, keep client information up-to-date, and store and share important documents and files with others quickly—do all of this with one software.
There are so many different kinds of software and practice management tools out there that could make your accounting firm more efficient, but if you start using too many pieces of software you’ll end up spending too much time switching between tabs and programs and re-entering information. You should look for software that can provide you with the following:
Customer Relationship Management
Cloud-Based Document Management
Billing and Invoicing
Customer relationship management software, or a CRM, is just what it sounds like: a software for managing relationships with your clients. It helps you manage information, such as client data and interaction, leads, contracts, and more.
While CRM software allows you to perform fairly generic functions, such as emailing and creating contact lists, a good CRM should allow you to do much more—track your relationship with a client from when they first become a lead to when you’re billing them for casework, upload documents or create tasks right from their profile, and improve efficiency using bulk action features. You may be able to also track information about a current or prospective client that enables you to form a better connection with them as you go—information like their birthday, current job position, or other significant interactions you’ve had with them.
CRM software is all about keeping track of the people and relationships that make your accounting firm a viable business.
Document management software not only does the environment a huge favor, it also provides great value to your accounting firm. Instead of filling your office with file cabinets and overflowing drawers of documents and files, document management software allows you to store all of your documents in one convenient place. Any team member can access any file (as long as they’ve been given access under the permissions settings). You won’t ever have to run back to the office on your day off to find a document for a client or colleague.
Besides increasing the ease of collaboration, document management software will also save you a ton of time and enable you to dedicate more time to meaningful work. You’ll spend less time finding, faxing, and copying documents and more time on completing casework for your clients. Say goodbye to the overwhelming stacks of paperwork that slow down your daily tasks.
Plus, when you manage your documents via cloud-based software, exchanging documents with your clients is quick and secure, and they won’t lose any hard copies.
Is your office full of to-do lists and sticky notes with scribbled reminders? Do you send out daily or weekly emails to touch base with team members? A project management software can take the chaos and clutter out of your accounting firm and streamline your task management. It allows you to create collaborative task lists that keep everyone on the same page.
At a higher level, this type of software allows you to see the overall workflow of the firm, keep track of progress, and ensure that projects don’t slip through the cracks. Accounting professionals can identify opportunities to improve processes and meet important deadlines for their business and clients. No sticky note does that.
Additionally, once you have discovered an efficient process for completing a task or case, you can apply that process as a template to use across the board so that everyone in your firm is using the most efficient approach to accomplishing a task.
“At a higher level, this type of software allows you to see the overall workflow of the firm, keep track of progress, and ensure that projects don’t slip through the cracks.”
As an accountant, you know the struggle of not always getting paid in a timely manner for the work you do or sometimes not getting paid at all. The good news is, billing and invoicing software can help you minimize your accounts receivable and increase your cash flow.
You can do billing and invoicing without software, but software makes it more efficient and will even help you get paid more quickly. Consider this: an Invoicebus study of more than half a million invoices showed that clients typically take 11 days to pay online bills and 29 days to pay bills sent by other methods. Their theory is that the easier you make it for your clients to pay you, the more likely they’ll be to do so.
Each software plays a unique and important role in running an efficient, productive accounting firm, but it can quickly become expensive and disorganized having a separate software for each function.
With Canopy, you can get all of the features mentioned above plus more in one central accounting practice management software.
Looking for additional practice management tools to either complement your practice management software or to use temporarily while you’re shopping around for the best fit? We recommend the following options:
Zoom: Regardless of whether you have a physical office location or have your own virtual accounting firm, you can stay connected with team members and clients through Zoom—an easy-to-use video conferencing tool. Join meetings by phone or video chat to stay connected regardless of distance (all you need is an internet connection). Download the app on any device so you can have the flexibility to join meetings from your mobile phone or tablet as well.
Google Sheets: While Excel is often a more preferred tool among accounting professionals for its robust features, it is not the most effective option for quick collaboration within teams. It may not have the same features as Excel, but Google Sheets allows you to share documents and files with clients or team members fast. Permission settings can be selected when sharing documents and files for added security, historical changes can be viewed for full transparency, and formulas or conditional formatting can be applied to automate certain processes.
Slack: Need a tool that gives you the option to direct message your team or other departments in the firm? Slack is a trusted instant messaging platform that provides various pricing options, so you can pick one that won’t break the bank. Perfect for instances when a faster response is needed, or a convenient way to share industry news or updates across teams and departments.
Hootsuite: Whether you own your own business or work for an established accounting firm, social media can play a big role in growing the business and attracting new clientele—especially a younger generation. Managing and posting consistently on social media platforms can take up a significant amount of your time, but tools like Hootsuite streamline the process saving you valuable time. Schedule posts ahead of time and choose whether you want to post across all social media platforms or only a select few.
Nowadays there are so many social media options to choose from, it can get overwhelming.
Learn more about how you can increase website traffic using social media here and which platforms work best for accounting firms!
Getting the right kind of software is the first step to modernizing your practice management, but if you want to boost it even further, you should opt for cloud-based software.
But first, how does the cloud work with practice management software for accounting firms? Just as with any software, the cloud allows you to access an enormous storage capacity of hundreds of hard drives stored in remote data centers via the internet, instead of using up the storage on your computer.
Increased computer storage capacity: Whether you migrate your entire business onto the cloud or use it for specific functions, it frees up storage space on your device allowing you to store and maintain larger amounts of client data, documents, files, and much more. You won’t be limited to a fixed amount of space.
High-level security: While 100% security from cyberattacks cannot be guaranteed by any internet network, the cloud is one of the most secure options for protecting your firm’s and clients’ data. From strict security measures and monitoring to trained experts detecting and reacting to suspicious activity, the cloud is a more secure option than storing client and business information on your hardware device.
Increased efficiency: The cloud promotes collaboration—any number of people on your team can use the cloud at the same time and be working on the same documents. And with Canopy, client information is stored in a client portal making it accessible from any device that’s connected to the internet. Collaborating with clients becomes as easy as clicking a button.
Cost-efficient: One of the main benefits of cloud-based software is how cost-efficient it can be. Saving money and time is valued by every business, no matter how large or small. Cloud-based software requires no storage costs, reduced spending on resources (unlike with paper), and pricing models are typically pay-as-you-go, so you won’t have to worry about busting your company budget.
This is one of the most commonly asked questions regarding cloud-based software. While no internet network is entirely safe from being hacked, the cloud has certain measures in place to increase the protection of users' vital and confidential information. 90% of companies are now hosted on the cloud—some of the most high-profile organizations currently trust the cloud with their information including NASA, Amazon, Samsung, and many banks. So if you make the switch, you’ll be in good company.
Strict Regulatory Standards
Since the cloud allows for information to be accessed from any device, cloud providers are held to strict regulatory standards to protect highly sensitive and confidential information from malicious, cyberattacks.
Have peace of mind knowing that some of the most high-profile organizations, like NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, trust the cloud in protecting highly confidential information and files.
Trained IT Experts Protect Against Cyberattacks
Whether you store important client and business information on one device versus the cloud, it is still susceptible to being hacked. The main difference is that cloud providers have teams of trained, experienced IT experts that know how to protect data against cyberattacks more than the average accounting professional using encryption and Digest Access Authentication.
Interested in learning more about cloud-based systems and security measures? Get in-depth information about cloud security here!
As an accountant, it’s part of your job to keep your clients’ data safe. Security should be your highest priority, and one of the best things you can do to keep your clients’ data safe is to check the security measures of the software you use. For example, Canopy’s accounting practice management software encrypts data, offers access control, and uses two-factor authentication (among other measures) to ensure the security of you and your clients’ data. Be sure to ask plenty of questions about security when you’re looking into a new software for your accounting firm.
1. Arm yourself with information
One of the best things you can do in your effort to keep your clients’ data safe is to always stay up to date with the latest risks. Though the basics of security stay mostly constant, it is imperative that you know the details of the most likely security threats at any given time. After all, most security breaches happen when uninformed people are tricked into letting hackers in. Being up to date on the latest scam tactics could be the difference between being secure and getting scammed.
One of the best resources to help you stay up to date on information security trends is an IRS e-News subscription.
2. Consider the Cloud
As mentioned in the previous section, the cloud is a highly secure (and cost-effective) option for storing and sharing documents and files. Cloud storage providers are able to go to enormous lengths to protect their servers both physically and digitally. Of course, not all cloud storage providers are created equal, but those who make security a priority will be able to keep your data safer than your own time and resources allow.
3. Rethink Your Passwords
Password advice used to go something like this: use a random string of numbers, letters, and special characters as your password, change it at least every 90 days.
It’s bad advice. In fact, even the expert who came up with this password methodology says so. Creating a strong password from a random string of numbers, letters, and special characters usually means creating a password you won’t be able to remember. As a result, people tend to get overwhelmed and create passwords that are too simple and easy to guess (such as “p@$$word123”).
While basic password advice still stands (never use lazy passwords like “password,” “123,” or your pet’s name), recent password advice from experts is refreshingly simple. Your passwords should be long and memorable. Choose three or more random, unassociated (but memorable) words for your new password (ex. “hairy concrete actually dice”).
As an accounting professional, clients rely on you to keep their data and finances safe.
Read the full article about the steps you need to be taking to keep client data safe!
Investing in practice management software and using the cloud are steps toward becoming a paperless accounting firm, but to go completely paperless involves several other steps. Here’s what you need to consider:
Going paperless offers many of the same benefits as using the cloud (though the two are not synonymous). Like using the cloud, going paperless is efficient and cost-effective (no storage, supply, or maintenance cost).
Going paperless is also great for the environment. For example, say you go through 10 reams of paper per month. That works out to 720 pounds of paper every year, or nine trees. And that’s just your business. Multiply that by all the other companies that are using the same amount (or more), and those trees become a forest—a big one.
By choosing to go paperless, not only will you feel great about doing your part to preserve the planet, but showing awareness of social responsibility will also make your accounting firm more appealing to many clients.
Plus, your clients (especially your millennial and Gen Z clients) will appreciate the modern, convenient experience they receive from your accounting firm. After all, they’re already offered a modern experience for most of their other services such as banking, receiving their paycheck, paying their bills, etc. You don’t want to fall behind the times and expectations.
If you’re ready to take the plunge into becoming an entirely paperless accounting firm, check out our comprehensive guide for detailed instructions!
Once you get familiar with using your practice management software, the possibilities are endless for how you leverage it for efficiency. Take a look below at how a real tax and accounting professional leveraged Canopy’s practice management software in their organization.
James Faugthenberry, of the ATA Group, uses Canopy’s task features to create custom services for some of the services he offers most often. He compiled all his research on the process of setting up corporations and LLCs and set up a workflow that walks him through the steps. It allows him to onboard and set up a holding company and four subsidiaries in a week or less.
Before Canopy, James was using text messaging and OneNote, and it took him closer to a month to complete the same tasks.
“I can automate my processes that I have for clients more efficiently, more effectively, and in a quicker turnaround time."
Learn more about James’ experience here.