Interested in virtual accounting, but not sure if it's the right move? Check out this ultimate guide that covers everything you need to know!
10 min read
So you’re wanting to start a virtual accounting firm. Whether you want to make the jump to being a remote accountant because you’ve invested in new technology or because you want better work-life balance, there are best practices you can implement to run your virtual firm effectively.
In this guide we go over tips of what you should think about if you’re just starting out in virtual accounting plus tips for running your firm more effectively.
Also referred to as a remote accountant, virtual accounting positions are the same as the traditional role except that services are provided virtually rather than in person. A physical office location is not required to be able to deliver on the same services as a traditional accountant. Instead, remote accountants utilize various softwares and tools to help run and manage their virtual accounting firms and teams effectively.
While virtual accounting is not always the solution for every accounting professional, there is a growing demand for remote work and many benefits can arise from incorporating this into your business model.
Managing an office can be expensive, and while virtual accounting firms come with their own set of expenses, they differ from those accrued by physical offices. Save on overhead expenses by cutting costs like rent, utilities, paper, and other office supplies.
Remote work gives both business owners and employees the opportunity to improve their work-life balance. You’ll have more flexibility in your schedule to set your own hours and improve your work-life balance in a way you probably haven’t thought was possible.
Contrary to popular belief, studies show that remote work can actually increase employee productivity and focus. There’s something to be said about providing people privacy and quiet spaces for increased concentration.
We co-authored an ebook series with Jason M. Blumer, owner of Blumer CPAs, who went virtual in anticipation of a different lifestyle and hasn’t looked back. The first step he recommends when starting your virtual firm is identifying your vision and values.
Developing your vision is exploring the purpose and the reason you want your business to exist. Your vision is essentially an answer to who you want to become as the owner of the business and what you want the business to become. It should be personal and become a part of who you are.
Of course, figuring out who you want to become and what you want your business to become is a difficult decision. Establishing a thought-out, clear vision can be a lot of work. Start by reflecting on these three areas:
Who do you want to be as an owner in 3-5 years?
This answer should be really personal to you. Do you want to be a technical guru serving clients face-to-face or surfing while your team serves your clients? Make those decisions now so you can start heading in the right direction.
What kind of clients and team members do you want to build with?
This question is all about the people you will be working with on a daily basis, and it’s very important. Answer this question in light of the personalities you enjoy working with. Think about your current clients and team members too and what you like and dislike about working with them.
What services do you want to provide?
You’ll be providing this service day in and day out, so make sure you love it. If providing the service is something you want your team to do (instead of you), then make sure it’s a service you can easily teach and manage.
Your vision is about looking to the future and crafting something that doesn’t exist yet. It’s an existence statement. Try completing this thought in one sentence:
We exist to…
For example, Blumer CPAs’ vision statement is, “We exist to proactively lead clients to equip them for growth.”
If your vision is your purpose statement, then your core values are how you’re going to live out that vision. Core values are personal values you hold as an owner that you want to incorporate into your business. Think about the following:
What do you value as an individual?
The answer to this could include anything from creativity and innovation to integrity and loyalty—just to name a few.
What do you value as a client or consumer?
When you pay other professionals for their services, what customer experience do you expect to have? What impresses you? What bothers you?
Which values support your vision?
Once you have a list of values you hold, narrow them down to the most important ones that support your vision.
Your virtual accounting firm should reflect who you are as a person and leader, which includes everything—how you look, what you say, how you operate, how you hire, how you serve, how you’ll price your services, and more. All of these things should be aligned with your vision and values.
While one of the main benefits of moving to a virtual accounting firm is saving on overhead expenses, you cannot skimp on the hardware that you and your team will be conducting business with. How do you work best? How does your team work best? This may include a dual monitor setup, mobile devices for flexibility and connectivity (think tablets or mobile devices), laptops, or noise-canceling headsets. Identify what will help to boost productivity with your team and invest in it if possible.
Cloud computing is trusted by some of the most confidential organizations, like NASA and Goldman Sachs. The cloud is one of the most secure options to store vital information, share files and documents, and much more. However, no internet network can guarantee 100% security from cyber attacks. This is why it’s important to learn and train others on the importance of cyber security. Teach your team to follow best practices and safety protocol to protect the business and themselves from data breaches through the softwares and devices they use to conduct business.
If you’ve already established your firm’s vision and values, and you’re ready to take managing your virtual team to the next level, try following these five tips.
Practice management software
The first step to managing your virtual firm effectively is using the right cloud-based accounting practice management software. Cloud-based software will allow any team member to access documents, casework, notes, etc. at any time from anywhere they have an internet connection. If necessary, you can change permission settings so that not everyone has access to the same information.
Your team will be able to work on the same platform, and information will be updated in real time. You’ll no longer have to wait on the back-and-forth of saving and sending documents. However, before jumping into a new practice management software, note that it’s important to choose a software that has the proper security measures in place so that sensitive information isn’t vulnerable. Learn more about the importance of practice management for accountants here!
To collaborate efficiently, you should also choose a messaging software that your team can use to keep in communication. Sending a bunch of group emails every day is not always the best option. Constantly checking email takes away from doing more meaningful work, and often you just need to ask a quick question. Even though a team may not be located in the same physical space, a messaging software can help you collaborate and stay connected in real-time.
Video chat software
A third software to consider looking into is video chat software. While it’s not as crucial to the running of your virtual accounting firm as practice management software and messaging software, it can be a good option for conducting meetings if you aren’t able to meet face to face. Zoom and Google Meet are both popular options.
The second tip for managing your virtual firm, related to using cloud-based software, is going paperless. Store and manage all of your files, documents, and records in the cloud for easy access. Even case or client notes should be kept in the cloud. Leaving notes around the office is not a viable option once you go virtual.
Because going paperless is arguably the most time consuming part of switching to a virtual accounting firm, your system for digitizing documents should be planned out beforehand.
Think about which processes in your firm happen on a regular basis and can be documented clearly. Processes keep team members on the same page and enable your firm to run more efficiently, especially for a remote team. If you’re managing processes in your head, you won’t be able to recognize repetitive processes that other team members could manage (often even better than you since they likely have more time to spend). You need to document the processes you have for different tasks.
If you haven’t ever documented your processes before, pick the simplest cloud-based method. That could mean using a shared Google document that outlines the process steps. If you’re looking for a more advanced, functional method for documenting your processes, try a workflow software (sometimes included in a practice management software).
Documenting processes for your team members will initially require a lot of input from you, but will require less input over time as team members learn and improve.
Rhythms are a key component of managing your firm. Growing your firm can be chaotic, and rhythms bring security and comfort to your team. Rhythms help everyone on the team to know what to expect, and rhythms eventually become habits. Habits then turn into culture.
But you have to be intentional about implementing rhythms. They don’t develop on their own. Examples of rhythms you may implement in your firm include:
The bigger your virtual accounting firm gets, the more rhythms you’ll need to keep everyone on track.
In order to effectively manage a virtual accounting firm, practicing healthy work-from-home disciplines is going to be key for all team members. This includes:
You can set and follow your own routine, but the best practices listed above have been shown to reduce the effects of burnout, create a sense of normalcy in a work-from-home situation, and can help to increase efficiency.
The last tip for managing your firm is to allow for schedule flexibility. One of the biggest appeals to being a virtual accountant is being able to enjoy a better work-life balance. If there’s no leeway in which hours an employee works, you might as well keep running a traditional accounting firm.
Talk to your team about schedule expectations. Get everyone on the same page with deadlines and hours clients can contact them. Set schedule expectations around case deadlines. Additionally, a workflow tool can provide visibility into deadlines and progress for each step of casework. Team members will be able to manage their time with autonomy, and you can rest easy knowing they are on pace with their work. You’ll want to find the balance between flexibility and productivity that works for your team.
Keep in mind, there are more steps involved in managing a virtual accounting firm successfully, but these tips serve as a good foundation. If you don’t have these steps in place first, managing and eventually growing your firm will be more difficult.
Running your virtual accounting firm becomes simple with the help of Canopy’s Practice Management suite. From client management tools to firm management solutions, it’s all cloud based and accessible from any device! Want to see how Canopy can specifically help your virtual firm? Sign up for a personalized demo with one of our product specialists.