5 Tips to Building an Effective Virtual CPA Practice

As we search through magazines, social media and blog sites, the phrase “virtual office” appears to be the new buzz phrase. Sounds so enticing, right? Work from anywhere – a booth in the coffee shop, on a blanket next to the lake or in your home office after you’ve spent the afternoon with the kiddos. What’s not to like about that idea?

After you fantasize about your office running on your time when you want to work, you have to step back and start to think about logistics. As with anything else, it depends just how “virtual” you want to go. No more brick and mortar office, or do you just want the ability to work from anywhere, including your office? Think about these items and then decide how to proceed:

Tip #1: Think About the Type of Work Performed. Some services are easier to do on a virtual basis than others. Consider bookkeeping, tax services, financial consulting and compliance work. How much face time do you need with your client? Do you work in your client’s office or does your client visit your office for the work you are performing? Do you need access to conference rooms and a receptionist that makes fantastic coffee when you meet?

Tip #2: Consider the “People.”  You must consider the people that your office relies on for tasks. Some clients will be ready for an accountant who has a virtual office and some will not. Technology will become vital to exist. Contemplate how technologically adept your clients are now and how willing they are to change. Also consider if they are face-to-face people. This isn’t just true of your clients, but of employees and third parties.

As some accountants make the move from having brick and mortar offices, they realize that some hard decision may have to happen in regards to whom their clients and employees are. You may lose some clients and employees because they just won’t be a fit to your firm anymore. The other side of that is the ability to make room to work with people who are ready.

Tip #3: It’s All About Technology. From hardware to software, you will become dependent on your technology and access to the Internet to make things happen. Perform a technology inventory and study what changes may need made. This includes computers, phones, tablets, printers and scanners. Make a list of the programs that you keep on your hard drive or server that you may now need available in the cloud. Consider if there are hosted cloud versions or if you need to have your own “cloud.”

In addition, take into consideration what your clients’ technology needs are and how they fit your plans, such as SaaS-based or cloud options for your clients’ programs so you have easier access anywhere you need it, anytime you need it. For security reasons, you may need to look into web portals to exchange information with you clients instead of using emails.

Tip #4: Streamline Your Workflow. When creating a virtual office, even if you are paperless, your workflow is going to need to be tweaked. There is no yelling down the hall or stopping by someone’s office to see if they have that report and are ready to have it reviewed. You must set up new procedures and checks to make sure work gets from one person to the next in a timely manner and no piece of information gets left behind or lost in the digital world. Procedures and checklists become important. Perhaps, if you haven’t already, it’s time to implement a project management system.

Tip #5: Stay on Top of Communication. Think about the way you communicate with everyone – clients, employees, your client’s lawyers and brokers, and even the mailman. How will your communication change? Do you want people to call you directly on your cellphone and your employees’ cell phones?

Here are  three ideas:

  • Have a virtual receptionist, use a website so that clients may easily track your progress and collaborate on projects without having to call.
  • Use Skype for conversations so you don’t lose face-to-face contact with your clients.
  • Use Google Hangouts so you may still have staff meetings where everyone is able to smile at everyone else. Emails are great, but they don’t project intonation and can, therefore, lose meaning. You still want your “office” to be a friendly place where your people are happy and feel connected.

Making the transition to a virtual office isn’t as easy as buying a laptop with Internet access. You have to be prepared to make changes in everything you do. Sit and think about your clients and think your procedures through. In the end, though, after the change is made, it’s amazing how great it feels to be able to perform your work from anywhere.