4 Steps to Helping Your Clients Grow via Collaboration

For those of you that were at this year’s Scaling New Heights conference in Nashville, you were fortunate enough to hear Jill Ward’s keynote speech – and be blown away by the statistics she shared about online computing. Jill is senior vice president and general manager of Intuit’s® Accounting Professionals Division and Intuit Health Group.

I won’t recap the entire the list – just the big ones: 76% of people used some form of cloud computing in 2011, tablet usage is expected to double in the next to two years and 58% of small businesses want their accounting records on the go.

What does this mean for us as accounting professionals? In our interviews for Jill’s keynote, Dawn Brolin and I were asked about working online, and both said the same thing: We have to provide these services, and if we can’t answer questions almost immediately, our clients will find someone else who can. They’re not going to wait for us to say, “Hey, I’ll be back in my office later this afternoon or tomorrow; I can get you that information then.” Clients expect us to have the answers to their questions at our fingertips or help them have the answers at theirs.

How do we do this? While many of these technologies may be old-hat for some accountants, others who are not online probably don’t know where or how to begin. What are some simple steps that can be taken to start moving in that direction?

Step 1: Move client data files to a hosting service. This allows for instant collaboration. Whether your client has historically held the QuickBooks® file or your office has, it really doesn’t matter. You can set up a multi-user environment. I prefer to use the long time sponsor of our RadioFree QuickBooks radio show, Uni-Data, but there are a number of authorized hosting services.

Hosting offers you and your client to access to data anywhere there is an Internet connection without regard to the operating system. For example, if your client prefers a Mac, you can still support the client using Windows, and can even access data on the go with a smartphone or iPad.

Step 2: Explore other ways to help ease your client’s pain points. Do clients struggle with understanding reporting? Maybe they have multiple locations and are struggling to pull things together in a centralized manner? In addition to collaborating via a hosting account, you can also help put consolidating multiple files together with a service such as Qvinci that consolidates and compares financial reports from thousands of data files in a matter of seconds and doesn’t require the locations to submit the reports. The beautiful, graphic interface makes understanding the financial well-being of your client’s business easily digestible.

Step 3: Simplify Sales Tax Reporting and Compliance. Although there are many other areas I could mention with regard to moving to collaboration, one of the “wins” you’ll find almost immediately with your clients is to take the burden of processing sales tax payments out of their hands. A powerful cloud based sales tax tool, Avalara’s Ava Tax makes it easy to calculate sales tax rates, manage exemption certificates, file the proper forms and send payments.

Avalara’s AvaTax Calc is a really cool, dynamic, integrated calculator that looks at a number of factors to determine the proper sales tax rate, including exact address, product taxability, the most current rules and regulations, holiday status, and sourcing rules. The system then assigns the correct jurisdiction so your clients don’t have to calculate anything manually or even worry about the details. PLUS, if your clients are using Intuit’s GoPayment with  the sales tax feature turned on, they’re ALREADY using Avalara  – it’s built in!

Step 4: Help Your Client Start Selling Online. Although this step might be a bigger project, it’s another one that could make you a hero to your clients: If your clients currently have a brick and mortar store, help them get an eCommerce operation up and running.

One way to do this is to with ACCTivate. You might know ACCTivate only as an inventory add-on for QuickBooks, but what you may realize is that this program also is a powerful eCommerce solution as well. Any new customers ordering online are automatically added to QuickBooks and inventory is immediately updated in the client’s web store and in ACCTivate.

When we say, “the future is now,” we really mean it – it’s here! As Jill mentioned in Nashville, Software as a Service (SaaS ) revenue in 2012 is forecasted to be more than $9 billion, up from just under $8 billion in 2011, while the estimates for cloud computing by 2020 are expected to top $240 billion.

We need to take steps now to get our clients on their way to help them grow. We, too, can grow our practices right along with them. Now that’s collaboration!