Tips for start ups: Building a practice tech planJuly 27, 2015
Andrew Flanagan, managing director at Digita, offers advice on how to ensure the technology you choose helps you stand out from the competition, and supports you as your practice grows.
Before you select software solutions for your practice, take the time to put together a technology plan that will help you realise your business strategy over the next five years. This should be complementary to the overall plan for your business, reflecting assumptions such as the rate of growth of the practice, number of clients and staff etc. Your choice of software in the early days will be key – there are many solutions for practices on the market, but select the wrong one and you may find that you have to “live with it” for some time, since switching will require staff retraining and you will have increasingly more clients to service.
Here are some things to consider when putting together your technology plan:
Cloud-based v desktop
Most solutions are now available hosted or on the Cloud, thus minimising requirements for local IT infrastructure and management thereof. All you need is a reliable internet connection. This avoids the need to buy and maintain expensive IT kit (servers etc) and the need to load updates to the software – but you need to be prepared to store confidential client data in the Cloud (Yes, outside the four walls of your business!), so it’s vital to choose a suppler you trust to keep your data safe.
Get a website
It’s amazing how many firms of accountants don’t have a website. Your website will be your shop window – a vital way to gain new clients and work with existing clients; so get your site live as quickly as possible. You may want to start small with basic information about your business and contact details, but look at what others are doing and think long term about how you want to use the web. To achieve good visitor traffic (and generate leads that you can follow up) you will need to have interesting content like advice and guidance on regulations. Video can work well here. You may also want to obtain some specialist help on Search Engine Optimisation so that prospects can find you.
Prioritise your requirements
You may not want to offer a full range of services on day one, so think about what you actually need in the short term versus long term when setting up your business. For example, if you are mainly focused on individuals as clients, you may not need corporation tax compliance software and company secretarial software. But choose a supplier that can grow with you so these can be added in subsequently.
Make sure you get references for any and all software solutions you are considering, preferably from a party known to you and who you trust. In a recent survey carried out by Digita, this was the number one recommendation for selecting new solutions.
Tablets and smart-phones are revolutionising the way we work, so make sure the solution and technology you choose will allow you to access your practice solutions on the move – at a client site or when travelling. Nowadays, many clients will expect you to have their information available instantly, wherever you are.
Communicating with your clients
Many practices are moving away from paper and using technology such as secure portals and e-signatures to share documents on-line with clients. This not only speeds up the process of approval and checking, but is cost-efficient and more secure than post or email. A portal that is branded as your firm will help you to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Single or multiple suppliers
There can be advantages in dealing with a single supplier (for example you will only need to call a single support help-line and the solutions should be integrated). There may be some specialist solutions, however, that do not come as part of a package.
Build a multi-year budget
Your technology budget needs to consider the ongoing cost of compliance software and not just the costs arising in the first period. Pay special attention to renewal rates as some providers may offer an attractive deal to get you on board but will charge much higher rates after year one.
Keeping up with constant and ongoing technological and regulatory change can be overwhelming, especially when your main focus should be on your practice and customers, so my final word of advice would be to find a technology partner. One that wants a relationship with your firm in the long run and wants to work with you and be a part of making your practice a successful one.
Andrew is a chartered accountant and following qualification with a Big Four firm has worked for practices large and small, both in the UK and overseas. He is responsible for all aspects of the Digita business, including customer satisfaction and growth.
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