By Susan Pruskin

​Remember when all accounting transactions were recorded in big black ledgers by hand? The person who could balance those pages was a superhero. Then came the computer, but it was fuzzy at best in the beginning. Almost as clunky as those big ledgers. I remember my first experience using a computer program to process payroll. No exaggeration, I could calculate payroll for twenty employees faster by hand than by using the program.

Of course, my hands were at maximum capacity. The computers, on the other hand (no pun intended), continued to get faster. And smarter. And easier to use. So what did I do? Stubbornly keep using my black ledgers and my withholding tables? After all, it was my comfort zone. I knew how to do it. I was faster, better, smarter than anyone I knew processing payroll by hand. But where would I be today if I’d clung to that practice? Most people working in the accounting space today don’t even remember that world.

It became very clear to me pretty quickly that if I wanted to advance as an accounting professional, I had to embrace this technology. And who doesn’t want a procedure that makes her job easier?

The move from ledger to computer was a fairly obvious one. In the new millennia, it’s not quite that simple. Technology changes the accounting space almost daily. You can’t fire up Facebook or Twitter without seeing one of your colleagues displaying her new favorite app. It can honestly be overwhelming. Just like in those black ledger days, we have our comfort zones. You could stick with the two or three accounting programs that work for you. Or, you could get ahead of the curve and learn a lot of them.

I’m not saying you should master every app that jumps out of development. That would be impossible. But if you want to take your practice to the next level, technology is your elevator.

But you can also leverage technology in may other ways, especially to make your practice more efficient internally. With companies that specialize in providing IT services for accounting and bookkeeping firms, like Welcome Networks, you can have tech at your service to cover all things in IT support, server monitoring and management, workstation, data, software updates, upgrades, and equipment, as well as technical support on all hardware, software and user-related issues. Such companies enable firms for scalability, flexibility, and simplicity to maximize efficiency, reduce cost, and obtain unparalleled level of security and data protection.

It’s pretty clear data management has replaced data entry. You need to add value to your services if you want to keep your clients happy and continue to raise your prices. But how? In an ocean of apps, how do you find your little island? Start with the basics. You will need at least payroll/time-keeping, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and expert reporting.

There are thousands to choose from, and there is no way to learn them all. So pick out a few. Talk to them at conferences. Schedule a demo. Start up the free trial. You’ve been in the accounting space long enough to have heard some names. There is probably a good reason why certain ones are mentioned over and over. Check them out.

But don’t overlook the underdogs. They may just need a push to be the next big thing. For every major player, there are dozens of start ups determined to dethrone them. Look around. Try out a few. The same way you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t value an app by its website, or even by its fancy email that winds up in your inbox.

But how do you know when you’ve found a good one? What things are you looking for?

First of all, does it solve a problem that your client has? Yes, automated accounts receivable is a great thing, but if your client doesn’t extend credit, why would he even look at that? Discuss workflow processes with your clients to determine what they need. Where is the bottleneck? What do they want to improve? What information are they missing? Chances are, you’ll find an app designed for that specific purpose.

Key on my list is the customer service or support the app provides. Don’t tell me how easy it is to onboard, then ghost me. Be there for my unexpected questions. There is a really good chance that my client is less tech savvy than I am. I want an app to have an easily searchable solution database and a very quick response time to emails or phone calls. I want developers who understand that my clients and I may not (probably won’t) catch on as quickly as they did. Offer us the help we’re going to need.

Next, I want seamless integration with my accounting software. I can’t count how many vendors I’ve talked to on the conference exhibit floor who have told me, “Yes, it integrates perfectly with accounting software ‘X’” Except it doesn’t – Unless you download this, tweak that, manipulate the other, and then upload something else. By seamless integration, I mean that I run the app and it shows up in (or pulls from) the accounting software automagically. No manipulation required.

With these new things in your arsenal, you’re equipped to wow your clients with the information you can provide to them. Since you are no longer spending your time with data entry, you have the opportunity to manage the data in a way that is meaningful to your clients.

One of the most important issues facing small businesses is cash flow. If you have embraced the path of providing value-added consulting services, having the ability to forecast business cash flow is essential. Luckily, you can do that using free cash flow forecasting tools like PayPie to automate all the hard work for you.

In PayPie, you can pinpoint upcoming cash shortfalls, help your clients plan for growth, and explore what-if scenarios that will inform their important decisions. At a glance you’ll have metrics and key performance indicators, instantly adding value to the service you provide.

And like that guy who was a whiz at balancing the paper ledgers, you will be the superhero to your clients. Thanks to PayPie and other accounting tools, they won’t even see you in the phone booth changing into your cape!

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