The essential questions to ask when building your accounting firm’s ideal tech stack

Leaving things to chance isn’t the way to successfully run an accounting firm.

You wouldn’t leave your recruitment strategy, strategic vision, or growth plan up to luck, so why would you leave your app stack to the same fate?

The apps you and your team use literally power your business—they enable you to deliver work, communicate effectively and provide valuable service to your clients.

But if you don’t spend the time carefully selecting, vetting and implementing your ideal tech stack that is best-suited to your accounting practice, you risk the success of your entire business. Without proper consideration, you may be selecting tools that decrease your team’s productivity, increase frustrations, create double ups and extend service delivery times.

The difference between a tech stack that fuels your business and one that drains it lies in your analysis.

With so many systems on the market, actually completing this analysis can be overwhelming—even selecting the handful to drill in to can be too much.

So, here is your starting point: the essential questions to ask when building your ideal tech stack, including:

  • CRM

  • Email provider

  • Practice management

  • Document management

  • Accounting software

  • Payroll

  • Tax preparation

  • Advisory

  • Pricing and proposals

The key questions you need to ask all apps

While each component of your app stack will perform its own specialized function, there is a set of basic questions you can ask about each of them. This is a good place to start when building your ideal tech stack for your accounting firm.

The key questions you should ask for each app you are considering include:

  • What’s your budget for the tool, including any associated resources and support?

  • What training is available, if any?

  • Have you weighed up cloud vs. on-premise?

  • Do you need smartphone functionality?

  • How easy is it to implement?

  • How scalable is it—will it keep up with your growth plans?

  • How many users or seats will you need?

  • What type of support is available, and how long is support response time?

  • How robust is its security and does it comply with all relevant security and privacy regulations?

From that point, for each area of your tech stack—from CRM to practice management and everything in between—you need to first ask yourself some questions about your requirements. This will give you direction about your must-haves per solution. 

And from there, you can ask each potential provider how they can deliver on these requirements.

Choosing the right Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool

A good CRM will enable you to manage your client relationships, your sales strategy, and ultimately, help your firm grow.

Questions to ask yourself when selecting a CRM for your accounting practice:

  • Do you need your CRM to integrate with any other specific tool in order to deliver client services (e.g. kicking off your relationship with a signed engagement letter via Practice Ignition that automatically creates or updates contacts in your CRM)?

  • What types of reporting will you need from your CRM?

  • How many client records will you require now, and do you expect that to grow? If so, to approximately how many?

Questions to ask each CRM solution you consider:

  • How easy is it to import existing client information, either from an existing tool or a spreadsheet?

  • What other tools does it integrate with?

  • How easy is it to use, update and keep organized?

Choosing the right email provider

Your email provider, or email client, is the tool you use to access your emails—Gmail, Outlook, etc. Although they deliver the same essential service—your emails—they aren’t all created equal.

Questions to ask yourself when selecting an email client for your accounting practice:

  • Are there any other features you need from a particular email client?

  • Do your existing apps integrate with specific email providers?

Questions to ask each email provider you consider:

  • Is it user-friendly on both desktop and mobile?

  • How easy is it to set up and edit features like email signatures and automatic filing/ sorting based on rules, etc.?

Choosing the right practice management tool for your accounting firm

Your accounting practice management software should be your firm’s hub to manage team communication, track client projects, manage deliverables, and keep track of your team’s key performance metrics.

Questions to ask yourself when selecting a practice management tool for your accounting practice:

  • What kind of visibility do you need across your firm? How much do you value your ability to see internal and client communications, workloads, forecasting, workflows, etc.?

  • What types of reports will you need?

  • Do you need a solution that enables your team to communicate and collaborate directly in work items?

  • What integrations do you require?

Questions to ask each practice management tool provider you consider:

  • What other tools does it integrate with?

  • Does it offer solid automation capabilities?

  • Does it provide work templates for you to use and customize?

  • Does it enable internal and client communication?

  • Does it offer performance insights designed to help you boost productivity?

Key consideration:

When looking for practice management software, focus on those specific to the accounting industry. Each industry is unique, and a solution tailored to accounting will enable you to work the way that feels natural to you.

Choosing the right document management tool

The ability to share, edit, download, store and organize client and practice documentation from anywhere has never been more important. You need a reliable solution that will enable this seamlessly and securely.

Questions to ask yourself when selecting a document management solution:

  • Do you need your document management solution to integrate with any other software?

  • Do you need your team to be able to easily collaborate on documents?

Questions to ask each document management solution:

  • How easy is it to transfer existing physical documents?

  • Is it easy to upgrade to new functionality or additional users as your firm grows?

  • How easy is it for external users—like clients—to access, sign and edit documents?

Choosing the right accounting software

Your accounting software solution/s needs to be robust. Ideally, it should perform as many of your work-types as possible, and suit your clients as much as possible.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing the right accounting software:

  • What integrations are your must-haves with your accounting software?

  • What are the features you need (i.e. budgeting, sales tracking, estimates, etc.)?

  • Does the system need to handle foreign currency?

  • Do a majority of your clients already use, or are familiar with, an existing tool?

  • Do you need it to perform other specialized services, such as taxation or payroll?

Questions to ask each accounting software tool:

  • Does it support your must-have integrations and features?

  • How easy is it to use?

  • As you grow your firm, will it be easy to add users?

  • Does it track separate financial records for each client or each department within your clients’ business/es?

Choosing the right payroll tool

A solid payroll tool is something you can trust to automatically calculate and manage the complex nature of payroll. It should work to make you and your clients’ lives easier.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a payroll tool:

  • Do you have a large portion of clients that already use a certain payroll tool?

  • How important is user experience, particularly for your clients and their employees?

  • How many clients will you be processing payroll for?

  • How often is the payroll run for each client?

  • What kind of analysis do you need?

Questions to ask each payroll tool you consider:

  • What other systems does it integrate with?

  • Does it offer easily customizable templates?

  • Does it partner with any banks, enabling payment to occur without exiting the payroll tool? 

  • Does it have an easy-to-use employee portal for your clients’ employees to access?

  • How easy is it to change pay rates quickly?

  • Does it comply with each piece of relevant legislation for each of your clients?

  • Does it calculate all payroll requirements (e.g., pay as you go withholding, annual leave, long service leave, etc.)?

Choosing the right tax preparation tool

A strong tax-specific tool should be just that: a solid product that enables you to perform complex returns seamlessly, without adding unnecessary compilations or steps to the process.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a tax tool:

  • What are the types of tax returns you currently prepare?

  • Are you planning on diversifying and/ or expanding into other tax areas, such as tax audits or preparing trust returns?

  • Do your clients prefer to have their tax preparation fees automatically taken out of their tax returns?

  • How important is ease of use?

Questions to ask each tax tool you consider:

  • Does it offer a robust solution for the types of tax returns your firm both currently prepares, and is planning to prepare in the future?

  • Does it integrate with a reputable bank to enable your clients to have their tax preparation fees automatically taken out of their returns?

  • How easy is it to use and train staff members on?

  • How easy is it to add users and scale?

  • Does it include unlimited e-filing?

  • Does it cover all relevant jurisdictions, states, etc.?

Choosing the right advisory services tool

When selecting advisory tools, a great place to start is by understanding what advisory services you currently offer, what advisory services you want to add to your offering, and which ones you want to discontinue.

From there, you will be better-placed to find the right, purpose-built tools to help you deliver the relevant services.

Questions to ask yourself when selecting an advisory services solution/s:

  • What are the types of advisory services you currently offer?

  • Do you have plans to expand the types of advisory services? If so, what are they?

  • Does the current number (and projected future number) of your clients needing a certain advisory service—say, HR advisory—justify the costs and training associated with rolling out a specific solution?

Questions to ask each advisory services solution:

  • What types of reporting are available?

  • What integrations are available now, and what integrations are in the roadmap?

  • How customizable are the dashboards?

Choosing the right pricing and proposal tool

Your pricing and proposal tool should cover two main areas:

  1. Help you to set the right tone with prospective clients by providing a professional and seamless discovery > engagement letter > client onboarding process.

  2. Help you to price your services correctly and review them periodically.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a pricing and proposal tool:

  • What other tools do you need it to integrate with?

  • What information do you need to visualize on a dashboard view, and what reporting do you require?

  • What do you need from this tool—pricing calculations, proposal and engagement letters?

  • Do you prefer an accounting-specific tool, or will a generic tool for service-based industries work?

Questions to ask each pricing and proposal tool provider:

  • Does it integrate with the rest of your tech stack?

  • Does it provide any educational tools or support around how to price and sell your accounting services?

  • Does it come with existing pricing templates for you to use and customize?

  • Does it offer the reports and dashboard visualizations you need?

Understand your firm, services and clients first

When you embark on the journey to build your ideal tech stack—or review and refurbish your current tech stack—you first need to understand how your firm operates, the services you currently offer and want to offer in the future, and how your clients operate.

Without understanding this information, the services, features and benefits of each tool are arbitrary because you simply won’t know how they suit your firm, services and clients.

So, start with what you do know. And then ask as many questions as possible from each provider.

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