Take to the Cloud: The Secret to Scaling Your Small Accounting Firm Without Skyrocketing Costs
I help businesses all over North America with their accounting needs. And when you’re the sole proprietor of your small business with only one full-time employee, you need to be everything to everyone. I have to be my own IT, marketing, human resources, and public relations departments. All of these things need to happen on top of serving my clients.
In a small firm where you have to wear so many hats, you want to streamline all these additional tasks and responsibilities. We use whatever digital tools we can to help us focus most of our time on serving our customers. I don't want to spend a lot of time fixing things that should already work.
When I started my own practice in 2014, I had fewer than 50 clients at the end of my first year. I could reasonably manage those 50 with a spreadsheet, but that number continued to grow. With the number of tasks, clients, and deadlines we had to track, the spreadsheet swelled to unmanageable proportions.
I knew when I created the spreadsheet that the time would come when my practice would evolve away from it. As an accountant, I have spent the last 20 years using spreadsheets in one fashion or another. Once a spreadsheet grows in size, complexity, and the number of users, the efficacy of it starts to break down. I wanted to invest in modern technology that informed us and made us more effective—not just a tool we would have to spend a lot of time in maintaining.
Achieving Great Progress with Great Tools
But transitioning from familiar legacy products or processes to a new, modern system can be intimidating. When I started my career as an employee at an accounting firm, I noticed people often reach a point where they stop learning. They get comfortable and just continue to use the same technologies and methods. At the speed businesses move, that’s unacceptable. Technology should enable you to do great things—not stifle your growth.
Every business process will change. I wanted to thrive, instead of hanging on doggedly to some legacy systems or methods that were no longer practical. That’s why I embraced modern cloud-based systems like CCH iFirm from Wolters Kluwer.
Simplifying Through Change: Adopting a Modern Approach
My first experience with Wolters Kluwer was in late 2015 at an event where they unveiled CCH iFirm. I was looking for an online client management solution instead of a local machine install. Wolter Kluwer's CCH iFirm was, for me, the right solution at the right time.
Most of the clients I deal with are reasonably tech-savvy. They have to be in order to work with me because everything I do is online. I have customers across Canada—most of whom I've never met face-to-face. This is the new, more effective approach to bookkeeping and accounting. I had spent 20 years doing accounting the “legacy way” where clients would drive to their accountant’s office for an in-person meeting, then drop off their box of paperwork and wait weeks to months to hear back. Now, my clients find me and connect with me online. Then we simply start the work with online tools.
That’s why CCH iFirm was an amazing solution. Wolters Kluwer was also incredible at helping us get the platform set up. They trained us, solved our problems, and answered every question we had. They were very invested in making sure we would use this product, use it successfully, and continue to use it, which is better than most other software providers.
Tax Season: An Unexpected Driver of Innovation
Last year, I was searching for a tax cloud solution to supplement CCH iFirm. I do about 120 corporate tax returns each year. Half are done during the traditional tax time. The other half are spread throughout the year for odd fiscal year-ends. And for about 70 of my 120 corporate clients, I also do monthly bookkeeping. Tax is a component for each customer at some point during the year, but isn’t necessarily my primary focus. When I'm not doing their tax work I usually handle their book work or solve other problems for them month-to-month.
I was using Cantax, which is a Wolters Kluwer product that has been around for well over 20 years. The solution is right for some, but like all other on-premise tax software, it requires manual updates and wasn't cloud-based. That created additional complications for me and for my remote worker. So when CCH came along, I immediately signed up and started using it. And I'm extremely happy I did.
I can't stress enough just how easy it was to convert to, and set up, CCH iFirm Tax. And, once CCH iFirm is up and running, CCH iFirm Tax is just an additional module. You simply log in one day and it’s there. No installation, no setup—you can just start using the platform.
And it had a very robust roll-forward feature. You can take data from different products like Cantax, Taxprep, or other tax products and roll it into CCH iFirm Tax, so you can start using it regardless of what software you used the year before. The folks at Wolters Kluwer anticipated a lot of the potential barriers and compatibility problems and eliminated them upfront.
The Efficiency Paradigm: The Big Shift
Going into this year’s tax season, I knew if I didn’t have a more efficient product, I was going to be working more hours to overcome some of those technological issues. But CCH iFirm Tax loads and works incredibly fast. You just hit the PDF button, and your end product—whether it's a corporate tax return or a personal tax return—immediately publishes as a PDF. Since I’m paper-free, this is the only way I’ll work.
If I had to ballpark it, I’d estimate I’m saving between 15–20 minutes per corporate tax return because of CCH iFirm Tax. The platform eliminates some big steps and streamlines the overall process. That time saving is significant. If you have 100 corporate tax returns, a couple of thousand minutes adds up to a pile of hours. And during tax time, every hour is precious.
This tax season, I was able to absorb the business’ growth without working 100 hours (or more!) per week. Using CCH iFirm and CCH iFirm Tax together has enabled me to manage my workload, understand the full scope, and see my deadlines for the week or month. That allows me to dedicate time and resources accordingly both for me and my employee. We’re a cohesive, collaborative team when we can strategically prioritize.
Perhaps most critically, these tools allow us to look at information instead of looking for it.
This past season, my employee prepped a lot of the tax work using CCH iFirm Tax, so I wasn't spending my time entering data. Instead, I received the end result that had already been populated. She would do her part, and I could review it, make changes if I wanted to, and then publish it for my client.
It feels like the platform has unlimited scalability. I don't have to worry about technology issues or making investments in IT. I have a tool that serves 120 customers and can serve 200 or more. My business has been growing at about 25% per year, so I keep scalability top of mind. I need to have those efficiency tools if I want to quickly deliver products at a similar cost to my competitors. These tools allow one individual to do more work with less effort.
I have plans to hire somebody in the fall, so my firm is going to grow again. Plus, I'm starting to get to the size where the 25% growth per year is showing no signs of stopping. Now, I can likely add one person every year, easily. And if I can maintain this growth rate for several years, my team could continue to grow at a faster pace to keep up with my clients’ demands.
Head in the Clouds: A Progressive Accounting Mentality
Despite all the advances technology has made, there are still people out there who are skeptical of cloud accounting and any sort of cloud services. But I couldn't be more enthusiastic about the cloud. It’s much safer and less expensive than storing your data on a local server, which can sustain damage or even get stolen.
When you locally store your data, you have to make investments in hardware like servers, networks, and network cabling. Then you have to invest in your staff so they also understand how the server and the network work together. And that's problematic. I don't want to spend time on that. I don't want to be an IT technician. I don't want to spend money on IT infrastructure—and I shouldn't have to.
The cloud solution is updated continually. Every day you log in to that software, you are using the most recent version. It's done for you. The storage is handled for you. The same with accessibility. I can even go on vacation, turn on my laptop, and still have access. I don't have to tap into some server at work and make sure no one is on the same file at the same time as me. That is just all eliminated.
When you do online banking, that's the cloud. When you're on Facebook, that's the cloud. If you can set up a Facebook account, you can start working with CCH iFirm Tax immediately.
I don't consider myself a technology expert. I'm certainly not a power user of this software. There are many people who know more about it than me. I'm just an accountant with an employee, running a practice, who wants some great tools. I believe I'm using the best-in-class tools available on the market. If I can figure out how to use them, most people can. The bottom line? It’s clear that working within the cloud isn’t as good as local hardware—it’s better.