As a product manager, I’ve worked with hundreds of firms to understand how they are using our products and what factors lead to the greatest successes. I’ve talked to many customers who want to know what we see as best practices for time and billing within CPA firms. Every firm has a unique culture and different needs, but the most successful ones have some similarities that other firms can learn from. The best firm management software will not only help accountants spend less time on administrative tasks but enable them to work more efficiently overall. Here are four key characteristics I’ve seen that set successful firms apart, with emphasis on firm management functions, like time and billing.
- They use online billing, including electronic invoice delivery
Online, real-time billing is more efficient than the traditional paper-based, once-a-month billing process, but it is not just about saving time. It’s about improving cash flow by billing a soon as the work is completed. Most importantly, it’s about serving your clients better. Most clients, especially business clients, expect and prefer electronic invoices delivered shortly after the work is completed (or delivered at a regular cadence). While traditional billing procedures may seem to be getting the job done for your firm, they are no longer the norm.
- They automate the time capture process
Enforcing time capture policies and ensuring you are capturing time accurately can cause a lot of friction in a tax and accounting firm. Making this process easier will help ease the burden, so successful firms look for ways to automate this process as much as possible. If you can set up a clock to start automatically when a tax return is opened, and then have an alert to remind you to post that time when the return is closed, you’ll take some of that administrative pressure off of your staff. In fact, whatever stage of a project your staff is working on, they should be able to easily access a clock from within the software they’re in, and easily post time without opening a separate time-keeping program.
- They have mobile access to client information, including AR
Your work doesn’t all take place inside your office, so your client information shouldn’t be limited to your file room or desktop. Your clients expect instant answers, and so should you – whether you’re at a client’s office, an off-site client lunch or just working on the go. If you have an active Internet connection, you should be able to access important client information beyond just the basics. You’re looking for instant answers while on–the-go, so you need access to client details or notes, A/R Balances and pending files from a portal, project status and responsible staff.
- They integrate time and billing with project management
Time and billing are not separate from your projects, so any billing system needs to incorporate or integrate with project management functionality. This integration should let you specify project billing information, like bill rates, billing fee agreements and invoice formats. You should be able to view A/R information from within your projects, and apply payments to specific projects on an invoice. In addition, time entry should be integral to your project management, so you can compare budget-to-actual information, view WIP by project, launch clocks and post time from a project route sheet, and update project status from the time capture screen.
Highly effective firms make integration a priority
It’s widely accepted that silos create dysfunction in any business. This concept also applies to firm management software. Your time and billing processes should be deeply integrated with the core business of your firm. This will not only reduce the amount of un-accounted-for time, but also make your work more profitable and keep your staff happier and more efficient.
To learn how one firm has been able to leverage cloud-based time & billing, view our Accounting Today webinar with Wesley Middleton of MiddletonRaines + Zapata, one of the fastest growing firms in the country: Transforming Your Firm with Cloud-Based Firm Management