Starting your own accountancy practice in the UK (part 3)
An overview of the core systems which are a key component of any accountancy firm.
In parts one and two of this series, we focused on the compliance and regulatory side of starting your own accountancy practice. Today we examine the core systems which are a key component of any firm.
Technology is playing a bigger and bigger role in the world in general. This has been accelerated even more as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic where, all of a sudden, remote working had to be implemented by many businesses; this led to new applications being used by many accountancy practices. Many of these are now classed as a necessity for firms in the future.
You may also want to consider the plans and strategy for your business and how it will develop in the companion series by Will Farnell. This will help when looking at the investment in the core systems we are discussing below.
Microsoft 365 or G-Suite
One early decision that will be needed is if the firm is going to use Microsoft 365 or G-Suite. This really will come down to personal preference as both have very similar functionality and include email, online storage and applications including spreadsheets and presentation software. Another key consideration is pricing and also what packages are available and if these meet the needs of the firm both now and in the future.
How to use communication in order to remain in contact with staff and clients is a key consideration for any new practice.
For a long time, emails were considered adequate as staff were mostly office-based and, if necessary, email access could be accessed via the employee’s mobile phone. However, emails are a more formal and time consuming way of communication. When staff are working remotely or have a quick question, a more immediate and less formal option is usually preferable. Therefore, online collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack are popular choices.
Which option is chosen really does come down to personal preference and what staff prefer. Both are accessible on mobile phones as well as on the computer and both have the ability for group and 1-1 chats and have additional features such as video calls.
Another form of communication which is becoming more popular is WhatsApp and this is now quite commonly used for both staff and client communications. WhatsApp is a free service that allows both text and voice messaging and can be accessed through both desktop and mobile devices. WhatsApp groups for specific teams or clients can be created and this allows for immediate communication and updates to be issued. One downside of WhatsApp is that it can become quite hard to manage where a lot of content is being posted frequently.
Communicating via online video calls has been a consideration for a number of years but, again mainly as a consequence of remote working during the recent pandemic, this has become a key consideration for a new practice.
A range of options is available. What forms of communication the firm plans to undertake are key factors when deciding which option to choose and include formats such as group webinars and meetings using breakout rooms. Popular choices for video conferencing include Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Newer meeting applications such as Connect4 also are available. These allow for online meetings where participants login to a specific meeting room which can store notes and videos from previous sessions and provide templates and agendas for more productive meetings.
As well as the software, what equipment you need in the firm is something that needs to be addressed. For remote working, laptops are a necessity but it also worth considering if staff need to be issued with a work mobile phone too.
For the days they are working from home, you also will need to decide if you will provide monitors to give them a larger screen to work on and, potentially, two screens which many people prefer.
For days when staff are in the office, it is necessary to consider how they will work. They could use a desktop PC, their laptop or use their laptop in conjunction with a docking station and separate monitors.
Other equipment needed will be a printer and scanner. This will vary with the size of the firm and where teams are located. The use of paper has reduced substantially over recent years and scanners have become a necessity. It is important to consider what the scanner will be used for when picking one as this will help determine the features required. For example, small more portable and faster scanners would be preferred if they are to be used to scan client receipts for bookkeeping purposes; a common choice for this purpose is the Fujitsu Scansnap range.
Security and back up
It is also critically important to address security and back up when selecting the applications and IT kit for the firm. It is essential to ensure that the firm has security policies it follows and tools for password management (such as LastPass) or single sign-on applications are often used. It is also important to ensure that frequent back-up is taken of all files and these are stored in a safe and secure location.
It is advisable to consult with an expert when it comes to cyber security and it is also essential to ensure that security policies and procedures are regularly reviewed and updated.
A new firm will need to decide how documents are to be stored to ensure that all files are secure and accessible to staff. Points to consider include:
syncing of files
There are specific document management applications for accountancy firms for document storage and also tools such as Microsoft 365 OneDrive and GDrive are popular choices. This would be an area where consultation with an IT specialist could assist when deciding what is suitable for your firm.
Practice management software specifically designed for accountancy firms is popular and really is a necessity for a growing practice. The software has many advantages over the more general job management tools as it is designed around the key considerations for an accountancy firm including filing deadlines, document review processes, integrations with other software and workflows.
There is a range of practice management applications and it is definitely worth researching the options before deciding which one to use. Also ensure that you set time aside for set up and customising the application from day one to ensure you get the maximum benefit.
The range of applications available varies on functionality and size of practice with tools such as Pixie more suitable for a smaller firm and others such as Karbon and Senta being designed more for a larger practice.
There are other considerations for a new accountancy practice when deciding on systems and these include applications for PDF creation and editing, software for e-signature and online calendar applications. Not all firms will need these from day one but probably will in the early stages of growing the practice.
There are a lot of areas to consider when deciding on the software applications to be used to run the practice and the hardware required. These will need to be addressed early in the process of setting up the practice. Cost will be a key consideration and the advice of experts can really help when choosing the tools to use in your firm.
In the next issue, we will examine the other accounting applications and apps used by an accountancy firm that need to be addressed when setting up a new accounting practice.