Technology mistakes can cause higher expenses and lost revenue opportunities. During a session at the AICPA Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference in January, Advisor Products President and CEO Andrew Gluck shared tips on how to avoid the biggest technology mistakes. The tips could prove useful for accounting firms and small businesses in general.
Develop an integration strategy for all your software and applications. Accountants work with a multitude of technology systems, including everything from customer relationship management and tax rebalancing applications to portals that allow clients to see their financial data online. Ensuring that information can flow from one system to another requires plenty of due diligence. Ask vendors for demos that showcase how their technology works with other systems. And get the salesperson to provide references of customers who can talk about their integration experiences.
Train your staff to get the most out of your technology. There’s no use paying top dollar for nifty software if your employees don’t know how to use all the bells and whistles that come with it. When reviewing a product, ask vendors about the availability of training options such as web videos and classes. Then integrate the new technology into your business processes and procedures after you purchase it—otherwise, you won’t get the most bang for your buck.
Make sure you have backup systems and that they work. When a hurricane hits or a key piece of hardware unexpectedly fails, backup systems allow a firm to keep doing business as usual. Backups need to be tested, too, though—preferably a couple of times a year. Otherwise, a missing software patch or outdated hardware may prevent the backups from working just when you need them most.
Take full advantage of your website’s marketing potential. A properly designed website that’s periodically updated with content such as blog posts, news items, and calls to action can be a powerful marketing tool. The price tag for a website runs in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,000; paying someone to help manage your content can cost another couple of grand or so a year. That’s more expensive than a bare-bones offering, but if done right, it can pay big dividends down the road by attracting more customers.
Know how to get noticed on the web. Website content needs to be optimized for search engines. Include plenty of keywords that show up on internet searches. Do a lot of tax prep work with obstetricians in your hometown of Kalamazoo? Words like “obstetricians,” “taxes,” and “Kalamazoo” need to be featured in key places on your site. And be sure to register on services such as Google Places so clients can easily find out more about you.
Cut travel costs by using web meeting technology. Conducting business in person is the best way to establish relationships, but travel and lodging expenses can add up. Web meeting software and apps such as Skype and GoToMeeting are a nice compromise. They allow virtual face-to-face conversations with customers while saving travel time and money.
Don’t forget to use social media archiving tools. Social media is becoming an increasingly important way for many businesses, including accounting firms, to market their offerings. But unlike many businesspeople, registered investment advisers are required by the SEC to keep an archive of all advertising material. Accountants can buy web-based software to archive their tweets and other social media messages for several hundred dollars a year and avoid the hassle of doing it themselves.
—By Chris Baysden (firstname.lastname@example.org), a JofA senior editor.