Take your accounting practice virtual in 5 steps

Starting a virtual accounting practice or transitioning from a conventional one can lead to a fantastic lifestyle, and can also open up considerable professional opportunities. It is now possible to work with partners, employees and clients from all over the U.S. — or even the world — with a lot of freedom.

Now especially, with a pandemic threatening our ability to work in each other's physical presence for the foreseeable future, the ability to go virtual has become a vital commodity.

There are many ways to build a virtual tax practice and no fixed rules. You can be creative. However, we believe there are some things that are important to ask yourself. In this article, we’ll explore five of them to help you with this exciting project.

Choose your vision and values
The vision for your business is basically deciding who you want to be the owner of the business and what you want the business to be. These three questions will help you define that:

1. How do you see yourself as a business owner in the coming years?

2. What kind of team members and clients do you want to work with?

3. What type of services would you like your firm to offer?

Your vision is your purpose statement, and your core values will determine how you make that vision happen in the real world. These questions will help you define your core values:

1. What do you value as an individual?

2. What do you value as a client or consumer?

3. Then, which of these values specifically support your vision for your practice?

Once you have a list of values you hold, narrow them down to the most important ones that support your vision. Vision and values work together.

Also, this will be great material for your company’s website and social presence.
Choose your target market
Once you have identified your vision and values, your target market should almost appear naturally to you. Since virtual accounting firms are not bound to one location, you have an exciting opportunity to be less locally oriented and specialize in a niche industry you love, with a huge potential for income.

If you choose to build a niche practice, you can always start by also taking clients outside this target market. It’s normal to spend a few months or years building your niche client base, but as you grow, you will have more opportunities to refuse the cases that are not a fit for your firm. As the famous architect I. M. Pei said, “Great artists need great clients,” which may be a good motto for a virtual entrepreneur with a specialized practice.
Build the right team
Your team should be a perfect match for the particular services you offer. For example, if you serve high-net-worth clients, then your team members should be experts in this field.

Fundamental decisions need to be made when building a virtual team:

1. Hiring contractors or employees? Or both?

They obviously both have pluses and minuses.

Contractors can work for other companies while working for you and may not fully commit to your vision and values. Employees, on the other hand, are more likely to invest in them, but you will bear more legal responsibilities and maybe have to experience the hardship of firing someone.

2. Where do you fit into the team?

a. Depending on your company's size and legal status, your role may be different, for example the primary service provider or the CEO.

b. The role you take will often influence how your team will be and grow. For example, if you want to continue doing day-to-day work, you should keep your team small so that you won’t spend much time managing.
Plan a winning marketing strategy
Marketing a virtual practice can also be executed in many ways. A lot of channels are now available. We listed a couple options to keep in mind when planning your marketing strategy:

1. One-on-one networking

A classic that will never die. This is a must-do practice for smaller firms as it helps grow one client at a time and builds a lot of trust. However, networking is time consuming and has limited results as your company grows and needs more clients. One-on-one marketing may become a less desirable option as client volume grows but will always be a source of new, quality customers.

2. Producing your own content (via a blog, social media or videos). Sharing helpful information for your target audience is a great way to generate interest and potential leads.

3. Teaching online courses and podcasting is definitely something to think about further down the road when you have developed expertise and a stable practice.

4. Nurture leads through activities such as consistent emails with the goal of turning your readers into paying clients. These messages must be helpful and insightful.
Choose software
Today good accounting software is essential for your practice, above all if your team works remotely. The best one for your firm will depend on its workflow model and specific needs. We have outlined some parameters to keep in mind when searching for the best software solution for you:

1. If you are claiming expertise in a tax area, you will need to use software that supports that specialization.

2. Add new software products as you go. If you find yourself doing a certain time-consuming task consistently, you might be able to automate it.

3. Managing the digital transformation: If you transition to new software, this process can often require a big learning curve and potential disruption for your clients and staff. To mitigate this, make sure to get all team members quickly on the same page and then commit to creating a training and onboarding process for all current and new staff members.

There are a lot of considerations that go into starting a virtual tax practice, just as there are when starting a traditional practice. But if you figure out your vision, values, target market, team structure, marketing strategy and software, you should be well on your journey to going virtual. Good luck!

Jason Schow, CPA, is a product manager at Canopy, and Jason Blumer is the owner of Blumer CPAs.
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