How practice management software can lift performance

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Practice management, as the term suggests, is a fundamental element of running your affairs effectively. But what are the best tools for the job?

From managing current tasks, planning future work, to keeping clients in check, practice management tools can make life as an accountant much smoother. That can include proposals, payment processing, workflow management, sales enablement, client communication, reporting and more.

Because it touches so many aspects of work, practice software needs to be chosen with a long-term view. Chopping and changing will be disruptive to the staff and to business operations.

Quality and efficiency

One of the major benefits of introducing practice management tools is that they provide quality control through automatically feeding data through from one function to another. Another advantage is they help to streamline procedures and provide uniformity, which makes your business look professional.

“The risk of error is greatly reduced because I don’t have to enter anything manually,” explains AAT Licensed Member, Cristina Patel, who runs her own firm, Priority Point. “Using the extra time I have, I can analyse my accounts and do quality checks.”

Information entered into a client’s record is replicated in all the relevant areas, so you don’t have to root through the files and make adjustments and saving huge amounts of time. “Before I had a practice management tool, I had been using a couple of pieces of software,” explains Patel. “I was spending a lot of time taking information from one to another. It was one piece of software for payroll, one for bookkeeping, another for accounts, so bringing it all together was time consuming. If I was looking for a practice management tool now, I’d prioritise automating processes to save time.”

There is a note of caution, though. If errors are entered, they too will be replicated throughout the record, so it’s vital to check that the input data is correct.

Supercharging the business

For Andy McGill, co-founder of Ashton McGill, practice management software has been crucial to the firm’s flexible business model and broadening the pool of talent it can draw from. The firm uses Senta, a practice management tool with integrations with GoProposal and GoCardless for onboarding and invoicing clients. “It’s about client experience and saving yourself time,” McGill says.

“It only takes us around half an hour to get a client on board. As soon as they sign the proposal, our team has all the information it needs in Senta – it’s all pulled through from the proposal – and tasks are created for the services needed.”

Suite or app stack?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to practice management tools – do you get a suite, which is designed to cover everything you need, or go for a ‘best-of-breed’ set-up, which works together with your various other tools to manage the workflow.

Lucy Cohen, co-founder of Mazuma (pictured above, right side), used an array of tools in the early days of her firm, before making the switch to a suite, to help with efficiency.

“When Mazuma was a smaller company, we opted for independent software tools, but found that this often duplicated data,” she explains. “As the firm grew, we moved to an integrated suite and since then have added more modules to help drive efficiencies across a number of different areas of the business. For instance, we now use the software to manage workflow, as well as people, and have built a platform that truly works for our business.”

For most firms, it’s a value judgement, Cohen notes, and it’s important to know what you want or need from your practice management tools.

“The benefits of a practice management suite mean that you don’t have to replicate data, you have access to different modules and these are easily integrated with each other as they are designed by the same company. If you have questions or need help with the tool then you only have to go to one contact. On the other hand, suites can be expensive, and you might want something that is more unique or bespoke and offers a bit more flexibility. 

Popular software options

Here are some of the most widely-used software on the market.

Practice Ignition
Practice Ignition is a tool that lends itself to managing an app stack, integrating with other tools to allow a smooth workflow. It can onboard clients, generating terms of engagement and manage invoicing both on one-off and recurring bases, which it then syncs with your accounting software. Requirements: QuickBooks Online, Xero
Price: From £65 per month, 14-day free trial

Karbon uses your emails as the basis for managing tax, audit, accounting and bookkeeping services to manage workflow, clients and standardise processes.
Requirements: QuickBooks Online
Price: From £28 per month, 14-day free trial

Senta allows cloud-based client management, marketing, workflow, email automation, secure documents and insights for accountants and bookkeepers. It integrates with various non-accounting tools, such as Companies House, Credas, GoCardless, GoProposal, Melu, Practice Ignition, The Pensions Regulator, Xavier Analytics and Zapier, along with the usual accounting software programmes.
Requirements: FreeAgent, QuickBooks Online, Xero
Price: From £29 per month, 30-day free trial

“With apps, you can pick and choose what you want to suit your requirements – and there are a huge range of services and offerings out there. A lot of apps are easily integrated with each other, meaning you can build your own package, often at a fraction of the cost. Of course, using multiple apps means you have to speak to several companies when you’re troubleshooting problems.”

Tips to get started

Seek frequency

Look for tools that will save you time replicating data, as this will help to smooth your workflow and provide you with uniformity to help professionalise your work.

Use saved time wisely

Although practice management tools greatly improve quality control, it is no panacea. You’ll still need to check your figures, but you’ll have far more time for more strategic work, too.

Find your fit

It’s important to know exactly why you want to introduce practice management software. Each option has its own strengths that can help with particular pain points. Is your pain point gathering data? Or is it collecting client payments? Work out why you need it and then you can find the best software that meets that need.

Be flexible

Practice management tools can allow you to make changes to your business model and find greater scope for growth, so take time to explore that flexibility.

Calum Fuller Calum Fuller is editor of AT and 20 magazines. He's previously served as editor of Credit Strategy, assistant editor Accountancy and began his career at Accountancy Age..

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