January 2022

minute read


Automation: Elevating the human

In last month’s Thought Leader article, I briefly mentioned something exciting to watch for in 2022: The growing role of automation in tax and accounting firms.

First, I should clarify what I mean by “automation.” I’m not talking about the kind of automation that kicks human beings out of their jobs. What I’m referring to is what I see happening in our industry today—namely, the increasing use of automation that elevates humans, rather than replacing them.

The why

Let me give you an example of why I believe automation is an elevation of our people. Let’s say you’ve been running an older-model payroll practice with all the manual work that comes with it (e.g., collecting data, re-keying, producing direct deposits, filing taxes and returns).

And let’s say that once you become aware of the capabilities of today’s automation technology, you realize that your firm could automate more than 90 percent of that work and still maintain control of your payroll.

So, where does the elevation come in? Well, now you have someone (or several someones) who no longer spends their days chained to a keyboard doing all of this tedious keying and re-keying—because let’s be honest, while the work is important, it is tedious. You now have someone whose time and talents are freed up to work directly with new clients, helping ease them into your business model. Or someone who can work on the additional, more complex payroll services you’d like to add.

Talk about a win-win all around—for firm, staff and clients!

Your clients benefit because they have more knowledgeable and well-trained staff members in whom they can place their confidence and trust. That’s the kind of thing that gets around by word of mouth and attracts ideal clients.

Equally important is the value to your team. Automation frees them up to perform higher-value work and explore potential career paths. It also gives them a better opportunity to build relationships with other team members and clients. And it can even reduce or more equitably distribute their workloads, giving them not only time to settle into their jobs, but to enjoy some of that freedom and flexibility we all deserve in our lives outside work.

For the firm? Well, automation leads to greater levels of efficiency. And that means more time to offer valuable advisory services and increase your bottom line.

The how

A modern cloud-based technology stack allows firms to collaborate with their clients and complete accounting processes automatically. Thanks to real-time data capture, it also enables you to provide critical business information quickly and leaves the door wide open for your firm to offer proactive advisory services.

The key is to take advantage of integrated applications and automation with Application Program Interfaces (APIs), which digitally transfer data between business applications in real-time without re-keying data. Your tech stack centers around the accounting programs the firm supports for clients (e.g., QuickBooks®). The accounting hub then integrates applications with APIs to automate key business processes like payables, receivables, timesheets, payroll, expense reports and more.

For business apps without built-in APIs, your client accounting services team can employ automation tools like machine learning and robotic process automation to capture and process information “auto-magically” from other applications, such as inventory, job costing and purchase orders.

As more applications are added to your tech stack, automation replaces the manual steps the accountant and other staff members used to perform. This frees up their time to provide higher-level services and offer a frictionless experience that streamlines the process and mitigates work for clients.

Plus, the adoption of these modern technologies makes you an employer of choice, complete with the ability to offer your staff virtual work options and the schedule flexibility that our industry proved we could handle—and handle well—during the pandemic.

The next

Building a firm that thrives on automation might feel like an overwhelming task, but I promise, it can be done—and is being done, quite successfully, every day.

Will it take time, patience and money? Absolutely. But the benefits of automated, standardized workflows are virtually endless. Seamless collaboration and communication…the ability to support virtual work options…immense time savings and so much more.

You’re probably tired of hearing me say this (but you know me well enough to know I’m going to say it anyway):

If we want our firms to thrive, we need to have conversations about freedom, flexibility and creating a place where everyone wants to be.

Automation is the key to making that happen, and it’s what we at Rightworks use to elevate humans. When you care about the people who make your dream happen every day and make every attempt to let them stretch their wings and see what’s possible, you can do great things. Human things.

And I believe automation is what frees you up to do those human things—which is why you should automate as many things as you can in your work and your life right now.

Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone. You have Rightworks in your corner. We know the amount of time it takes to find and vet the best applications, which is why we’ve started the work for you. All that’s left is building your automated systems with the solutions of your choice. It’s what will separate you from the crowd, empower your staff to discover what they’re capable of, and make you the advisor every client wants to work with.

Let’s work together to make that happen in 2022 and show everyone else how it’s done!

Best. Year. EVER.

Happy New Year! Are you ready to make this year the Best. Year. EVER?

To get you started, I’ve got some practical tips below to help you and your firm accomplish your goals—specifically as it relates to creating better processes and determining where automation can help to elevate your team.

Step 1: Gather ideas

How do we know what works well and what doesn’t unless we ask the people who do the job? Gather ideas on what’s working well and what needs improvement from those involved in the various processes within the firm. Keep in mind that it’s important to gather this information for all of your firm’s processes (e.g., tax, bookkeeping, payroll, administrative).

Yes, we’re at the beginning of our hectic time, but this is the perfect opportunity to get in front of your team to discuss a plan for capturing what’s working well and what isn’t while it’s happening. If you wait until the chaos dies down, it’ll be harder to remember all of the details.

Rightworks even makes the idea-gathering easier with a Process Scorecard resource to help your firm compile the information. Each team member keeps track of their ideas for and about the areas they’re affected by or involved in.

Here’s an example of how the scorecard breaks down the tax process to allow for more specific feedback:

Tax process: What’s working well, and what could use improvement in the following areas? Keep in mind that this isn’t a complete list; the details will vary depending on your firm. But this should help spark ideas as you think about:

  • Engagement letters—How and when are engagement letters sent? How do you manage signatures?
  • Organizer process—How and when are your organizers sent and managed?
  • Gathering data—How does information come in? How and when is it handled?
  • Scanning—Who does your scanning? How is it done, and when is it done?
  • Missing information—Who handles this? How and when is it managed?
  • Preparation—What is your process? What tools do you have available?
  • Reviewing returns—How often do you review returns? How much time is involved in the process?
  • Contacting clients—How is client contact managed? Who does it? What’s your view of the client experience with your current method?
  • Delivery of returns—Do you deliver electronic or paper returns? Do you have enough clients getting electronic delivery? Do you spend too much time assembling returns?
  • e-Filing—Who handles your e-filing? How well is it managed, and how effective is the process when returns are rejected or issues occur?
  • Billing—How and when are clients billed? How do you collect payments?
  • Software tools—Does everyone have the proper knowledge and training on the software used within the firm? Do the software tools you use provide everyone with the functionality needed to do their jobs?
  • Internal communication—Does everyone feel comfortable with how process changes, new tax laws, etc., are communicated before and during tax season?
  • Team environment—Does everyone work as a team to succeed during tax season?

Step 2: Plan improvements based on feedback

Take the information gathered from your team and use it as your source to begin planning improvements in those areas.

Schedule a data collection meeting for the entire team to bring their feedback to the table. Your tax meeting would happen after tax season, your bookkeeping meeting could happen mid-year and your payroll meeting could happen after a quarter. Trust me, the people involved in the process will have significant insight into what drives them bonkers and what goes smoothly. So trust them, and use their feedback to assess the opportunities to streamline and automate as much as possible.

It’s so important that the firm does something with the feedback—and communicates those planned changes to the entire team. Actions speak louder than words, so show your team that you value their ideas and observations. Schedule a meeting(s) to review plans that came out of the feedback.

Step 3: Implement improvement ideas

The improvements could be new technology, tweaks to processes or shifted responsibilities. Whatever they are, assign a champion in the firm to take the lead on the implementation. The champion should not be the sole person responsible for making the changes happen; they’re in charge of organizing the plan and making sure that everything and everyone is on track to accomplish the improvement idea(s).

Step 4: Rinse and repeat

There’s always room for improvement! Turn the act of gathering feedback and implementing improvements into an annual event. Schedule meetings out in advance so that it’s on everyone’s radar.

You know if it’s on your calendar, it’s likely to get done (and I know how much you all like deadlines), so I challenge you to make this important enough for your firm to make this a fundamental process that you honor each and every year. Let’s finally acknowledge the importance of feedback and dedicate space for it on the calendar so we can make 2022 your Best. Year. EVER!

Bridge trust, leverage automation

As we enter a new year and a new (and hopefully more routine) tax season, let’s dig into ideas around relationships, trust and automation.

Okay, I know “relationships” can be a word that manifests a wide range of emotional responses. But I promise you, this column has not only fun numbers, but also practical, actionable items.

The trust bridge

Let’s kick off with a fun number on customer relationships:

According to Nielsen, 88 percent of customers trust reviews as they would a personal recommendation. This is why reviews are essential—but we should remember and refocus on why. At the heart of every review is a relationship, built over time and crafted through a unique mix of nuanced challenges and responsibilities. Lasting relationships emerge where trust and communication are abundant.

So…one part review, a sprinkle of trust and we’re good, right? Sweet!

If only it was that easy. Building trust takes time and effort from both parties, and it’s much easier to lose that trust than it is to gain it. However, an established, trusting relationship can act as a solid bridge for others, leading to an environment where more trusting relationships can emerge.

Client reviews and positive testimonials are a firm’s “trust bridge.” Don’t let these assets sit in a drawer—or worse, go unrealized by not collecting and communicating them online.

Here are some practical actions your firm can take to collect and make your reviews easily accessible:

  • Ensure you have Google My Business (GMB) set up for your firm’s office(s). A drawer full of compliments and praise does not establish new connections. Google My Business, a free tool that enables you to manage and optimize your online business profile, does. So well, in fact, that GMB has become an essential venue for business reviews.
  • Ask for reviews/testimonials while the good feelings are fresh. “No problem, I’ll do that later” rarely gets done.
  • Make the “ask” an easy and immediate action. Have your review capture process ready and set up with the least amount of barriers.

The role of automation

This all sounds great, but where and when does automation fit into the picture?

Automation is our ally in collecting, responding and displaying reviews on multiple outlets. Without it, we would undoubtedly burden ourselves with more “I’ll get to that later.” is one way to add automation to your review process. No more staring at your GMB review section, waiting for reviews like a child waiting for presents to appear under the Christmas tree. notifies you when a new review is submitted, it automatically shares your great reviews on your website/social media and it alerts you when you need to respond to a not-so-great review.

Want to learn more? Existing members can check out our Business Model Basics Web & Mobile section for additional information on Google My Business setup and using for collecting and displaying client reviews. We also offer services for firms seeking additional assistance with these areas.

Happy new year to all!

Use marketing automation to your advantage during busy season

Set up your systems to do as much of the work as possible

Let’s face it: We’ve all got more than enough to keep up with during tax season. That’s why it’s important to be sure you’re getting the most out of your systems and platforms to lighten the load.

Because accounting firms have a lot of those systems and platforms at work on the client service aspect of the business, marketing and communication platforms can tend to be overlooked. But don’t miss out on ways you can use them to save time while staying connected to your clientele during the busiest time of the year.

Most marketing automation is built around email platforms, such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp and similar platforms. While each has a different design and set of features and capabilities, there are some basic top-level considerations for setting up automated outreach to lighten your workload and assure that messages are sent in a timely manner:

  1. Your message schedule—Tax season revolves around the process of sending reminders about filing deadlines and how to submit documents. Start by identifying filing deadlines for various types of clients and then backing upstream to select dates to send email reminders. Create a regular cadence of reminders, and make note of which client category should receive which messages (i.e., you shouldn’t burden every client and generate unnecessary email traffic by sending 1099 reminders or PPP info to clients who aren’t impacted by those aspects of the filing process). Speaking of which…
  2. Your mailing lists and segmentation—Be sure the person in charge of email communication is also capable (or working with someone capable) of exporting current email addresses from your firm’s practice management or CRM system. Determine how many different segments of your clientele need to be isolated for unique messaging and be sure you have the ability to export lists accordingly. Depending on the available integrations between your email platform and CRM system, you can also explore creating dynamic lists that automatically remove or suppress clients from future reminders after they complete their required actions and even move them to new lists that give reminders of the next required steps in the tax filing journey. This can run the course from document submission reminders to requests for signatures on completed returns and solicitation of online reviews after filing is complete.
  3. Always be marketing—You’ll be in direct contact with more clients than any other time of year, so use the occasion as a touchpoint to upsell additional services to them. If you use ClientView™ on the Rightworks platform, you have a real advantage here; you can see at a glance which products and services clients are using and where opportunities exist to bring it to the next level. Use list segmentation to sort clients into various messaging plans.

Setting up detailed marketing automation plans and pathways can quickly grow into a complex chunk of work. But keep in mind that putting even a rudimentary automation in place can help you focus on other important things during busy season, while providing assurance that messages will reach your clients in a timely manner. You’ll create a better experience for them—and you—during the most challenging time of year.

The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning
by Paul Bloom

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman

All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business
by Mel Brooks

What we’re working on

Annual member survey

Firm owners: Please be on the lookout for the fourth annual member survey, which will be coming out in early January. We appreciate your feedback.

Coming soon, Mastermind Group #4!

We currently have three Mastermind Groups going, and are looking to start a fourth group in late January.

If you’re a firm partner whose firm has been a Rightworks Academy member for at least one year, and you’re interested in monthly Zoom small group discussions with 5-10 other firm owners (which includes sharing financial information with other group members), please apply here:

The fee is $500 per month. Groups are facilitated by Rightworks Academy members.

Upcoming webinars

  • January 5: Staff training: Getting ready for busy season Part 2
  • January 11: Winter cybersecurity webinar
  • January 12: Staff training: Measuring your progress during tax season
  • January 13: Staff training: Using Onvio to manage tax season efficiently
  • January 19: Staff training: Optimize your firm’s Google My Business and define review strategy

See the entire webinar schedule and register at Resources > Events > Webinars in your account.

Member anniversaries

It’s time to recognize the January Rightworks Academy member anniversaries! Help us wish the following firms a Happy Rightworks Anniversary:

One Year
Leung Tax Consulting Inc.
Marchini Banuelos Advisors, Inc.
Burgmaier & Associates, Inc.
Joshua J Podczervinski, CPA, P.C.
Alvarez Tax Service LLC
J Michale Haubert, CPA, PC

Five Years
Hildebrand, Limparis & Associates
Culver, PLLC
Connally & Associates, P.C.

Congratulations on your success, and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with you and your teams!