Whether you’re just getting started and don’t have a lot to invest in a traditional brick-and-mortar office set-up or you’re a seasoned veteran making money hand over fist, setting up your own virtual tax office could be a strong choice for you and your tax preparation business. Having a virtual tax office will make it possible for you to:
- Operate leaner and more efficiently, helping you reduce costs and increase profit margins
- Be more responsive to clients with cloud-based software you can access from anywhere (rather than having to “get back to your desk”)
- Keep from going crazy with some of the day-to-day office tasks that can be either automated with tax practice management software or that can be streamlined with cloud-based software and software-as-a-service (SaaS)
- Attract new customers who appreciate how up-to-date and secure your virtual office is and how easy you are to work with as a result
Even if you decide to get physical office space later, or you already have physical office space, setting up your office with the technology to be a virtual tax office is likely to improve communication with your clients.
BONUS: You and any staff you hire will also have more flexibility to work from anywhere and as needed. Imagine if your office manager can answer the phone and set appointments from a mobile phone while taking his or her kids to soccer practice! So many people look for and really value flexibility in their jobs. You may be able to attract better employees (and earn their loyalty) by being able to offer the flexibility and work-life balance that a virtual tax office has the potential to give. You also aren’t limited by your geography. You could hire the most talented people from anywhere in the world!
So, what are the 3 best practices for setting up your own virtual tax preparation office? How can you make a virtual tax prep office really work for you and anyone you hire?
Start with a Vision of What Kind of Office You Want
It may sound a little hokey, and you’ll see this advice in a lot of places, but it’s very true. We’ve even written about it here at The Income Tax School. You have to know the kind of business and the kind of office you want in order to decide if you want a virtual office, a physical office, an office that answers calls late into the night or not…just to name a few decisions.
As you envision the kind of virtual office you want, think about:
- Will I be the boss in charge of staff, or do I want to be independent and fly solo?
- If I’m going to have employees, will I be a hands-on boss and owner, helping with client returns and doing the work alongside my employees, or do I want to let them do all the work while I manage with a light touch (possibly from the golf course)?
- What kind of clients (and how many) do I want to take on?
- What hours will I make myself and the business available to clients?
- How important will it be for me to meet face to face with clients – and how often?
The overarching question you have to ask yourself is, “What kind of life do I want?” Then, you ask, “How do I see my tax preparation business fitting into and supporting the life I want?”
Once you answer those questions, you will be better able to answer those more detailed questions about how you want your virtual tax prep office to function.
Choose the Technology That Will Support You and Your Vision
You have more choices than ever when it comes to the technology you’ll use in your virtual office. So where do you even begin?
When you’re evaluating your technology options, keep these important points in mind.
- First, consider how reliable and fast your Internet connection is. If you don’t have a high-speed connection, having a large number of complex cloud-based programs may be a very poor choice for running your services efficiently.
- Along those same lines, make sure your devices – from computers to mobile phones – can handle the software you’ve chosen to use and that everything is compatible.
- If you’re technologically inclined, you can piece together online software options for your virtual tax office. Google Drive has a whole suite of programs that can be used for free or very cheaply for businesses. Just make sure whatever you choose, that they really work for your office and the type of clients you will serve. For example, don’t keep using a cheap tax filing program just because of the cost. Really way your options for what you need. If you have to develop workarounds to make it fit into your workflow, you’re not saving any time or money that way. Choose the programs that are really functional for your workload and how you operate, and make sure everything is compatible. Read more about choosing tax software here.
- Use programs that allow you to communicate with your clients confidentially and protect their personal identifiable information (PII). For example, you may want a way to send and receive encrypted emails or to add passwords to confidential PDFs you send to clients. Consider a program that can allow clients to sign documents over the Internet, such as DocuSign or a similar service.
- If piecing together software is too cumbersome, consider choosing a cloud-based service specifically designed for virtual tax offices, such as Canopy, Vertex Indirect Tax O Series, or PitBullTax. (We don’t endorse any one product, but Capterra is a good place to start your virtual tax office software research). There are also accounting software and enterprise resources planning (ERP) tools out there that could be set up for your own purposes, such as Zoho and NetSuite (although NetSuite tends to be more useful for bigger operations).
One big advantage you get from using cloud-based programs is you don’t have to duplicate tasks across devices. For example, if your phone and computer both use the same cloud-based email provider, once you delete an email, it’s gone. You don’t have to sync your equipment or spend extra time deleting emails from both devices.
Use Your New Office Set-up to Provide Superior Service
Now that your virtual tax management practice is set up, use it to your advantage to provide superior service to your clients! Now, you’ll be able to work from anywhere, such as from clients’ offices or while traveling. The added benefit of being able to work from anywhere is that you can be more responsive to clients.
Instant messaging programs can enhance communication between you and your employees, so when any of you have a question, you can reach out to each other for a quick response.
Being on the cloud will let you share files with employees and clients, making collaboration easier.
Virtual meeting software can let you still meet face to face, thanks to webcams, and even participate in continuing education webinars together.
Setting up your tax management practice as a virtual office has the potential to make you more efficient, which could mean more time to see more clients and fewer frustrations for you and your staff. Could this be the right next step for you? Use this guide to start exploring your options.