The Value of Cloud-Based Accounting and Virtual Firms with Jennifer Brazer

Gusto Editors

Is your accounting firm living up to its full potential?

With modern cloud accounting tools and workflows, firms can now serve their clients from anywhere. Rather than only assisting businesses in your city, you can expand your outreach to increase your client base and revenue. 

Here at Gusto, we aim to give accountants the best tools for success. That’s why we presented an informative video series all about cloud-based accounting and the future of the accounting industry. Our On the Margins: LIVE video on January 19, 2021, featured three notable experts in the accounting industry who presented invaluable information on the future of accounting. It featured Caleb Newquist, Gusto’s Editor-at-Large, Will Lopez, the head of Gusto’s accountant community, and Jennifer Brazer, CEO and founder of Complete Controller, which is an ahead-of-its-time virtual bookkeeping company.  

In this article, you’ll learn all about virtual accounting services, why many accountants resist offering cloud-based services, and the benefits of virtual accounting. 

Providing virtual accounting services

Jennifer Brazer released her book, From Cubicle to Cloud: How to Start and Scale a Virtual Professional Service Business, on January 26, 2021, and she offered key insights that she expounds upon in her book. She started her company, Complete Controller, in 2007, long before remote workflows were commonplace. The company provides bookkeeping services and emphasizes virtual accounting. 

Jennifer’s book aims to give edifying insights into finding success with virtual workspaces in accounting and other industries. She believes that soon more professional service industries will assist clients virtually: 

“What I’m doing with the book is trying to share [insights] with the [professional services] community and not just accountants. I think that we’re going to see many professional services moving into virtual service, creating service menus that can be [used without] geo-constraints, and they can provide [services] to a larger market. … [You can also] hire from a larger market.”

Jennifer Brazer

With virtual work, you can provide services to clients regardless of their location, and you can hire talent from anywhere, enabling you to find the most qualified professionals. 

Because of her years of experience working in remote bookkeeping, Jennifer has a plethora of knowledge on best practices and potential problems when it comes to adopting virtual accounting. She noted one common issue that firms run into when becoming virtual is decreased efficiency and quality control:

“Everything we do is following a project management timeline, and I think that’s something that firms are going to run into as they virtualize. [Virtual firms will] save money on rent, but they may find that efficiency falls, [and] they may find that quality control falls.”

Jennifer Brazer
Businesswoman sitting at her workplace and typing on laptop.

One way you can increase your firm’s efficiency when virtualizing is using project management software like Trello or Asana.  

Jennifer noted that an optimal way accounting firms can start virtualizing their services is through their client accounting services (CAS) departments. 

“If you’re thinking of virtualizing something, one of the things you might consider is virtualizing the CAS department because bookkeeping and management actually gives you insight into your clients that will allow you to be able to generate revenue in other areas, … and [it can] actually become this kind of revenue center that pumps blood to the rest of the firm.”

Jennifer Brazer

You can transition into virtualizing by starting with your CAS department to increase your firm’s revenue. 

Why CPAs have reservations about cloud-based accounting services

Back when Jennifer Brazer was first starting her company, she had difficulty convincing accountants that virtual bookkeeping was viable and legitimate: 

“[When] doing something that is completely against the traditional model, there’s that curve that you have to go through, especially since in client accounting services, we’re really dealing closely with clients’ CPAs. We had a lot of CPAs that really [criticized] the idea of us being virtual. … We are not an industry that changes quickly, easily, or without a lot of contemplation.”

Jennifer Brazer

One concern that accountants had at the time and still have today has to do with security concerns. They rightfully want to protect their clients, so they’re hesitant about working in the cloud:

“CPAs are really big on security. They know that whatever they interact with has to be held to a certain … standard, and they want to protect their clients. They didn’t understand what we were offering. They didn’t understand what their clients were getting into. Their first reaction was caution.”

Jennifer Brazer

Accountants also took issue with the idea of interacting with clients remotely. They feared that they wouldn’t be able to advise them effectively: 

“They felt like if you can’t sit in the room with the [client], you can’t ask questions until your questions run dry. … How do you really know that they’re a legitimate business? How do you advise them? How do you understand their internal processes? All of these things are necessary to us [for] doing a good job and properly reflecting the performance of a business in the reports and in the returns.”

Jennifer Brazer

But, virtual accountants can absolutely have effective professional relationships with clients through remote communication and by using tools for tracking key performance indicators (KPIs): 

“Accountants are going to find that they need to have a mode or method of communication with their clients that allows them to notice certain KPIs about that client and then … [contact them and say], ‘Hey, I noticed [something]. Would you like to talk about it?’ or feed them advice, or maybe even [give them a] referral based on that information. … Know your clients well enough to communicate directly to them and push information to them that they need.”

Jennifer Brazer

Although transitioning to virtual accounting may seem challenging for maintaining your professional relationships with clients, you can continue offering expert services without meeting them in person. 

Becoming a virtual accounting firm

Businessman working on laptop while having a call with client.

Although many firms are hesitant to switch to the cloud and assist clients remotely, virtual accounting has many advantages. One clear advantage is that you can begin serving clients outside of your immediate geographic area. Rather than only helping businesses in your city, you can assist companies around the country or even the world. 

“If you want to go virtual, one of the cool things is you no longer have these geo constraints, so you’re no longer just serving a small clientele in Fort Lauderdale [for example]. This constraint now [is gone], … and the world is open to you.”

Jennifer Brazer

With your ability to serve clients from anywhere, you no longer need to compete with other accounting firms in your city. Will noted that he started gaining a lot more accounting work when he stopped focusing specifically on the businesses in his city and expanded his outreach nationally:

The thought dawned on me [that], ‘Wow, I don’t need to compete in the area. I can just compete around the United States and be great at that.’ [The] next thing I knew, business was just flowing in at a faster rate than my local counterparts.”

Will Lopez

In addition to serving clients from anywhere, virtual firms can also recruit expert accountants and marketers regardless of their location: 

“I was headquartered in California. Do you know how fabulous it was when I finally realized, ‘What am I doing hiring people from California?’ … I could pay exactly the same amount to somebody in Arkansas or Indiana or Wyoming who is a qualified accountant who has small business experience and will bring me all kinds of efficiency, and for them, they’re never going to leave.”

Jennifer Brazer

You can offer competitive rates for people who may be located in areas where accounting is not in as high of a demand. The cost of living is lower in certain parts of the country, and you can offer an incredibly competitive rate compared to the accounting firms that are in their geographic areas:

“[There may not be a] job that pays this much on the block, [or maybe] there’s not even a firm nearby. Maybe they’re out in [a] rural area, and now they can put their expertise to work for me and my clients.”

Jennifer Brazer

With virtual accounting, you can bring more value to your firm by hiring the most qualified accountants who may not live in your city. 

Learn more about cloud-based accounting

Virtual accounting has many advantages including more flexibility with hiring and assisting clients from around the globe. Although your firm may have difficulty getting started with cloud-based accounting, you can implement project management software and transition by virtualizing your client accounting services (CAS) department. 

If you want to learn more about cloud-based accounting, watch the entire On the Margins: LIVE video here. You can also read Part One of this webinar series to learn about different accounting trends that can help you succeed in the virtual age.

Looking for the most optimal way to assist clients virtually? Consider becoming a Gusto partner. With Gusto, you get exclusive access to tools and resources to support your clients remotely, and you can streamline payroll and benefits to bring even more value to your firm’s services. Learn more about partnering with Gusto here.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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