As an accounting professional, it’s likely that providing excellent service to your clients revolves more around being up to date on the latest tax codes than exercising your project management skills. However, the landscape for accounting practice management is changing. With the advent of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions designed specifically for small- and medium-sized businesses, it may be time to consider taking a new approach with the help of a CRM solution with project management features baked in. Editor’s Note: See the special offer below.

Project Management Defined

What is project management within the context of an accounting practice? At its core, project management can be defined as a client-centric process that enhances your ability to provide the service and results your clients expect.

Because you must adhere to specifics, such as maintaining a paper trail along with accountability and adherence to hundreds of tax laws and complex regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, most accounting assignments definitely qualify as projects.

In accounting, creating a project would require you to produce a set of client-specific deliverables, such as a tax return, a cash flow projection or an audit. Because there is no such thing as a truly generic tax return or run-of-the-mill audit, each of your projects will have its own different set of goals. Likewise, each project will even have the influence of each client’s personality.

Getting Buy-In

Introducing project management processes into your practice via CRM doesn’t happen overnight. The best CRM is the one that gets used. CRM implementations fail routinely, and while there are any numbers of factors that impact CRM success, the most cited reason a CRM fails to deliver the expected results is simply lack of use/adoption issues. Before you begin the CRM selection process, meet with your constituents and gather their input by asking them what they feel the “must-have” features are, versus those that are nice-to-have but not essential.

The Selection

With limited resources, you should look for solutions that solve as many problems as possible, enhance productivity and streamline workflow. You don’t have the time or budget to waste on technology investments that don’t return value.

When you’re ready to begin the selection process, focus your efforts on finding a proven CRM solution that’s designed to grow and change with your needs without being too complex or costly. Often, a company purchases a heavyweight CRM full of exciting features that it doesn’t actually need, or the tool is overly complex and difficult to learn. In each case, the company ends up with a potentially costly solution that doesn’t get used enough to return the anticipated value. So, what functionality matters to accountants when considering a CRM system? Here are a few things to put on your shortlist:

Workflow automation – Good CRM is about more than simply tracking contacts and activities. Workflow automation allows managers to automatically assign tasks to employees when a certain point in the project is reached, ensuring tasks and opportunities continue to move ahead.

Reporting – Some of the big CRMs offer highly customizable reporting options, but they come with a high price tag. Skip the complex reports, and instead, focus on learning from the most valuable reports, such as completed projects and overdue events or stages within a predefined stage of a project.

Billing and payments – One of the biggest challenges accounting firms face is overdue payments from customers. CRMs that integrate with leading financial management tools, such as Xero and QuickBooks® Online, can help automate billing activity and monitor overdue payments, giving growing businesses an advantage.

The Payoff

With good project management processes in place, your accounting firm will get a leg-up on planning resources more effectively, ensuring that every client project is completed and delivered in a timely manner. At first glance, CRM may not seem a natural fit for accounting. However, when properly implemented, a CRM solution that supports project management can provide your firm with a competitive differentiation.

Special Offer: Check out the Insightly + QBO integration by signing up for a free Insightly account or a free 14 day trial of our premium plans. If you decide to upgrade to a premium Insightly plan from a free account or a 14 day free trial, use coupon code M15off3X and receive 15% off the first 3 months of any paid plan.  Offer expires Expires 11/30/15.

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