payroll software on a tabletThis month officially marks my first year working as a cloud-based bookkeeper. I went from a 20- minute commute on icy snow-covered roads in Michigan, to a 10-second walk from my bedroom to my office. I have traded business slacks for comfy blue jeans. Instead of gulping cold lunches while working in my cubicle, I enjoy homemade cooked lunches from the comfort of my kitchen.  It’s been a wonderful transition.  

A lot of my accounting background up to this point has been very “old-school”. I’ve always worked in an office, with an accounting team, in a traditional accounting framework. In those instances, the accounting ecosystem for the company was driven purely by people. You had an employee that handled collections; one that managed payroll and HR; one for payables, etc. “Separation of duties” was the principle drummed into my head repeatedly. So, while each team member had one facet that they focused on, everyone worked in a single desktop software system, and you worked in the same office.

The first time I ever heard of the word “telecommuting”, it was in reference to several articles stating that major tech companies were cutting back on the practice. I figured that doing accounting remotely wasn’t in my future. I was happily mistaken.

Technology has fundamentally changed the accounting profession. Virtual accounting and bookkeeping firms exist with employees working from anywhere in the world. In addition to offering financial advisory services, cloud-based accountants and bookkeepers are expected to be extremely tech-literate. We have to be knowledgeable about various software applications and how they can integrate to perform the same functions handled by a full in-house accounting department.

Our firm, Beyond Balanced Books, Inc., uses Xero. It’s an excellent cloud-based platform that allows small business owners to access their accounting data 24/7/365, on any device. Instead of being stuck in an office, we focus on customer relationships, on innovation, and on scalability. It’s a beautiful thing.

I recently read an accounting blog about workflow that contained a very helpful piece of advice:

“Never push an automatic task to a human being. It’s not a nice thing to do…”, it’s not cost effective, and you open your system up to human errors”.

And it’s true. Small businesses have a greater chance of success when you can create an ecosystem of cloud-based services that solve their major pain points and do so with accuracy. Rather than using a person to handle a time consuming and mindless process, we need to create ecosystems that leverage “machine learning” to automate tasks wherever possible.

Let me give you some examples: Is your pain point paying bills?  An app like Bill.com can automate bill payment. You can upload bills remotely and set up an approval process that alerts different people in your organization. Are you traveling consultant that needs to track credit card receipts? Receipt Bank helps to track and organize receipts for travel, subscriptions, and restaurants simply by taking a photo on your phone.

Ecosystems will always be necessary with accounting. You have to bring in a number of moving parts to create a whole. With the cloud, this can be done better than ever before, even if you’re an accountant or bookkeeper working from a home office in your pajamas.  (Just kidding…maybe!)