To get the most out of a conference you plan to attend you should always have an idea of what you want to accomplish. For last month’s Sleeter Conference I had a few goals. One was to get some ideas for articles! Others included looking for software that would help my clients, and of equal importance, networking with my peers.
While the classes were great and I learned a lot, I noticed some things that seemed most prevalent on the trade show floor. First was the abundance of vendors from “down under”; software representatives from Australia and New Zealand were present in great numbers. They included products such as Deputy – staff management including time and attendance, and PracticeIgnition – manage client relationships and automate back-office processes. Two vendors were distributing Tim Tams, a delicious Australian cookie, to conference participants….”I think I saw Murph eating handfuls at a time.”
Clearly there were two top “themes” of software being promoted at the conference. Automating data entry and KPI reporting. The majority of vendor offerings fell into one of these two categories.
A large number of products to help with Automating Data Entry is not surprising. There’s been talk for a long time about the changing role of accountants and that manual data entry is going away. Both Doug Sleeter and Joe Woodard have been extremely vocal in this arena. From making it easier for users to enter their time (BigTime, TSheets) and expenses (Concur, Expensify, Tallie) to products that help you manage your bills and paper (HubDoc, BillZoom, Bill.com), the offerings were present at this conference to help reduce the basic data entry processes.
Once you have data in your accounting software it is important to put that information to good use. Paying bills and collecting receivables is important but they don’t tell you how the business is doing. Accountants and others who understand the numbers often look to business analytics comprised of different ratios and calculations to understand a business.
These Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can give you early warnings on the good and the bad within any business.There are now a number of offerings that can help firms understand the numbers and visually see performance. Products like LIvePlan, BizTools, EssentialCFO, Insperity and Finagraph, to name a few, give you and your clients insights into the business. These programs offer a variety of options. Most use dashboards to show how the business is performing over time and compared to other businesses. They may also different KPI measurements with descriptions of what those measurements mean. Some programs offer the ability to design your own measurements and to create extensive customized reports.
I recommend thinking about what information would be most valuable to your clients and then trying some of the products so you can determine what the best solution is for you or your client(s). Almost all of these vendors offer trial versions and regular webinars to show you how their products work. Many of the planning software programs are cloud based. And more and more of the products are now integrating with both QuickBooks (desktop versions) and QuickBooks Online.
If you want to use QuickBooks desktop but would prefer the advantages of anywhere, anytime cloud access, then you should start exploring hosting companies. These vendors had another major presence at the conference. They included Cloud9 Real Time, Itopia, Right Networks and Skyline Cloud Services by Uni-Data.While all of these companies offer to host your QuickBooks database files, there are differences in both how and what functionality they offer. One important area is what products they can communicate with. So before you choose a hosting solution think about what add-ons you are going to use. Whether it is one of the add-ons listed above or some other program, you need to make sure you select a company that can meet your long term needs. While you can change providers there is almost always a cost in both time and expense.
In summary, the marketplace for products to help you get more out of QuickBooks is huge and growing. Think about your needs and those of your clients and then find the solutions that will help you and your clients move ahead.