This week I want to dive into how you can start automating your firm.
Here is a quick note before we get going.
Automations and apps are incredible tools for increasing profitability, attracting good clients and finding great talent.
However, it is not a silver bullet. Automation is only powerful when combined with a broader approach to building the firm you want.
Automation will not fix your firm. It is part of the solution.
Disclaimer over –
I first cut my teeth with automation, building a set of forms for individual tax returns. I wanted a way to collect taxpayer information quickly that was scalable and accessible on a mobile device.
From day one, I made all parts of my firm accessible by phone. In my mind, an incredible client experience did not include any app that was not mobile-friendly.
The initial forms I created were cumbersome – but I learned how automation and forms, in particular, could change every part of my firm.
External forms are used on your website or other landing pages. They are the entrance for your client’s data into your firm. These forms need to be straightforward, removing all friction.
If you subscribe to this newsletter, you used an external form.
Those external forms are connected to other online tools that move data. They’re used to create email lists, trigger other automation, and communicate with your team.
If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:
Think data flow and not data entry.
An external form is a gateway to getting your client information into your data flow. Systems and automations that move that data around easily will drastically reduce time and errors.
Here are three form builders that you can start to use right away in your firm.
Type Form is a fancy form builder designed for a better user experience.
It works well with Zapier and Make (formally Integromat), so moving the collected data around is easy.
Jotform is robust and, like most form builders, connects to all your tools through a decent list of integration partners.
You can quickly create and send a form to a client or potential client without wasting any time.
Although Gravity forms was not the first form builder I used, it is the last firm builder I used. This form builder is more advanced as it requires a WordPress website to embed the form.
It allows you to embed the code into your website, so the form is branded on your website, generating more confidence in you and your firm.
Easily my favorite builder due to its extensive features.
With all of these form builders, you can do an almost unlimited number of automated tasks, using an automator in between.
Protecting Client Data
I made the mistake of having a complicated form as the first step when onboarding a new 1040 tax client. Almost no one completed the form because it asked for every sensitive personal detail for an individual tax return.
I needed the information to complete the return, but how I requested it was insecure, and my clients knew it.
External forms should ask for limited information: Name and email address. This is the most secure way to start collecting information but also a marketing tactic to reduce the barriers to sign up.
Once that is received, you can send them an automated encrypted form or invitation for a secure place to enter their other information.
For the final two tax seasons, I ran my firm using this on boarding workflow for new clients:
Internal and Portal Forms
Your team can use these same form builders for internal purposes.
Forms can be connected to PDF builders so that you can create generic tax forms in bulk. This replaces using fillable PDFs that are prone to errors and time-consuming.
My favorite form to PDF automation was my team rattling off a bunch of 8821 Forms in succession without having to get into the tax prep software. Tens of hours of time were saved.
Team members can use internal forms on secure websites or portals, reducing errors and time.
With the right configuration, you can create a firm intranet that gives your whole team secure access to your forms and tools.
I am not going to get into portals too much here. That’s for another newsletter. Portals get a bad rap for being clunky, but they are necessary – portals let your clients and team work better together in a secure environment.
I am at the end here – There is a lot to talk about when it comes to automating your processes, but hopefully, this will give you a jumping-off point to a more efficient firm.
Build The Firm You Want,