Managing Your Firm's Software Subscriptions
The capabilities of software have expanded dramatically over the past 20 years. Thanks to advances in fields like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and even user interface (UI) design, entrepreneurs and professionals have access to more apps and platforms than ever to manage their departments and get more done.
The software as a service (SaaS) model has become extraordinarily popular, with most new software companies opting to charge customers a recurring subscription rate (either monthly or annually) in exchange for access to the app, rather than a one-time fee for a license. This ultimately ends up being advantageous for both the development company and the customer, since software requires significant upkeep and regular updates to remain functional and efficient.
However, this also means you need to be careful how you manage your firm’s software subscription, or else they could end up jeopardizing the efficiency of your operation.
The Cumulative Costs of Software Subscriptions
One of the dangers here is the accumulation of software subscription costs. It’s easy to be tempted into buying new apps as they become available, especially if they make bold promises like being able to save you hours of time, or helping your business with new functions. To make matters more complicated, introductory rates are usually attractive, and long-term rates often seem manageable by themselves.
Over time, these costs add up; even if you’re only paying $100 a month for each app you use for your business, if you have 10 apps running for various functions and business needs, that can quickly add up to $1,000 or more. This forces you to pay close attention to which apps you add to your list of services, and only take on new software or services that truly add value to your organization.
You’ll also need to consider how your software programs interact with each other. You’re likely managing many types of data on your customers and their accounting information, but you may need multiple apps to keep everything straight. Do you have the capacity to migrate your customer data from one app into another? If not, how are you going to keep everything organized? Integrating new software to your existing processes requires you to think carefully about the prospect of integration, and potentially avoid software with compatibility issues.
Redundant Features and Overlapping Functions
In general, it’s better to use as few software programs as possible to maximize the efficiency of your accounting firm. More software programs means you’ll pay more, your computer will use more resources (slowing it down), you’ll have more platforms to learn, and you’ll have more opportunities for discrepancies. But how can you tell when a new app or program isn’t worth it?
One key factor here is the presence of redundant features or functions. Do you have two apps that serve the same purpose? Or do you have the same business function (like managing your business expenses) handled as a secondary feature of several different pieces of software?
UI and Employee Training
Consider the quality of the user interface (UI) of each of your apps, and how easy those platforms are to use. If you have employees, do they seem to pick up on the ins and outs of the platform quickly, or do they require additional training to get the gist of things? On the surface, an app might seem like it’s well worth the investment, but if it doesn’t run smoothly or if it’s agonizingly difficult to learn and teach, it may not be worth keeping around.
Process Documentation and Consistency
The best apps are ones that allow you to work consistently; otherwise, you may set yourself up for more problems than you solve. For example, you’ll need to keep your clients’ information stored in a consistent format, and all in the same location within an app. If you have multiple apps involved in the process, or if you use apps with no clear, built-in process for logging and ongoing management, things can get complicated fast. Either selectively choose apps with built-in documentation and consistent processes to follow, or draft some of your own. Get rid of software subscriptions that make this unnecessarily complicated.
Customer Service and Support
Your subscription isn’t just for the app itself; it should also be going to sustaining a customer service team. If you or one of your clients has a question that needs to be answered, or if you run into technical difficulties, you should have confidence that a customer service representative or account manager will have your back. If you run into multiple technical problems with a piece of software, but there isn’t sufficient customer service to help you resolve them, it may be time to remove the app from your lineup.
Key Tips for Success
Attention to these broad categories can help you better understand the role and functionality of software for your accounting firm. These tips will help you manage them more effectively:
- Evaluate needs before shopping. There are two high-level approaches to subscribing to new software services. The first is recognizing a need in your organization, then shopping for services that could help you address that need. The second is becoming aware of services already on the market, and brainstorming how your business can best use them. The former is, by far, the more efficient route to take; it can prevent you from making impulsive decisions, and will ensure all your choices are rooted in a measurable, actual need.
- Prioritize comprehensive apps. Software apps range from offering niche functionality to being comprehensive, offering dozens to hundreds of functions in one. Specialist niche apps tend to perform very well in their area of expertise, but more general, more comprehensive apps tend to offer more for less overall cost. It’s also easier to manage one big app than dozens of little ones. Every business will need something different, but try to gravitate toward more comprehensive, high-level services.
- Pay attention to updates and upgrades. Technology gets iteratively better. If your software is managed by skilled, attentive developers, they should be constantly tweaking it to improve it for accounting firms like yours. If updates are slow, or worse, nonexistent, you’ll have to look elsewhere for the new features and more efficient UI you need to stay competitive in the industry.
- Be mindful of long-term costs and ROI. You might have signed up for the software with a special deal for new customers, but how much is this app costing you in the long term? This serves you well when you compare it to the raw value that the software returns to you; for example, how many hours a day does this app save you? Does it lead to higher rates of customer retention?
- Conduct regular audits and “spring cleaning.” Just because an app seems like it’s a good investment from the outset doesn’t mean it’s going to be for the indefinite future. Periodically, revisit all your software subscriptions and audit them. Ask yourself, how often do you use this app? When you use it, does it seem efficient or do you feel like you’re wasting time? Are there any new apps that might do this better? How much are you currently paying? Don’t be afraid to cancel subscriptions of apps that are no longer working as you intended, or at least consider trying out new software in the same niche.
Keeping the right software subscriptions and vendors in your portfolio is key if you want your accounting firm to be successful. This is especially true if you take advantage of tax preparation outsourcing to help your clients complete their tax returns faster.
If you’re interested in learning how Taxfyle can help you get the most out of your software subscriptions with the best tax preparation outsourcing software in the industry, request a free demo of our app today!