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Anyone here run a virtual firm?

I have been running a virtual firm for a while and I understand that TaxCycle does a better job in that space than some of the other software providers. I am not currently using TaxCycle but I am just wondering how it supports a virtual firm/remote firm. I have read the documentation about storing the data on a network drive so that is helpful.

I currently have a ‘server’ just to handle the tax software – it is becoming a pain to continue to operate. My concern has always been having remote staff install software on their own machines which is why I have the server.

Just curious as how others are dealing with this or what kind of options TaxCycle has. I assume there isn’t a cloud option just yet.

Would love to get some insights – too late for this year but for next years planning.

Thanks
Michelle

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I guess we’re all a bit virtual this tax season. I don’t operate with remote users, other than myself from home, so I can’t speak with any experience on your plans. I would think that the easiest way to operate virtually is to have the remote worker go through a VPN and use the software and data on your system. I have a Synology NAS which has all the data. I access my desktop remotely and can access all the programs and data as if I was at my office. A half-decent tech person could set this up for one of your remote workers. You control the software and the data, as much as possible. I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a software license for someone who would be installing it on their own computer outside the office and taking my data outside the office.

I have always run my practice virtually. My assistant lives in Oliver BC while I am in West Kelowna - a good hour at least away. He has copies of the software (TaxCycle and Adobe) on his computer and the data files are all in dropbox sorted by client so we both have access to everything and it is always current regardless of who last worked on the file. I only share the clients that he is working on with him partly to limit access to data that he is not working on and partly because his dropbox size is somewhat limited and can’t handle much more that the files he is currently working on. It works well for me.

Very interesting topic! Just out of curiosity, for those of you who run virtual firms, how do you get business clients to submit documents like receipts etc.? Do you ask them to mail all of them, scan and upload all of them or maybe just ask for the important ones if they give you totals for filing the taxes?

@killerbeedee If they are also bookkeeping clients they would have submitted their receipts via receiptbank or hubdoc. If not many of them scan and upload to my client Portal (sharefile). I have a few legacy clients that drop off their paperwork to me and I scan that up to the cloud. They do get charged a ‘paper’ handling fee for this. I am not accepting any more paper based clients.

@laurie. I have been avoiding giving software to staff/contractors and having them work off their computer. Can he work directly off of DropBox or does he have to copy the files to his local computer? Having copies of my client data on someone else’s machine makes me quite uncomfortable from a privacy point of view.

@kevin I have tried both the VPN and the virtual server (V2Cloud). They work OK. My virtual server got hacked with Ransomware so I went back to the VPN and Server but that is more maintenance for me. In my happy place all the software would be in the cloud so I don’t have to worry about dealing with all this desktop software.

@killbeedee Most of my clients scan their documents in and upload to dropbox or send it via email. Self employed and rental tends to be an income statement summary not individual receipts. I have very few of those however. I have a few that drop off stuff that I have to then scan in which is a royal pain so I discourage this by charging a $100 scanning fee when there is more than one or two pages.

@dufordcpa - The tax data files are in dropbox which do copy to his computer but are deleted from his computer when I remove permission from that dropbox folder after he is done. Either you trust your assistants or you don’t have assistants that work remotely. I am not certain whether you could run the tax file directly from Dropbox over the web without ever copying it to your computer. I too would prefer cloud based software for dealing with assistants.

I think it was @evan that told me a few years ago at a PD seminar his firm was using a Canadian company for Application Hosting or Saas (Software as a Service) or Hosted Terminal Services. They would install all of the software you had licences for on their server and you could log in and run any of your licenced software from anywhere in the world. I forget the name of that company now, but if he reads this topic he may chime in.

I was going to look into it at the time, but we still rely fairly heavily on some home written software as well as some old Dos applications (pre 1990 T1 Software) that can be a challenge to get to play nice in a Windows environment. I still have a Windows98 box running on the network for those occasions when only Dos 6.1 will do. :wink:

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I still own a fiuctional XP Laptop

I think the cloud server was the single best “infrastructure” move I have ever made. I have been using Welcome Networks since June 2014. All of our software and data files sit on their server. Our local machines only require access to the internet and printer drivers. We open our emails and everything after we are on the cloud server. As attachments come in, we save them like we would to their respective locations. When we’re on the cloud, the file structure is like any computer or server.

We use sharefile as our portal for larger files and downloads thru our website. Again, because I access sharefile while on the cloud server, downloading from sharefile is just like downloading on a local machine/server. I use Caseware, Client Track, TaxCycle, QB, and Microsoft Office (and Profile as I used it up until 2014 and still do from time to time).

I work from south Texas four months every year and it’s no different than working from my office. In fact, with Covid, we are all working form home. We use Google for email, calendars, and hangouts. We chat to each other all day thru hangouts. I can pop in and look at files when staff questions come up.

I work with three monitors but Welcome Networks detects the number of monitors and adapts each time you open it. The real benefit is with software issues/upgrades. When I see that TaxCycle has an update, I send an email to Welcome Networks. By morning, I’ll get an email saying it’s fixed. When QB sends the next year version, I forward the email to Welcome Networks and the next day it’s up and running. If we have software issues, they contact the software company and work it out. Some say I must be a technical guru working like this. The fact is I don’t understand computers and I don’t want to. I’d rather just pay somebody to look after that stuff.

If I hire somebody, they set me up within 24 hours. I have to prove I have licences. Likewise, if I terminate somebody, they shut it down immediately. You pay by the user. A local PC crashes, within an hour I go to Staples and replace it and I’m back up and running. The best part is, all of the preferences in all of the software remain unchanged just because your local machine died. I just bought a small practice the end of December this year (about 600 T1s). That office is 20 miles away. But when I’m sitting there, I am working just like I would from my home office.

We also use internet phones (Ring Central). So we all took our handsets home with us. We can see when others are on the line, we still transfer calls, extensions remain the same, etc. I did that for when I went to Texas too. Most of my clients don’t even realize I’m in Texas when I’m talking to them and going over their files. That came in handy during this outbreak too and when I’m in the second office.

I am pleased with this setup. No regrets at all. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I have been using Welcome Networks since Evan told me about 5 years ago and we are extremely happy, we are in the process of switching over to Ring
Central for the phones.

Thanks Evan

Stay safe.

image001.jpg

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Thanks for that Evan… you described it way better than I could. :slightly_smiling_face: I was hoping you might reply because “Welcome Networks” was sitting on the tip of my tongue but just couldn’t quite remember their name. Trying to remember the name was bugging me all afternoon. :wink:

I’d say that’s about as virtual as it gets… :smiley:

Can’t get much more virtual than that. Unfortunately, my clients as a whole are not as virtual … but I’m surprised at how many are willing to work towards that this year.

@evan @roberto
How is the internet lag time with Welcome Networks? Have you been monitoring it? I used to work at a firm that had all their software on a server (or server farm) in Regina, operated/maintained by a third party (some kind of SAAS). Some of the offices did not experience much lag time (seemed to be the ones physically closer to the server). But, in the office where I worked (quite a bit further away), I was constantly aggravated by the internet lag - every time I clicked on something it took a second or two for the software to respond. Some days it wasn’t that bad, but other days it was worse.

When I set up my own practice, out of my home (3+ years ago), my productivity improved by at least 50%, because all my software runs on my local machine. So, I’m curious if some SAAS providers have found a way to improve the lag time.

@dufordcpa

Michelle,
For a virtual firm who has the budget the following is an ideal scenario:

  • Hosted apps such as Welcome Network and others.
  • Client upload secure portal such as Citrix ShareFile, SmartVault, and others.
  • Shared document folders such as Citrix ShareFile, SmartVault, and others.
  • Data scrapping apps for tax such as Doxcyle and for bookkeeping such as Receipt Bank, Hubdoc, or Auto Entry
  • Integration to Office 365 or GSuite
  • Zapier Support for automation
  • eSignature app such as DocuSign as a standalone, or, RightSignature with Citrix ShareFile.
  • Practice Management - Quotation/Contract management - workflow such as one of the big apps, or, one of the niche apps such as Dubsado, Practice Ignition, Karbon, and many others, etc
  • CRM - depends on your Practice Management App
  • Communications channels - depends on your workflow - Slack, Google docs, your practice management app.

For sole practitioners or those with only one assistant this can be pared down as follows:-

Shared files and docs - Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or OneDrive with SharePoint Cloud

Combo CRM, Project Mgt, Workflow - Dubsado, combo of apps per Seth David of Nerd Enterprises, or standalone apps such as Teamwork, Insightly, etc.

Outlook desktop for presentation layer

GSuite or Office 365 as engine

Something to house templates and workflows such as OneNote, 17Hats, Dubsado, Asana, Trello, etc

The work is in the details of the implementation and completeness of quality, standards, effectiveness, efficiency, and clear/up-to-date on-demand communications based on templates and workflow.

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Lag time would drive me absolutely nuts. I have no issues. Three years ago, I moved to a small place on Lake Erie (my home). The best we could do was some Bell connection of some sort … 5 over 1. That posed problems. Believe it or not, lag wasn’t too noticeable. It was disconnecting and then would take ten to fifteen seconds to hook back up. That was awful because I didn’t always know at what point I had been booted out. I’m sure it was because the speed was just too slow.

I was able to get some sort of a connection about six weeks ago where it hits an antenna a few miles up the road (but across water). With that, I am 25 over 5. That is the fastest thing we have available at my house (trust me). I have had no problems at all. I stream Sirius all day and my phone goes thru the internet. My wife is usually watching Netflix. I’m a happy camper again. No lag and not getting booted out.

My offices and Texas are a middle selection. I could go faster at all three but I honestly haven’t had to. I forget but I would guess they are 80 over 20. That sometimes runs five of us from one location and most of us are streaming music. Btw, we do stream from the local machine though. But I’ll watch videos like Life in the Tax Lane from the server. If I’m doing a webinar, I do typically access it from my local machine as video can be jumpy from the cloud server. But I set two monitors to the cloud and one to my local machine so I can keep working while the webinar is playing.

That was an important question. Thanks. :slight_smile:

I just thought to add this. I was told the local machine isn’t doing much work so that is why lagging isn’t a problem. The processor is nodding off while I’m working because it’s just sending and receiving screen images. I work with at least four apps open all the time (and sometime more). A local machine would stagger under that load. That is my wording obviously. I don’t understand it in technical terms. lol.

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@dominique.dabolczi. I have quite a bit of that technology already implemented. I have played around with zapier, and at one time had an onboarding sequence set up using Dubdsado, sharefile and QBO.

The challenge is the tax software (and the budget). I am reluctantly back to being a sole practitioner (but would love to have an assistant) and run a virtual firm. Welcome Networks is not in my budget just to run tax software. The tax software is the ‘ONLY’ desktop software I am still dependent on – at this point I haven’t found a viable cloud alternative. Intuit’s ProTax isn’t ready yet in my opinion. I think CCH has a cloud tax offering but the sole practitioner isn’t their market.

It is also quite inconvenient to have to log on to another system JUST to do taxes. I had been using V2Cloud as a virtual server but it got hacked with Ransomware – which really reduced my comfort with them.

Anyway, I am constantly looking at new software and I am often testing things. My background is IT, so if the technology is there I can usually make it work.

Thanks for your feedback!

I’m looking to be a 100% virtual firm within the next year, if not by the end of this pandemic.

Moving my ledger system to Xero (Cloud based) from NewViews
Moving my working papers to WorkPapers (Cloud based) from Caseware
Already using Office 365, which is cloud aware and its future is cloud
Using UnitedCloud for VOIP

And that just leaves tax software. I’m going to look at using Sharepoint or Azure or DropBox to store Tax\Doxcycle files and how Taxcycle Client manager server works with them. Right now we have the client manager server running on a small Window Server 2012 R2 box.

Welcome Networks wants over $500 a month, which if we used a lot of desktop software instead of cloud based, it might be worth it. As we are moving to cloud based, subscription based software, this is unneeded.

I use DropBox for all my Tax/DoxCycle files and it works great.

Do you have multiple staff members accessing it?
Do you use the client manager to manage it?
If so, does each computer run as a stand alone?

I have multiple assistants accessing dropbox although each client has their own folder and only the assistant working on that file has access to it, I put the tax files in the dropbox client folder while they are working on them and move them to a consolidated folder that is not on dropbox once they are efiled. I do not use client manager for anything actually. Everybody has their own standalone set up. I have a client folder in dropbox for all clients and within that folder is a Data File that is shared with the client & assistant and a Working Paper File that is only shared with the assistant. I use personal dropbox and have enough space (from clients signing up too) that it doesn’t cost me anything. Although from looking at the current website that may be due to grandfathering from when personal dropbox was free as it doesn’t appear to be free anymore.