How to Build an App Stack

By: Kelly Gonsalves

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for (well, since my last article came out): building your app stack.

For those who’ve decided to keep their businesses offline and on desktop, I’ll give you a little rundown. “App stacks” are the group of programs and company apps accountants and bookkeepers use to make their businesses run smoother, and their clients’ lives easier.

Building an app stack can be one of the most important parts of creating an online accounting business.

I’m going to give you the tips, tools, and tricks you need to build out the perfect app stack that works for you, your business, and your clients.

1. Complement and Improve

Start by opening the app store and looking at all the different options and offerings.

Don’t just grab the first thing that catches your eye. Look into the app and exactly how it works. You can then better understand the product, but more importantly, you can find out how well it fits into your existing workflow.

If you have to go out of your way to use something, or change your process in an uncomfortable way, it probably isn’t for you. You most likely won’t ever use it, or you’ll resent it when you actually do.

For example (because I love examples), my clients use ReceiptBank to capture pictures of their expenses. That can include receipts, checks they’ve written, bills they’ve received (email or in the mail), and more.

Receipt Bank is a particularly good example because the client is doing part of the work for me. But, what it also does is read those items for me.

CloudRunner does something great as well. It allows me to use a single sign on for all of my apps and any banks my clients have given me access to. I can also assign logins to staff and clients without giving them the actual username and password to the account. This means I can also revoke access when needed! Genius, I know!

All this is to say that apps you choose should remove steps from your process, not add them. Of course, you have to make sure you enjoy using the product or you’ll resent it, but generally if it makes your life easier, you’ll like using it.

2. Take Your Time

Starting your business wasn’t a race. So, why would improving it be any different?

Perouse the app store for as long as you want. That’s a given. But did you know that you can test out these apps, and that you probably should?

(Note: I don’t know if that’s allowed, but I did it so I’m sure it’s fine.)

Create a demo account or client account for yourself in these apps. That way, you know what your client is going through when using the app, and you’ll find out how much time it’s saving them on their end, not just how much time it’s saving you. If it’s too hard or complicated, you’re going to end up spending more time than you end up saving.

You can be pretty confident that the app will integrate with your accounting software, especially if you’ve found it on their own app store. But, how it will integrate, what it’ll do to your data, and all the little stuff like duplicates and pushing everything into one specific account can be ironed out by just trying it for yourself.

You already lose some time by implementing a new app you’ve never used before. Make sure that, before you take it out into the real world, you know exactly how to use it and when.

Of course, this takes time.

When you’re trying out a new app, don’t get all excited and tell your clients you’re implementing it as soon as possible. That’s not realistic, and you’ll probably disappoint them when you don’t have it ready early enough, or scrap the idea altogether.

Set realistic expectations and timelines with your clients when choosing new apps.

3. Apps for You, Apps for Me

Your app stack is two-fold.

These apps have to both improve your workflow and make sense for your clients. At the end of the day, even if your processes are nice and simple, you still need clients to keep your business up and running.

I’m going to use myself as an example again. I have my core apps: QuickBooks Online, ReceiptBank, and Hubdoc. Everyone gets those, regardless of what they do. That’s because I need those things to do my job well.

When it comes to getting my clients on board, there’s different ways to go about it. It depends on what their needs are, but if they’re doing some of the work for me (by using ReceiptBank and Hubdoc, for example), I can value bill them and they’re happy to have a fixed rate.

But, I’m also not going to implement certain apps unless they need a certain something done. If they need billpay, I’m going to implement Veem. If they have a staff that needs to track time, I’ll implement TSheets. But, if they don’t have either of those things, it’s a waste of time for both of us.

Of course, there are certain times that I’ll implement an app because it helps a client, and not necessarily because it makes my life easier. That’s just part of being a business owner, making the client happy to bolster a relationship.

The most important thing to learn here is to combine versatility and stabilization. You need certain core apps and processes to keep your business running smoothly. But, you also need a ton more to address the specific needs of your clients. Find a happy medium, and take your time. Your app stack will come together.

And don’t be afraid to talk to other accountants and bookkeepers! That’s why I write these articles, but I’m just one person. Talk to your friends and colleagues. They might’ve heard of something you never knew existed.