This CPA and his Co-Founder Run a 100% Remote Accounting Firm in Canada for more than 6 years. Here is their story.
- Hi, I am Lior Zehtser, a qualified Chartered Professional Accountant and CPA based in Toronto, Canada.
- In 2014, my co-founder, Mike and I, started 'ConnectCPA', a ‘plug and play’ virtual accounting and bookkeeping company.
- We started this when we were searching for a better way to deliver accounting and bookkeeping services to companies.
- We wanted to solve the finance pain point for scaling and mature organizations and also help them with the digital transformation!
- Today we have a team of 28 plus employees...and all of them work 100% remotely!!!
- Here is our story and how we run a 100% remote company since the last 6 years!
Quitting my job & starting a 100% remote Accounting & Bookkeeping Firm
I had a family friend who was a Chartered Accountant and just hearing about his experience and how he dealt with a variety of businesses and business owners, got me excited.
I always had the entrepreneur bug in me...and always wanted to work for myself and control my days and my future!
So, I too decided to become a Chartered Accountant, with the intention that someday I will start my own business!
In 2007, I got an opportunity at PwC, Canada in their Auditing and Assurance team which gave my finance career a head start!
While at PwC, I met Mike (my co-cofounder). We were very similar in that we both had the entrepreneurial spirit and we always talked about running a business one day!
However, like most people, we just didn’t know early on 'how and when' would it happen!
Fast forward, we both left PwC in 2009/2010 and went our separate ways.
We worked in smaller accounting firms, private equity, real estate firms, etc…hoping that one day we would both find a business idea worth pursuing!
A few years later, in 2013, we met with some accounting firms in Australia over Skype and they explained their ‘cloud accounting’ business model. And we were hooked.
To say the least, we knew this was what we were looking for - We were looking for a better way to deliver accounting and bookkeeping services to companies combining Technology with our services!
In 2014, ConnectCPA was born and as they say the rest is history.
Growing The Business: The Complete Timeline (2013 - Present)
Teaming up and starting a firm using Technology
- When we first started we had a physical office!
- My co-founder and I worked from there...and then the first 3 or 4 employees worked from that office as well!
- To be honest, when we started, we still didn’t know who we were – we just knew we wanted to use cloud accounting software like Xero, Receipt Bank and Hubdoc, to create financial visibility for our clients.
- So we were not remote from day one...we wanted to be but the tech tools that were out there for communication weren’t reliable enough!
- We had to overcome many challenges – from workflows to hiring to the management of people, to the quality and delivery of work.
- This year my co-founder, Mike and I worked around the clock to ensure things were running as smoothly as possible.
- On top of this, we were growing and bringing in business. It was (and still is) a very busy time.
- This year still had a proper physical office!
Working remotely from time to time
- As the business and team grew we were faced with the ‘physical office’ dilemma.
- Do we rent a new office? Do we re-design and re-construct our current office? - We didn’t want to do either...so we made the decision to go fully remote and WFH (work from home)!
- At this time, Zoom and Slack were already available, and we were using them and they were super reliable.
Going 100% remote
- Luckily, we were already working remotely from time to time (when someone was sick or when the weather was bad etc) and knew it was feasible.
- What next? We chose a date that worked for the team – and went fully remote!
- There were some hiccups in the beginning, but we worked through them and it was the best decision we ever made.
Building strong internal processes
- With the team working from home using all cloud-based tools to deliver services to clients...we soon realised that we had to develop very strong internal processes!
- In 2017 and 2018 we spent a lot of time building out our workflows, processes, CRM and databases.
- Why? To ensure that each individual knew what they were doing on a daily basis and what they were responsible for.
Developing a Training Program to onboard new team members in a virtual environment
- And because new hires are working from home immediately, we had to develop a training program to ensure they are comfortable with all our tools and processes from day one!
- You can never say that you’re ‘done’ building out processes – it is always a work in progress at our company – because it is what sets us apart from other similar firms. That said, we built the infrastructure in these earlier years.
2018 - 2019
Defining more clearly who we are
- Over the past couple of years, we have defined more clearly who we are, although that seems to change with every passing year.
- This year, we developed a better hiring plan, strategy and focus on who we want to hire and what type of culture we wanted to create.
- We honed in on being that ‘one-stop-shop’ to our clients, where they can just ‘plug’ us into their current operation and we’d act as an outsourced accounting or finance function.
Improving Training and Internal Processes
- We also improved our training drastically.
- Onboarding new team members in a virtual environment present some challenges, so our team developed weeks-long training material so that new team members can hit the ground running.
- Lastly, we improved internal processes to ensure we deliver the best client experience to our customers.
Improvising our website and online presence
- And we also came out with a video that’s on our landing page that more clearly illustrates the pain-point that many business owners are facing.
Continue Helping companies scale
- The plan is to continue on the trajectory of helping companies scale. Whether it’s a pre-revenue startup or mature organization – they all have challenges and needs.
- We’re able to implement technology and use our experience to allow business owners to make faster and better business decisions.
Want to start a remote accounting firm?
- Firstly you need to have incredible processes set up.
- A very talented and motivated team that sticks to the workflows and adheres to the policies created. It’s super important to have a CRM where work is funneled to team members in a logical way. That to me is the most challenging aspect that a remote company will face.
- Training and onboarding new employees and customers is also very crucial.
- In addition to the workflow and processes, communication is key. We’ve been using Zoom and Slack since 2015.
- It’s extremely important to hire the right person and trust is the most important trait you are looking for.
Culture in a remote environment is also important.
Culture is something we speak very often about because it’s definitely a challenge in a remote environment. We’ve implemented a few initiatives to ensure that our team still feels like they are part of a team, rather than isolated at home. Example:
- Every year we set up an annual retreat and fly everyone in for 3 days to hang out in person.
- In addition to that, we have monthly video hangout sessions, we play trivia/games for prizes and then have other weekly standups and meetings.
- In a remote environment, you really need to take the initiative and ensure that culture is at the forefront of everything that you do.
- With existing team members, we have quarterly reviews and monitor progress as best we can so that team members know where they stand, what they’re doing well and where they need to improve.
How has COVID- 19 impacted us?
From a logistical standpoint, we haven’t been impacted at all. It’s been business as usual for our whole team because our remote infrastructure was implemented many years ago.
That said, it has definitely been very hectic because we are dealing with hundreds of clients whose businesses have been impacted, which does impact us as well from a revenue standpoint (cancellations, price reductions, payment deferrals, etc.).
Additionally, many governments worldwide have stepped up their efforts and enacted sweeping reforms to help individuals and businesses survive through the economic implications during this pandemic.
We are doing our best to navigate all government updates and relay them to our clients in a timely manner. It’s been all hands on deck and quite hectic to say the least. But, we also want to be there for our clients, that’s what it’s all about, so it’s a minor price to pay for our team.
Running a business is challenging but it’s also fun however at times that fun is lost in your never-ending to-do lists, tasks and emails.
So, from time to time you just need to take a step back and appreciate everything that is happening.
When you look back, you’ll realize that the journey was just as fun or even more so than the destination.
ConnectCPA is a virtual accounting and bookkeeping company. We use all the latest technologies to help our clients grow and expand. We offer a variety of services:
- Back-office and bookkeeping, including accounts payable and payments
- Technology implementation, including integrations
- Tax and accounting compliance (Canada only for now)
- Advisory, including budgeting and forecasting