Gearing Up
9 min read

Scale your firm with standard operating procedures in Karbon

By Leigh Doyle

Before Phil Gaudiano co-founded crypto CPA firm, Polygon Advisory Group, he was a solo practitioner and he never wrote down his work processes.

As Polygon grew, Phil hired more people to handle the workload. He quickly realized each person has their own unique approaches for getting their work done. To deliver the kind of consistent client experience he imagined for Polygon, he needed to make a change. 

In this episode of Gearing Up — interview series for accountants and bookkeepers — our host Blake Oliver talks to Phil about this challenge and how he solved it with Karbon.

The challenge:

Phil wants each Polygon client to have a similar experience when working with anyone on his team. Since he was growing so fast and hiring for multiple roles, he needed a way to easily document and communicate company-wide standard operating procedures (or SOPs) as he scales. 

The solution:

Phil turned to Karbon — a collaborative platform for accounting firms to manage workflows and communicate with teams — to document how he wanted work to be done at Polygon. The ultimate goal is happy clients. “We want to make it as easy as possible for clients to understand what our system is and participate in it, so we can get them in and out the door as quickly as possible and satisfied,” he says in the episode. 

Watch the full episode for a deep dive where you’ll see: 

  • ⛓ The tech stack Phil uses for his crypto clients 

  • 🖥  How standard operating procedures — or SOPs — support firm growth

  • 🔦  A look at how Phil uses Karbon to ensure clients get the same experience from his firm 

  • 💡  How SOPs can make you better at capacity planning for your firm.   

To learn more about Phil and his firm visit PolygonAdvisory.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn where he shares crypto and tax related content.

Gearing Up is dedicated to amplifying the creative and smart ways accountants and bookkeepers overcome the day-to-day challenges of running a successful firm.

If you’d like to share your knowledge on an upcoming episode of Gearing Up, submit your challenge + solution using the form.

Remember, Gearing Up is published every two weeks, subscribe to get the next episode.

How do successful firms solve day-to-day challenges?

Find out in Gearing Up — our bi-weekly video series. Blake Oliver talks to practicing accountants and bookkeepers about what tools and strategies they use to thrive.

Subscribe

Gearing Up episode 4 transcript:

Blake Oliver: Hello, Blake Oliver here. And this is Gearing Up, a series by Relay. Relay is business banking designed for accountants and their clients. Just like me, they're obsessed with making firms more effective and efficient. So in each episode, I talk to real accountants and bookkeepers about one challenge they faced in their firm and how to solve it. Today we have Phil Gaudiano of Polygon Advisory Group, on the show. Thanks for joining, Phil.

Phil Gaudiano: Thanks for having me.

Oliver: So tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm.

Gaudiano: I'm a CPA, we're based in Virginia. Polygon is a CPA firm, full-service. We do a lot of tax work and the majority of our clients are crypto investors, crypto companies. We do a lot of work in the crypto space, that's kind of the niche that we are involved in right now. So we're relatively young. We started as a bonafide firm in October of 2020 and we just exploded throughout last year through the crypto boom. We kind of got caught up in all of that and in terms of what it did for our firm. And so we've been together for a little over a year now, expanding rapidly and just doing a lot of crypto tax work.

Oliver: So what's your tech stack look like? I imagine you must have some interesting solutions for those crypto clients.

Gaudiano: Yeah, well, on the crypto side, we use CoinTracking, that's our preferred software. But on, on the, the regular kind of more attuned to your everyday accounting side, we've got a lot of the traditional stuff. We use Practice Ignition for engagement letters and payments. We use Relay, obviously, for our banking. We've got Karbon for workflow. We've got Liscio for client communications. We use Drake Tax Software, but it's third-party hosted by a company called BuyOnCloud out of Arizona, they do really good work. And then a lot of the traditional stuff, Slack, Gmail you know, Google, things like that.

Oliver: So what's the challenge that you're gonna share with us today?

Gaudiano: The challenge that we wanna talk about is standardizing procedures. We grew a lot in the last year and my partner and I originally are both from solo practices. We've both been solo operators for a number of years. And then when we came together and we started expanding all of a sudden we started hiring people. We had all these staff that we had to manage and we realized that, you know, one of the, one of the treats and also one of the traps of being a solo practitioner is since you're doing everything yourself you never really write anything down and you don't really have a good idea of of what your process is. You just know that when you get a new job in the door, when you get a new client in the door, you kind of have that, that thing in your head that tells you the steps to go through. But that thing in your head doesn't really translate when you've got a bunch of other people now doing the work and you're expecting them to do it in, in a way similar to what you're used to. So really it's the importance of documenting procedures and having standard operating procedures that can apply to everyone, that can be understood by everyone, and that you could use to scale.

Oliver: And when you say standard procedures, well, give me an example. What does that mean to you?

Gaudiano: So what we try to do is kind of delineate each individual thing that happens in our firm so that anybody who comes into our firm can, you know, just kind of step into the shoes of somebody who's been there for a long time. And then part of that is also that if you hire experienced accountants, people who've been around the block a couple times, everybody's kind of got their own unique way of doing a tax return. You know, some people start document space first, some people dive right into the complicated stuff, on schedule A, or schedule E, or something like that. And so we don't really care from our perspective how the return gets done when you're actually in the in the meat of it, doing the actual tax return, but it's all the kind of peripheral stuff that happens around the meat of the work that makes the difference and makes the work flow either smooth or not smooth. And so that's kind of what we've focused on.

Oliver: What was your solution for this? I mean, I know people have been documenting for years and word documents and paper often, binders.

Gaudiano: We use Karbon for our workflow. And the great thing about Karbon is they give you all these standard templates for basic procedures, for kind of the traditional accounting task. And one of those is the basic workflow for a tax return client. And so right off the bat that was a huge step in the right direction, just based off of what they already had laid out for us. And then of course, we took it and kind of modified it to fit our process a little bit better. But this is, this is our basic individual tax return template. So every tax return that we do, that's a 1040 tax return, will work through this process, regardless of who's working on it. It'll start here and it'll end at the bottom and they'll all come out looking the same and look like roses, basically.

Oliver: So every time you get a 1040 client in the door or you get somebody coming back from previous year, you apply this checklist template to the work, the project and start checking things off.

Gaudiano: Exactly. And a big part of the process here is just making it a set process. So you'll see the first step is to invite the client to Liscio, if they're not on Liscio. Liscio is the app that we use to communicate with our clients. It functions as both a secure file sharing portal and also a secure messaging center. From there we go into the basic stuff which is sending the client task that says, basically, hey we need your tax stuff, upload all your document stuff so we can get started on your tax return. We confirm that that's done. Then we kick off the actual prep and then you'll see here, it looks simplified in this, but if you actually expand, this is the actual preparation part of the job, and we've got numerous kinds of sub tasks in here. Say, go ahead and do the draft tax return. Remember to prepare, prepare and analyze based on last year, look for any sort of red flags, run diagnostics, things like that. Follow up with clients on open items. And this is very standard stuff that you'll find in any CPA firm, in any, in any tax prep firm. Everybody does this because this is how you do a tax return.

And so, although this is where the bulk of the work is, really the bread and butter of the whole process system is all the stuff that happens around it. Because at the end of the day, what we're really trying to do here is create the same client experience for every client. And we wanna make it as easy as possible for clients to understand what our system is, accept it, and participate in it, so that we can get them in the door and out the door as quickly as possible and satisfied.

Once you understand that any business is just a set of processes, it kind of frees you up to think about how you can refine your process to make it easy on the end user, which in our case is the client. We have everything standardized in terms of the messages we send. When we say: hey, we need some more information about a dependent, or we're missing your 1098 from your mortgage, things like that. It's all very standardized. And so anybody can jumpin and send that message to the client and they feel comfortable talking to whoever sent it.

Oliver: So, it's not just a checklist but it's also the templates or the snippets of communication that you need to have with the client already prepared for you. That way, everything that comes from the firm has a similar tone, similar feel.

Gaudiano: Exactly. So, if you look at this, when we send the client task, “send document request T2”. T2 is a standardized task in Liscio that has wording that says, "hey you forgot something on your tax return. We need to see such and such document." And it's the same for every client that we send. The only thing we change is what those documents are, what that information is. But the actual template of the message stays the same. So a client in our firm gets the same exact communications dependent on where they are in the process, regardless of who they are. And, and that's important to us because we're trying to standardize everything and it's just processes work a lot better when they're standardized and when everybody's on the same page about how they need to work. And so doing things like this allows us to do a much larger volume of tax returns than we could do if we didn't have the set process in place and didn't have the set communications in place. And just kind of answered emails as they came in. If you can standardize everything and be proactive about the communications that you're sending to clients it becomes a lot easier to know when that information is gonna come in. So you can plan better. At the end of the day it's all about standardization and just capacity planning.

Oliver: The business is just a process. I really, yeah, it is. When you boil it down, that's what a business is: it's a set of processes. Well, thanks so much for sharing this with us, Phil. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us today, such as where people can find you?

Gaudiano: Yeah, you can find us on the internet Polygonadvisory.com. We've got a pretty active blog. I write on Medium about crypto and tax issues.

Oliver: Phil Gaudiano of Polygon Advisory Group. So great talking with you. Thanks for your time.

Gaudiano: Thanks. Thanks a lot.