Recommended: Practice Ignition — for online proposals

Defining Practice Ignition is not easy

This app doesn't fit neatly into one box. You could call it “online proposal software”, but that phrase doesn’t nearly do it justice because it does a whole lot more than proposals.

With its additional focus on handling scope changes and client re-engagements, Practice Ignition functions in many ways as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application. It also handles billing and payments — usually the domain of accounting/invoicing software and merchant processors. And on the operations side of the practice, it can automatically initiate projects in Xero Practice Manager when your client signs the online proposal.

Practice Ignition even gets into the reporting side of things with its Dashboard, which tracks your recurring and one-off revenue, as well as your conversion rate.

A sample Dashboard in Practice Ignition

A sample Dashboard in Practice Ignition

With that broad set of features, it’s probably best to call Practice Ignition what they call it themselves: “business management software”.

Why you should consider it

My firm doesn’t use Practice Ignition right now, but we’ve been looking at it closely for quite a while. Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Practice Ignition founder Guy Pearson on my new weekly webcast The App Show. What I heard from Guy over the last few weeks has got me excited to finally make the switch.

We were using quotes in WorkflowMax. It would take weeks to renew all of our clients for the next financial year. Over two years ago we started using Practice Ignition and literally our process was cut down to a couple of days.
— Steph Hinds, Accountant at Growthwise

Guy also brought along Steph Hinds, who has been a Practice Ignition user for a few years now and is very happy with it. Fast forward to 16:23 to hear Steph’s story about making the switch to Practice Ignition and her tips for using it effectively.

Here’s what we’re doing now at HPC and how Practice Ignition should be able to improve our process:

Challenges with our present workflow

As I write this, we’re using four separate systems to manage client engagements and billing:

  1. HubSpot CRM for managing prospects
  2. PandaDoc for proposals / service agreements (what we call engagement letters)
  3. Xero for one-off and recurring invoicing
  4. Our bank for one-off and recurring bank transfers (ACH) and credit card processing

There are a few challenges with this setup:

  1. To avoid sending multiple documents to our clients, our proposals are very lengthy. The proposal includes our welcome letter, pricing, contract (service agreement), and bank transfer authorization form. This may be overwhelming to prospects.
  2. Once the prospect (now client) signs the contract, it’s a manual process to set up invoicing and payments. One admin sets up any one-off and recurring invoices in Xero. Another admin sets up the credit card or ACH charges in our separate payment system. This takes time, as it’s possible for either of these to be set up incorrectly and cause problems down the road.
  3. If the scope changes, we either have to set up a new contract, which takes a not insignificant amount of time, or we have to send a separate service order. These new documents are not linked to the old ones. And the invoice and payment collection schedules must be manually updated for each change.
  4. Our online proposal software doesn’t keep track of when it’s time to review and renew client engagements. Without a proper review process, we could end up being victims of scope creep (providing more services than bargained for). We could also be missing valuable opportunities to add more services that our clients want and need.

In summary, the weakest point in this process is that the proposals, invoicing, and payments do not integrate. There’s also no easy way to address scope creep or reminder to re-engage clients annually. 

Here’s what a our onboarding workflow could look like with Practice Ignition

  1. Our sales manager creates an online proposal by selecting services from a template or catalog of items we’ve already set up in Practice Ignition. It takes just a few minutes to make the proposal and email to the client. Most quoting apps have this functionality, but the difference with Practice Ignition is that the language in the engagement letter changes depending on the services selected. This means that the engagement letters are shorter and don’t contain irrelevant provisions that may be confusing.
  2. The prospect gets the link to an online Practice Ignition proposal via email. He/she can make comments and we can reply within the interface, so all the communication about the proposal is in one place. Practice Ignition also tracks when prospects open proposals so you know when to follow up. 
  3. The client accepts the proposal with digital signature. When the client accepts proposal, they also sign our contract which is automatically customized with the proper language based on the services you’ve selected for the client in Practice Ignition. One neat thing about Practice Ignition is that the contract is presented much in the same way that you see “Terms of Service” for software applications. You can scroll through to read the whole thing, but it doesn’t have the same oppressive feel as receiving a 10 page PDF document.
  4. Based on the payment plan we’ve set up in Practice Ignition for the client engagement, Practice Ignition generates invoices at the right time in our Xero organization (also works with QuickBooks, if that’s your cup of tea). We don’t use Xero Practice Manager, but if we did, Practice Ignition could also generate a project in Xero Practice Manager and automatically assign tasks to the right people so they can get started right away.
  5. Practice Ignition collects payment by credit card or bank transfer and syncs the payment with the invoice. We also have the option to require the client to make a payment in order to accept our proposal (a very good idea).
  6. If the scope changes (as it often does), we simply log into Practice Ignition and update the client’s services. The client gets an email asking them to approve the change. They sign electronically and Practice Ignition takes care of updating the engagement letter, future invoices, and payment collection schedule.
  7. At the end of the client’s term of service (typically every 12 months, but customizable), Practice Ignition prompts us to rollover or re-engage our clients based on their previous service offering. It’s easy to review what we’ve been doing in the past and make any changes, and then send the new proposal out to the client. This is really important to ensure that we’re periodically reviewing the scope of the services we’re performing for our clients and to ensure that we’re billing for all the work we’re doing. It’s also a great opportunity to talk to the client about anything else they might need.
  8. For payment failures, Practice Ignition notifies us and allows us to retry from within the application.

As you see in the workflow outline above, Practice Ignition automates a number of key processes that can be quite time consuming and difficult to execute perfectly every time as a manual workflow. 

Although we get the online proposals, notifications, and digital signatures with our current online proposal software, the invoicing, payments, scope changes, and re-engagements are completely manual for us right now. We’d save a good chunk of sales and admin time by allowing Practice Ignition to take care of those tasks for us.

Some other neat features

  • You can add Practice Ignition forms to your website. This allows your prospects to build their own proposals. After they submit, you can review and send out for signature. For firms with many small engagements, this really can help reduce the time to make a sale.

  • Invoicing schedules are highly customizable. You can set up invoicing schedules linked to your proposals. 

  • Items in Practice Ignition are mapped to items in your accounting software. This means that you can do detailed reporting in your accounting system (Xero or QuickBooks Online) as well as in Practice Ignition. Most online proposal software I’ve tried doesn’t do this very well.

  • Pricing scales based on number of clients, not users. Pricing is based on the number of active clients (clients with an active engagement in the app). It starts at US $79/month for up to 100 clients. At that price, most accountants don’t have to save more than 30 minutes a month to break even. And that doesn’t even take into account the value created by having a systematic scope assessment and client re-engagement process for your firm. As for payments, ACH costs $1 per payment and credit cards are 2.9% with no monthly or setup fees.

What’s next in the development pipeline

After our Blab webcast, Guy gave me a preview of what’s in development at Practice Ignition. The video above is a brief demo of the new Dashboard, which is currently in beta testing. You can now set a budget and do projections for both invoicing and payments. 

I love how this dashboard makes it easy to see the recurring and one-off revenue at a glance. It makes it easy to see if the firm is meeting or missing its revenue goals based on what proposals have been signed, up to the minute. 

Right now we have no easy way to do this sort of revenue projections other than in Excel, so this would be really helpful to have. 

What could be improved

  • Open API / integration with other services. Right now, Practice Ignition does not have an open API, meaning that it isn’t so easy for other apps to connect to it. I’d love to see Practice Ignition open their API so we can write our own integrations, or at least use something like Zapier to sync data to/from other applications. For example, we use HubSpot CRM and it would be great if HubSpot could be able to start new proposals in Practice Ignition.

  • More customization options for proposals. I’d love to see more options when it comes to customizing the look and feel of proposals in Practice Ignition. We’re a bit spoiled right now. Our current proposal software lets us do a lot of customization. We can embed pictures and videos, and we can create all the custom fields we want.

Are you using or thinking about using Practice Ignition?

I've added Practice Ignition to my list of Recommended Apps for Accountants and Bookkeepers. Check it out for more excellent apps to use in your practice and with your clients.

I’d love to hear from you about your experience or your thoughts on moving to a solution such as Practice Ignition. Please let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Blake Oliver

Los Angeles, California, United States