Since Google was founded in 1998 it has snowballed from its search roots into a company that serves millions of people all over the world through a whole host of successful online services – many of which are free to use, and can be of great value to accountancy practices.
Whether you're seeking out new customers or want to boost your productivity, there are many ways in which Google tools and resources can help accountancy practices to grow and succeed.
Here we take a closer look at some of the key products and services that could help your practice.
If you use Senta, which incorporates CRM, marketing, workflow & tasks, document management and more, some of Google's tools will be superfluous. Others, however, such as Gmail, will integrate with Senta, giving you information when you need it most: in your day-to-day dealings with clients.
Find information with Google Search
The most heavily-used search engine in the world, handling more than three billion searches a day, Google has built up a reputation for returning highly relevant results. It also allows you to customise your search. You can do this using the Advanced Search page (e.g. narrowing results by language, region, last update, terms appearing in the page, and so on) or by using Boolean operators such as exclusion ("-xx") and alternatives ("xx OR yy OR zz"). You can also find pages that are similar to, or link to, a URL or search pages that you've visited.
If you harness the full power of Google Search you can carry out work-related research far more efficiently – refining the search to quickly pinpoint exactly what you're looking for.
Create, edit, share and store files using Google Drive
Google Drive is a free file storage and synchronisation service, and an office “suite” that incorporates Google Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets) and Slides (presentations). These three office suite apps are available as web applications, as Chrome apps that work offline, and as mobile apps for Android and iOS – and they are all compatible with Microsoft Office file formats.
Drive and Docs let you create and edit documents online while collaborating with colleagues or clients in real time – and store all of those files securely in the cloud. Drive gives you 15 GB of free online storage and, if you find this isn't enough, you can upgrade to a paid plan for $1.99/month (100GB) or $9.99/month (1TB).
Communicate efficiently via Gmail
Gmail is a free, fast, searchable online email service that can help you communicate more efficiently.
There are a couple of ways in which it can help you cut down the amount of time you spend manually filtering through emails. Firstly, Gmail automatically helps identify spam and suspicious emails by detecting viruses, identifying patterns across messages, and learning from what Gmail users frequently report as spam or phishing. Secondly, Gmail lets you set up your own filters. These allow you to manage incoming messages by automatically sending certain emails to a specific label – or by archiving, deleting, starring (highlight), or forwarding the mail as you dictate.
Other features include an inbox with tabs (the default settings are “Primary”, “Social” and “Promotions” inboxes, but you can customise these as you wish), helping you to scan quickly what's new in each category, and choose which type of emails you wish to read at any given time.
If you upgrade to Gmail for Work you can set up a professional, custom email using your own domain (email@example.com) from £3.30 per user per month – as well as doing other cool stuff such as hosting video meetings with up to 15 people direct from your inbox.
If you're worried about work and personal Gmail accounts interfering with each other, dont be: all of Google's services work seamlessly with multiple accounts at the same time. You can keep work and personal data separate, without needing to keep signing in and out of different email accounts.
Create handy work lists using Google Keep
Google Keep offers a quick, easy-to-use alternative to jotting down lists or quick notes on paper (and potentially losing or forgetting them when you need them). Every change that you make is saved automatically.
You can download the app for your mobile, or use it as a web application, creating quick checkbox “to do” lists; adding photos with notes; colour-coding items; and sharing notes with others.
Improve your time management with Google Calendar
This web application and mobile app is similar in design to desktop calendar applications such as Microsoft Outlook or iCal on Mac OS X. But because all this data is stored in the cloud, you don't need to worry about losing any of it if you suffer a hard drive failure.
You can schedule in events such as meetings, appointments or blocked-out time when you're unavailable, and it is easy to add and edit items afterwards – or drag-and-drop them from one time or date to another without reloading the page.
You can set up events so that you receive a reminder about it via email or SMS, whether you want to receive it a week, day, hour or minutes before the event starts. If you use Calendar on your mobile device, you'll get reminders wherever you are.
You can create and send out-of-office notifications; invite other people to meetings; and import files such as Microsoft Outlook calendar files (.vcs), iCalendar files and Comma-separated values (.csv).
Google Calendar also enables collaboration and sharing of schedules amongst groups by allowing you to create multiple calendars, shown in the same view, with various levels of permissions for different users.
Promote your business using Google Adwords
This self-service, online advertising service lets you compete to display brief advertising copy to web users. It is based partly on words or phrases (known as “keywords”) of your choice that relate to your business. There is no minimum spending commitment and, since it is based on cost-per-click (CPC) bidding, you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad (not when it appears)– which can appear on Google and its partner websites.
AdWords can be really powerful because your ad is being displayed to those who are already searching for the services you offer, making them easier to convert to real clients. You can also choose where your ad appears – on which particular websites, and in specific geographical areas (e.g. within your postcode area, city, region, country or internationally).
You can also review what is and isn't working in your advert, and edit and improve it accordingly. For example, you can view how many new clients connect to your business from your ad, where they are coming from, and various other details. It's easy to get started, and you have the option to “pause” the ad (or stop it) whenever you want to.
Communicate better via Google Hangouts
This communication platform brings together instant messaging with video chat, SMS and Voice over IP (VoIP) features – allowing online conversations between two or more users.
You can see when messages have been read by each person included in the conversation, and you can share photos or launch a group video chat with up to 10 users at a time.
Another particularly useful feature of Hangouts is the fact that chat histories are saved online, allowing them to be synced between various devices for future reference.
Although Hangouts doesn't seem to have captured the public imagination as successfully as many of its rivals for messaging, it does offer a convenient, free tool for group video conferencing – and it's accessible through Gmail, Google+, or through mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Keep on top of industry news & knowledge using Google Alerts
As part of Google Search, you can set up keyword-related alerts that will inform you by email of links to any new pages that have appeared containing your chosen key words. This is ideal if you'd like to keep tabs on media coverage – whether it be of your own business activities, or that of your competitors. You can also use them to stay abreast of accountancy trends and developments.
Don't get lost with Google Maps
Google Maps provides you with a really handy tool to locate places you haven't been to before, such as hotels for business trips, or the offices of a new client in preparation for a meeting.
You can get detailed, up-to-date directions for walking or driving, or useful information about public transport options. You can also download the mobile app to use on your phone when you are out and about – finding your current location if you are lost, or to use while driving, in place of a GPS.
Build your company presence using Google My Business
This business tool makes sure you are visible to your clients on Google Search, Maps and Google+. First you need to create a Google+ page for your company, giving it a name, adding your URL, and placing it under a category (e.g. "Product or brand"). To make it useful, you then need to add further useful information such as a unique business introduction, a 10-word tagline, company contact information, and so on.
You can reach new customers by using AdWords Express – an easy app that lets you set up an advert in minutes – to create adverts on Google Search and Maps. All you have to do is write three lines about your business, then Google creates the ad and shows it to people searching for your services. You choose the budget you wish to work within, and you only pay when potential customers visit your website or call your business.
Keep learning with YouTube
You can find out pretty much anything you want to know on YouTube – whether it's related to the field of accountancy, business, marketing strategies, technology, or any other topic you want to find out about.
Even if you're unsure how to get started with one of the Google services we've talked about here, the chances are there will be a plethora of decent YouTube videos ready to guide you on the subject! In fact, Google's own official YouTube channel is a pretty good place to start, delivering videos explaining how to harness the power of pretty much all of their products and technologies.
And, if you're willing to invest some time and effort into creating and uploading your own creative, business-related YouTube videos, it could become a core marketing channel – with huge potential for spreading the word about your company and your industry expertise.
Using Google with mobile devices
Google services work well with mobile devices, with dedicated apps for many of the Google products, giving a seamless experience even when you're out and about with a phone or tablet. So if you want to work from home or while you're travelling... Google's cloud services will continue to help you.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the Google products you could use to help you work more efficiently, expand your business and improve your knowledge – take a look at the company's entire suite of products if you want to find out more.