SOS 1040 PLUS, LLC had an amazing opportunity to be interviewed by Microsoft for a customer story. Microsoft was excited to learn how we use Office365 to run our business efficiently, and for the day to day needs of SOS. You can read this interview below, or click this link to be redirected to the Microsoft website.
July 24, 2018
Family tax preparation startup chooses all-in-one solution to help grow business
Fairlawn, Ohio–based tax preparer SOS 1040 Plus is a thriving small business running on the highly secure collaborative features of Microsoft Office 365. The three-person team at SOS 1040 Plus punches above its weight with Office 365 automated scheduling and task management features. Whether its clients are elderly and housebound or millennial in constant motion, SOS 1040 Plus accommodates them all with its expertise and the support of flexible Microsoft tools for collaboration and mobility. Tax season just got a little less taxing.
When I began to experiment with Microsoft Planner, I realized that not only can we do everything we need, but we also found it easier to use and can integrate it with our calendars. As a bonus, it’s included with our Office 365 subscription. There’s no reason to use anything else.
Lakisha Barclay: President
SOS 1040 Plus
SOS 1040 Plus is making a name for itself. Despite its growing customer base, the three-employee family company doesn’t feel spread thin. With a data-driven businesswoman at the helm and her younger millennial sister leading marketing and social media innovation, the business is growing. SOS 1040 Plus doesn’t have a front office staff to cover administrative tasks like appointment scheduling and staff deployment that keep a business humming, but that doesn’t hold them back. SOS 1040 Plus is thriving with Microsoft Office 365 and its integrated features.
Parlaying a love of numbers into a successful startup
Lakisha Barclay has an unusual passion. “I absolutely love tax law,” she says. With her own tax preparation company, she’s following her dream.
Prior to completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Barclay spent two years in the air force working on A10 jets. The experience expanded her natural affinity for numbers to information technology. “Most people see accounting as just cranking out numbers,” she says. “But it’s really about analysis and providing information. That’s why I’m always looking for technology to help us to work smarter and faster to give our clients the timeliest information possible.”
Initially, Barclay met many of her clients in their homes, eventually moving to a home office. While some clients still prefer face-to-face meetings, increasingly they prefer online interaction. When Barclay’s younger sister, Gabrielle Daniel, joined the company as marketing chief and an ambassador of sorts to her millennial demographic, the practice grew. The clientele became more diversified. To meet the demand of her growing tax practice without overstretching existing staff and capital, Barclay sought productivity-boosting tools. The available third-party solutions didn’t offer the seamless interoperability, the price point, or the ease of use the sisters required.
Running the numbers
Barclay built her business with familiar Microsoft Office applications—Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook—and was eager to find an online collaboration tool that could deliver the same level of ease and convenience. She’d progressed from a paper checklist system for incoming files and job assignments to Google Drive to store and share data, later implementing a third-party accounting project and task management solution to oversee work assignments. It was expensive and didn’t operate with the Microsoft solutions she trusts. Then Barclay found the productivity tools she was looking for in the array of services available under Office 365.
As a small firm staffed by people who often work in separate physical locations, SOS 1040 Plus needs collaborative tools that also reduce operational expense by eliminating time-consuming back and forth communication about tasks and scheduling. For Barclay’s small staff, the calendar is king. They use Microsoft Planner to stay on top on incoming tax return information and filing dates.
“When I began to experiment with Microsoft Planner, I realized that not only can we do everything we need, but we also found it easier to use and can integrate it with our calendars,” says Barclay. “As a bonus, it’s included with our Office 365 subscription. There’s no reason to use anything else.”
Now, Barclay can assign client tax returns to staff and track document receipt in Planner. Clients can create appointments outside of regular office hours on the SOS 1040 Plus website using Microsoft Bookings. SOS 1040 Plus doesn’t have a receptionist, but with Bookings, Barclay no longer worries about missing customer opportunities. Best of all, it’s always on duty. “Bookings was one of the reasons that I committed to Office 365,” says Barclay. “It works beautifully. Since it integrates with each team member’s schedule in Outlook, it eliminates back and forth with the customer. We collect their information when they make the appointment. The system-generated reminders help with no-shows, and I don’t have to pay an extra fee for a separate online booking system.”
When on the road, Barclay uses MileIQ to track and report mileage. “After harping at my clients to track mileage, I realized that I needed a better mileage tracking solution for myself,” says Barclay. “Again, I found that an Office 365 service was the answer for my clients and for me: MileIQ. I love that it alerts me to potential deductions, and the monthly reporting it generates. Even though I do this for a living, I’m fascinated with how it translates my mileage figures into savings—$300 to $500 per month.
Growing without growing pains—and without paper
The combination of automating appointments and work assignments with electronic document handling has rendered SOS 1040 Plus virtually paperless. The resulting efficiency translates into lower stress for everyone.
Growth figures prominently in Barclay’s plans for SOS 1040 Plus, and she finds that Office 365 collaborative tools facilitate expansion while ensuring that she has continued insight and control over quality. That’s why SOS 1040 Plus staff use Microsoft Teams to collaborate, and Barclay finds it useful for onboarding the third and newest team member. For any potential incoming tax professionals, it gives her a good way to see progress on returns and check through documentation. “I like Teams because it’s like a chat about a project,” she says. “It’s easy to schedule meetings with each other and exchange information. When our new team member started, it was invaluable to share screens in meetings so that we could show him exactly how our procedures worked.”
Just as Barclay seeks balance in her and her team members’ work lives, she has made it a priority to create a business platform that makes it easy for her customers to work with SOS 1040 Plus. “Clients don’t have to worry about interrupting their own work schedules to drop off or sign documents during set hours,” she says. “Other people absolutely love coming in to the office every year to meet with us in person. Those clients continue to drop in and have a cup of coffee with us while we discuss their returns. However our customers want to interact with us, we’re able to provide the kind of contact they want.”
The flexible formula is taking SOS 1040 Plus forward. “We’ve grown by about 12 percent in the past 18 months,” says Daniel. That translates to about 100 new clients every year—most of whom exchange and sign documents electronically. Thanks to the company’s reputation for technical leadership, its millennial client base is burgeoning. Daniel pushes the connectivity agenda with strong social media use, including the company’s recent foray into internet radio with “Money Mondays,” a live show about various personal finance issues. Listeners can download the PowerPoint synopses of each topic Barclay and Daniel create for every program. The show took off instantly, with the highest ratings and listen backs recorded on the station. “I would never have considered doing an internet radio show without the efficiencies we’ve gained from using Office 365,” says Barclay. “The fact that we can shut down on Mondays for a few hours to do the show attests to how effective we can be with automation. Without that capability, I might be able to grow the business to where it is now, but I’d probably be working 19 hours a day.”
Bookings was one of the reasons that I committed to Office 365. It works beautifully.…The system-generated reminders help with no-shows, and I don’t have to pay an extra fee for a separate online booking system.
SOS 1040 Plus, LLC
Products and ServicesMicrosoft Teams
Skype for Business Online
Small (1 - 49 employees)