The Secret To Offering
Profitable Payroll Services
Robert L. Wolff, Jr.
Fresh Eyes, Inc.
Table of Contents
Accountants And Client Payroll—A Love Hate Relationship 3
7 Reasons to Take Another Look at Client Payroll 4
Getting Past Your Skepticism About Client Payroll
Myth 1: Payroll Is Not Profitable 5
Myth 2: Payroll Takes Too Much Time 7
Myth 3: Clients Don’t Want The Service 10
Myth 4: The Internet Is Not Secure 11
The Bottom Line: Client Payroll = Profit Is No Longer an Oxymoron 12
Appendix—Online Payroll Services Profit Model 14
Author’s Biography 15
Accountants and Client Payroll — A Love-Hate Relationship
Payroll = Profit.
“Yeah, right,” you say, “I’ve heard that before.”
You’re not alone. According to a 2003 NFO study, last year only 11% of accountants did client
payrolls. The rest either referred their clients to a payroll service bureau or had clients do payroll
Payroll Methods For 5.1 Million U.S. Businesses
With Less Than 20 Employees
Do It All
Source: Small Business NFO Panel, 2003, n=545
U.S. small business data cited from U.S. Census Bureau data, 2000
Why have accountants shunned client payroll? Various surveys report many reasons, including
that payroll is not profitable, that it takes too much time, and that clients do not want the service.
But, whether you love or hate payroll, your clients need, want and expect you to be involved.
They want you to fix payroll problems when they or a payroll service bureau makes mistakes.
They want you to file the proper form to make the problem go away, and to contest the IRS
penalty—or, at least, cut it substantially.
After decades of saying “I don't do payroll,” accountants are starting to open up to the idea of
offering payroll services. Look around. Client payroll services among accounting firms are
growing. Why? Because with the advent of online payroll services, payroll can finally be fast,
easy and profitable.
Still skeptical? Read on.
7 Reasons to Take Another Look at Client Payroll
Skepticism is important in the accounting profession. Reasonableness, logic, proof, and so on,
are central to an accountant’s training and experience. Why should be echoing through your
mind, “Why should I consider adding client payroll to my practice?”
Here are 7 reasons:
1. Most Trusted Advisor. Most clients expect a full-service relationship. Put another way,
clients want their accountants to be their part-time CFO, taking care of their company’s
accounting and financial needs, including payroll. A survey commissioned by the National
Payment Corporation (and supported by other research) illustrates the situation. The top
reasons clients want to hand off payroll to their accountants are:
90% of respondents gave one or more reasons
Tax laws and/or potential tax problems 36%
No staff to do payroll or capable of doing payroll 36%
Trust and personal relationship 31%
Accountants already have my financial data 26%
Source: National Payment Corporation
By fulfilling your role as part-time CFO, you enable your small business clients to focus on
growing their companies, marketing their products and services, and managing their
employees. They do not need to worry about joining the 1 in 3 business owners who paid
an average of $1,300 in IRS penalties in 2002.
2. Stronger And Longer Lasting Client Relationships. Besides making clients happier with
personalized service from their trusted advisor, adding payroll services protects long term
client relationships and revenue streams. The more you do, the less likely you are to lose
clients to low-ball or other aggressive marketing efforts. Simply put:
More Services = More Loyal Client = Lower Risk of a Lost Client
3. Commitment. No one cares about your clients the way you do. You are their most trusted
advisor because you personally care about their success. By providing payroll services, you
dramatically lower the risk of “distractions” from the IRS and state revenue agencies.
Equally important, you reduce the potential impact on your firm’s revenues that invariably
result from having to “fix problems” caused by clients—out of ignorance; time pressures; or
simple sloppiness. Even better, you avoid having to unravel problems caused by the payroll
service bureau’s inattention or “hiccups.” Dodging the “payroll pain bullet” results in a win
for your firm and a win for your client.
4. More Services. Payroll services open the door to providing additional professional services
such as write-up and financial analysis, tax preparation, software consulting, financial
planning, and so on. These services strengthen client ties while also adding new revenue
streams. In short, it is a win-win.
5. Competitive Advantage and Differentiation. As part-time CFO providing a complete
range of services to your clients, you gain a competitive advantage and differentiate your
services from substitutes and other firms. Satisfied, happy clients generate positive word-of-
mouth and give referrals; some will be champions who proactively recommend your firm.
6. Reality Check. Many clients are not ready for “do-it-yourself,” and traditional payroll service
bureaus are too expensive.
7. Profitable Revenue Stream. Payroll services are an additional profitable revenue stream
for your firm. With the tools and technologies available to you today, you’ll be surprised at
your return on investment on payroll.
This white paper demonstrates that fact in further detail. Keep reading. . .
Getting Past Your Skepticism About Client Payroll
Myth 1: Payroll Is Not Profitable
Research conducted by Evans Research Associates in 2000 concluded that the #1 reason
professional accountants do not wish to provide client payroll services is “low profitability/not
profitable” (31% of responses).
This is not surprising. High operating costs have squeezed the profit out of payroll—until now.
According to the Evans Research study, 6 percent of professionals point to high operating
costs, such as direct deposit setup and processing fees, and software updates, as the reasons
they don’t do client payrolls. In addition, there is the up-front investment in payroll software,
federal and state e-file/e-pay systems, hardware, security, internal and client procedure
establishment, and staff and process management.
What are the annual payroll operating costs for an in-house, multi-client payroll solution, not
including direct payroll staff time? Depending on the complexity of payrolls and other factors, a
straw poll of accountants puts annual costs at $3,500 to $25,000—for one to 50 payroll clients.
Can you generate sufficient revenue to make a reasonable profit with this kind of cost structure?
One key factor is how much you charge clients. Common strategies include traditional cost+
profit pricing, value-based pricing and market-based pricing.
Practically speaking, market conditions and other factors often limit accounting firm payroll fees
to 50% to 85% of what traditional payroll services, such as ADP and Paychex, charge for
For a small business with 20 employees and 26 paydays in a year, payroll service fees are:
Company Annual Fee Fee Per Month
ADP $3,030 $253
Paychex $2,782 $232
PayCycle Payroll Plus $792 $66
Source: Vendor websites
Knowing your costs, can you compete at these prices and make the profit you want?
Think outside the box for a moment. Payroll is rarely the sole service provided to clients, but one
of many that cements relationships. You may think that you need to be satisfied with a lower
profit margin because of payroll’s value to the overall client relationship.
Do you really have to compromise on profit margin? No, you don't. For many (if not most) of
your small business clients, Intuit Complete Payroll, Paychex and ADP’s services are an
But what about PayCycle? The PayCycle Payroll Plus Retail Service is the least expensive of
the group. PayCycle targets small businesses with 20 or fewer employees. $66 per client per
month is tough to beat.
But PayCycle can beat it! The PayCycle Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals offers
an all-inclusive, monthly flat-price wholesale payroll service. It costs just $14.99 per client per
month for the first five employees, and $0.25 per month for each additional employee over five.
Its features are identical to the PayCycle Payroll Plus Retail Service noted above.
Flat, monthly, all-inclusive fee means exactly that. No nickel and dime charges. No per payroll
charges. With PayCycle, there is:
No firm or client setup fees.
No charge for accountant/client dual access.
No direct deposit setup fees.
No direct deposit processing fees.
No local check printing fees.
No extra charges for vacation and sick accruals.
No extra charges for garnishments.
No fees for reports.
No charge for integration with popular accounting packages.
No charge for tax form e-filing or printing.
No charge for electronic or printed tax payments and coupons.
No charge for electronic W-2s.
No extra charges for multi-state withholding calculations.
No additional software to purchase.
No charge for software updates.
No charge for tax table updates.
No charge for toll-free telephone and email support with payroll experts.
No annual contract.
No charge for customized marketing materials.
No kidding. Read the list again.
In addition to the features listed above, you also receive access to an easy-to-use, guided self-
service payroll solution designed for accountants who serve small business clients.
Even better, PayCycle bills you, and you are free to charge clients whatever you want, based on
your business strategy and local market conditions. Your up-front investment is virtually nil.
Operating costs are very low. Even if you charge the same retail price paid by small businesses
for the PayCycle Payroll Plus service, you walk away with a 100% margin.
The only caveat is that the PayCycle system is designed to handle companies with 50 or fewer
active employees. If you have clients larger than this, PayCycle is not for them.
Need more proof that small client payroll can be profitable? Flip to the Online Payroll Services
Profit Model in the Appendix.
Myth 2: Payroll Takes Too Much Time
In 2000, 29% of CPAs in an Evans Research Associates survey said they do not provide payroll
services to clients because payroll “took too much time”; that it placed “too great of a time
demand” on their staff. In the same survey, 11% of the respondents said it was a “pain to be
around on payday,” to “baby-sit clients.” In short, for these professionals, payroll was an
unpleasant chore, a hassle to be avoided.
Negative word-of-mouth and past experiences have obviously produced negative attitudes
The key question is: Can payroll services be delivered to clients without high time demands,
with minimal (if any) baby-sitting on payroll days?
No and Yes.
No, if your clients' payrolls are complex, such as certified payrolls, union payrolls, farm payrolls,
and similar situations.
But. . .how many of your clients have complex payrolls? Probably not many, especially if your
firm, like the vast majority of accounting firms, serves small business clients with fewer than 50
employees (most small businesses have 5 to 20 employees). Government statistics indicate
that 90% of the 10 million businesses in the U.S. have fewer than 50 employees.
For most of your clients with typical payrolls, you can deliver payroll services without heavy time
burdens. The crucial element is using the right payroll solution. You need one with features that
minimize time demands. You also need one that provides anytime, anywhere access, so you
can quickly help a few “confused” or “time-overwhelmed” clients without being tied to your office.
PayCycle delivers that payroll solution. PayCycle is designed for most small business scenarios.
It eliminates complexity for accounting firms and their clients, without compromising on accuracy
and completeness. PayCycle includes:
Email reminders and a customized, automated client To-Do list for payroll tasks
Guaranteed accurate federal, state and local tax withholding calculations
An extensive list of predefined earnings and deductions, including retirement, tips
Accrual of vacation and sick pay
Federal e-payment and e-filing (full support for EFTPS)
State e-payment and e-filing where adopted by states, and signature-ready forms,
coupons and worksheets as needed for others
Employer registration forms
New Hire Reports
W-4s and I-9s ready to distribute
Professional, dynamic online reports—drill down, print and export reports to Excel
with the format intact
With the PayCycle Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals, you decide whether a
client accesses the PayCycle account for their company and receives the automated email task
reminders to perform all or part of a payday's processing. Of course, a client is given a separate
password, and can only access his/her own account. One scenario might be:
Client maintains basic employee information (address, phone, messages for
paychecks and advices).
Client enters hours and calculates paychecks.
Firm reviews and approves payroll information.
Client prints checks and direct deposit advices on blank check stock. (If all
employees elect direct deposit, advices can be printed on plain paper.)
Client prints some reports, firm prints others.
Firm transfers payroll information to the client’s QuickBooks database. (Clients can
do this if you think they can handle it.)
If you decide to hand off payday tasks to a client, PayCycle's guided, self-service solution walks
them through each payroll, so you don’t waste time telling them what to do. Your clients receive
an email reminder to perform a payroll task (optionally, you can receive an email too). Clicking
the link in the email, they arrive at a dynamic, client-specific To-Do List that steps them through
tasks. Plain language instructions, simple screens, and intelligent monitoring and error checking
make the self-service process easy, quick and thorough. Extensive online help is also available.
The tasks your clients handle are entirely up to you.
Do you think that your clients can’t handle paydays? No worries. If you have an administrative
person with basic computer skills and an ability to follow simple procedures, then he/she can
process payroll with PayCycle. Following PayCycle’s guided payroll task sequence, your
administrative person enters data in only a few fields.
Task Typical Time
Enter and review payday 5 to 7 minutes—you’re reading that right, and it is
information, print paychecks often less.
and direct deposit advices
(PayCycle supports both
preprinted and blank check
stock), and print reports
Create and remit federal and 1 to 3 minutes, depending on how many payments
state tax payments you need to remit, and whether the states support
electronic payment, or coupons and checks must be
File federal and state 3 to 5 minutes depending on e-filing support in
quarterly and annual forms some states. For paper form filing, PayCycle
prepares pre-filled, signature-ready forms.
Note: PayCycle does not impound taxes. Your
clients control their money. Only when you click the
Approve Payment button is money electronically
transferred from your client’s account.
Create W-2s, Other Forms Minutes at the end of the year. No time pressures.
No hassles. Also, PayCycle includes New Hire
Reports and W-4s and I-9s ready for distribution.
Form 1099s are supported too.
PayCycle is able to cut task time because its payroll solution is designed for the 21st Century.
PayCycle delivers instant paycheck calculation and immediate display of earnings, deductions
and taxes. The system runs as fast as you can type. Checks and direct deposit advices can be
printed immediately. Literally, paychecks can be in an employee’s hands seconds after data is
entered. Plus, you can access reports for any period desired, with drill down features and one-
click export to Microsoft Excel (with the format intact). Also, remitting taxes is simple and
effortless. PayCycle dynamically applies IRS and state rules to each client payroll, letting you
know exactly when they are due, so all you need to do is click to remit.
So, regardless of whether you or your client runs payroll, one thing is for sure–-PayCycle does
the work behind the scenes, leaving you plenty of time to add up your profits.
Myth 3: Clients Don’t Want The Service
This is not true. The Trusted Advisor role is alive and well.
Of course, not all clients appreciate the full value of their advisor. Also, not all accountants
effectively articulate their value to clients (or instill it in their own firms). Still the role is there,
waiting for professionals to fulfill client needs, wants and desires for a part-time CFO.
Remember, clients want you to “take care of them” and deal with “accounting and the tough
stuff” so they can focus on growing and managing their enterprise.
From the client's perspective, handling “accounting and the tough stuff” commonly includes
payroll. Clients prefer to have their accountant do their payroll. In a survey by the National
Payment Corporation, 90% of respondents said they wanted their accountants to handle their
payroll. Another survey showed 34% of small businesses turn to their accountant because of
government regulations, relying on them to know and do everything associated with government
filings, tax regulations, and payroll and accounting principles.
Where does PayCycle fit into this situation?
PayCycle delivers the online, guided, self-service payroll solution that ensures easy, fast and
profitable fulfillment of trusted advisor responsibilities. No huge hardware, security or software
investment is required. No high administrative and operating costs like software updates, tax
table updates, direct deposit setup and processing fees, and so on are incurred.
With PayCycle, you can be processing your first client's payroll literally in minutes, paying only
$14.99 per month for everything. Email reminders arrive in your Inbox (or your clients’–-your
choice) with links to payday, tax payment and tax filing tasks. Dynamic To-Do Lists identify
tasks needing action, from completing setup items to authorizing tax payment transfers from the
client's bank account. PayCycle does not impound tax payments. All funds stay in the client’s
bank account until the payments are due. Step-by-step, simple screens with plain language
walk anyone with basic computer skills through tasks.
In addition, PayCycle provides the foundation for offering payroll services to new clients, which
then leads to growth in other professional service areas.
Do you think that promoting payroll services to new clients is difficult? It's not. Payroll is one of
the least challenging new services to sell to your clients because it is something they need on
an ongoing basic. Plus, as an accounting professional, you have the advantage over a
salesman. Rather than your foot blocking the door (an old cliché), the door is held open by your
Still tepid? Are you worried about the tools and skills needed to market payroll services?
PayCycle helps here too.
First, you possess marketing savvy. You employ more marketing skill each day than you know.
The simple acts of delivering quality services and caring about your clients (and showing it) are
the most basic tenets of successful marketing. This is marketing at its finest. By simply nurturing
and sustaining client relationships with integrity, quality work and trust, you gain what
companies spend tens of millions of dollars to achieve.
The most common marketing obstacles for accounting firms are a lack of familiarity with
marketing procedures and the need for readily available marketing tools. This is not a problem
with PayCycle. When you subscribe to PayCycle Wholesale Program for Accounting
Professionals, editable sales letters and a service brochure customized to your firm are
available immediately. The downloadable color brochure includes your firm's name, address
and other contact information (taken from your PayCycle record).
Going a step farther, PayCycle provides a Marketing Guide to help you acquire new clients.
Practical advice helps you deploy tried and tested marketing tactics to quickly and easily build
your payroll client business.
Myth 4: The Internet Is Not Secure
Another area that accounting professionals worry about is Internet security. You should be
skeptical when it comes to security. It's what your clients expect from their trusted advisor. It's
what a good businessman does when evaluating an opportunity. To properly evaluate the
payroll services opportunity, look for facts that reinforce or alleviate your concerns.
PayCycle requires logins and passwords, making casual access to payroll data, processing
functions, and check printing impossible.
PayCycle employs advanced encryption technology, specifically, 128-bit Secure Socket
Layer technology, for communication between a user’s web browser and PayCycle servers.
(All major financial institutions employ the same encryption technology.)
PayCycle implements multiple firewalls between the Internet and its programs and payroll
data. These are like very high barricades miscreants must climb over without being
detected. Other electronic security measures add still more hurdles and obstacles.
PayCycle maintains heavy physical security over servers containing payroll data and
PayCycle programs. Facilities include intrusion detection devices.
PayCycle’s security has been certified by some of the toughest industry watchdogs,
including VeriSign®, Truste® and the Online Better Business Bureau®.
In short, no operation is more secure than PayCycle. It’s no wonder that the IRS first partnered
with PayCycle to launch the latest XML-based e-filing system, and that Microsoft® Money and
QuickBooks Online Edition have selected PayCycle to be their self-service payroll solution.
This is your firm's and your client's data, and PayCycle protects it with generations of payroll
experience and commitment.
The Bottom Line: Client Payroll = Profit Is No Longer an Oxymoron
Client payroll opportunities are growing. Other accounting firms are adding this service, using it
to both expand and solidify their relationships with clients, and to bring in new small business
clients to whom they can cross-sell other services in the months and years ahead.
While some do payroll using in-house, low-cost to over-priced software, thousands use
PayCycle. They tap PayCycle’s 21st Century technology and deep payroll processing
experience to gain the most profitable solution for the vast majority of their clients. Rather than
fix payroll problems, these professionals have taken control, met and exceeded client
expectations, increased revenues, and increased profits.
Still not sure? Here's several quick reminders as to why you just can't afford to turn a blind eye
to client payroll anymore.
7 Reasons to Offer Payroll Services
1. Client payroll can be profitable and lead to demand for other services.
2. With the right solution, payroll is not time-consuming.
3. Payroll is a part of the traditional accounting firm model, enjoying greater potential
profits today (higher demand, lower costs) than ever before.
4. You can do successful marketing using common sense, the right tools and
5. Internet security is at the highest levels it has ever been, and online tools are
evolving into the norm for doing business.
6. Payroll is a vehicle to attract new clients.
7. Your clients want, expect and need you to be involved in payroll.
7 Reasons to Subscribe to the PayCycle Wholesale Program for Accounting
1. You keep your clients, not hand them off to a payroll service bureau.
2. You add value to client relationships by taking care of them; by fulfilling their
expectations; and by becoming their trusted advisor.
3. You control payroll processing and information. You determine what tasks are
done by the firm and by clients—at no additional cost.
4. You pay wholesale prices for payroll services—$14.99 per month per client for the
first five employees, then $0.25 per month for additional employees over five. No
extra fees, no nickel and dime charges. No limit on payrolls per month. No
additional software to purchase. No client setup fees. No tax impounding. No direct
deposit setup or processing fees. No annual contract. No charge for tax payments
e-pay. No charge for W-2’s. Nada.
5. PayCycle's low wholesale price gives you broad fee range potential, allowing you
to set fees based on business strategy and local competition.
6. You receive guidance from PayCycle's payroll experts whenever you need it, at no
7. PayCycle makes payroll fast and easy—it’s easy to get started, and absolutely no
training or prior payroll experience are required to use the service.
How about one more reason:
84% of users have already recommended PayCycle to others.
More telling is the “word-of-mouth” endorsement:
84% of users have already recommended PayCycle to others.
92% of users definitely or probably will recommend PayCycle to others.
To find out more about PayCycle's Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals, visit
www.PayCycle.com or call toll-free 866-729-2925.
Appendix – Online Payroll Service Profit Model
The model below shows how PayCycle's Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals can
help you make payroll a profitable part of your firm practice. It assumes a 5-employee small
business with 31 payrolls per year. For simplicity, only the per-payroll fee varies; the other
variables remain constant.
Online Payroll Service Profit Model
Revenue Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
Fee Per Payroll $30 $40 $50
Payrolls Per Year 31 31 31
Payroll Revenue Per Client Per Year $930.00 $1,240.00 $1,550.00
Fee Per Federal and State Forms Filing,
including remitting tax payments $10 $10 $10
Filings Per Year 6 6 6
Filing Revenue Per Client Per Year $60.00 $60.00 $60.00
Total Revenue Per Client Per Year $990.00 $1,300.00 $1,610.00
Cost per Hour $16 $16 $16
Time Per Payroll (minutes) 5 5 5
Costs per payroll
Hours $ $1.33 $1.33 $1.33
Checks per Payroll (5 checks) $0.20 $0.20 $0.20
Reports $ (20 pages) $0.30 $0.30 $0.30
(Conservative Buffer) $2.50 $2.50 $2.50
Total $4.33 $4.33 $4.33
Payrolls Per Year 31 31 31
Payroll Cost Per Client Per Year $134.33 $134.33 $134.33
Federal and State Forms Filing, including
remitting tax payments (minutes) 5 5 5
Filings Per Year 4 4 4
Total Minutes 20 20 20
Cost Per Year $5.33 $5.33 $5.33
Year-End W-2s (minutes) 5 5 5
Cost Per Year $1.33 $1.33 $1.33
PayCycle Accountants Wholesale Service
(fee per client) $180.00 $180.00 $180.00
Total Payroll Cost Per Client Per Year $321.00 $321.00 $321.00
Profit Per Client Per Year $669.00 $979.00 $1,289.00
For twenty-one years, Bob Wolff has served the accounting firm and small to mid-sized
business markets as a consultant, contributing editor, technology marketing and product
manager, and manager in a CPA firm.
Positions in software companies included Director of Marketing, Product Manager, Acquisition
Manager, Trainer, Sales Rep, and Support Manager. Bob has managed accounting, payroll,
time & billing, tax preparation, sales tax, and other software products from customer, market
and competitor research and product definition to launch (and re-launch) of product and ongoing
marketing campaigns. A key factor in his success was his Gang of 20.
As a consultant, Bob has served more than 100 software companies and 1,300 accounting
firms, providing technology implementation, marketing, product, management strategy, and
other services. Clients have ranged from two-person firms to billion dollar companies.
As a freelance writer, Bob has written for every major publication serving the accounting firm
market as well as others serving the SMB market. He has conducted over 400 service, software
and hardware reviews, as well as written dozens of marketing and business articles. Bob also
wrote and edited a marketing newsletter for accounting firms, and has researched and authored
market reports and white papers. Bob has spoken nationally at industry conferences, including
the Intuit Developer Conference.
Fresh Eyes, Inc.