Accounting Workflow
Accounting Workflow

6 steps to optimizing your workflows

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I know what it’s like to have a traditional workflow that just isn’t working. Several years ago, I moved from a traditional desktop paper-based practice to a 100% virtual paperless practice.

There needs to be a “why” behind every major change, a motivating reason that spurs you on. Personally, the reason why I optimized my workflow is that I was a work-from-home mom with three young kids. A baby, a two-year-old, and a four-year-old, to be exact. I had only 22 hours a week to run my practice. Everything I used, including the accounting software to reconcile transactions to my laptop, had to work 100 percent. I simply couldn’t afford downtime or wait around for essential documents from a client.

I also needed to take my practice virtual to eliminate paper from my home office. When you have minions running around your house with a fistful of crayons, every document, no matter how important it might be, is soon scribbled on.

The tipping point came when I had to return a client’s paper package with a giant Elmo drawn on their bank statement. Although the client laughed and appreciated my daughter’s abstract talent, I was embarrassed. At this moment, I knew that I had to change how I was running my practice.

How my practice was operating

Let’s go back 16 years, right to when I began running my own practice from home. Here’s a list of everything I was doing wrong.

  • My clients’ outstanding bookkeeping tasks were recorded in Excel or even worse, in my mind using the limited amount of brainpower that I had left!
  • I didn’t have formalized engagements; therefore, I didn’t have a defined way to manage scope creep.
  • My invoicing was done after the work was completed using a pitiful hourly rate. I would then sit and wait for the mail to deliver a check 90 days later.
  • I was disorganized with tasks, non-compliant with engagements, and used a billing model that affected productivity and made it difficult for my firm to grow.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, read on. I’m about to share some of my personal tips and tricks for how to work smarter and not harder.

How I fixed my workflow problem

First, I had to adjust my mindset and overcome my fear of change. Once I did that, the following six steps to working virtually and optimizing my workflows were a piece of cake.

Step 1: Question everything

I only had limited time to complete all my necessary responsibilities; as a result, I began to question everything I was doing. It was a lesson I learned from my toddler who relentlessly asked me “why” whenever I told her anything. The standard answer, “just because,” was never good enough for my daughter – and I soon realized that it wasn’t good enough for my practice, either.

In everything that you do, ask yourself … Could this task be done more efficiently with technology or delegated?

Here are a few everyday tasks you can begin to question:

Example 1: Schedule virtual meetings

Given recent circumstances with COVID-19, this might seem obvious. However, as people begin to return to work, some will pick up right where they left off and resume in-person client meetings. After all, if that’s how you’ve always done it, then why change?

As it turns out, there are many reasons.

Driving to a potential client’s location was taking a massive toll on my schedule. Plus, when I got there, I was relying on a humble paper notebook to frantically scribble down detailed meeting notes. Both of these processes were overly time consuming and added little value. Yet, I persisted in using them for far too long.

I realized something had to change. My first assertive step was to ask all clients to meet with me virtually using Zoom. This immediately put time back on my calendar and allowed me to be more efficient when initially vetting clients. The process quickly helping me identify those that were opposed to adopting technology.

Simply put, if a potential client insisted that I meet with them in person, a red flag would appear in my mind. I’d know that they weren’t a good fit for my cloud-based business. In time, I began to learn about the benefits of recording each Zoom session (with the permission of the attendees), before using to transcribe the meeting. Those notes would then be electronically stored in my filing system. These tools enabled me to focus on building client relationships, instead of mundane commuting back and forth to meetings and tedious notetaking.

Example 2: Delegate to a Remote Workforce

As a solopreneur, I quickly realized that there weren’t enough hours in the day to complete the work I needed to finish. To remedy this, I needed to hire a remote workforce. I initially began looking for remote team members who could handle the tasks I wasn’t enjoying.

For example, I was able to solve timekeeping with QuickBooks® Time, but desperately needed someone to be accountable for overseeing this payroll task so I could focus on onboarding clients.

Step 2: Unplug the printer

Paperless workflows require one thing: that you stop printing on paper. The arrival of my remote workforce was a major catalyst to digitize the practice’s documentation; I couldn’t bear the thought of endlessly couriering paper back and forth. It’s incredibly satisfying when you find ingenious ways to make your source documents digital when you can’t print!

Applications such as Hubdoc and Dext allowed me to unplug the printer, and collaborate better with both my clients and team members. For a small subscription fee, I ended up saving an incredible amount of time and headaches.

Step 3: Document tasks

After hiring a new team member, it became apparent that I didn’t adequately document my recurring workflow for bookkeeping tasks. My new colleague highlighted that my recurring workflow documentation was significantly lacking. I hired accounting professionals, not mind readers, and so my new hires needed clear instructions.

Drawing on my ISO manufacturing experience, I began the daunting task of creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) in an effort to develop consistent workflows in line with my high standards.

Over time, I came to realize I was working too hard – in order to continue growing the practice, I would need to better delegate. This required a certain level of trust. However, it was made easier once I started recording how each task should be completed using the video platform Loom.

Team members would watch the videos and then document the SOPs. The documented SOPs can subsequently be easily hosted in Google Drive, Box, and hyperlinked to our practice management workflows in Intuit® Practice Management.

Step 4: Implement Intuit Practice Management

It’s imperative to have a well-defined workflow if you want to grow your practice. After using several practice management platforms, we’ve finally found our fit with Intuit Practice Management, which allows us to create templates, easily onboard clients, and manage their monthly bookkeeping tasks all in one place.

Perhaps the hardest part of implementing any practice management platform is defining your tasks. After all, you don’t just do bookkeeping, tax, or accounting. Every task, whether it’s producing financial statements or sending off a tax return, consists of several smaller tasks.

Start by compartmentalizing each service you provide. For example, here’s a basic list of recurring tasks you may complete for a bookkeeping client:

  • Clearing bank feeds
  • Approving timesheets
  • Processing payroll
  • Posting expenses
  • Paying vendor bills
  • Posting customer invoices
  • Recording customer payments
  • Reconciling bank accounts
  • Reconciling credit card accounts
  • Filing sales tax returns
  • Using management reports

Your next task is to define which apps will be used to optimize which specific workflow. Then, create a video showing how you want the work to be completed. QuickBooks® has an amazing app marketplace to help you discover new efficiency-boosting apps.

Analyze which internal processes currently cause the most pain – taking the most time and requiring too much effort. From there, you can begin to search for a specific app to solve that problem. For example, if you’re struggling to collect source documents from your clients. then book some time off in your calendar to research apps such as Hubdoc and Dext.

I’ve found it helpful to book an “app holiday” in my calendar where I dive deep into an app in order to really understand its value proposition. Then, when I feel comfortable, I pick an app to implement in my practice books or a demo account. I use it for a month to properly get to know it. When I feel confident that the solution is just right and have mastered how to use it, I’ll confidently roll it out to my client base.

Step 5: Implement Practice Ignition

I’m a firm believer in the phrase “practice what you preach.” I was an active Practice Ignition user long before accepting my role as head of accounting (AMER) for the company. While I could go on for hours about how much I love the company, what truly drives me to use Practice Ignition in my boutique bookkeeping practice is how simple it is to manage scope creep and get paid!

During a recent webinar, I was asked why I chose Practice Ignition for my business. After a brief moment of consideration, I decided to speak candidly and tell the truth:

“I chose Practice Ignition because I lost a $12,000 customer with my unprofessional proposal using a Word template.”

That’s right. My proposal workflow didn’t match the polished image I had worked so hard to build on social media or the knowledge I had with financial technology to solve the client’s pain points. It was a humbling experience to have a follow-up conversation with the lost customer. It did, however, give me the much-needed feedback to fix my workflow!

Today, Practice Ignition helps me manage scope creep to grow my practice. In many ways, I have learned to love scope creep because it means my clients’ businesses are growing and as a result, so do my services. Practice Ignition’s solid engagement letters mean that we always stay compliant, and the tool ensures that we get paid before the work is done.

Pro tip: Consider building your service library in Practice Ignition so that you can easily gate and manage your scope creep. Payroll is a great example.

For example, when you first draft your engagement in Practice Ignition, you may be quoting payroll services. Let’s presume the client is in the start-up phase and has three employees. My suggestion would be to quote to run payroll for up to five employees, while being definitive on whether it’s on a weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly cycle. This gives the client room to grow before you update your services when they hire their sixth employee.

For additional scope, you may want to quote on providing expense reporting for employees and monthly commissions or bonuses. Also, don’t forget to quote separately for health benefits, taxable income, profit sharing calculations, or other provisions for reporting to government agencies.

I’ve generally found that payroll is often the culprit behind most scope creep. If documented properly in your service library, this can easily be identified. You’ll then begin to increase your monthly recurring revenue as your client grows their workforce.

The more specific you are with your service libraries, the more transparent you can be with your customer about scope creep. Plus, it can also be useful in helping you transition away from the hourly billing model.

Step 6: Never settle

If you encounter friction with an employee or a client, this is a warning sign to revisit and rethink your workflows. Issues can often be boiled down to poor workflow documentation, instead of an employee actively making a mistake. Take immediate action to determine if it’s applicable to your entire client base and fix it as soon as possible!

In my webinars, I often preach “continuous improvement” and to “never settle for the status quo.” By humbly receiving feedback and having the motivation to change a process where necessary, you’ll continuously learn to adopt new technologies and embrace innovative ways to better serve your clients.

Next steps

Defining your workflows is deeply personal to your brand and the level of service you offer to your clients. Ultimately, your workflows set you apart from the rest of the profession and help you retain employees, reduce client churn, and simplify how you operate.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Raymond Loewy, a famous industrial designer who strived to improve the aviation, locomotive, and consumer goods industries (among others): “Never leave well enough alone.”

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Practice Ignition.

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