5 Key Steps to Automate Your Accounting Workflows
It’s the middle of your busy season, and you wake up in the middle of the night panicking.
Did you make that payment on behalf of the client? Did you send off that deliverable before the deadline? Did you get a signoff on that tax return that needs to be submitted? Whatever your field of expertise, there are to-do items that can keep you up at night.
As an accountant, you’re used to deadlines and juggling multiple priorities. What happens when all those mental gymnastics start to take a toll?
Outsourcing your mental to-do list and using accounting workflow automation can reduce the number of sleepless nights and overall anxiety levels.
What is Accounting Workflow Automation?
Automation means a lot of things in the accounting world. You no longer have to spend your time manually entering every transaction into accounting systems – there are bank feeds that can either be directly or indirectly imported to most systems. With a simple click of a button, you can record purchases. Click another button, and you’ve matched up the transaction to the feed from other bank accounts.
Several accounting systems sync directly with tax software, and there are PDF readers that can analyze and input W-2s into tax returns. Again, automation has reduced a lot of the most mundane accounting tasks.
Automation can also prevent human error. But what about the accounting tasks that can’t be automated? There are many value-added items that can’t be taken over by current software systems. That’s where accountants really add their value. So why waste time on the tasks that computers are best suited for?
You’ve seen the external places where automation can make your job easier. However to truly audit your accounting system, you should take a look inward at your own firm and evaluate what internal processes are ripe for automation.
While the actual accounting work lends itself to automation, so does firm management. Most accounting tasks are repetitive and involve the same steps, which are completed on a regular schedule. There is very little need to manually set up each project and create the same steps over and over again for similar work.
Accounting workflow automation takes manual tasks and automates them including scheduling, assigning work, and monitoring processes. It can include team management and client management.
It increases efficiency for finance professionals. When mental capacity and team member resources are freed up, you’ll be able to produce better and more accurate work for your clients. Workflow automation means that once you have started a project, all the steps are laid out for you so you don’t have to worry about overlooking steps.
Is Workflow Automation Software Necessary for Accounting Firm Owners?
Accounting firms existed centuries before computers. Actually, accounting firms existed for centuries before calculators and widely-available paper. As long as there has been money, there have been people tasked with tracking it.
Does that mean that workflow automation software is an unnecessary expense and hassle for accounting firm owners? Not at all. Much like the calculator decreased the time it took to make any calculation, workflow automation software can reduce the time you spend overseeing your firm.
By automating your workflow system, you can minimize the time spent setting up projects and overseeing your team to make sure that projects are still on track. By increasing efficiency and decreasing repetitive tasks, you’ll increase your accounting team’s productivity and profitability.
Examples of Accounting Workflow Items That Can Be Automated
There are many areas of accounting firm management that are ideal for accounting process automation. It starts with any process that lives in Excel spreadsheets. Below are several examples of areas where your team can work more efficiently.
Recurring meetings. In one of the simplest examples of workflow automation, you can set up a recurring meeting. Whether this is to check in on projects or internal company check-ins, any meeting that happens on a set schedule can be automated. There’s no need to figure out who is scheduling the next meeting when it’s already on everyone’s calendars.
Payroll. Payroll (usually by law) happens on a regular schedule. It’s important for people to know that they are getting paid on time. If all of your staff is on salary, the entire process can be automated. If you have hourly employees, you do need to get involved a bit (or not involved at all if your payroll system integrates with time tracking). Set up your payroll taxes to automatically get paid after payroll is run and you barely have to notice the process is happening (as long as there’s money in the bank!).
Bookkeeping or monthly financials. You do accounting for your clients which often means reaching out to them with questions and clarification. But your own firm’s accounting can be mostly automated. Invoices for regularly scheduled services can be sent out and receipts gathered automatically.
Your bank transactions can be downloaded directly from the bank. And any vendor you’ve paid before will have their transactions automatically categorized and entered. After automating these tasks, you only need to have minimal involvement in making sure your books are updated.
Client onboarding. There are numerous key pieces of information that need to be acquired when onboarding a new client. You need to get access to their information either directly or by setting up a way for the client to get you the information.
First steps include assigning the account to an account manager, gathering all the pertinent information, and making sure that their work is on your team’s schedule. Most of these manual processes can be automated. Ensuring that your client onboarding workflow is automated within your accounting software will show your clients that you’re ready to focus on the task at hand and you have the systems in place to get it done accurately and efficiently.
5 Key Steps to Automate Your Accounting Workflows
Step 1: Analyze Your schedule
If you don’t already, spend some time tracking your schedule and your team’s schedules. Look for areas that are eating up a lot of your time and your resources. Also, look for tasks that are repetitive in nature. For example, if you spend hours each day checking in with team members to get status updates on projects, that’s probably an area of potential improvement.
You’ll also find that a lot of your time (hopefully) is involved with high-value tasks such as client interaction or solving complicated accounting problems. However, there is always room for improvement and identifying ways to spend more of your time on these projects.
Step 2: Decide which tasks can be eliminated
You may love writing personalized email responses to every client inquiry. Or maybe you enjoy doing data entry, despite the fact that it’s not the best use of your time. After analyzing your schedule, it’s time to figure out what you can let go.
This is probably the hardest part of the process because it might mean letting go of some tasks you enjoy or some old, routine habits. It’s important during this step to make an extensive list of possible improvements and be ruthless when identifying which items can go. There are several important questions to ask yourself during this phase:
- Is this task adding value for me or my clients?
- Can this task be accomplished by using a computer program or delegating the work?
- Is there something else that my time would better be spent on?
Step 3: Determine what can be automated
If you can’t eliminate a low-value task, it’s time to turn to automation.
Can you set up a workflow that is implemented each time you are faced with certain situations such as client onboarding or sending out estimated tax payment reminders? Are there areas where maybe a personalized touch would be ideal, but you can save hours by being slightly more generic in your response and your clients will be delighted by the quick turnaround time?
By having standard responses and procedures, with as much of the task completed ahead of time as possible, you’ll free up time to get more work done, interact with you clients directly, and be able to cut down on your hours or take on more clients.
If billing your clients takes up several hours of your time each month, you can find an intuitive platform with integrations for time tracking and billing. Or you can change your clients over to regular monthly retainers (perhaps with a true-up once a year).
Step 4: Research your options
Once you’ve determined which tasks need to remain in your schedule and which tasks can potentially be automated, it’s time to start evaluating your options. Do you want to create your own tasks lists and schedules, or do you want to evaluate a fully-integrated accounting automation software such as Jetpack Workflow?
Your research needs to take into account the size of your team, the tasks you need to complete, and your future goals for your company. The earlier in your company’s life that you can implement an automated workflow, the more ingrained the practice will be for you and your team.
Step 5: Be understanding and flexible
Automation has its place, but it’s essential to understand that not everything is going to go according to plan.
At the beginning of automating your accounting workflows, you should be understanding when automation tools don’t work exactly the way you intended. There is some trial and error in every workflow automation. Tasks will need to be updated a few times before they work perfectly for your team. Implementing any type of procedure change for your firm is a process.
Workflow Automation for Accounting Firms Made Simple with Jetpack Workflow
The thought of adapting your practice to new software and new routines can be off putting. But when you consider the time you could save, accuracy gained, and potential decrease in payroll expense, you’ll probably want to give it a go.
If you can overcome your initial hesitation, you’ll likely never look back. After an initial learning curve, no one ever throws their calculator away and goes back to calculating everything by hand.
Try Jetpack Workflow free for 14 days with no obligation, and you’ll equip your talented team with the tools they need to do efficient and more accurate work for your clients.