Ah, the month-end close checklist. An accounting checklist with the tasks you and your team use to cinch up the books of your clients, each and every calendar month. Depending on the client, and your firm’s processes, the month-end close ranges from ridiculously easy to rather time-consuming.
As a firm owner, you likely have a process for rectifying and reconciling client accounts. So this article isn’t about rehashing the “what” of the month-end close, but to:
- Discuss potential setbacks in a typical close process
- Highlight ways to improve the process
- Explain how to (easily) automate and templatize your month-end situation
So, let’s get into it!
Potential Issues in Month-End Close Checklist(s) and Processes
Many firms start small, even as a team of one. In the early stages, it’s easy to ensure tasks get checked off. You likely have your hand on every deliverable going out the door. As you grow, the current way to handle to-dos may not be enough to take you into the future of your business.
Common problems you’ll notice include:
- Tasks falling between the cracks
- Frazzled, confused, and potentially burnt-out staff
- Late deliverables
Here are three specific root causes of these problem areas (related to your month-end checklists). And don’t worry, we talk about solutions right after that!
High Growth Rate
High growth rate a problem? Right now, you’re imagining the sound of the music scratching to a halt, as everyone at the party turns to look at us.
After all, isn’t growth a good thing? YES! Absolutely.
That said, there’s a big but after that. Growing quickly tests the resolve of many firm owners, creating a period of stress: Finding new hires to fill roles, figuring out if you have enough cash flow to pay them, and organizing the actual work getting done.
A growing business is as stressful as it is blissful.
Once you have a team of accountants and a solid book of clients, it’s harder to create consistency. A consistent process (for your firm) and experience (for your clients).
Plus, it’s important to understand exactly what you ask of your team to ensure you’re getting the most from them—while not reaching burnout.
Note: A dedicated, templatized, and recurring checklist (using workflow software) allows you to quickly create checklists and assign them to your team.
Slow Client Response
Depending on the contract you have with a client, or the services you offer, your team is often waiting. For instance, perhaps you’re waiting for inventory count information to reconcile that with sales numbers.
Typically, the team has 80-90% of what’s needed, but that 10%...whew. Sometimes, it takes (seemingly) forever to get that data.
Handoffs? What Handoffs?
It’d be nice if you could have one checklist to rule them all. But much like the ring of power, checklist items tend to change hands often. Without a clear view of who does what, and when, you and the team could feel a little worn out when it’s all said and done.
Improve Your Firm’s Month-End Close Checklist
Now that we’ve highlighted the negative, it’s time to improve your month-end close checklist and your firm. We’ve come up with three solid solutions to consider in your own processes.
Develop a Workflow
Checklists are great. However, they’re often best used by individuals. Meaning, if you’re going to the store for party food, and we’re going to pick up decorations—it’s likely we’ll need two separate lists.
But what about everything else that needs to be done for the party?
Multiple checklists, people involved, and critical timing are all part of this plan. Using this example, running an accounting firm is a party everyday. Meaning even the month-end process isn’t as simple as a grocery list.
It’s work, and work flows from the client to multiple members of your team — and back to the client. Throw in multiple clients and services, and it really is a party.
The solution is designing your ideal workflow. In this case:
- How do you want the month-end close to go from beginning to end?
- Who’s involved, and at what stage are they jumping into it?
- Which items (on the checklist) are each of these individuals handling?
Once you have these details, the checklist becomes a process for how your firm handles each and every client close. Your one month-end checklist may become a few separate lists based on those involved.
- A client checklist to ensure all data arrives in a timely manner
- The actual accounting checklist for the teammate on that account
- The firm owner’s checklist to ensure quality before the finished report(s)
Bonus tip: Try creating a workflow diagram for your month-end process. This will help you map things out and help new staff wrap their head around your firm’s processes.
Create Official, Duplicatable Templates
Now that you’ve gone beyond the checklist to create a month-end workflow, it’s time to templatize it. This is where a workflow tool, like Jetpack Workflow, comes in handy.
For example, we have a workflow library with dozens of accounting firm-specific checklists. And of course there’s a month-end template to get you started.
You create a templated month-end workflow, and set task lists each month. And remember creating checklists for you, the team, and the client?
In Jetpack Workflow, you can set checklists to be recurring (i.e. “monthly,” or“quarterly”). This way, you won’t have to remind the team, or client, of regularly needed information. It’s already on their list!
If we’re dancing, workflows are a step back from checklists (to see the bigger picture) and labels are a step inward (to really dig into the work). In short, labels are like steps on the floor, when taking dance lessons. To know where you are and what you’re doing next.
Using labels, you’ll quickly see the status of an individual task item. And using Jetpack Workflow, you can create 100 custom labels.
For instance, a label could be “waiting on client” or “ready for review.” Think about how a clear label saves time for a second. You open up the old workflow dashboard and see certain tasks aren’t done.
You (without labels) then send off an email to your remote accountant to find out why it’s not done. But you (with labels) quickly see the status and know to check back later.
And that’s just what labels do for you, the owner. Multiply that times hundreds of tasks and multiple teammates. Add up all of that saved time, and you’ve got yourself a reason to label EVERYTHING.
Month-End Checklists Made Easier with Workflow Software
As a firm owner, the month-end close checklist is one pillar of process in your overall business. Hopefully, we’ve got you thinking about mapping out how your firm operates in order to improve efficiency—and set the stage for growth.
If so, we’d love to offer you the best next step. Take a look at 32 workflow templates we created for accounting firms. No software or tools needed, just solid process outlines for your business.