Remember when everything accountants did involved paper? You would have a stack of files on your desk and your workflow consisted of picking up the next file. Prioritization was accomplished by moving the papers around and perhaps handing off a file to a colleague if you were in need of assistance.
In a paperless world, it’s much harder to keep track of where a file is. When the file is digital, it exists everywhere and nowhere all at once. How do you keep track of it when you have to go hunt down a file on the server? You can no longer prioritize by moving the physical files.
To avoid overlooking things or having them get lost in the virtual paper shuffle, you need to have a workflow. Yes, you really do need a workflow. Keep reading to find out what a workflow is, the benefits, examples of what success looks like, and how to set them up for client work at your accounting practice.
What is an Accounting Workflow?
In the simplest terms, an accounting workflow is a way to keep track of your projects. A workflow allows you to know what projects are in progress, who is working on those projects, and timelines. Open projects, deadlines, and assignments are the minimum pieces of information needed to create a workflow.
Workflows can take on many forms. A to-do list is the simplest example of a workflow and can work for a one-person team. As your team expands, a shared list might work for a while. However as your business grows and your projects become more complex, the constraints of a to-do list means you don’t have the flexibility and transparency needed to manage your team.
Workflow systems work best when they include separate workflows for each type of project and a unified system that allows you to see an overview of your team's workload. Though spreadsheets can work, there are robust systems such as Jetpack Workflow that are made for accountants and bookkeepers.
The Major Benefits of Implementing Workflows
For employees at accounting firms, a standard workflow can reduce stress and improve efficiency. When your employees know what is expected of them and when it’s expected, there is less guess work involved in their job.
It also allows them the flexibility to prioritize their work tasks (and, let’s be honest, their life) to get the job done on their schedule while still meeting deadlines and adhering to your company’s quality standards. Standardizing workflows also allows them to know the expectations and procedures required for each project.
For firm owners, there are even more benefits. By being able to monitor employee workloads, you can more efficiently staff your firm which can save you money. If employees are consistently missing deadlines, you’ll be well-aware before it becomes a long term problem. Or if employees are underutilized based on their current projects, you’ll be able to assign them additional work.
If clients have demanding expectations, you’ll be able to evaluate whether or not your team can meet the demands and proactively address the possible issue with your client. A workflow system gives you more insight into all these aspects of your firm.
Examples of Accounting Workflows
There are numerous ways to structure a workflow. Finding the right version for your team will depend on a variety of factors including the type of work you do, the level of involvement you want to have in the maintenance of the workflow, and the size of your team.
Simple Accounting Workflow
A simple accounting workflow might consist of a paper to-do list or the modern equivalent, a spreadsheet. In this system, each project is entered on the list with some client information and a due date. It’s best to also enter the due dates on a calendar. This system captures what each person needs to understand about the project and what needs to be done based on a single entry.
Each day, you’ll need to check your workflow system and see what is left to be accomplished. Assigning tasks to your teammates will involve calling or emailing them to ensure that you’re all on the same page.
A simple accounting workflow can work well for a small team. If everyone knows what is going on with all of your clients, then a list containing all the open projects might be enough to keep your team organized. If you have a large number of clients or projects, a simple system may be too time-consuming to be effective.
Slightly More Advanced Accounting Workflow
When the simple task list doesn’t help with growing demand, most companies migrate to a slightly more complex system. The old spreadsheets and to-do lists are abandoned in favor of shared tasks lists and online systems. These generic systems solve some of the problems found with a simple system - you can assign tasks to teammates easily and track deadlines.
However, the problem with these types of systems is that they require a lot of manual entry. You’ll need to set up a checklist for each project or find the right template for recurring projects. Yes, you’ll be able to see which tasks are assigned to each team member. The problem is that these systems rarely come with time estimate tools making it harder to judge the workload of each of your employees across projects.
Robust Accounting Workflow
A robust system keeps your entire team connected. Each team member can see what jobs are assigned to them, and what their teammates are working on. Each project comes with its own standard task list and has the option to customize projects, if necessary.
Robust accounting workflow systems will minimize the time spent onboarding new clients and projects in the system - maximizing the time you have to actually work on the projects. New clients can be quickly entered. Employees can quickly be trained on the intuitive system. And integrating the workflow system into your existing practice will be seamless.
Robust systems will proactively inform you of upcoming deadlines and alert you to any missed dates. Because all projects are entered into the system, anyone with access to the workflow system can provide the client an immediate update on the progress of the project improving the client experience with your company. The robust workflow system will also facilitate internal communication minimizing miscommunication between team members.
Free Accounting Workflow Templates
You could start building your workflow system from scratch. You probably already have some sort of basic system where you track tasks assigned to yourself and possibly your team. But there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Jetpack Workflow has a series of 32 accounting workflow templates available for free to download.
They have provided templates for various workflows for accountants including bookkeeping workflows, financial statement workflows, tax engagement workflows, and audit workflows. Each of these is tailored for the specific job but their templates also allow the flexibility to customize the workflow further based on your specific needs.
A Tool That Makes Managing Workflows Super Easy
When you’re ready to take your workflow system to the next level, you should consider Jetpack Workflow as a workflow software. This online workflow solution is built for the accounting industry and can streamline your work management for your team whether you work together in an office or are dispersed throughout the country (or the world).
Task management gets a lot easier with workflow automation. Jetpack Workflow’s online system gives you visibility so you can monitor the progress of all your projects and evaluate the workload of each of your team members.
The intuitive system includes various views that let you monitor your projects via a calendar or to-do list. When your team members are also on Jetpack, you can assign tasks to them and oversee their progress in a single dashboard.
Even if your team is still small enough to get by using a simple workflow system, by integrating a robust system into your small firm, you will create good habits that enhance your business processes and work delivery. Jetpack Workflow has a 14-day free trial so you can test the system for yourself and see how much time you can save by implementing the system for your business.