Workflow Basics for the Accounting Firm
Overlooked, underdeveloped, yet when growing your business, workflow is the foundation on which success is built. It sounds basic and maybe even simple, yet when growing your business, your firm is not fit to grow unless you have the workflow in good order.
With each success and each milestone, your business grows. Referrals pour in, your client base grows, and staff numbers increase. And then the growing pains hit. Documents are lost in the shuffle, deadlines are missed, hours are increased, clients are unhappy, and staff becomes disgruntled.
Growth is good and this disarray that comes with it is common. “There is a paradox at the heart of chaos,” maintain Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack, authors of the book: The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation Effectiveness and Success. “For all the destructive power of the chaos, [for example], unleashed by the Black Plague [in Europe], it turned out to be the crucible in which the modern Western world was forged… It may seem magical and bizarre that the Renaissance came about so quickly after the plague.” But it wasn’t random or surprising, they say. It happens again and again throughout history and within organizations.
Yet in the realm of a growing accounting firm, this chaos could easily be avoided with a good workflow system in place.
What, Exactly, Is Workflow?
According to Benjamin Brandall, content marketer at Process Street, workflow is the way people get work done. It can be illustrated as a series of steps that need to be completed sequentially in a diagram or checklist. Conceptually, workflow is the high-level overview of how work gets done. It’s the intentional design of how work is to flow through your firm from one stage/job/task to the next, whether that be through one person, or involving multiple people.
In their book, Double Your Accounting Firm, David Cristello and Joe Cassandra advise , “when you build a process [what you actually do] designed to service workflow, your efficiency goes up.” Efficiency is the key to successful expansion of your business.
Setting up the right systems to handle your workload now will save you important time, effort, and heartache in the future.
Many owners make the mistake of expanding their staff to handle increased numbers of clients. This is a great problem to have! But unfalteringly, with more staff and workload comes inefficiency and confusion. As staff members are added and trained, processes are tweaked slightly from person to person. Pretty soon, the process only resembles the well-oiled one originally in place. Communication falters, confusion sets in, and clients become upset over missed deadlines.
If you don’t have a good workflow system in place, you’ll wind up adding more and more staff to combat the inefficiency, costing you more time, stress, and profits. But if you get the right systems in place, you’ll see you have more time and more profits. You’ll be hiring only the right number of people. Because of your increased time and efficiency, your capacity will open up to allow room to grow without having to hire more people just to handle the additional clients.
A well-functioning workflow system can take the place of a significant amount of administrative staff. That means that putting a good foundation in place can add a hefty profit to your firm.
Everything Gets Taken Care of Because Your Workflow Works.
Think of your workflow as an assembly line process. In order to run smoothly and predictably, everything must go in, through, and come out the same way. Cookie cutter? Yes. But this is vitally important.
Baseline of a Successful Firm
In order to create an efficient workflow and monitor its effectiveness, you have to understand what success looks like. It’s generally agreed across the industry that the top three metrics to pay attention to when running a successful firm are:
Turnaround time on work (how fast and efficiently work is completed)
Capacity and utilization (if anyone is over- or under-utilized)
Profit per client (how healthy the margins are)
The first two are governed by your workflow. Your profit is the result. How effective your workflow runs, dictates how high or low your profit margin is.
We live in the age of fast food, fast cars, and fast internet service. Quick turnaround time keeps clients happy and gives them the best experience possible. In order to make that happen, internal deadlines must be met, and team members must be properly scheduled.
Work expands to fill the time available for its completion according to Parkinson’s Law. Instead of loose deadlines or no deadline at all, immediately set a deadline for each project that comes in. You’ll find that work will actually be completed on time and to the client quickly. That’s great service and a happy client.
Capacity and Utilization
An improved capacity for your current team enables them to take on more work and can lead to the ability to bring on new clients, while still nurturing your core group of current clients. In order to handle the increased workload without hiring more staff to compensate, a solid workflow must be in place . . . . and actually followed.
Break It Down
Create a workflow map or diagram by looking at your processes and breaking them down into steps, then further take them down into detailed substeps. Utilize your staff, working together to outline how they get work done, and where problems and bottlenecks lie. Take what the client actually sees through this process into consideration, as well. Figure out where you can save time, what part of the process needs clarification, and if additional steps are needed.
Pay attention to where your team’s time is going. Is there down time? Are there too many hours? How much time is wasted running around looking for documents? Find out where you can cut unproductive time.
Assess where the hiccups in your process are and develop an efficient workflow specific to your firm, client base, and staff. Your clients will be happy, you won’t be working insane hours during the day and up at night stressing, and your team will be happier and more consistent.
Jetpack Workflow’s workflow software can help you manage all of your financial services firm workflow needs. Contact us for a demo and follow us on Facebook to learn more.