How Workflow Design Works for Accounting Firms

Think about the term “workflow design” for a minute. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Mapping out how your accounting firm handles the work, day-in and day-out, much like an architect. Like you have everything under control to run your business

The good news? It is (mostly) like it sounds. And better? You don’t have to be an architect. It takes work, for sure. But designing the ideal flow for your firm’s work is totally doable with the right know-how and tools. Let’s start with a slightly more technical explanation of workflow design.

A loose definition is the process of: 

  • Taking everything you do
  • Putting it in the optimal order
  • And using the design to improve operations (over time)

For accountants, it usually means designing a number of workflows, including one for each service, onboarding new clients, and even the process of selling additional services to existing clients over time (automating your growth).

Why Workflow Design is Important

If the picture of a workweek filled with ideal days wasn’t enough to swoon you, there are a number of pragmatic reasons why workflow design improves your accounting business. Here are four iron-clad benefits of mapping out your workflow.

See the Big Picture

Accounting is full of redundant and granular tasks divided out to a team of independent (and sometimes remote) CPAs. As the owner of a business, it’s difficult at times to know the overall condition of your company. 

A workflow design is a map of your organization. Lay it all out to see bottlenecks, reduce frustrations, and figure out where you’re spinning your wheels.

Faster Training Processes

The better you know how things flow, the easier it is to transfer that knowledge to new members of the team. Not to get all “Inception” on you, but hiring and training are also workflows that can be designed.

Less “Dropping the Ball”

Each service has individual tasks, and many firms offer tiered packages with multiple services. Designing each step from new client to monthly deliverables means fewer opportunities for mistakes. 

Plus, a workflow creates a stamp for your firm. It’s not how this CPA handles those reports and another colleague puts together this service. But a uniform set of processes to create a consistent and reliable product. 

More Time

It’s already busy season for tax accountants. And once the busy season is over, accounting firm owners are still busy. Either you’re taking on more work, because you enlisted seasonal help (for the rush). Or just hustling to grow your business. Designing workflows, when optimized for productivity, frees up time. 

This means more bandwidth to close clients or to spend with family. Either way, it’s a benefit of a clear, documented, and thoughtful process.

Methods of Creating a Workflow Design

There are a number of ways to lay out workflows. Many firms we’ve talked to have thought about their processes, and you’ve probably put some things down, too. Really, anything you’ve done to document how you do things is a foray into workflow design territory. Most of these systems use one (or more) of the following methods.

Documented Processes

This means that somewhere, there is a file or maybe many files, with how things should be done in your accounting firm. Sometimes, these are called “standard operating procedures” or (SOPs). Usually it’s on shared docs in Google Drive, Word docs in an email attachment, or maybe even your workflows are in a physical manual (you know, like the kind that goes in a binder). 

These are great starting points. Writing things out so you see it all, change things, and write down notes. Over the long haul, having something that is more useful is preferred by many accountants.

Potential issues with documents:

  • It’s not a real-time look at what’s currently happening in the firm
  • Updating docs is a pain, especially when no one uses them for the day-to-day
  • Text on paper isn’t the most visual tool, and since it’s supposed to be a map, visuals help tremendously

A List of Apps

Where would we be without apps? Calendars, Zoom, QBO. Accounting has so many useful gadgets nowadays. And then they keep coming; piling onto your phone and desktop.

Eventually, the apps you end up running, end up running you (someone said, probably). The thing is, using a number of apps gets the job done. For instance, your team may spend a lot of time in the email inbox while using a task management app, and about a half dozen other software tools.

The big issue with independent app workflows: 

Here’s the thing, they’re all independent, and you’re the one getting them to work together. You look at your tasks, and realize you need to follow up on an email. After some time, we all wonder why so many tabs have to be open at the same time, just to do a day’s work.

Tech is essential, but it should work together — for you.

A Workflow Tool

Many firms work with a hybrid of documentation and apps (like Google Docs + Slack + a Todo list app). A workflow tool differs by providing a single place for both the processes of your accounting firm as well as the accountability provided by checklists. 

With a workflow design platform, like Jetpack Workflow, you’ll even get visual reports to see things like:

  • What each team member is working on
  • Status for individual client projects
  • A tidy overview of all work in progress

Essentially, instead of working with a range of tools that get the job done, a specific workflow system gives you a hub to better understand and run your business. You’ll still outline and create the workflows, but then you’ll have an active manual (without the binder) that helps you and your team stay on the map.

Potential issues with workflow tools:

  • It’s a change that requires buy-in from the team
  • You have to use it to get the value from it
  • You need to get to know the product (since it’s likely new to you)

Design Your Ideal Flow with Jetpack Workflow

It may seem like we’re a bit biased when it comes to using a dedicated tool to design your workflow. That’s because of how much these tools help accounting teams save time and frustration each month. 

Think of not only having your workflows documented, but creating templates

  • Close a new client? Boom, you’re onboarding workflow template sets up the tasks so your team knows exactly where they are on the buyer journey.
  • Want automation to remind you of frequently forgotten tasks? Add it to your workflows, and the right tool will never let you forget.
  • Need to see how individual accountants are handling their workload? Get real-time progress reports for every project and team member.

A workflow platform moves your workflow design from an “SOP manual” to an interactive map that keeps you on pace and shows you exactly where your firm stands. If you’d like to explore our workflow templates, automation, and visual reporting — sign up for a free 14-day trial.

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