We hear a lot about accountants evolving their businesses to offer high margin (advisory) services. This makes sense as technology innovation, increased competition and downward price pressure impact the industry.
The fact is, however, that most accounting businesses will continue to offer compliance services because they are in demand and are the bedrock of an accounting business. Accountants should ensure they are efficient in terms of workflow to generate profit AND to keep their clients happy.
Let’s look at some attributes of a well-run compliance function:
Process, process, process…
Not surprisingly, any repeating activity involving the transfer of large amounts of data requires carefully crafted processes. Panalitix has long been an advocate of the 18-step workflow process. At a high level, this breaks workflow into phases including:
- Pre-planning: scheduling the work in advance and getting clients to sign-off
- Planning: obtaining information from the client, developing a time budget and allocating the work internally
- Doing: getting the job done on time, accurately and with the freedom to add value to the client’s business
- Completion: presenting the work to the client and closing out the job, hopefully with new opportunities identified
There is a lot more detail behind this… but the underlying principles are simple. So what are some of the challenges?
One major obstacle is accountants becoming involved in administrative work such as filing, making appointments, reviewing and checking documents, logging jobs on the workflow register, monitoring due dates and so on. Simply put, administration should be left to administrators and accountants should focus on accounting.
In any business endeavor, targets should be set so progress can be measured and improvements made. Having worked with hundreds of accounting firms on workflow, some important targets include:
- the number of open jobs per accountant
- the timing for job turnaround on average
- target average hourly rates
- percentage of jobs completed within the agreed budget
Getting really clear on these brings precision and focus to the business.
Without skilled, motivated people, there will still be inefficiency. Technical skills are important… but managing clients requires well-developed ‘soft’ skills to communicate effectively, avoid interruptions and solve problems as they arise.
Improving workflow starts with analyzing the data. What is happening now and how can it be improved? This requires analysis and there are often surprises. Recent examples among our client base include:
- An 11-person firm in Western Australia unlocked $300,000 in capacity simply by improving customer checklists, scheduling all jobs upfront and holding planning meetings.
- A 5-person firm in New Jersey found that improving client communication streamlined processes and greatly increased workflow efficiency.
- A 20-person firm in Sydney discovered that the average accountant had 30 open jobs at a time, a number the partners previously thought was 3! Refined processes greatly improved capacity.
Panalitix has used our experience in this area to develop diagnostic tools so accountants can assess the state of their workflow processes, identify opportunities and make positive changes.
Whether you want to increase profitability or create capacity for business growth, an analysis of workflow and a decisive improvement plan will drive significant value in your business. And we’d love to help!