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Maintain Quality of Work When Key Staff Leave


This is the first in a series of case studies that AccountingWEB in tandem with Canopy will present to focus on what firms can do to prevent distruption when essential staff leave the firm. This case study, focuses specifically on maintaining the quality of work in a growing firm so that if a staffer does move on, work can continue undisturbed.


Jun 22nd 2021
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Staff departures are part of life in a professional service environment -- accounting firms included -- and when these individuals depart, essential processes and client information often go with them. What can a firm do to prevent this?

In this case study, we take a look at how Schlabach Enterprises Inc., a snall but growing tax and accounting firm from the rural Buffalo area, took a pro-active approach to ensuring crucial information and functions did not go out the door if staff eventually leave.

Background: Schlabach Enterprises Inc. was started 13 years ago by Jeffrey Schlabach, EA. The business was mainly focused on individual and business tax work, but evolved to also offer accounting and business consulting services as well. Steven Wik, director of business engagement, after the referral business at the firm grew to a level that needed to be managed. This was about three years ago, when the rural Buffalo-area firm was “buried nearly two-years deep in projects.”

The firm is currently a staff of five, servicing approximately 600 total clients, 60 corporate returns and 40 full service clients with payroll, sales tax, bookkeeping and a variety of aforementioned services. This has been an evolution since Wik joined. He claims they “went from being a seasonal tax firm to having year-round work,” mainly because of the needs of their startup and small business clients.

The Challenge: The firm wanted to be able to handle an increased volume of work and not let anything slip through the cracks especially if someone were to leave such a small firm, taking a lot of processes and client knowledge with them. Ultimately, they wanted a tool to help them “keep it all together” when it came to its processes and overall client work.

The Process: Steve explains in this video, what they went through

The Discovery: [In Steve’s words]: We knew we needed something like Canopy, I knew something like this must exist in the accounting world, who is out there and doing it? So, I started investigating right when I got in the door. We immediately started testing things, we knew we needed that piece if I was going to come on board and be that cog to keep the gears moving everywhere to manage the processes and the people so I could see what’s going on and Jeff[the president] wasn’t pulled in every direction. In any firm, any small business really, it grows to the size of its owner. This needed to be a tool that could help him grow without him physically doing it all.

We were able to throw Canopy in play just before the pandemic hit. Because of the virtual content that it had, we could interact with our clients and upload what they needed to and we could exchange files without actually seeing people. In a way, we learned before we wanted to, but it came together and our team got better on it. We’re streamlining the different tasks we’re all going to do so that we’re not replicating that and trying to train someone new.

With 20 clients, maybe you could do all of this manually, but you start to get to 50 or more [which we have] and someone does leave [the firm] you’re going to lose that connection. Also, if someone new comes in, they can see how it worked the last time; the workpapers, the whole workflow, it makes it really easy [for a new hire] to pick things up and provide that same service.

The Results: The firm has doubled its small business services capacity, which includes 60 corporate returns, 40 of which are considered “full service” clients.  The firm is also still purely referral business, with many of the “tax only” clients close to needing more services.

The Next Steps: Growth-wise, Steve explained that there is plenty of business to be had, but the “human capital is the only missing piece” and they would like to be able to add more staff over the next 18 months. The challenge, he says, is finding the right hires for their base of clients. He also believes the firm can double its revenue size in the next 18 months “with less people than we would have needed before because of the systems we have in place.”

They would also like at least another full-time accountant for next year to handle the core tax work. The firm had hired one (Tax Accounting Assistant, Emily Almeter) and Steve believes she can train the next individual so he and Jeff Schlabach can focus on other business, such as new client onboarding. After that? “It’s just going to be a matter of how much bigger do we want to get, we have the systems in place to do that.”

Free CPE: How to Deal With The Departure of Key Staff
When someone leaves your firm, you're losing more than just an employee. You're potentially losing key insights, information, and relationships that the employee has acquired over time. You need to be prepared for inevitable departures.


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