Anyone who’s started an accounting firm knows it can be challenging to go from start-up to scale-up.
Initially, you simply do what you need to survive, primarily focusing on adding customers and revenue any way you can. But as you scale for long-term growth, you must make strategic decisions that impact both your organizational structure and operational processes. These choices will be determined by your long-term goals.
What Exactly Is a “Scale-Up”?
Once you have an offering that fits the market you’re targeting and a business model that is generating a return on your investment, you’re ready to scale up. On this journey, one of the first things to focus on is your operations. What you want to achieve is standardization across your processes and key workflows.
What Should Accounting Professionals Standardize?
Start by standardizing your processes in these three areas:
1. Your Revenue Model
You’ve established that you have a product or service that is valuable to the market, but to ensure you can scale up, it’s time to standardize the processes used to drive revenue.
A big part of this includes standardizing your pricing strategy so your staff and clients easily understand the value/price equation and, more importantly, so you have a predictable revenue model to drive growth. Ask yourself questions like: Do you bill by the hour? By service offered? By the size or complexity of the engagement? Do you bill monthly or quarterly? When a service is started? Or completed? You’ll be much more efficient if your revenue model is standardized and can easily be replicated client to client.
2. Your Onboarding Process
Whether you are bringing on new staff or new clients, having a standardized process will save you time and ensure a productive start to your engagement.
The way you interact early on with a client or a new employee is also really important, as it is a reflection of your brand and culture. Think about the following: Do you have clear communication? Are you setting the right expectations for the relationship? Does everyone understand the goals or what success looks like? Following a consistent process will ensure a great start to all your staff and client relationships.
3. Your Business Process
In your business, you do things every day to support your operations. For instance, you pay bills, issue invoices, process payroll, manage projects, communicate with clients, etc. The more standardized these routine tasks are, the more efficient and scalable your business becomes.
We are fortunate tech can now play a key role in automating some of the lower-value, routine tasks that support your overall business operations, which can make a big difference in efficiency and your ability to scale. But adopting tech too fast, without really knowing how it supports specific processes, will result in frustration. So let’s look at a framework for helping you standardize these key areas of your business.
How Can Accountants Standardize?
There are three key components that should be a part of your workflow:
It doesn’t matter how standardized your business is if only one person knows the process. This is a common problem for small companies where there are only a few employees.
To avoid this issue, start by writing down the steps for delivering each product and service you provide and for each of the processes your business runs frequently. This establishes your workflow for each of these operations. Make these as simple as possible. Just the act of writing the steps down will start to help you identify inefficiencies or redundancies in these workflows. Are you entering client information in twice? Are you printing and mailing documents that could be shared electronically? Are you waiting on an approval before you can complete a task?
As you start to identify inefficiencies, technology can potentially be a solution to streamline and automate. Wherever possible, automate your low-value, repetitive tasks. Once you have a standard workflow mapped out, it is much easier to identify exactly what you need from either process improvements or, potentially, a technological solution. You can use tech to automate routine tasks like collecting documents from clients, paying bills, scheduling appointments, taking payments, managing projects, sending reminder emails, etc.
Does the tech in your workflow integrate? It will be much better optimized if the answer is yes. The goal here is to move away from the closed suites and build tech stacks that include best-of-breed products that integrate together.
To realize this objective, create a framework that consists of the categories of data you are collecting. These commonly include customer data, financial data and the supporting documents associated with each segment. The systems that support these segments become your single source of truth, and the best tech stacks deliver integration with these key customer, financial and document repositories. So, consider the tech you are using now to store this information, and think about integration capabilities in your evaluation of technology solutions to support your business workflows.
And there you have it: Document. Automate. Integrate. Repeat. Once you have this down, you’ll be well on your way to standardizing key components of your business to support long-term growth.
About Abbie Deaver
As the Director of Marketing at SmartVault, Abbie enjoys engaging and educating accountants, bookkeepers and finance professionals to help them build the most efficient, most secure practice possible. Working with prominent thought leaders in the space, she enjoys identifying trends and helping SmartVault customers stay on the cutting edge of the industry.
Abbie has 9+ years of experience leading marketing teams in the technology sector and is a current MBA candidate at the University of Houston.