Building Efficient Workflows in Your Firmby
Before the pandemic, it was pretty easy to just pop on over to your colleague’s office to ask about a project status or any random update. But now, we must work a little smarter to build efficient workflows that will make working from the digital office and collaborating with others a snap.
Whether you manage a solo-practice or a large firm, building workflows is the key to ensuring that profits are maximized and resources aren’t being wasted. Market research firm IDC says that “organizations lose 20 to 30 percent of revenue every year due to inefficient processes.”
In addition to saving lost revenue, benefits of maintaining efficient workflows include:
- Implementable systems and processes
- Better transparency and defined roles
- A happier workforce
Efficiency is also important if you want to run a scalable firm, so here are a few tips to help you take stock of your workflow and how to automate it:
The first key to building efficient workflows is actually outlining it. How can you improve your processes’ if you don't know what your processes are? Make sure you list out all the steps!
This may sound silly, but it's necessary in order to help you identify every single touch point in a service offering. Knowing each detailed step helps you see if the process is bloated, meaning there are way too many steps, or if it's light and there is room for improvement.
Annually, I sit down and perform a workflow analysis by writing down the step-by-step process for the services I offer in my practice. I’m talking from the initial listing of the service on the website to final delivery. In going through my analysis, I specifically look for any major friction points, opportunities to automate and/or redundancies to avoid.
So, when you sit down to do this process for your business, don't be afraid to call out the most mundane tasks such as “add client folder to shared drive” or “talk to client on the phone for 30 minutes.” Having the steps mapped allows you to open your eyes to the bottlenecks in your process.
See where you are ineffectively using resources, or discover where you aren’t following your own rules. You literally get to see the money being thrown out the window.
2. Data Management
Use your workflow analysis to carefully scrutinize your processes, focus on the places where things get held up. I personally believe you get the biggest bang for your buck by studying and solving for this!
According to Imaginovation, employees spend 20 to 40 percent of their time searching for documents manually. One way to avoid this scenario is by creating streamlined data collection processes that make it easy for you or your staff to manage and find documentation.
Use the same folder structure for each client or service so you and your team will know exactly where to look for things. If you aren't currently, consider using cloud-based document storage so files can be accessed securely from home or the office and eliminate the wasted time searching for important data.
As you go through your process of creating efficient data management techniques, don’t forgot to include your clients and customers. You will need to teach them your processes around providing requested documentation.
In my firm, I invite clients to a personalized shared folder in my client portal where they upload and save requested information. When they sign the engagement letter, they receive a personalized invitation to the system and a link to their folder. When they upload files, I get notified.
To make it easy to search their files, I may rename them so that it’s easy to identify exactly what the document is without having to spend time opening and viewing the document after the first time.
We already discussed discovering opportunities to eliminate friction points through streamlined data collection, but now let's add in automation. A study by Unit 4 revealed that globally, office workers spend 69 days a year on administrative tasks, costing companies $5 trillion a year.
Remember those recurring tasks you discovered? More than likely they can be streamlined using apps or software. But before you go out and search for a new app to handle these tasks check your existing app stack.
App partners add new features all the time so you just may discover you already have a tool in your arsenal that accomplishes the task. If not, do a little research to find something that will fit your needs, your budget and will allow you and your staff to reclaim your time.
4. Eliminate Manual Data Entry
Now that you have tackled those recurring tasks, don't forget to set your sights on steps in your workflow that included any manual data entry. Eliminating manual data entry with automation not only saves time, it also helps avoid costly mistakes.
Eliminating manual data entry also has the side benefit of freeing you up from performing the same monotonous, low-level tasks that are honestly mentally draining. This frees your brain up, allowing you to get more creative. In doing so, your firm can provide more mentally stimulating work through advisory services or with more innovative offerings that help your clients in more meaningful ways outside of basic compliance work.
As a one-person shop, I didn't truly understand the value of documenting my process until I made my first hire. I was excited to grow my team. On my new hire's first day I had nothing for them to do, because I didn't have a written plan of action or any documented training.
And guess who didn’t make time to stop the deadline- driven work to train the new person I was so excited to hire? This caused the employee to feel useless and caused me to feel like I was wasting money.
Please don't be like me! Take your newly outlined workflow analysis and create a living, breathing standard operating procedures (SOP) document and task management checklists that have detailed and client specific guidance. Using software to create these SOPs and checklists gives you more opportunity for enhancement with the ability to add images or videos.
I'm a big fan of video training because it allows your staff to visually see and hear a process as opposed to only reading the SOP’s. These documents empower your team to take over a process and learn at their own pace. And it's easy for you to create, just turn on the screen capture while you work and talk out loud explaining what you are doing. Viola’ you have a training video.
You will learn creating efficient workflows isn't a one-and-done task. As I mentioned earlier, I revisit this process annually. Mapping out your process gives you all the information you need to streamline, automate and create efficient workflows for yourself and your team. And once you eliminate those redundant and manual tasks it will free you up to be more innovative and proactive which is great for your bottom line and company morale.
Intuit Accountant helps tax and accounting professionals make a meaningful difference in their clients’ lives with our industry-leading software — Lacerte®, ProSeries®, ProConnect™ Tax Online and QuickBooks®. Visit intuit.com/company for the latest news and information.
Nayo Carter-Gray, EA, is owner and founder of 1st Step Accounting LLC, where her goal is “making accounting a little less taxing” for small business owners. She is a QuickBooks Online Advanced Certified ProAdvisor and member of the Intuit Trainer/Writer Network.