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Create a System to Leverage Your Time

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The accounting profession consistently cycles through busy times and new regulations, spending time learning and understanding what's new and determining a reasonable path to recommend for our clients. They assist clients with each change and are good at it. Is it time to consider applying these skills to our own practice and life? In the first of a 4-article series, Randy Johnston explains how.

Nov 16th 2021
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Many accounting and bookkeeping businesses live in fear of missing something rather than enjoying the freedom of organization and control of a well-organized system. Unfortunately, feeding the systems they use took effort and didn't provide the most crucial benefit of all: leverage.

Accountants have learned the profession by attending school and continuing professional education, plus understanding accounting regulations, tax, audit, and more. They’ve developed checklists, standard operating procedures, and workflows to handle these issues.

SOPs optimize the work, assist in timeliness for deadlines, and help avoid dropping balls. These systems should not be constraining but freeing. However, many professionals and firms became tied to timesheets, hourly billing, email, calls, utilization, realization, and business development. The systems and measures became burdensome.

Why is Leverage So Significant?

Take it from legendary CEO Andy Grove and his timeless thoughts from High Output Management. And, to quote former Apple board member Bill Campbell: "High Output Management is a bible that every entrepreneur and every manager in the country should look at, read and understand." It costs 10 bucks and takes a day to complete. But it's probably worth several million dollars in mistakes you'll avoid during your career.

In Chapter 3, it is noted that managerial leverage dramatically impacts organizational output. Managers are responsible for increasing the output of their organizations and neighboring organizations they influence.

Managers "leverage" their time by spending small amounts to have considerable impact through three activities:

  1. Information gathering
  2. Decision making
  3. "Nudging" others

Doing it right means positive, high-leverage actions: delegation with supervision, training, and influencing processes with unique skills or knowledge. Doing it wrong means negative high leverage actions: delaying decisions, meddling, abdication, and unnecessary interruption.

Unnecessary interruption is how the profession is living. And we can trace that back to having everything in our personal inboxes.

Evaluate What is Working and What is Not - Critically

In order to complete this next step, ask yourself the following and answer honestly:

  • Are you usually in a reactive mode?
  • What is the root cause?
  • Where are you spending your time right now?
  • What assets do you have that you can leverage?
  • Do you have staff, systems, processes, and more that can help you and your firm achieve their business goals?
  • Can you move your practice into a proactive state rather than being reactive?
  • Can you free up time to actually relax at the end of the day?

The key to all of the above is to get leverage in everything you do. Create visibility amongst the team. Break down those data silos. Visibility allows your staff to act without your availability being the bottleneck.

With team visibility comes the ability to delegate without sacrificing quality. Visibility for you and your team is impossible if everything is coming in through you and you are the bottleneck.

And you can do this without sacrificing management oversight and control. In fact, the converse is true. If you structure your systems correctly, you can see how your staff will respond without being CC'd on everything.

Even with considerable expenses on technology, many firms are not getting leverage from their investments. Their digital systems are simply electronic forms of manual systems. Some estimates suggest that manual processes take twice as much effort as electronic or digital processes.

Are your systems simply faster or more convenient than manual systems, or do they provide you leverage? Can more intelligent automation tools help, such as Vic.AI, that leverage emerging technology like artificial intelligence? Or can we use something more mundane like Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud technology effectively?

Consider bank reconciliations. Modern systems allow downloading transactions into accounting systems such as QuickBooks Online, Xero, Accounting Power, Sage Intacct, and more. Inside the software, the reconciliation is often automated so much that you only must look at the exceptions or confirm that the transactions are valid and in balance.

Contrast that to a manual system with paper statements done at the end of the month or year-end. What else are you doing "manually" in your firm? Scheduling? Payments? Timekeeping? Data Entry? Where else can you apply leverage?

Protect Your Time

With the time you free up, use it wisely. Don't accept or participate in meetings of all kinds Ask yourself: what's the point? What's the agenda of the meeting? And what do we expect to accomplish?

Allocate some of this newly found time for "free-thinking space" for you. Michael Gerber suggests working on your business rather than in your business from his 1986 book "The E-Myth."

Current thinking suggests that you should spend 70 percent of your time working on your business, 20 percent performing work, and 10 percent guiding your team. That's notably different than the old philosophies of a book of business with 1400 or 1600 hundred hours of production. Too many partners still spend too much time doing the work rather than managing the work and the firm.

Focus on incremental improvements that add to your enjoyment of your practice, too. Choose activities outside of the office that is important to you, not things that are "good for the firm." Select activities important to who you are and what you'd like to accomplish and leave behind as a legacy. Make space for you to have a better life.

Take the time in your free-thinking space to dream big. Plan the next five years in your firm. Build a vision that team members are excited to fulfill.

Use a client-centric and team-centric approach to make your vision compelling, including space for a firm mission and individual accomplishments. Don't neglect your personal life as well.

Add time to your calendar to focus on what's most important in your life. Choose what is important to you, whether that is time with family or friends, personal growth, fitness, or a variety of other worthwhile choices.

We are reminded that life is a journey, not a destination. You need to make sure that you, your partners, your team members, and your clients realize the benefits of having a system that provides leverage.

Tech That Helps

Speaking of systems that can provide leverage, now that you know what you want your practice to look like, use the right tools to support this strategy. For example, if you need practice management with configurable workflows, a product like Karbon is worth reviewing. In addition, Karbon can provide workflow and interfaces to other systems that are invaluable.

Your documents need to be electronic if you want to work effectively. Paperless or digital copies are crucial to success in this area.

You can consider document storage systems (DSS) or document management systems (DSS). You'll have better client experiences if these paperless systems interface to your operational systems. For example, if QuickBooks Online is your key accounting system and Karbon is your practice management system, a product like SmartVault that can interface to both is a real advantage.

In today's world, a great client experience is an advantage. By 2025, when millennials represent 75 percent of the workforce, firms will need to be positioned to satisfy the needs of a new generation of business owners.

Ease of use and consolidating all client communication into your firm's single, collaborative channel will be a competitive advantage. Few tools can deliver on that promise today, but a product like Liscio is an excellent example of a platform that does in fact accomplish this goal.

Securely integrating PBC (Prepared by Client) requests via email, portal, or text on a mobile device or in a browser will be mandatory within a few years. Visibility by your entire team of all documents, requests, and communications is a crucial benefit of the Liscio platform.

Dream Big, Work That Plan

Most of us chose our careers in accounting after considering many options. I don't know your reasons, but I've been told reasons like

  1. We could help people
  2. We could make a difference in our community
  3. We could make a great living
  4. We could control our destiny and more

If your practice has become a burden instead of a pleasure, it is time to create systems so you can leverage your time. You've heard the phrase, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." Perhaps you don't like the road you are on.

But remember, you are in control, and you can make a difference if you'll dream big, make a plan, and work that plan. And that will create a great future for you and others!

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