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The Secrets to Creating an Effective Workflow

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Even if you and your staff work well together, don't settle into complacency. Unexpected changes happen all the time: Perhaps someone decides to change careers, or a team member chooses to start a family and can no longer work full time. Judie McCarthy offers her tips on ensuring your workflow can weather inevitable changes and onboard new employees smoothly.

Apr 7th 2022
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If there is one core piece to what makes accounting firms go round, what is it? 

People. 

Without the clients we serve and a strong supporting team, accounting firms couldn’t function. When you think about your firm, there’s a good chance your team does an exceptional job day-after-day, but I want to ask you something:

If these individuals left their positions, would someone be able to step into their shoes today and do the same job just as well?

If you don’t have strong internal workflows and processes, the answer is probably not. 

Internal workflows and processes can help protect your firm from these potential hiccups. They are what allowed me to build and scale my own accounting firm and help countless other accounting firms do the same. If you’ve wanted to create effective internal workflows and processes, you can, but first, it’s important you understand what exactly workflow is. 

Let’s dive into that now.

What is Workflow and Why Do You Need It?

Workflow is a complete breakdown of the work you perform. For example, a workflow will include:

  • What work you perform for clients
  • Due dates for the work
  • Work durations

However, this is just the start of a workflow. Now that you have all of this information, you need to:

  • Determine all jobs associated with the work for the client
  • Identify tasks associated with each job
  • Instructions for each of these tasks
  • How often to repeat these jobs
  • Who is responsible for completing the job
  • What information do you need from the client to complete the job

Workflows and processes allow you to track who is performing the work, when the work is due, and when deliverables are required.

Chances are, you know that your firm needs workflow solutions, but you may have been avoiding implementing them because of time, money, lack of internal resources, or simply procrastination. You might even have solutions in place that “work,” but they’re a bit clunky.

However, once you witness the benefits of having strong internal workflows and processes, I can assure you that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to implement them. 

Benefits of Workflow and Processes

You want the best for you, your staff, and your clients, right? Implementing strong workflow solutions improves customer satisfaction, reduces errors, and improves efficiency. You’ll experience less headaches, and your team members will too. The right solution offers numerous benefits, including:

  1. Proper workflows ensure that deadlines are met. 
  2. Workflows and processes help avoid missed steps (such as a reconciliation or not performing a full review of balance sheets).
  3. They keep staff focused on crucial tasks and within scope. From a firm management standpoint, if the client asks for something outside of scope, and staff see they’re not assigned to complete this item on their task list, it can trigger staff to reach out to management. From there, management can determine if they want to bill for the additional work or how they want to move forward. 
  4. Insight is provided into what staff members are and aren’t doing.
  5. Scaling your firm becomes easier through organized, strong internal workflows and processes.

While there are many more benefits we could discuss, there’s an additional benefit I cannot overstate: the continuation of client services. Workflows and processes allow other or new employees to serve clients if a key team member is out or doesn’t work for you anymore.

Every firm has turnover, and people get sick, go on vacation, etc. Processes help team members take on this work by providing answers to important questions:

  • What work needs to be performed? 
  • What work has or hasn’t been completed?
  • How should the work be performed?
  • When should the work be performed? 

In short, workflows and processes help you maximize your services, scale your firm, and ensure that your teams can maintain the high-quality service clients expect, even if a key team member is absent or changes unexpectedly.

How to Create Internal Workflows and Processes

So now that you understand the benefits of having strong internal workflows and processes, how can you go about creating them in your firm?

Document Processes and Create Standards

Standardizing Processes

First and foremost, you need to document all of your processes and create standards for them. When creating standards, break down all of the work that you do into small chunks, each with its own due date.

For example, let’s assume that you have bi-weekly payroll and month-end reconciliation. You can create a standard for both of these jobs and their associated tasks, with due dates and templates for each.

Job-Specific Requirements

Every client and job is not the same, so you’ll then want to utilize the standardized templates you create to adapt them to client-specific jobs. In Client Hub, we have workflow templates. This way you can use our templates as a starting point and then add in specific tasks for each client that are unique to them.

When it comes to each job, make sure to not only have a list of tasks associated with each job but for those tasks, also include:

  • Clear, concise, easy follow-instructions
  • Links to any technology requirements 
  • Video walkthroughs if necessary

You don’t want to overwhelm others with these processes and tasks, so try to make them as straightforward as you can.

Add These Key Details

Workflows and processes should also include:

  • How and when to communicate with clients
  • Deliverables you send to clients
  • Anything else necessary to make the engagement a success 

Clients appreciate it when you send over regular updates such as, “Hey, we’re preparing your tax return and will have it to you next week.” Adding these small details into your workflow can make a huge difference when it comes to the client experience.

Consider Software Solutions

Once you’ve created your workflows and processes, I recommend using a workflow software to manage them. Trust me, as your firm grows, you’ll be happy that you have a software solution in place.

When looking for a workflow solution, these features will be greatly beneficial:

  • Ensure you can associate clients with jobs and jobs with tasks 
  • The ability to automate job creation and repeat the same job as frequently as needed, as this helps eliminate the risk of human error impacting your processes. In fact, 80% of business leaders are turning to process automation to speed up work and reduce errors.  
  • Task checklists
  • Comments

Comments are so helpful because you can make a note of client-specific issues, such as a client not providing credit card statements for one month, which caused you to skip reconciliation.

Update and Review Processes

Finally, once you have all of your workflows and processes in place, you’ll want to review and update them as needed. You’ve already done the initial hard work to go through all of these steps, and keeping them updated will ensure that you offer clients the absolute best experience possible while keeping your team organized. 

Wrapping Up

Workflow and processes should be a part of every firm. If you’re a smaller firm, focus on workflow software that is easy to use, set up, and uses built-in templates. Medium and large firms may need more complex workflow software, and you can expect greater overhead and costs to implement and maintain these solutions. That being said, if you do not currently have a solution in place, get started with something that is easy to implement and use. Complexity and friction in implementing a solution often create more headaches than it solves.

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