Just as many firms often do an assessment of their workflows after tax season, now is the time to reimagine and reform your practice. After a year and a half of unpredictability that has likely tested your firm, your staff and your clients, there is no better time than the present to evaluate what’s been working well – and what needs a bit of a tune-up.
If your firm is plagued by bottlenecks that hamper productivity, you need to take a serious look at the technologies and practices that are helping competing firms achieve greater success.
We’re talking, of course, about automation.
Automation for accounting firms involves many concepts, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation. Although these can be yawn-worthy and cringe-inducing terms, it doesn’t require a Ph.D from MIT to understand that automation simply means doing more, and doing it faster and more accurately. This, in turn, means your firm’s staff can focus more of their time on profitable tasks, which will result in better profit margins.
So, how do you propel your firm towards a more automated, more streamlined workflow?
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Many of the services you provide to your clients are the same across the board: the only difference is in the data, not the actual work itself. Theoretically, the way you and your staff work to complete these tasks should be the same for each client. Unfortunately, however, many firms fall into disarray – or at the bare minimum, less favorable workflows – when they let their clients dictate their processes.
How does this happen?
Some clients provide their data at different times, in different formats, or want different reporting, with different communication styles.
By standardizing your processes, you will streamline those workflows, and especially as it relates to repetitive processes.
To get started, embrace technology that gives you the ability to standardize how you collect client documents, when and how data entry occurs, when and how client communication (reminders, alerts, and billing) occurs, and how tasks are assigned.
You should also standardize the processes your firm goes through when onboarding new clients, handling period closes, year-ends, tax engagements and other functions.
Require Clients to Use Cloud Accounting Systems
There are hundreds of small business accounting systems on the market, and while you may not be able to force all of your clients to use the system, you can at least require that they use an online system.
There are several reasons for this:
- You’ll have immediate/real-time access to the data
- You can set up automatic feeds of financial information from banks and credit cards
- There are instant reconciliations
- There are greater integration options with app marketplaces
This also gives your firm the ability to automate much of the everyday bookkeeping tasks you provide to clients.
Subscription Billing and Automated Payments
Americans have gotten used to subscription-based relationships with many of their service providers, and the relationship between businesses and their accounting firms should be no different. Billing your client’s a standard monthly rate for the services that you provide throughout the year has benefits to both you and your clients. The most notable are more predictable income throughout the year for the firm, and predictable costs for your clients, which are conveniently spread across the year.
Having a subscription model will also help your firm focus on clients that are in need of more than one occasional service, which prevents “slow seasons” and fosters growth around a base of stronger, more profitable clients. Subscription-based billing with automated payments also decreases the amount of time spent on AR tasks like invoicing and collections.
100% Digital Interaction
Although meeting with clients in person can be enjoyable and strengthen relationships, the routine business services you provide them should be 100% digital. Whether they are only a few blocks away or on the other side of the country, your clients should deliver all materials to you via an online portal or other digital process. Your communications are best handled electronically, as well.
Better record-keeping for starters. Digital communications are trackable and searchable. They are also quicker and less likely to devolve into long, friendly chats that sidetrack you and create new bottlenecks. Yes, it’s OK to get together with client friends occasionally, but not when it comes to real work processes.
Better Practice Management Software
The right practice management software will help you better track engagements, staff productivity, and deadlines. Modern, AI-powered systems like BQE CORE automate most day-to-day firm and business management tasks, as well as provide streamlined and efficient workflows. CORE also offers dashboards for keeping an eye on performance metrics, while simplifying time and expense management, projects, billing, accounting, and HR. And the machine learning and AI functions act as a virtual business analyst, giving deep insight into financials, comparisons, and business decision making.