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Hard Lessons Taught Me the Value of Process

Leslie Liondas, CPA
Posted by Leslie Liondas, CPA on Jun 16, 2021 12:32:29 PM

When I took over my mom’s bookkeeping practice along with the client base, there were no systems and processes in place. Instead, what she did and how she did it was simply stored in her head. Every client was very different in the services that were received. Services and the timing of services were not documented anywhere.

Clients would just bring work in and when it showed up, it would sit in a basket in her office until someone had time to work on it. Deadlines were a struggle since every task was manual and there were no instructions for any of the processes. Payroll and sales tax reports were particularly awful without automation or documented processes. They took a great deal of time to complete them, much less trying to train a team on how to do the work.

Knowing that I needed to make changes to the way things were done and actually making those changes were two very different things. I did not have the time to document everything that we did much less how we did it. And changing processes from manual to automation was also a struggle.

I was in a constant whirlwind of demands – from my clients and from my team asking questions all day long since every client was different. If I did try to document things I would get even more behind on the work itself. The only time I got any actual work done was early in the morning before anyone else came in or after they all went home.

What I did not realize was that by not stopping and getting things documented, I was making sure I was in a continuous cycle that I would never get out of.

I knew I had to start making changes in our business if I wanted to change things. This led to the even more difficult task of actually getting my mom, my team member and our clients on board with the changes! My mom and team member were stuck in “this is how we have always done it. Clients will not do it your way.”

My business partner and I had to figure out how to make it happen if we were going to be able to build a profitable business. The way things were done was not profitable and not sustainable to grow the business. Most importantly we were miserable! It had to change or get out!

The hardest part was telling my mom that we needed to split the business. She had clients that only spoke with her and it was difficult to get them to change. So, we came to an agreement that she would take “her” clients and I would take “my” clients. Then, the remaining team member left not long after mom left.

Firing my mom was one of the most important decisions that I have ever made for my business. When team members cannot or will not change to do what is best for the business, you have to make that tough decision to let them go. My clients that we were working with to provide “real time” data were suffering because we were always behind due to manual processes.

We knew we needed to hire but we wanted someone that was not going to be stuck in “this is the way we have always done it.” We wanted team members that embraced technology and wanted to find the best way to do things and we succeeded! We hired three team members at the same time with no experience but with the right personality and mindset.

These new team members wanted to help us change the business and were willing to learn anything. We changed every piece of technology we had used and went paperless within a year. The training of the team members on client work was difficult and very time consuming. We still did not have documented processes in place, but we did have a team that was willing to start documenting what we did and how we did it. They asked question after question all day, every day, but this time it was with a purpose. We began freeing up capacity to start documenting processes. It was not perfect, but it was a start.

Next, we began to structure the client work so they worked on our timeline and not the other way around. They no longer dictated when we would work on their books. We developed a process for them to send us information electronically and on a monthly basis instead of when they wanted to, which was usually very rarely. This kept the client’s work up to date and kept the account up to date. We were not having to work on a year’s worth of information at one time any longer. The clients that did not comply did not stay with the firm. What is the purpose of having the technology to provide “real time date” if you still could not deliver “real time data”?

Having a team that sees the importance of systems and processes is the key. They can help develop it along with you.

While our new team drove me NUTS with questions, it made me realize we had to get even more developed systems and processes in place. All three of them were all doing the same thing for different clients in different ways. There was not enough standardization.

What finally showed me that I was time to standardize was hiring two more employees. The struggled following each team member’s different processes. They were both frustrated every day and it made them feel like they were not learning. Trying to follow three different people’s way of doing things was not only frustrating but not productive or sustainable. We all realized that we needed to go back to the systems and processes and make them identical for every client.

Standardizing systems and processes has made a huge positive impact on our business. We are taking the time to do videos on how to do tasks; the videos show the screen and what is happening, making it easier to follow the process. This way if technology changes, the video can be changed instead of having to retype the process. This has proven to be very efficient and time saving.

Also, we have developed checklists of everything that needs to be done for each client so nothing gets missed. Everything we do for the client is listed in a project management system so it is easy to see what needs to be done. The best part of this is that getting everything out of your head is a powerful thing. You no longer wake up in the middle of the night thinking you forgot to do something. And, whenever you need to delegate a task, you know that a system is in place and you can circle back to it. These checklists are tremendously powerful!

I used to tell myself “I do not have time to document anything, I need to be working on client work.” Now, I have learned that taking the time to create and improve processes within my business does pay off. Not only did it make my business more efficient, which provided more capacity, but it also benefited my clients as well. Establishing systems and processes ensures that a client’s books will be done the correctly and consistently, no matter who ends up working on them.

Creating systems and processes is an investment well worth making.

Topics: Practice Management


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