The field of accounting is notorious for its complexity and time-consuming tasks. As every firm has unique needs, their processes might vary somewhat, but some things remain constant. For small firms, it is crucial to have a well-laid-out workflow that helps the firm run smoothly. The leaders of such firms often wear multiple hats, so having a clear structure and flow that everyone understands becomes even more important. A well-defined workflow helps the leaders and team members manage time, resources, and clients effectively. It makes it easier to meet deadlines, stay on top of tasks, and prioritize important matters.
Many accounting firm leaders assume that their workflows are mostly standard, but this is far from the truth. The level of complexity in workflows can vary greatly depending on factors such as the size of the firm, the number of jobs being handled at once, the logistical and administrative support available, and the technology being utilized.
Without a proper workflow, the team is left without clear guidance on how to manage multiple tasks simultaneously. This often leads to conflicts within the team and beyond, making it challenging for firm owners to provide direction and keep the team motivated, resulting in errors. Such errors can damage the reputation of the firm and negatively impact clients.
Workflow complexity and level of detail:
When designing and documenting your firm’s workflows, the first step is to decide how much detail should be captured and tracked. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. It is important to choose the appropriate complexity and level of detail for your firm, depending on the size, stage, organizational structure, and culture of your firm.
Simple accounting workflow tracking:
If you are new to setting up workflows, it's best to start simple. As a beginner, you can use something as simple as an Excel sheet to keep track of this information. This involves tracking basic information like the client, type of engagement (e.g., month-end close), due dates, and whether they are mandated by the government or imposed by the client. Keep in mind that this is the most manual option, which can lead to errors.
Basic-level accounting workflow tracking:
Once you have identified the tasks and their respective deadlines, the next important feature to consider is assigning these tasks to the appropriate team members and keeping track of their progress. It's essential that team members can easily monitor the status of their assigned tasks. To achieve this, you can add multiple stages to the status of each task. These steps can be modified as needed to meet the requirements of the team and the organization.
Moderate-level accounting workflow tracking:
At this stage, companies have the option to divide a job into several smaller tasks once it has been assigned to a team member. When the first individual completes the task, it prompts the next person in line to take action. This level of workflow enhances productivity but may require certain levels of training and supervision. Furthermore, it enables you to set a budget for the entire job in dollars and hours. This simplifies the management of expenses and progress tracking, ensuring that the budget is adhered to.
Complex-level accounting workflow tracking:
Taking the moderate workflow a step ahead, complex workflows have an assigned budget for each task and can trigger a notification if the budget is exceeded. Some of the elements of a complex-level workflow include:
- Employee assigned
- Start and end date of the project
- Budget of hours and dollars (whatever is applicable)
- Notification for the next person in line
How to incorporate workflows in your accounting firm
Accounting workflows must be set with an aim to make the teams more efficient and stress-free. Here’s what you need to do to design and implement an effective workflow:
Document the process: The first step is identifying and defining the processes you need for your firm. To create an effective workflow, it is advisable to conduct a thorough analysis before making any decisions. It's important to work closely with the accountants who handle the day-to-day workload and listen to their input. This will help you make informed decisions about what your firm needs.
Define the roles: In a workflow, when assigning tasks, it is crucial to clearly define roles and responsibilities. In small accounting firms, although one person shoulders multiple responsibilities, defining roles helps organize tasks and will allow you to easily delegate as your firm grows. This will help minimize errors and maintain high quality by establishing decision and review points and escalation processes.
Leverage technology and automation: Technology has become an integral part of accounting firms. With the right software, firms can automate tasks and save costs. By carefully monitoring the software, firms can achieve the desired results. Technology should not be perceived as a threat, but rather as a tool to make the lives of accountants easier.
Gain feedback: To optimize your workflows, it's not sufficient to simply establish them. It's essential to perform a thorough analysis to pinpoint areas of weakness, identify where inefficiencies arise, and collect input from both colleagues and customers to determine whether your workflows are effective. Employ strategies to collaborate with your team and determine which workflows are the best fit for your organization.
What are the workflows your teams need?
An accounting firm requires multiple workflows to manage its business effectively. Here are some of the essential workflows that your firm may need:
Client Onboarding: As they say, the first impression matters. That is why it is essential to give your clients a smooth onboarding experience. It is important to remember that in the accounting field, firms deal with sensitive client financial data, and trust is a key factor here. Identify the gaps in the client onboarding workflow early on to ensure a positive experience for your clients and avoid an unwanted situation.
Task and Practice Management: There are numerous software options available, such as Canopy, Karbon, FinancialCents, Xero, QuickBooks, etc., that can help delegate tasks to teams, keep track of progress, maintain transparency, standardize, and streamline business processes. However, it is crucial to establish clear policies and practices that are consistently followed by all team members to ensure that these tools are used effectively within your organization.
Sales and Marketing: All businesses, including accounting firms, aim to generate leads. To attract potential clients, leaders should carefully plan each step of the sales and marketing process and develop a strategy. This workflow should be designed to encourage potential customers to take action and seek out the services offered by the accounting firm. It is also important to ensure that compliance regulations are followed throughout this process.
Invoicing and client management: Most information required for invoicing and client management is already recorded in a firm’s database. If the policies are set right, this job becomes easy and error-free. By building client management workflows, the teams also learn the status of the client’s association with the accounting firm. In case a client is bidding farewell, a workflow makes the completion of exit formalities easy.
Accounting Workflow Software to Consider
The demand for automation is increasing rapidly as businesses and processes become more complex. Manual processes are no longer convenient for teams to maintain. According to a recent article in CPA Practice Advisor, 96% of accountants believe that automation and technology are vital for the profession. If you're looking to implement accounting workflow software for your business, here are some top options to consider:
- QuickBooks Online
- Financial Cents
- Xero Practice Manager
- Zoho Books
- Tax Dome
- Accounting CS
- C Flow
Utilizing workflows for small accounting firm’s success - End Note
Establishing workflows is an effective way to drive innovation while minimizing errors in a business. It also helps firm leaders gain insight into what works best for their employees and clients, manage all activities with just a few clicks, and improve their financial management skills. The ultimate goal of setting up workflows is to eliminate inefficiencies and deliver high-quality work in less time while allowing team members to perform at their best.
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