Here are 5 common accounting firm inefficiencies, and the small improvements you can make to boost efficiency.
Source: Quick wins to solve your firm’s hidden inefficiencies
Rehauling your business’ operations is a huge task. But you know there are areas that need significant improvement.
You know your team structure needs attention, that your tech stack may need refining, or that maybe your marketing strategy—or lack thereof—isn’t hitting the mark like you expect it to.
Ultimately, there is always something to be done to improve how your accounting firm runs.
Addressing your firm’s inefficiencies, especially all at once, is opening up a can of worms that you might not be prepared for. But at the same time, you want to make some improvements and head in some direction towards turning your accounting firm into the well-oiled machine you know it can be.
The answer is finding the quick wins first—those low-hanging fruit that require few resources to action.
These are the items that, by themselves, might not be game-changing for your firm, but together over time, will significantly benefit your day-to-day operations.
Here are the 5 hidden inefficiencies hurting your accounting firm, and how you can fix them.
Plus, you can download the Quick Win Checklist for actionable steps to eliminate inefficiencies across your firm.
1. Missed opportunities for basic automation
By nature, accounting is complex and involves many different moving parts. And many of those parts don’t need to be done by you or your team. They can easily be automated.
Automation takes care of manual and repetitive tasks, leading to increased efficiency and productivity, simpler management of remote teams and increased value for your clients.
If you’re new to automation, a great place to start is automating your client onboarding process, starting with data collection using an online form like Typeform.
You can integrate Typeform to whatever system you use to collect and store customer data, such as simple solutions like Google Sheets, or more built-for-purpose CRMs like Salesforce.
For the future, consider a workflow management system with integrated automation functions, like Karbon.
Accounting workflow software helps simplify complicated task management processes by using automation, helping your firm deliver optimal services for your clients.
2. Inability to commit to standardization
So much of the work carried out in any accounting practice is process-driven, and when those processes aren’t completed consistently, your clients are each receiving different experiences and your team is likely performing inefficiently. Standardizing your processes directly addresses this.
By documenting and standardizing processes, you transfer them into repeatable actions that serve as a guide for you and your staff to reference as they are needed.
When you do this, you enable your firm to scale more effectively, increase your team’s productivity, and ensure everything your firm does is consistent.
Start with a commitment firm-wide to begin documenting and standardizing any new procedures created after a certain date. When it comes time to review all your processes, you’ll at least have done the work up until a certain point.
Recommended reading: A guide to documenting your accounting firm’s processes
If you’re feeling particularly motivated to take a step further, you can assign each of your staff members a set number of your current processes (such as new client onboarding or monthly payroll, etc.) and set a goal that each week, they should standardize and document a certain number of processes. It could even be as few as one per week. The point is to make the commitment and begin moving forward.
Completely reevaluating your firm’s processes is a significant task and should be treated like its own project, with its own deadlines and deliverables.
Take stock of every single process your team completes, and work in conjunction with the people actioning those processes. Encourage feedback about the way your firm completes each action, and with this feedback, completely reconsider your business’ day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month.
And remember not only to standardize them, but also document them.
3. Rethink emails
Stop using your email inbox as your to-do list.
The harm in using your inbox like a to-do list is two-fold:
- Inboxes aren’t designed to be to-do lists, so they’re not built to provide clarity, visibility or ease-of-use as a work tool.
- If you use your inbox as a communication tool and a to-do list, you’re likely to become stuck there, without being able to attend to other work.
Eliminate internal emails with a tool like Slack or Flock. By doing so, you will drastically reduce the amount of emails in your inbox, clearing the space for your client emails only.
Stop working in email inbox siloes. You can’t eliminate email completely, so information visibility (or lack thereof) into each of your team members’ inboxes will always prove a pain point for truly collaborative accounting firms.
But implementing a workflow management system with direct email integration solves the issue of transparency across client communication and work.
Karbon, for example, combines email, discussions, tasks and powerful workflows. This means you’re able to see all communication across staff and clients with automatic audit trails, plus the ability to @ mention colleagues in a comment attached to a client email, without needing to forward the email to them.
So, when taking a deeper look into how your firm can eliminate email anxiety and increase communication transparency, consider a workflow management tool designed to integrate with your inbox.
4. Enhance communication across your team
Communication is the most powerful tool for your accounting firm—if done correctly (or at all). If not, it could set your firm well behind your competitors.
Inconsistent communication directly results in:
- Completely missed messages
- Difficulty locating past communication
- Frustrated team members and clients
- Decreases in output and productivity
- The inability to scale your accounting firm
A great and relatively quick way to improve your firm’s communication is by actually communicating its importance. Let your team know the importance of consistent and strong communication, both internally and externally.
Incorporate it as one of your business’ values—at the very least, your team will begin taking notice of how they communicate and make the small improvements needed to minimize inefficiencies.
Bonus quick win: Communicate deadlines internally and externally. Let people know when you need certain information back from them. They’re more likely to achieve a deadline (or let you know they can’t) when they have clarity around when you require their input.
Nominate a team member, or members, who are passionate about empowering their team to keep communication strong.
Ultimately, they will ‘own’ how your team communicates. They can draft and implement communication policies, and complete routine check-ins with how the team is communicating internally and externally, ensuring that the current policies are being adhered to, or more importantly, if they’re not, why they’re not.
This is an ongoing role, with new technologies and communication methods being added, removed or refined for the long-term, to keep your firm efficient and consistent.
5. Stop context-switching
Often confused with multitasking, context-switching is the process of moving your attention from one task to another, stopping and starting again and again.
Ultimately, context-switching is killing your firm’s productivity. And distractions are the direct cause of you falling into this trap.
Encourage your team to implement strategies to minimize this context-switching, and increase productivity with:
By pre-planning and sectioning a work day by time blocks, your team will have some sort of a structure to work within.
They can vary in length depending on the task, but the point is being hyper focused during this time on that single task.
Instead of blocking chunks of time throughout the day, themed days involve dedicating entire days to a particular task, project or client.
And if your team communicates their schedules with each other, they’ll know exactly when they’ll each be in the best position to answer any questions (and when to avoid interrupting).
Take a look at your firm’s structure. Do you have the right balance of team members on your roster dealing with certain accounting firm functions? Or is your Bookkeeper your Client Manager as well?
Cross-functional teams are important, yes, but at some point, constant switching between roles can become overwhelming and confusing for employees.
So, consider the players that make up your accounting firm. Is there an opportunity to hire or restructure to re-balance responsibilities?
Recommended reading: The A-Team Playbook
Set your firm up for success
You can’t become your perfect accounting firm overnight. It’s impossible to expect your team to adopt process changes immediately, or to completely eliminate distractions from your work day.
But what you can do is begin making small, incremental changes—or quick wins—that will help you head in the right direction.