It has always amazed me how different every bookkeeper or accountant I know operates. The very general flow for bookkeeping or accounting work is data input, data processing, data output. However, there are so many differences in each of those key stages that I have yet to meet an accounting professional whose workflow matches another.
I believe that by streamlining workflow, you will ultimately be more productive and more profitable.
When I started my own bookkeeping firm in 2011, I tried to seek the advice of other self-employed local bookkeepers who could help me understand what a client engagement looked like. Some other questions I asked as I started my practice included:
- How do I bring in bookkeeping clients?
- How do I get started working with my new bookkeeping clients?
- How will I know when I have achieved a truly successful client relationship?
Since I was regarded as “the competition” by local bookkeepers, my questions basically went unanswered and any advice I did get didn’t seem terribly helpful. I now know I should have dug deeper to ensure these questions were answered to my satisfaction before going into business. Instead, I adopted my client’s workflows, which seemed like a good place to start. Don’t worry, I know better now.
By not taking the time to identify and craft my own workflow, I was an unwitting heir to my client’s workflow, or worse yet, their prior bookkeeper. And I’m guessing their prior bookkeeper wasn’t their bookkeeper anymore for good reason. It simply didn’t make sense that if I wanted to start well and have a successful engagement with a new client, that I’d be repeating either the client’s bad bookkeeping habits, or the bookkeeper that preceded me.
Streamline the way you obtain records from your clients
Starting at the beginning with data input, define how you will obtain data and documents from your clients. There are already so many options even in this first phase of work, before beginning with the work:
- Should clients drop off a box of receipts or should I go to their office to pick it up?
- Should they change their mailing address to my office for bills and tax documents?
- Should they use an app I selected to upload documents, or did we use tools that fetched this data on their behalf?
I have found that anytime you can take the client out of this part of the equation, the better for everybody. Clients hate being nagged just as much as we hate nagging them.
Provide trusted advice
Next is the processing of the data and where our professional expertise can shine through. Remember, the bookkeeper or accountant should be the one who keeps up with compliance and tax issues, who determines how transactions should be allocated, and who ensures the workflow is smooth and the financial reporting consistent. It is easy at this stage to fall into the habits of the client or previous bookkeeper by continuing to allocate transactions where they had. The worst reason to do anything a certain way is because that’s the way it’s always been done. I’d much rather do my research for the correct and compliant way, pointing out the risk to myself and the client if not followed, rather than to continue blindly.
Report according to (or exceed!) expectations
Finally, the data output. What have you committed to providing your client? Is it a financial statement package? If so, what financial statements are included and how often is it delivered? Is it a video explaining to them their financial health and how it compares to the previous period? Again, the options are endless for the tools and methods you choose to work. Be sure to set expectations up front with your clients.
It took me months, if not years, to take better control of my client engagements. By selecting a common data input method, data processing or workflow, and data output, I achieved a streamlined and easily replicated system. This repeatable system for my clients reduced time and energy creating new processes for each client; and therefore, increased profit.
If you haven’t fine-tuned these three vital elements of the bookkeeping or accounting process, it’s not too late. You probably already have tools and workflows you prefer and now it’s about applying the learnings and repeating the system across more of your clients. It may take some time, but between the more predictable workflow and the increased productivity and profitability, I promise it will be worth it.