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We are a small / medium size practice and are looking at our staffing and technology requirements for the next year or so.   We're keen to make changes that bring jobs in sooner and turn jobs around quicker (Aren't we all!).  The key thing that holds us up isn't necessary staff capacity to do the actual technical work, but the capacity to chase the records in / check bookkeeping systems are up to date.   

So we are interested in learning how other practices handle this please. 

We know a lot of practices give each staff member a portfolio of clients to look after.  We're interested in the positives and negatives of this.  We have always been a practice where the client's main contact is one of 2/3 partner/manager level people, so this method feels a bit decentralised to us.  

Does anyone have any experience with having a 'workflow manager', to pull in all work and distribute across the practice, leaving the other staff to just do the jobs.  Probably a bit unusual(?) but we are considering it as a different solution.  

All experience and thoughts welcome  

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By spilly
12th Oct 2021 21:54

We have an admin support person who answers phones, checks work in, sends books back, chases clients for missing info, manages the permanent files, etc. It doesn’t fill their time completely so we have trained them to do basic bookkeeping too. I can’t imagine running the business as efficiently without them!
Staff have regular clients as that way they get to know the foibles of each job. This saves time, and we also find they tend to do a better job as a) they’ll have to sort any outstanding issues the next time so tend to complete more fully, and b) any errors can only be theirs.
Just be sure to give staff some more challenging jobs as well as their regulars so they keep learning.

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Replying to spilly:
By Hugo Fair
12th Oct 2021 22:30

This works well for clients as well. They like to know who they're dealing with and to have continuity ... they're more likely to be called back by the person who made the commitment to do so ... they've got a clear escalation path for those (hopefully) rare occasions when something goes wrong ... and if the relationship breaks down irrevocably they can look to move to someone else without having to change firm!

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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
13th Oct 2021 12:54

This might be a red flag for Hugo, but it's got to be said - there are some interesting apps for that!

I fully appreciate the primacy of the personal relationship in persuading the client to comply with your requests for information or approvals, but the emerging generation of workflow-based practice management applications are supplementing these approaches (and how the jobs are processed through the firm) with a host of helpful tools. The number of firms installing AccountancyManager, Senta, Pixie and other practice workflow tools over the past couple of years confirms that they can really help tackle the eternal client data challenge.

As far back as 2013, Accounting Excellence Award winner Linda Frier told us how she took this approach at her firm: "Coalesco is a truly client-focused firm, but we make extensive use of technology to maintain that human touch. That’s how we are able to run a cost-effective small practice with lots of clients.”

Linda exploits all the tools at her disposal not just to streamline the firm's processes and cut costs, but to improve client service quality. If you want to find out more, you can dig out our old practice efficiency whitepaper here:

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
By Hugo Fair
13th Oct 2021 13:52

Well, you've 'got me taped' John ...
although less of a red flag (with visions of an angered bull charging), more of a deep sigh (as I watch the trend to impersonalisation take firmer root)!

FWIW I'm not opposed to technology or innovation ... for instance, I've lived through the transitions in recorded music from shellac to vinyl to reel-to-reel tape to cassette tapes to 8-track cartridges to CD to mini-DAT to DVD to Blu-ray (in some cases being an early adopter) - but draw the line at digital streaming.
Possibly because the convenience factor isn't as clear to me as to its adherents, or possibly because I don't like to cede control to the digital behemoths ... but I'm left with a smug smile as vinyl comes back into fashion with a vengeance - and my collection is now worth more than my pension fund.
[A similar size/content collection of digital downloads will at least retain it's value ... £nil (as it has no physical form and only a licence specific to the purchaser)].

Most technological innovation is cyclical in nature (and not just the wheel!), but the current trend seems to remove power/awareness/competence from the user (and their clients) ... who I feel are consequently diminished.

Here endeth today's philosophical digression!

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Heather Townsend - accountant's coach
By Heather Townsend
19th Oct 2021 09:50

These are the strategies our members use to help speed up clients sending in information:

1. Use automated reminders via their practice management system (Karbon, Senta, Pixie, Accountancy Manager).

2. When the automated emails don't produce a response then a personal email (from a template) asking for the records to be brought in by a certain date

These first 2 actions will typically get 60+% of clients to respond in a timely fashion.

Other things our members do is:
1. Phone call from admin person or client manager
2. Penalties if clients don't get information in by a certain time - particularly for self-assessment income tax returns (This quickly trains clients not to be late for next year)
3. Agree on dates with the clients when they will send information in during the year and at what point in the year the firm will work on their stuff

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By peter morgan
21st Oct 2021 00:31

Taking payment or at least a deposit upfront works wonders for getting a clients mind focused on delivering data and responding to queries. Once they are invested they are more interested in the job turnaround time.

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