6 activities to visualise and simplify your processes
Spring - like most of 2020 - was cancelled this year with endless rain and restrictions. As such, the country seems to have unanimously decided to spring clean now. If you have the urge to declutter and reorganise, why not do the same for your business? We’re not talking marigolds and mops. We’re talking thinking caps, big pieces of paper and marker pens.
Tame your business beast
Your business can quickly become a complex beast - whether there’s one, two or thirty of you.
You may have information stored in different places, people following different processes, clients still providing paper accounts - and possibly a reliance on spreadsheets to keep track of where you’re up to. The risks here include inconsistencies, inefficiencies and spending too much time on non-billable work.
If you’re a few years (or decades) in, a few of your processes, employees or clients may have run slightly wild… doing things their own way. If you’ve just started out, you face a different challenge - but the same risks. You have a million and one things to do on top of your day-to-day work. Mapping out your processes may not seem important, but it will save you a lot of headaches - and time - in the long run.
Ask yourself: Are we doing things as simply and efficiently as we can?
It’s never too early or too late to step back and objectively look at the basic building blocks of your business, review how you do things and make sure you’re as efficient as possible. Of course, being efficient doesn't mean taking away the human relationships between colleagues and clients - or being a ‘stack em high, sell em cheap’ style of practice. It means more time on billable work and deeper conversations with clients.
With a system like AccountancyManager, there’s the flexibility to allow your staff and clients to do their own thing - with the structure to make sure ‘their thing’ works with everyone else's way.
But this isn’t about us. This is about you and that big bit of paper.
Got your marker pen? Then let’s begin.
The idea is to visually map out how your jobs, data and communication flows in and out of your business. Then, identify the most repetitive, time-consuming tasks and see where you can speed things up, or avoid them entirely. What you should end up with is two diagrams, your current business - and the business of your dreams.
We recommend starting any planning session or brain-dump with these first three steps, but you can skip straight to steps 4, 5 and 6 if you must!
1. List your desires
Write down what you want your business to do, that it’s not currently doing. Write as many things as you like and try to be more specific than these examples:
Do you want more clients? Or more income from clients? Do you want your team - or your clients - to be happier? Do you want to pass more of your work over to others? Do you want to move to Cornwall?
2. Make them SMART
You know the drill. Make each desire (or goal): Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound.
3. List your barriers
Write down what’s stopping you from achieving these things at the moment. Do your leaders do too much grunt-work? Are you attracting the wrong kinds of clients? Do you simply not have enough time for anything?
4. Map out your current processes
Follow the journey that jobs take as they enter, move through and leave your practice. As well as jobs, you might want to look at the journey for clients and information too.
How you lay it out is up to you. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, as long as it makes sense to you. Consider a bubble diagram and arrows, a process tree, bullet-point steps - or even a cross-section of a house.
Make sure you include every non-billable activity you and your team carry out. Even sending emails to each other and looking for or amending documents for clients. Here are a few areas of your business you might map out and some questions to ask yourself for each:
- Ongoing client compliance work: How do you ask clients for their records? How many times do you have to ask? How do you keep track of deadlines and whether you’ve received what you need or not?
- Workflow and working together: How do you - and your team - plan your weekly or daily to-do lists? How quickly can you reprioritise or slot in unexpected jobs? How do you pass work between people and teams? How easy is it for different people to pick up where others have left off?
- Document control - sending, receiving, storing and signing: How quickly can you find any document you might need? Do clients still email you documents - is that as secure as possible? Do you have to ask team members for documents or are they all centralised? How do your clients sign their documents?
- Communication internally and externally: Do you and your team send each other endless emails and messages? How do you know what’s been discussed already with certain clients or prospects? Do you manually send every email to clients? Do you text them? How do you update all - or some clients - on tax changes or news from your business?
- Onboarding new clients: How long does it take to onboard a new client? Do you have to create a letter of engagement each time? How many times do you have to type the same information about a client into different letters and systems?
- Marketing, sales and upselling additional services: Do you have a consistent process for attracting new clients? Or for encouraging conversations that lead to upselling opportunities? How do you deliver non-compliance services?
You might want to photocopy it before the next step...
5. Get a red pen and make it look like a bad exam paper
Instead of Where’s Wally, play Where’s The Inefficiency? If an action has to happen hundreds of times (like, emailing someone internally to ask the progress of a job or asking your clients for records…) circle it and make a note of the total time over one year that this takes. For example:
Requesting records and a signature from one client
Writing email: 5 minutes
Chasing your client twice: 10 minutes
Chasing colleagues for updates: 5 minutes
Receiving, saving doc and thanking client: 5 minutes
Writing signature email, finding doc & attaching: 10 minutes
Chasing your client once: 5 minutes
Filing the signed document: 5 minutes
45 minutes x [number of clients] x [number of services requiring records and/or signature]
We tried 45 minutes x 300 clients x 5 instances = 1125 hours (around or 46 days). Just for fun, let’s assign an hourly cost to that. At £50 an hour, that’s £56,250.
Make sure you circle and annotate any part of your processes that could be better.
6. Aim for blue skies and pretend to start from scratch
Put your scribblings to the side, grab a new bit of paper and forget your current processes. Pretend you’re on day one of your business - but with the clients and team you have today. Map out the same basic areas as above, focus on the red bits and make a note against each area for your ‘blue sky’ thoughts.
If you’re tempted to write ‘spreadsheet’ as a solution, push your thinking further and think instead about a programmable robot that services you and your team with what they need. Try not to think about the solutions that exist in practice management software (we’ll do that for you). Go wild and plan your ideal scenario.
Blue sky ideas that exist in AccountancyManager
Here are some examples of ideas you might note next to your discovered inefficiencies. They also happen to be features of AccountancyManager. Funny that.
- A way for the team to take more responsibility for clients and jobs without being micromanaged
- Something that tracks which clients have sent in records and which haven’t
- A way to share documents with clients and colleagues without having to write or send hundreds of emails
- A really long stick to poke unresponsive clients or make them pay their taxes (not quite, we do have automated texts that can go out with your emails though - the result is similar.)
- A big shared, constantly shifting calendar of work in progress across the whole practice - but not so that everyone has to see all of the work, just their to-do lists.
- A way to automatically tell colleagues that you’ve finished a job or that it’s ready for approval - without sending any emails or messages
- Clients just know that they need to send in their records - without being asked (close… they have access to their submission dates in their Client Portal and you don’t have to ask, AccountancyManager does it for you with automated record requests and reminders.)
- Emails that always say the same thing (like ‘please send use your records’) just go out at the right time to the right clients automatically
- Somewhere online that clients can go to sign a document, without the security issues of sending the document over email (AM’s Client Portal)
- A fast way to re-prioritise when records arrive or things change - and re-allocate jobs if people are off work
- A way for everyone in the practice to have access to the information they need, without having to search for it or ask around
What you now have are some clear goals, highly specific barriers that may have been hiding across your practice - and hopefully a plan to put some serious streamlining into action.
Your current and ‘blue sky’ process plans are also extremely useful when you speak to software providers. You can be really clear about what you need and want. To speak to us at AccountancyManager, call 01926 355 366
If you’ve created a process masterpiece, give us a peek on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
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