Agility is the watchword for 2021 - make your practice future-fit

12th Feb 2021
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2020 has shown that very few things can be taken for granted. Agility in the face of fluctuating conditions is essential. You may have no control over what is happening in the world at large, but there are steps you can take to increase the resilience of your practice and streamline collaboration with your clients.

It’s critical to get off to a flying start to 2021 with the following questions: What will stand you in good stead for the rest of the year? How will you leverage automation to achieve efficiency and profitability for the entire year?

Ensure you’re running the latest software releases from your software partner. Are you using all the functionality that’s available to you? It’s important to check that your teams fully understand any new functionality that might help them to perform their role to the best of their ability.

Distribute the workload in a balanced and appropriate way. The workflow features within your practice management software should enable you to allocate compliance work according to your employees’ individual skill sets and job requirements.

Improve internal collaboration using digital tools. Electronic document management creates a secure location for practice teams to view and manage all client communications. With CCH Document Management from Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK, all emails and related documents are filed in a single, central location rather than being distributed across personal email inboxes. Having this shared access will enable any member of the team to answer clients’ questions with confidence. Your practice is always empowered to offer a joined-up service, not just during the busiest times of the year.

Plan for the worst. Check that your IT systems have the capacity to support 100% homeworking under pressure. With the acceleration in adopting remote working during 2020, this may be less of an issue as practices have equipped their teams to work remotely for at least part of the working week.

Business continuity is important so protect against loss of business-critical data with a rigorous back-up policy. Our hosting solution (powered by HDUK) provides a fail-safe back-up, restore and replication system. Hosting also brings increased security and resilience in decoupling your software from your premises.

Maintain momentum. Staying in control of the workload is critical, especially during busy periods of the year. Your practice software should assist by displaying work in progress graphically, giving you full visibility of workloads and progress on clients’ returns, thereby helping you to clear bottlenecks. Employees, too, will be able to see what has been crossed off their to-do list and what’s outstanding, enabling them to assess their priorities.

If an employee within the practice is off work, you will know the status of each return and another colleague will be able to pick it up and run with it. This allows for fast reallocation of resources to cover for sick leave, personal emergencies and changing work priorities across the year.

Management dashboards will give you the insight to prevent emerging issues escalating into a crisis. For example, keeping a close watch on estimated time taken against actuals avoids the overruns that lead to a nasty surprise for the client at billing time or a write-off for your business.

Stay in touch with your team. While digital tools such as CCH OneClick drive collaboration, the personal touch is important too, especially if your team is working from home. Check in with them individually from time to time. Getting regular face time with your team, both remotely and in the office, is important to see how they’re faring.

Prime your clients. Crystal-clear, jargon-free outbound communications and a simple mechanism for approvals go a long way towards keeping clients’ compliance work on track at any time of the year.

To prepare for the self-assessment peak period, communicate with your clients in good time about what you need from them and the timescales both parties need to stick to.

Automate the bookkeeping process. Do clients still drop off a shoebox of paperwork at the last minute for processing? If so, consider an app such as Basecone to automate this extremely time-consuming and laborious task. Basecone can be used either by your bookkeeping team or by clients themselves to capture data as they’re on the move.

Ease collaboration with clients. With a portal such as CCH OneClick, clients can access and exchange messages and documents and see their upcoming tasks. It replaces email and post as an easy, fast and secure way to collect information, exchange documents and gain approvals.

Cloud-based CCH OneClick can be accessed 24/7 – a particularly useful capability when the HMRC deadline looms. Clients have instant access to an archive of documents, including past returns. Your team isn’t distracted with information requests when they’re racing against the clock.

Help clients to pay you on time. Many practices agree fees with clients up front, with clear terms of business for payment. This avoids payment delays once the tax return is filed and gives both parties a better idea of their cash flow. As businesses in many sectors fight for survival, this has become critical.

Internally, your practice software should nudge your team into completing their timesheets to capture every minute of chargeable time and justify the bill if it is queried.

These pointers are all aimed at helping you to increase practice efficiency, streamline collaboration and cost-effectively deliver better service in 2021, in a challenging operating environment. Having a modern and flexible IT infrastructure undoubtedly hones your future-fitness, so it’s important to keep your technology strategy under regular review.

For more advice on smarter working during the busy season and beyond, view our webinar.