July and we are already over halfway through the year. Talks of summer holidays will soon turn to Christmas and tax return deadlines once more.
For many practitioners, this is a quieter time of year and a good point to focus attention on practice management. Earlier in the year, you will have set out your personal and financial goals for the current year with an action plan of what you were going to change. Now is the time to take stock and update that action plan.
Given the daily stresses of servicing clients, managing staff and client service levels it is all too easy to think you simply didn’t have any time to look at your own business plan and feel that nothing has changed. We often overlook the simple things that we have changed and don’t value the benefit. The more progressive practices book time in their diaries every month, sole practitioners included, and take a couple of hours to appraise their own business as if it were a client.
Make a list of what were the biggest problems at the start of the year. The following are common to many practices and you may have your own areas to add:
- Cash flow
- Debtors’ collection
- Recovery of time spent on jobs
- Gross margin lower than it should be
- Client service levels- job turnaround times
- Hours worked for little or no return on time invested
Alongside each item consider what you have done to change things in the last six months. Measure where you were at the start of the year and where you are now in terms of gross margin, debtors days, average hours work, write-offs, team feedback satisfaction scores, client survey results. These are all items which can be readily measured and are the lifeblood of any practice. Even if you don’t have the results in a format to measure these key results then it is worth investing time to set up the measurement system now and review monthly ongoing.
Practices that measure key performance indicators (KPIs) are the ones who tend to be more successful in terms of practice growth, profitability and partners being in control of hours worked. They also tend to attract better skilled staff who stay and develop with the firm.
At first, it may seem too daunting a task and you feel you just don’t have the time or know where to start. The best way forward is to book a single hour every week in your diary. Treat this time as if it were an important client meeting. Close the office door, don’t take calls or look at e-mails. Prioritise which key area is most important to you and draw up a checklist of small tasks which you need to work on. An hour a week (longer if you can make the time) spent consistently will yield results in a very short time.
Once you see change happening it will give you the momentum to keep going. Often a starting point is to ensure partners or management meetings happen every month without fail and discussions are documented with a follow up action plan. Sole practitioners can do this as effectively as multi-partner firms.
If you have partners and managers in your practice then look to delegate the measurement and implementation of systems to monitor these key areas. Hold a monthly meeting where results and progress can be reported back to you and agree what the firm will do with the findings.
Remember to seek feedback from your staff and see who is keen to help you. Staff like being asked what they think, they are your main asset upon which production and client service levels depend.
Ask your team ‘what is it like to work here?’ You may be surprised with the feedback and it will give you a valuable insight and an action plan to follow. Staff retention rates will improve as will client service if you have a team who things they are being listened to and involved in the business.
Start with the simple quick wins which won’t take too much of your time. Keep a progress log to remind yourself what has been achieved. When you arrive at December you should be pleasantly surprised at what you achieved in 2017 and ready to set a new plan for the following year.
About Finola McManus
With over 25 years in practice, McManus spends her time helping other accountancy practices change and grow. She is passionate about sharing the secrets of success and working with accountancy practice owners.