Save an hour a week, gain one extra week a year
Jennifer Adams discovers how you can find another hour a week out of your busy working life if you follow five simple steps.
Whatever anyone says about being bean counters, accountants have a demanding job. Open your management programme on any day of the week and a list of reminders brought forward from the previous day is guaranteed to be on the screen.
The items will obviously vary in both description and/or time it takes to complete the task from ones that will take minutes (eg Companies House Confirmation Statement) to ones that will take hours (eg accounts for a new client who should have been VAT registered some months ago but hasn’t).
Fast forward to the end of the week and however many hours your timesheet says you have spent, there will always be a carry forward list.
Two points to consider:
- By the time you get to 55 years you will only have 800 weekends left on average
- When you die you will always have a list of things remaining.
Life is too short.
So saving an extra week a year must be an attractive concept. Whether you will be allowed to use that extra week as time off from office work will obviously depend upon how far up the ladder of your firm you are, but an extra hour is an extra hour.
The list of five options in order of greatest impact and relevance is as follows:
It is extremely hard to 'say no' not least to the client who rings on a Monday wanting their SA302 and tax overview today as they are finalising their mortgage tomorrow. You possibly can't 'say no' to the submission of a set of accounts when the deadline is this week (or tomorrow) but it is easy for clients to get in the way, so there is no time left at the end of the day.
Should you say no in this situation? If you do then at least the client would have been taught a lesson to get their figures to you in time for next year's submission date.
As ever the one that shouts loudest....
You might think “I'll just download and email this SA302 - it will only take a minute” but you are not doing yourself or the client any favours. Give in and other clients will be pushed to the back of the queue automatically and importantly, you will be showing that you will drop everything such that that client will expect such immediate service in the future.
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As a trial 'say no' at least once this week – you may feel guilty the first time but you will find it gets easier. The 'no' needn’t be forever just a deferment to another day or week.
In deciding when to 'say no' think about what is the worst that can happen if you don’t. A £150 penalty for non submission of accounts to Companies House when the deadline is tomorrow would not necessarily come under this heading but 'saying no' to a client who has rung twice already to chase their accounts that are not due in for a few months must merit a possibility.
An email sent to all self assessment clients in say May and again in September, reminding them that 'first in first dealt with' is a must as is saying that you can't guarantee submission by 31 Jan if accounts are not with you by October.
Sometimes clients need to be taught that you are not at their beck and call despite your website saying that you give a 'personal service'. However, you must also carry out your threats. If you tell clients that you will be charging extra should your self imposed deadline be breached then always carry through your threat. You can always give a personal service but on your terms and timing.
Think 'do I want to do this'?
When you first set up in business the temptation is to say 'yes' to any prospective client who comes through the door but this can be counterproductive.
Make a list of the type of clients that you feel you can service and stick to it. Don't be swayed because you will end up spending more time and ostensibly money in researching on the internet when really it would have been better to direct the client to another accountant who does have the specialism.
Have you dealt with a similar client in a similar business previously? For example, if you haven’t dealt with IRS returns before or companies limited by guarantee do you want to?
Time is money as they say and spending time learning the process will be less time towards your one hour.
Under this heading use the words 'I can do this for you but...'
- 'I can only stay for an hour rather than to the end of the meeting'
- 'I'll have to charge extra'
- 'it will have to be next week'
Again this teaches the client that you will not be at their beck and call. Invariably the client will concede. What is the worst that can happen?
If they leave then you will invariably find someone to take their place that is less demanding.
Delegate and restrict.
Anything routine then delegate – payroll, opening post, answering the phone, loading new client details onto software, the accounts of clients who deliver scrubby receipts in a plastic bag (what are they going to do when such bags are banned?), Companies House Confirmation statements – you can find many more such tasks depending upon the size of your firm.
Do you really have to show so much detail in a set of accounts? Ignore whatever has gone before (eg prior accountants' account listings) and use a set template per business type. Use HMRC's page SE1 as a basis. You will reduce time and money spent on paper (if not produced and sent to the client online).
Do you have to have a meeting with clients to go through your accounts? The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors not least company policy and client expectations. However, some clients may prefer discussions over the phone – ask them.
The golden rule: if someone else can do the work 70% as well as you then give it to them. The other 30% is in your mind - the 30% balance won't be missed by clients.
If you are a small firm invest in more efficient systems. You should have a system for any repetitive task. All accounting software has templates that can be modified to suit.
So look for help. Think about the cost and wastage of your time if you do the work rather than giving it to someone else who can do the work 70% as efficiently as you would but at a cheaper cost.
If the task is something out of your comfort zone then give to a specialist. Use your indemnity consultancy services and software support more if you get stuck; they won't mind how many times you call – that is what they are there for.
Be less fussy
Don't spend time on matters that are less important. Do the most important items in the morning and the lesser items in the afternoon or whichever suits you. Do you have to deal with your emails immediately you get into the office? Possibly set client meetings for the afternoon (or on specific days only) rather than throughout the day every day; you will be surprised how many clients accept such restrictions.
Aim to get better at all five options rather than good at just one then your extra hour will be in your sights.
Based on a talk given by Chris Croft from Chris Croft Training Ltd
Jennifer Adams is Consulting Editor of AccountingWEB and is a professional business author specialising in corporate governance and taxation. She runs her own accounting and consultancy business with offices based in Surrey and Dorset.