With the looming end of year deadlines fast approaching, Finola McManus says now is the best time to ensure your workflow management and production systems are robust.
Too many practices are still firefighting as standard; trying to meet billing targets and deadlines under pressure with stressed staff and unhappy clients. Running a practice in this way doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the management skills of the partners.
Back to basics once again
Ensure you have a work planner that shows every client and staff member in your firm for a 12 month period ahead. The work planner can be something you have within your existing practice management software or a simple spreadsheet designed bespoke to suit your firm.
Check you can readily obtain the total value of work to be done each month and compare it with your monthly billing target. This is a good place to start.
All clients should be fixed fee agreements and payment plans. Exceptions are for investigation or advisory work which will be value based billing or monthly as you go with payment terms agreed in advance.
No job can be started without a budget and a policy to check there is no unbilled work in progress or debtor balance outstanding. Does the budget marry with the fixed fee? Make sure you are looking at all services included within the fixed fee and are just comparing the budgeted fee with the accounts production element.
Allow sufficient time for planning, review, client meetings and finalisation. Most firms still focus on production time with little attention to planning and finalisation which is where client service and gross margin is won or lost.
Make sure you have a policy for checking records for completeness and quality expected before you start a job and never start a job if you know there is missing information. Similarly, check your procedure and train staff to identify when they are about to do additional work not included within the quoted fee.
Do they know what to do when a job is going over budget and how to agree the plan of action before the job starts losing money or you end up with irrecoverable time and a missed deadline for a client meeting or finalisation?
Start with the end in mind
At the planning stage agree the fee, the quality of records expected and the job start date. Book the review time and final client meeting in the diary at the planning stage. This will help you work to a 30 day turnaround time and avoid the delay between a job being completed, client meeting and finalisation- which again is where money is lost and work flow management becomes a challenge. Every practitioner knows it’s the ’pick up- put down’ process that erodes gross margin. Clients will also be happier knowing when they are booked to meet with you in advance.
Many clients still report long delays from giving records to accountants then hearing nothing for months. In the meantime, they have no idea how to plan for forthcoming tax liabilities and the first they hear from the accountant is when they are being asked for missing or additional information. This continues to be one of the main reasons why clients look for a new advisor and don’t feel valued.
Hold weekly production meetings with your team to update them on what needs to be done this week and where you are with billing and production targets. Review the planner and ensure there are no ‘over runs’ which you are unaware of any identify problem areas. Communicating with clients at the earliest opportunity means you have more likelihood of recovering additional time spent and getting paid for the work you do.
Remember to work efficiently and collate personal tax information as far as possible when in contact with clients on their annual accounts production.
Work planner management
Work planners can often fail as a result of not booking adequate time for review and finalisation. This is part of the overall budget and is essential if you want to retain expected gross margin on a fee and maintain client service levels.
Staff members report the stress of not feeling in control of what they need to do as the main reason for looking to leave and find another job. Mange your work planner and you will keep your staff happy too!
But above all else, communication is the key. And that’s for both staff and clients. Encourage a culture of continual communication and you will see an improvement in your production processes, work flow management, profitability and client service.
This is where your practice management skills come into their own as a partner. Measure your results ongoing and share these with staff by way of feedback and motivation. Everyone will then feel part of the practice and their contribution valued.
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.