Workflow management: Increase profitability and client service

Planning
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Finola McManus
Owner
Practice Perfect
Columnist
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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.

Payment plans

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.

Plan ahead

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.

Communication

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!

Conclusion

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.

About finola-mcmanus

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. 

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23rd Sep 2017 14:04

Thanks Finalo, I found this useful and very relevant

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26th Sep 2017 14:56

Great Article Finola.

We agree that now is the best time to ensure your workflow management and production systems are robust building up to 31st January deadlines.

AccountancyManager practice management system focuses on just this. With a workflow system that is automatically generated from the clients deadlines it orders the workflow by deadlines approaching in the next 30 days, followed by records received.

This works perfectly for Self-Assessment cases. We believe the most sensible way to complete your SA cases is in the order the records are received (it is essential to check that a complete set of records has been received). A completed checklist of information sent to all of your clients is a good way to achieve this.

If a client expects their accounts or returns to be done sooner, we would recommend offering an express fee for those clients who want to be moved up the pile.

Regarding payment, we recommend this: Never submit a return without first having received full payment. There couldn't be a better way to ensure your clients pay with the looming threat of a penalty from HMRC.

AccountancyManager allows you to update your tasks with progress notes ensuring that you keep on top of each stage, including approval and payment from your clients.

Record your time easily in AccountancyManager to ensure you're charging the correct fees.

Deliberately built for the self-assesment tax return period, we provide the ability to communicate easily with your clients by either SMS text or Email. We recommend a text message sent to all clients who you haven't heard from or still have outstanding records as you approach the deadline and we give you free SMS text messages to achieve this.

You can select which clients to email / text based on every variable you can think of within AM.

If you have mulitple staff members AM organises their workflow into weeks as well and helps the managers and partners ensure nothing slips through the net.

With the ability to communicate with all your clients easily and with staff by sending notifications through the system, everything is logged in the clients timeline ensuring no communication is missed.

Finola is right - communication is the key!

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By IrfanS.
26th Sep 2017 11:34

Thanks for sharing Finola. Which practice management platform would you advise for doing it all?

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26th Sep 2017 15:48

I started to use jetpack workflow six months ago and wouldn't be without it now. It's main benefit is that it's so flexible, so very easy to make it work around your own existing working practices.

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