As the leader of an accounting firm, it’s your job to turn complex tasks and projects into streamlined workflows for your team. This ensures that you and your team produce quality work products without missing deadlines.
When we talk about workflow, we mean a clear and repeatable set of tasks in pre-planned sequences that complete particular functions. It’s how you transform your resources into services that your clients find valuable. In short, simpler workflows means faster work.
If you don’t “process-ize” your team’s work, you’re probably not as productive as you could be. You might have bottlenecks, lost information, or clients left unattended.
In this article, we’re going to cover the five critical workflows that every accounting firm should master. Creating detailed processes for these functions will create the greatest impact on your business.If you don’t “process-ize” your team’s work, you’re probably not as productive as you could be. Click To Tweet
1. New Client Onboarding Workflow
Onboarding is the process of folding new clients into your usual production schedule. Your onboarding process should be fast, seamless, and efficient. If you take too long or create too much friction for your clients, there’s a chance they’ll find another accounting provider.
Client onboarding for an accounting firm usually takes six to eight weeks. This is a tenuous point in your relationship with a client because it represents a period where the client is paying for services, but not receiving any value. Realistically, however, it doesn’t need to take that long.
Define exactly what you need to do to onboard a new client. Take as much of the work out of the client’s hands as possible. If you need anything from the client, provide next steps with clear instructions. Take use of your practice management tools, like your client portal and secure file sharing to grease the process.
You and your team should be available to the client at all times. Make identifying and resolving their issues a priority. Remember, the client is likely still struggling with some purchase anxiety over hiring you, so don’t make that anxiety turn into buyer’s remorse.
2. Sales Qualification Workflow
Not all leads are equal. Some are right for your accounting firm. Others aren’t. 65% of accounting firms report that prospecting workflows are essential to their success.
Before you invest time and resources into courting a client, it’s important to qualify them. This process helps you and your team understand whether your services match their needs and how likely they are to convert. This way you don’t spend your energy signing and onboarding clients who aren’t right for your firm.
This image from HubSpot shows how all leads should be filtered through the qualification process before moving on to the formal sales process.
Start by determining a set of characteristics that describe the clients you want to sign. What industries or verticals are they in? How many people do they employ? How much revenue do they generate? Where are they located? Do they have any specific regulatory or compliance needs? Which of your services do they need?
Then develop a process that studies each potential client. Someone on your team should be responsible for running through the qualification checklist and coming up with a score. Independent research may be sufficient, but this person might also have to conduct a few interviews and ask a set of discovery questions.
If, at the end of the sales qualification workflow, you decide the prospect isn’t a good fit, send an honest email that explains why. If the prospect is a good fit, send them your standard pitch, which includes pricing and next steps.
3. Service Production Workflow(s)
This isn’t one workflow, but a category of workflows that you’ll need to develop.
You need a workflow for each service you offer your clients, such as bookkeeping, payroll, tax preparation, reporting, consulting, etc. A standard process for each service ensures that…
- Your team produces the quality of work that you expect
- All clients receive the same service
- New hires can jump into production quickly
- You can identify gaps in the process and fix it for all clients
Reduce your services to a series of checklists that your team can perform for each client. How are documents gathered? What tools are used? What reports are generated? How and when are clients notified? Your workflows should answer all of these questions.
Then document your workflow steps for each service within your project management software. Create tasks for each step. Include whatever information your team needs to complete each task successfully. Add deadlines to each task (e.g. “7 days after onboarding”).
Here’s an example of a tax preparation workflow from Thomson Reuters. Notice how the workflow is split into eight stages. Each stage has its own goal. All client accounts move through the same process, which means one person can manage multiple clients at the same time without getting confused. It also means multiple people can work on the same account without burdening one another.
4. Additional Services Upsell Workflow
Naturally, you want to sell more to the same clients in order to increase billing and cement yourself as their partners. In fact, some research shows that many clients are looking for higher-end, advisory services. So it’s important to upsell your clients on additional products, especially your advisory services.
Some accounting firms wait until the client asks for additional help, but this is a mistake. Your clients have problems long before they mention them to you. You can be the solution to their problems much earlier by designing an upselling workflow that encourages your clients to take advantage of your other services.
First, decide when you’ll pitch your upsell. This will be different based on the type of client and the type of services they already use. For instance, you would pitch additional services to a tax preparation client after tax season, but you might pitch to a bookkeeping client after the second month.
Then decide which services are reasonable. It doesn’t make sense to offer payroll services to a company of one, for instance. Be mindful of what your clients can afford.
Next, craft a pitch that explains how your services can meet their needs. Make it clear that you understand their problems and explain why you are the right provider to help. Try to tailor your pitch to the client’s goals as much as possible, using whatever historical data you have. Ideally, you want to show them how they’ll save money in the long run by hiring you.
Finally, follow up with the client about your pitch. Offer to answer their questions and walk them through the new services. You don’t have to push hard to make a sale. Just show them the value.
5. Internal and External Communication Workflow
Few accounting firms take communication seriously. For most, it “just happens.” An email from a client comes in and someone replies. This approach seems fast and simple, but it also silos information.
It’s important to take a predictable and systematic approach to communication. This may seem tedious when everything goes right, but it can prevent mistakes, dropped tasks, and duplicate work. It’s also extremely important if some or all of your team works remotely.
Communicating with partners, vendors, affiliates – and most importantly, clients – should happen in a central location that everyone can access. A new collaborator should be able to jump into a project for a client account and get caught up quickly without hunting multiple places for conversations.
Internal communications that relate to projects and tasks should all take place within your project management software. Again, it’s best not to spread conversations out across multiple platforms or information will be lost.
It also helps to define a communicator for external communications. This ensures that information flows through the same source. For instance, you might have all of your clients communicate through an account manager or a project manager. This person would then deal information to the correct parties within your firm.
It takes time to get your workflows right. Don’t be worried if you have some gaps, bottlenecks, or obstacles in the beginning. Optimize your workflows over time until your accounting firm hums like a well-oiled machine.