[Free guide] Building service workflows for accountants & bookkeepers

workflows (1)I probably shouldn’t say this, but…

Practice management applications aren’t a silver bullet. 

Sure, they’ll take away some of the heavy lifting and free up mental space for you to not worry about certain things, but they won’t magically fix all of your inefficiencies overnight. 

Why?

Because your practice management app is only as good as the processes that it’s built on.

Just like a house, if you try to build it on uneven foundations, then sure, it will keep you warm, and dry, and make you feel safe & secure, but there’s still a chance the whole thing can come crashing down at any time.

And practice management is the same. Without a set of clearly defined workflows and processes in place for all of your services, there’s a risk of it all going Pete Tong (that’s Cockney rhyming slang for ‘going wrong’ for our friends in the USA and Canada). 

So where should you start when it comes to building out these processes? 

Here at Pixie, we have a very simple 5-step process that we recommend to all firms when setting up their workflows:

  1. Map
  2. Build
  3. Systemise
  4. Automate
  5. Iterate

Here’s how each of those steps works in some more detail…

1. Map

The starting point with any workflow or system building exercise is to map out the process.

You can do this on paper, on a spreadsheet, on a whiteboard, or even using tools like Miro or Flowchart. But what you’re looking to do is map out the A-Z workflow for each of your services. 

I’d also recommend doing this as a team exercise if possible. Not only will it help with their buy-in to the process, it’s often the case that team members know things or can see things differently to the practice owner - after all, they might be the ones doing the bulk of the work! 

Here is a very simple yearly accounts & tax workflow as an example:

  • Request info from client
  • Check if client has responded
  • Set up the new year
  • Review info from client
  • Prepare draft accounts
  • Set up meeting with client
  • Hold meeting
  • Finalise accounts
  • Send documents to client for signing
  • Submit accounts
  • Notify client to make CT payment

When mapping out your process, try to categorise the different steps as one of the following:

  • Communication - is there an email that needs to go to the client to send/receive info?
  • Process - is there a clear process to follow for this? What checklist items do you need to tick off as part of completing this step?
  • Internal deadline - is there a date within this workflow where certain tasks need to be done? 

You might also want to map out things like start date, end date, overall duration, and the various apps you might need to complete it. Here’s the same Yearly accounts workflow above with the additional details and categories.

  • [Start] 30 days after client year-end date
  • [Communication] Request info from client
    • [App] Practice management
  • [Internal deadline] Check if client has responded (1 month after job has started)
  • [Process] Set up the new year
    • [App] Accounts production
  • [Process] Review info from client
  • [Process] Prepare draft accounts
    • [App] Accounts production
  • [Internal deadline] Accounts prepared (3 months after job has started)
  • [Communication] Set up meeting with client
  • [Communication] Hold meeting
  • [Process] Finalise accounts
    • [App] Accounts production
  • [Internal deadline] Accounts finalised (5 months after task has started)
  • [Process] Send documents to client for signing
    • [App] Document signing or Practice management
  • [Process] Submit accounts
  • [Communication] Notify client to make CT payment
  • [End date] 

Once you’re done, you should have some very clear process maps for each of your service workflows ready for the next step…

2. Build


Once you’ve mapped it, it’s time to build it.

But that doesn’t mean build it out in your practice management app just yet…

This is the stage where you build out the various elements of your workflows. For example:

  • Communications: Write out the email templates that you will use so that they can be used as automated or manual emails in your workflow
  • Process: Build out your step-by-step checklists for each of the steps. Recording training videos with screen sharing to show people what to do at each stage

It might feel like overkill including this level of granular detail at this stage, but when you are in a position where you’re bringing on more clients and/or more team members into your firm, having well documented processes for them to follow will not only increase efficiency and productivity, it will also transform the consistency of your work. 

3. Systemise


Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

It’s time to systemise it properly and add it all into your practice management system.

You’ve already done the hard work, now it’s just a case of taking your workflows, setting them up, adding your email templates, adding your checklists and training videos and you're done. 

I’ve spoken to a lot of firms that try to start here, and end up going round and round in circles trying to set up workflows in a practice management app, without having the processes there to use in the first place.

Every minute spent planning and mapping this stuff out beforehand will save you many more minutes (if not hours) in terms of getting it all set up. 

Here’s an example of what a finished workflow looks like in Pixie. The steps on the left hand side are drag-and-drop, and you can add more using the 'add subtask' button. The screen on the right shows a preview of Step 1 - the automated email to the client.

Screenshot 2020-12-03 115510

4. Automate


Now that you’ve got your workflows mapped out, built out, and added in to your practice management app, you’re in a position to start adding automation.

Trying to add automation too early on in the process can often lead to problems down the line.

Not everything has to be automated on day 1. Pick a few elements of each workflow at a time, figure out the best and easiest way to automate them, and then move onto the next. 

Automation is only as efficient as the process that it sits on top of.  So whilst there is a lot of opportunity, remember to take your time.

5. Iterate

Building workflows for your accounting and bookkeeping firm needs to be an ongoing process.

Your clients expectations will change, your apps might change, and the way you do things will most certainly change over time. So remember to keep iterating and updating your workflows as you go.

This is one of the great reasons why having workflows in a purpose built practice management app like Pixie is worthwhile, because they can be updated in real time and changed across your entire client base in just a few clicks. 

Your workflow creation checklist

So there you go, a simple 5-step process for building out service workflows in your accounting firm that will increase your efficiency, productivity, consistency as well as improve the service your clients are receiving. 

Here’s a getting started checklist for turning this article into an action item on your next team meeting agenda:

  • Agree date for team meeting
  • Map out processes for different services
  • Build out processes
  • Systemise your process in a practice management app
  • Start to add automation to these processes
  • Constantly tweak and iterate them 

Happy workflow building!

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