Best Practices

The Key to Optimising Consistency of Work: Standard Operating Procedures

A guide to implementing standard operating procedures for accounting firms.

In your line of work, it’s crucial to stay organised. Let’s face it — managing different people, workflows and deadlines is no walk in the park.

Juggling competing priorities without the right processes in place can lead to a lack of consistency in your team’s work. And you don’t need us to tell you what that can mean for client relationships.

That’s where standardised operating procedures, or standardised processes, come in hand, especially for your firm. SOPs can offer you growth opportunities, add value for your clients and help you address workflow issues that are leading to inefficiencies.

But those aren’t even the best benefits of using SOPs. The best part is deceptively simple. They allow you to focus on what matters.

If you want to maximise work consistency in your accounting firm, keep reading. This article explains everything you need to know about using standardised operating procedures.

 Step 1: Identify Areas for Improvement

Just because you know that there are improvements to be made to your firm’s processes, it doesn’t make the task of identifying them any easier. In fact, it can be a very overwhelming concept to grapple with.

That’s why we like to start by asking a simple question:

Which day-to-day tasks in your firm’s accounting cycle lead to the most delays or failures?

Run through the tasks that you and the team need to complete on a regular basis and make a note of all the activities or business areas that you know are causing problems. These are your problem areas.

Now that you’ve got a list take a moment to review what you’ve written down. Is there anything there that surprises you? This list offers a unique insight into the areas that you will want to focus on improving and will help you choose the best, standardised operating procedures for your firm.  

Don’t worry if you’ve struggled with this activity and have a short list in front of you, free from any helpful insights. In the next few sections, we go into more detail about some of the most common areas of improvement for accounting firms.

Inconsistent Delivery of Services

The experience of your clients is at the heart of your firm’s operations. If they’re not happy, that is a clear indication that there are issues with the level of service you are providing. 

One potential issue is that the team isn't approaching tasks using standardised processes. Internally, this can cause issues with communication and handovers between colleagues. Externally, this can confuse clients at best and render your services ineffective at worst.

Similarly, a lack of standardised processes can mean the team is struggling to meet important deadlines. Even if these deadlines are self-imposed, missing too many will have a knock-on effect on clients. Plus, if you’re unable to respond to their needs, concerns and queries in a timely manner, that’s a major sign that something needs to change.

If any of these issues feel relevant to you, alarm bells should be ringing. In situations like these, we recommend turning to documented processes; this helps identify patterns and further problem areas. Once you’ve got a good understanding of the specific tasks the team are struggling with and why, standardised operating procedures can be implemented to support the team in delivering consistent levels of service.

This is important because maximising work consistency helps provide value to your clients, which is a crucial element of client satisfaction. It pays to remember that…

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” -- Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Failures in Communication

Failures in communication occur for several reasons. Any accounting firm can face problems when communicating information between teams. Plus, it’s common for firms to struggle to communicate with clients. 

Any way you look at it, poor communication leads to missed deadlines, which can create significant problems for accounting firms in the long term. 

Postponed Billing and Invoicing 

While the other issues on this list can impact your firm’s reputation, this one directly relates to your bottom line. 

A lack of standardised processes can cause delayed payments due to invoices being sent out incorrectly, late or not at all. In turn, delayed invoices and bills can upset clients. They also negatively impact the firm’s books. This can easily be prevented by standardised processes being introduced across all areas of the business.

Lack of Documented Procedures

When your firm fails to accurately and efficiently document its procedures, it affects final service delivery.

If you are interested in implementing standardised operating procedures at your firm, this is likely an issue for you. Not only does documenting your procedures help the team understand the expectations of their role and how to do their job best to please clients, but it helps create work consistency.

Make a note of this for later; there’s no good in introducing new processes if the team isn't able to refer back to written guidelines at a later date.

Step 2: Reduce Repetitive Admin

Repetitive admin tasks eat up valuable time and create inefficiencies. When admin tasks are completed manually, they are at risk of being derailed by human error. There is also likely a great deal of variation in the way each team member approaches such tasks, leading to inconsistencies.

Reducing repetitive admin tasks is how the leading accountancy firms maximise work consistency. That’s because it’s an easy win and allows the team to focus on improving more pressing areas of work, such as client relations.

Here are 3 ideas to help you reduce repetitive admin work:

Automate as Much Admin Work as Possible

According to one study, office workers spend 69 days each year on repetitive tasks. Based on the thousands of calls we have with accounting firms, this is a common issue Pixie has identified and wants to address. To put that into perspective, this results in a loss of approximately $5 trillion globally each annum.

Here’s the good news. It’s possible to automate repetitive admin work.

If there’s an admin task, there’s likely a tool for it. There are thousands of specialist admin tools on the market, from invoicing software to HR management portals. For accounting firms, repetitive tasks include running payroll, financial reporting and generating contracts, for which there are multiple solutions available.

It’s important to select the right tools for your team. We recommend seeking out tools that integrate with any tools you already use and that have proven solutions to your problems.

Document Your Processes

Documenting your processes seems a simple concept, but few firms actually stick to it. However, it is immensely valuable. As we discussed earlier, a lack of documentation can actually cause issues with consistency. 

Whether an admin task is completed automatically using a tool or still needs to be managed by an employee, it’s important to write down the step-by-step procedure. That means that if the person responsible for that task is unwell or leaves the firm, there are no delays caused to processes later down the line.

Delegate or Outsource

Some tasks are more difficult or costly to automate than others. In these situations, it’s best to delegate or consider outsourcing low-value and repetitive work.

Delegating or outsourcing repetitive tasks frees up time. Also, it creates the capacity needed to meet deadlines and provide value to clients.

Once this step is complete, your team should have more time available to spend on critical tasks, leading to a huge boost in productivity. You should also notice that mistakes due to human error should decrease, meaning you have achieved consistency across your admin processes.

Step 3: Introduce Methods That Maximise Work Consistency

So, you’ve identified areas for improvement within your firm. You’ve also gone through some easy steps to reduce repetitive tasks. Now it’s time to start thinking about ways to use standardised operating procedures to maximise work consistency.

Below, you’ll find five ways of working the best accounting firms use to maximise their work consistency. These should work together to inform your standardised operating procedures.

Write Down Step-by-Step Instructions

This is fundamental to developing SOPs. The next four methods should support the step-by-step instructions to help employees carry out key operations. 

For each task frequently completed by the team, every step that takes a person from the beginning of the task to its completion should be noted down. That should include what applications to use, where to find information and checks that they must run before continuing to the next step.

No matter who is completing the task, they should be able to easily follow these steps. This massively reduces the risk of human error, and when a mistake does occur, these instructions can be referred back to.

This step is fundamental to prevent variations in services, and therefore maximising work consistency.

Use Templates

Templates are a must-have for accounting firms that value consistency of work. These can include templated responses to emails that maintain a certain level of consistency in communication or templates for contracts, invoices and reports.

This is a simple way to ensure that everyone at the firm is singing from the same hymn sheet. Not only do templates eliminate variations in service delivery but they reduce redundant and repetitive work.

Champion Communication

Communication is key. Good communication ensures clients are well informed, and all teams across the firm are clear on where to find information, the processes related to their roles and updates on all accounts.
Standardising processes of communication can involve asking employees to keep a paper record of all communication with clients, which is stored on a central database.

Define Roles Clearly

It’s important to understand how processes differ from role to role.
Different roles need different processes to complete a task. For example, an accounting supervisor will use one specific workflow, which will differ from that used by a junior accountant.
When defining standardised processes, make sure it is clear when tasks need to be completed by a specific person or when a task requires a certain level of seniority to complete. This ensures the right person is completing tasks and errors are not made.

Implementing Tools for Maximising Work Consistency

Using the right tools helps to maximise work consistency in accounting firms. These days, it’s possible to download software and apps that automate or simplify repetitive tasks. Incredibly, many also provide ready-to-use templates.

These tools help firms by providing a standardised way of working, offering built-in resources that simplify processes and can help implement new processes without a hassle.

  • Google Drive

Looking for a powerful and synchronised way to store information? Check out Google Drive.

Google Drive helps accounting firms maximise work consistency in several ways. This platform is:

  • Perfect for file sharing within teams
  • Able to synchronise documents, spreadsheets, calendars, templates, and workflows across many devices
  • Easy to install and use
  • Capable of producing presentations, spreadsheets, and written documents with ready-made templates
  • Compatible with most programs and devices
  • Loom

Loom is a great tool for communication. This video messaging platform allows accountants to easily create videos from any desktop or mobile device. 

Loom helps accounting firms maximise work consistency in several ways. For example, accountants can use Loom to create how-to videos. These make great marketing and training resources. Plus, sharing videos with clients can help get information across effectively and improve communication. 

  • Clockify

Keeping track of projects is challenging. Clockify solves this problem. This tool allows you to track time spent on different tasks and accounts, helping keep an eye on the progress of all ongoing projects. Most importantly, Clockify can differentiate between billable and non-billable hours, which makes invoicing clients a breeze.

Clockify helps maximise work consistency by:

  • Automatically collating timesheets for invoices
  • Identifying inefficient processes and poor utilisation
  • Accurately estimating timelines and deadlines

Plus, it works for remote or virtual teams and is available for the web or as a mobile or desktop app.

  • Pixie templates

Pixie is a practice management software for accountants and bookkeepers. One of Pixie's many benefits is its extensive library of templates

Pixie’s free resources help to maximise work consistency in many ways. This library allows you to:

  • Adopt industry best practices, which are tailored to your country
  • Import any template into a workspace
  • Integrates with commonly-used accounting software
  • Stay on top of regulatory requirements 

Ready to Begin Using Standardised Operating Procedures to Maximise Work Consistency?

To conclude this article, let’s look at some of the benefits of using SOPs for accounting firms on a business level.

Financial Growth

An optimised accounting firm should run like a well-oiled machine. SOP = higher efficiency = higher productivity = greater opportunities for growth.

When teams have more time available to focus on what matters, you’re able to take on more work or begin the process of upselling current clients. 

Efficiency in the workplace always leads either to reduced operating costs or opportunities for financial growth.

Utilising the Right Skills

Optimised accounting firms use the best skills their people have to offer. That’s because SOPs help accountants know their roles.

Well-defined roles prevent workers from stepping on toes, reduce confusion and mitigate conflict. That means accountants don’t waste time on work that isn’t their responsibility or miss tasks entirely.

Getting the best people on the right tasks helps get more done faster and to a higher quality. And, you guessed it, that equals maximised work consistency.

Delivering Quality Services

An optimised business is a focused business. 

By removing inefficiencies in processes due to a lack of standardisation, accountants can provide consistent services. As a result, clients receive amazing services.

At the end of the day, clients want quality services. This is why using standardised operating procedures for maximised work consistency is so important.

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