Adviser: Put your client on the conveyor belt

If your attitude towards it is to treat it like a factory production line, then the results will not only be speedier and more efficient, but also a great deal more profitable.

Accounts preparation to audit (corporate), accounts preparation, personal tax, payroll and management accounts are all areas of work that would benefit from being given the production-line treatment.

Unfortunately, the traditional organisation of an accountancy practice – each partner with his own portfolio, manager and either dedicated staff or access to a pool of staff – does not make for effective work processing.

Company directors and senior executives are seldom found operating the machinery on the factory floor and the situation in accountancy firms should be no different – delegation is the key.

In the first place, think about what you’re trying to achieve. It’s likely to be a combination of better fees, greater efficiency on individual jobs, faster workflow, better recoveries and higher profits. It’s about delivering a better service to clients through speed and efficiency, ensuring that partners and staff are doing the right work at the correct level. Overall, the objective is a smarter and more efficient practice.

None of this is difficult, but it does demand that everyone involved knows precisely what is expected of them and follows the procedures agreed for every job. Controlling the workflow is vital and this means the firm should be in charge, not the client.

Clients should be encouraged to produce their records at the firm’s convenience rather than their own, and all records should be complete before starting work. Firms with problem clients who seem incapable of delivering their records on time need to consider strategies that will encourage them to be more punctual – even doubling the fee if needed.

Maintaining a constant flow of work into the practice means that assignments can be planned in advance more effectively, but it is in the allocation and supervision of work that the production line really comes into its own.

The first task is to ensure that the right level of staff is handling the work at every stage. Internal deadlines should be set for every stage of the assignment and a system of checks and balances put into place to ensure these deadlines are achieved.

On completion of each assignment, if relevant, a meeting should be arranged with the client as soon as possible to approve the work, and the invoice submitted immediately thereafter.

The entire process should be tightly controlled, with work planned between one and three months in advance, with weekly meetings to monitor progress and results. The mantra for everyone involved in the factory process should be: ‘Get it in, turn it round, get it out.’

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