A detailed introduction to workflow management in accounting firms

Every business has workflows. Some workflow processes are complex and rely on multiple variables, while others are more direct and easier to follow.

An accounting firm can always benefit from improved workflows and processes. But to improve workflow management in accounting firms, it's imperative to examine the base processes that make up the workflow.

Usually, these processes have been randomly and unevenly applied throughout the years, meeting needs as they happen. In most cases, a particular business practice may have come about due to convenience in the moment rather than actual productivity and efficiency.

Improving workflow management in accounting firms—and the many embedded processes—isn't impossible, but it requires an analytical approach.

It isn't magic, and it can be tough to implement, but you can learn so much about how your firm operates, where you shine, and where improvement is needed. 

It doesn't happen overnight. Familiarize yourself with the methodology and tools used for process improvements. Start working closely with those who actually perform your firm's processes and tasks, and periodically review and tune-up workflows as necessary.

Today's most progressive accounting firms have transformed how they work, streamlining processes and maximizing output, without sacrificing their staff. This leads to more profitable team members who can grow in their positions without additional resources.

What is workflow management?

Workflows are set sequences of tasks that are both planned and repeatable. It's transforming your many resources into actual services. Workflow management organizes how these processes are set up, performed, and tracked. And tracking workflows can be done on paper, in Excel, or within accounting workflow software.

Importance of workflow management in accounting firms

When you decide to implement workflow management, five components must be addressed. Whether you opt for a workflow management application or you develop your own system, you must:

  • Identify technology that can improve your communications, both internally and externally

  • Define task management organization and resources that support task completion

  • Analyze firm resources

  • Allocate firm resources

  • Understand how to deliberately integrate your systems

Examples of basic workflow management in accounting firms

Three basic workflow management examples you should focus on include:

  1. New client onboarding

  2. Sales qualification

  3. Communication

1. New client onboarding

Offering efficient onboarding workflows for new clients ensures they have the best possible experience working with your firm. Your success lies largely in these three aspects:

  • How long your onboarding process takes

  • How available and approachable your customer service is

  • How well you communicate each onboarding step

Refining your client onboarding process means it can finalize faster and your firm can reap revenue much sooner. And monthly recurring revenue (MRR) will also increase.

Recommended reading: The definitive guide to client onboarding for accounting firms

2. Sales qualification processes

How well do your current sales qualification processes work? This should be one of your most seamless workflows that is fueled by automation. After all, how well you qualify leads directly affects your firm's efficiency, productivity, and overall profitability.

Your qualification process helps your firm see how likely it is a certain prospect will become a client. It also provides insight into how your services stack up against buyer intent.

With a strong qualification process, you'll attract the right prospects. This saves uncountable hours chasing leads that won't ever become clients. It also highlights your professional approach and your responsiveness, which becomes a part of your relationship with each new client.

3. Communication

This aspect of workflow management is perhaps the most important—nothing can be achieved without proper, smooth communication. Integrating dependable communication workflows improves responsiveness to your clients and team collaborations.

To start, migrate all communication into one central hub. This communication hub should revolve around singular tasks and projects as a whole. This ensures all related communication can be seen by every staff member and viewed in the proper context. 

Put great communication on the front burner—decide who best represents your firm and only have those staff members communicate externally.

This also alleviates the pressures of deciding in the moment who should answer client communications and eliminates forgotten responses.

Advanced workflow management in accounting firms

You can add value for your clients and boost your accounting firm's revenue by considering these aspects of advanced workflow management.

1. Advisory services

There are five steps in any advisory services workflow:

  1. Kickoff

  2. Planning

  3. Modeling

  4. Building

  5. Advising

Each conversation, whether in person or electronically, is to another person, so use your relationships with clients when offering advisory services. Focus on your client's needs.

Recommended reading: When advisory services are not enough

2. Automated compliance workflows

Tasks that your team performs on a recurring basis should (and need to be) automated. In fact, this is one of the best places to implement workflow management in accounting firms.

Begin by reviewing steps necessary for monthly closings, such as:

  • How does the team gather documents?

  • When do they perform reconciliations?

  • When do they communicate with clients?

Once identified, consider where bottlenecks occur. These constraints are opportunities for improvement, whether you simply change certain processes or opt for a workflow solution.

Overall, implementing workflow management maximizes your firm's efficiency.

Why you need a workflow management tool

There are several reasons why you need accounting workflow software. Maybe it's tough to visualize your firm's:

  • Work in progress

  • Blocked work

  • Upcoming projects

  • Deadlines

  • Staff members who need a break

  • Staff members who could take on a little extra

With workflow management tools, you'll see each project throughout your firm—where it stands, when it's due, and which projects are nearing completion. 

You have the ability to see priorities, identify dependencies, and fix bottlenecks. Perfecting workflows isn't magic, and it won't happen overnight. You'll need to tweak and massage things as you go. But with workflow management for accounting firms, you can take your team from project planning to completion with ease—and without needing to hire extra talent.