From XU Magazine, 
Issue 21

When business as usual is not an option: Finding profitability just by boosting your productivity

Productivity and profitability growth are intrinsically linked. Finding productive internal processes is the first step to improving your bottom line. The true challenge for most practices though is to regularly take time away from business-as-usual to question if your current practice management is as efficient and profitable as possible.

Establishing productive processes, driving efficiency and boosting profitability is an age-old goal for every practice. However, the goalposts are shifting for many thanks to digitalisation. Simply working harder or not providing additional services won’t cut it in a competitive landscape.

Often, finding time in your internal processes is the first step to achieving these goals before you even begin to look at improving the compliance process or integrated software. However, these are both very important conversations to be considered further down the line.

Whether you are unlocking time to secure new services or clients or looking to improve your cashflow, it’s an opportunity to look internally.

Why you should work on your practice, rather than in

Our business consultants have worked with thousands of practices on their internal processes. We have seen many practices reduce their non-profitable clients and still increase their profit over time. Liberated time and resource gives the practice the opportunity to offer value added services to the existing customer base.

What’s more, practices looking at boosting productivity in internal processes have been able to reduce workloads for their teams, improving their work life balance. This is particularly important given that research from CABA, the wellbeing charity for accountants, has shown that 41% of those in the industry have experienced stress, referencing being overworked as a key contributor.

The result of optimised workloads is an engaged group of people working as a high performing team to do the same work in less time, providing great services to your clients. It is a virtuous cycle that ultimately benefits the practice.

Advisory services will play a critical part in the evolution of the industry. Practices who have already begun thinking about an advisory model have seen first-hand the financial and professional rewards for their practices and their clients, as well as improved client and employee retention. If this is also a route you are considering, the key question will be can you take on this work with your current workforce?

If the answer is no, there is some work to be done. One action that could give you the biggest time saving is consistency.

Consistency: the biggest time saver with the least input time needed

Standardising and automating processes can be a huge time saver as well as a clear indication of what processes are taking place in reality. Here is a practical exercise to try in the practice today. Try a short workshop exercise with several members of the team, ideally from different levels within your organisation.  Ask them on their own to write down the end-to-end process they follow to carry out an activity, for example process for recording time or client billing from beginning to end.

Now compare the notes and answer the following questions: Is there process duplication? How much is manually managed by isolated spreadsheets across the team? How many systems do you use to keep track of the process? Is there enough control or visibility across the process without needing to email different staff, departments or offices? Is the process consistent?

These are the conversations that will show you immediate time savings in removing duplication or manual processing and replacing it with standardised and automated systems. I’m sure, like me, you’ve all encountered that wonderful phrase ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’. Consistency is key for productive practice management, particularly when there are multiple teams or offices involved.

Automated workflows, billing and paperless offices

Another significant manual area to consider is workflow management. Software can be set to drive processes like billing across the solutions automatically, rather than updating spreadsheets or disparate products.

Software alerts will ensure that projects are visible, controllable and consistent across teams and offices. Future-driven practices are moving their processes to paperless systems. Not only does a digital document management system solve the cost of storage and space issues within your office but significantly reduces the time required to carry out tasks, as all documents for every client are instantly available.

Automating workflow, billing and document management will also ensure business continuity. Should one member take annual leave, fall ill, or need to work off site, business can continue as usual. These actions are not just about saving time. It’s about improving cash flow by billing as soon as the work is completed. And, most importantly, it’s about better serving your clients.

Making the most of your investment in software

Your investment in software should not stop there. Following installation, it is important not to manipulate the software simply to fit old inefficient processes. Review the functionality of your software as well as your processes to identify key time savings you can gain from adopting the software. For example, if you can automate billing, be strict with how you amend your current process to suit this, not the other way around.

It’s also worth considering how you will win the hearts and minds of your colleagues.  A change in solution is a huge opportunity to recognise with colleagues that the way of doing things in the past that has enabled you to be hugely successful is not necessarily going to be the same as what you need as you look for continued growth for the future.  Engage your colleagues and enlist the support of consultants that do this up and down the country every day.

Beyond installation there is more work to be done. Your software releases could include updates which could include serious time savers. Ensure that you, or a dedicated member of your team, is aware of these updates, reviews your current processes and evolves them with the software.

That said, the best way to make the most of your software is through consultancy beyond the initial product training. Business consultancy training on a frequent basis will help you use the software efficiently and review your processes to make sure these continue to improve. We have seen successful productive practices make regular use of our professional services consultants and see significant time savings with best practice tips for our software, as well as ongoing improvement of their internal processes.

Managing your practice by exception

Key performance indicators like timesheets or WIP are inherent in managing your productivity levels. If you are managing those KPI indicators manually, how useful are they to the business if they are a time drain to produce?

Manual intervention or project management leaves room for human error and wasted time. Automated tools could do this for you, leaving your team free from manually running and distributing reports, chasing timesheets or checking information.

Software such as our “virtual assistant” CCH KPI Monitoring makes this possible. This software monitors your systems and automatically notifies you if your predefined conditions are not met. These alerts could inform you when timesheets are overdue or when a WIP is about to go over the quoted time.

You can set ‘exception’ alerts, so you’re informed, by email or text, when something has happened, or is about to happen giving you the chance to deal with any issues before they become problems.

It’s a much more effective use of your time to resolve abnormalities and alerts that will benefit you or your clients, than spending the time looking for them.

Time savings in integrated practice management

Generating and sending out bills can be almost as time consuming as producing the actual compliance work, particularly when there are many teams to produce the bill, post the bill, chase for payment and then match the bill to the outstanding debt once it has been paid.

If your billing process is a very manual siloed process, calculate the time saved in having an integrated system. Integrated practice management software will take the bill from generation through to payment via bank feeds without manual intervention.

Solutions such as CCH Practice Management software can make bills awaiting approval appear as workflow items that can be tracked. From there, the system can automatically email or post the bill to CCH OneClick. Workflow tools also generate reminders to the client at certain intervals after posting until the bill has been paid. The credit control dashboards give direct access to information about debtors. With single-click tools you can drill-down to the underlying data and a full billing history.

CCH Document Management automatically files bills on client records and identifies emails and documents that it can file against the correct contact with minimal intervention.

Once the payment has been made, the bank statement can be imported through the bank feeds within Twinfield and back into CCH Practice Management, automatically matched against the debt and the client.

Taking the plunge

Changes to internal processes and optimising software can seem daunting, especially when added to the day-to-day demands on your time and that of your colleagues. However, taking the time to define that change and its implementation will lead to growth and profitability long-term wins which will always outweigh the temporary inconvenience.

Why leave it there?

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