‘Workflows’ is an ever-popular term in accounting and bookkeeping. Some might even claim that it’s become a buzzword, or a shiny new name for something that’s always existed. Whatever your stance, it’s safe to say that accounting workflow – and all its subplots – is an integral part of accounting as a whole.
It’s no surprise, then, that firms are in constant pursuit of ways to improve them (one of the main jobs of a cloud accounting specialist). And it’s why the industry has opened its doors to a load of workflow-based tools.
But why are workflows such a prominent talking point in accounting? And how do you make them better? In this blog, we’ll be sharing why they’re so important and what you can do to take yours to the next level in your accounting automation process. Before we start, let’s define what accounting workflows are.
What is an Accounting Workflow?
An accounting workflow is a sequence of steps that sees a task through from beginning to end. Workflows aren’t exclusive to accounting, but they do carry far more significance in our industry than others. That’s because so much of accounting hinges on the completion of previous jobs in the cycle.
While it may sound simple, the challenge comes during the application, management and maintenance of workflows. On a broader scale, there is, of course, only one accounting cycle. Its name may change depending on where you are, but it is a universally-known framework. Workflows, on the other hand, have many different moving parts.
Unlike the accounting cycle, there are so many types of workflow, which makes it hard to speak about them as one. They’re also unique to the firm in question. Despite that variance, the benefits of workflows are the same whichever way you look.
Benefits of an Accounting Workflow
1 . Consistency
Every business loves consistency. It improves stability and ensures results. To have everyone working from the same page, in a collaborative and coordinated manner, is an invaluable asset. Processes are far from straightforward. But with an operating workflow, you can break those processes down into steps. Everyone knows their role, and what comes next to guarantee the same result as before.
2 . Growth
Scaling your business is much easier when there’s a standardised operating model. With routine tasks, and a team that knows what they’re supposed to be doing, the desired results are far more likely. There’s also less last-minute admin and general chaos. That means those in charge can redirect their attention to focus on growing the business.
3 . Spot inefficiencies
With a systematic, step-by-step approach, workflows show you what stages are going well. You’re also able to see where things aren’t going according to plan. Members of staff might be struggling with deadlines, or clients taking too long to onboard. Either way, you can better fix problems more when you address them as one single issue.
4 . Delegate
Some people struggle with delegation. A lot of the time that’s because they don’t have visibility over what jobs need doing at what stage, and by who. Above all else, an accounting workflow gives managers that visibility. They can see where work might be piling up – and members of staff with more time on their hands than others. It’s then up to them to allocate accordingly.
5 . Training
Training graduates or getting new employees up to speed with your firm’s way of working is a job in itself. As a manager, you can only provide so much guidance on top of your own workload. The good thing about a workflow is that it provides a clear pathway for any new faces. They can see what needs doing and when, without having to always ask senior managers what to do next.
Now you know why accounting workflows are so important, it’s time to look at how you can improve yours. But, before we start, we’d like to highlight the key ingredient to any functioning workflow.
Workflow Software for Accountants
Workflow software is the worst-kept secret when it comes to processes. More than ever, firms are entrusting accounting technology to help employees navigate their tasks. Of course, there are other ways to improve your firm’s workflow, ways that don’t need technology. You could try outsourcing, or cutting down time spent in meetings. The trick for long-term success, though, lies in automated workflows and the opportunities they present.
What is a Workflow Software for Accountants?
For some, ‘workflow software’ is vague and cryptic. It is, in fact, quite simple. If you didn’t already know, cloud accounting is when you do and store your bookkeeping work online. Data is processed in the cloud, and accessible anywhere at any time.
The key takeaway from accounting automation is its ability to streamline the entire accounting workflow. With the cloud, firms can introduce a seamless flow of data, from bank to books, in real time. All that data is backed up and encrypted too. There’s also the benefit of multiple users, encouraging a smooth and collaborative working environment.
How Automated Workflows Improve Your Accounting Process
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of workflows you’re likely to find at any firm. At the same time, we’ve suggested how cloud accounting can help to improve that particular workflow. These are by no means all the existing accounting workflows – but they are the most common.
• Client onboarding
The first workflow in focus is client onboarding. The onboarding process sets the tone for a new business relationship. In the past, that took a lot of time, back-and-forth admin and paper pushing. The arduous nature of it all is why some client relationships start off on the wrong foot.
These days, there are a host of apps and tools to help make the process seamless from start to finish. From signing the contract, to understanding client needs and expectations, you can save valuable time. With onboarding software, you can secure sensitive, personal financial information. And, with a good onboarding experience seeing 69% of employees stick with their company for three or more years, you can boost your retention rate.
• Service delivery
The most important workflow at an accounting or bookkeeping practice is service delivery. This is the be-all and end-all of accounting – the key metric for success. It’s also the workflow where the most opportunity lies. That’s because the level and breadth of technology on offer is so impressive.
Whatever form of service you provide clients – auditing, tax accounting or payroll processing, to name a few – there are plenty of tools on hand to help. There’s specific VAT returns software that flags errors and mistakes automatically. Or automated data processing that reduces the risk of those, sometimes, unavoidable mistakes.
You can also provide clients with automation tools to make expense management and data capture more efficient. This makes their lives easier – but also helps you provide a better service when you know that the data is accurate and up to date.
• Task management
Client-facing workflows will always be a top priority. But, as you know, there’s a whole load of work that goes on in the background at accounting and bookkeeping firms. A practice management workflow oversees the general flow of various recurring tasks. In many ways, this type of task management encompasses, or at least supports, all other processes at a firm.
Because this workflow plays such a central role it’s so important that you get it right. There are a number automation-based products tailored for this kind of task management. There are tools that allow you to customise workflows, then assign them to members of staff. You can also leverage rich insight to inform your bookkeeping strategy and ensure things run as planned.
• Billing and invoicing
As an industry that revolves around the client and their business, it’s easy to let your firm’s own growth slip. Billing and invoicing is something that no business can afford not to prioritise. And there is already an ongoing, much broader conversation that addresses this.
More firms are adopting a pay-monthly system, which falls in line with the global shift towards subscription payments. This is because firms put themselves at a cash flow risk when billing only once the work is complete. There’s also calls for firms to move to value-based pricing, instead of the time it takes to do a task.
Why does this matter? Well, those projected changes are far more likely to happen with automated workflows. You can set up bill payment systems, replacing paper cheques with electronic payments; Ignition does this very well. There’s also software that automatically collects sales invoices, so you don’t have to chase client suppliers on their behalf.
• Recruitment and employee onboarding
Like billing and invoicing, the way in which you recruit and onboard employees is key. By using technology, your recruitment team can better manage their work. It also ensures you are getting only the best candidates.
You can now harness software to introduce pre-pre-screening. This means you include predefined questions that instantly rule out candidates if they give the wrong answer. You can also use automated messages to invite candidates for interviews and engage initial interest.
Then there’s onboarding. Alarmingly, only 12% of employees believe their company does a good job of onboarding new employees. It’s clear there’s room for improvement. So where does workflow software come in? With technology, the distribution and recording of documents is far more manageable. Above all, it frees up managers to apply a more personal, human touch that makes employees feel right at home.
As you well know, the day-to-day running of an accounting practice involves many subprocesses and lots of people. Bringing all these components together under one operating system may seem overwhelming. The thing is, at this stage the hard work is already done. All the different workflows are already built; it’s now just a case of improving them.
The best way to do that is through workflow software. Besides saving you considerable amounts of time, workflow software adds structure and a clear set of rules to follow. It cuts out a lot of unnecessary admin, which then allows you to focus on more impactful work – like making a good first impression with a client, or having a proper conversation with a new employee.
The best part about it all is that most types of workflow software now connect and function side by side. That, and all the efficiency-boosting benefits, contribute to a much more seamless accounting workflow. Buzzword or not, we’d like to think that’s something every firm is looking for.
If you’re yet to explore the basics and need help getting started with your own digital transformation, here’s how to automate your accounting firm.