Next time you’re putting together a playset or desk, take some time to thank Henry Maudslay. The English engineer created a lathe in 1800 that paved the way for uniform screw thread sizes.
Before this invention, you couldn’t interchange bolts, screws and nuts. Workers created these items with chisels and files so each bolt or screw had only one nut – one nut – to pair with.
Imagine the headaches. Hours could be wasted trying to find that one nut for the bolt in your hand. Flaws in their construction could make for imperfect results.
Now the screws you get at the hardware store will work with any bolts or nuts you have at home.
Construction is easier.
Maintenance is easier.
Consistency is guaranteed.
And all of this is thanks to standardization.
Standardization, however, isn’t limited to hardware. The same philosophy can be applied to bookkeeping and accounting service firms, with the end results of consistency, efficiency and timely and accurate financial information.
At Consultance Accounting, we recognized the need to standardize as we grew. Individually held processes and procedures worked with a relatively small group of employees and clients. But as we added more of both, we saw that our level of services might get watered down if we didn’t course-correct. After much consideration, we chose to standardize the delivery of our services.
Standardization yields consistency. Consistency reduces the risk of errors.
A uniform set of procedures and consistent execution significantly reduce the likelihood of mistakes. Firms do not need to reinvent the wheel for each client. They aren’t learning and juggling five different technologies for the same task.
We started by reviewing, refining and documenting our current processes, which developed into our standard operating procedures. Each SOP tackles a task step by step, outlining guidelines, necessary documents, technologies and best practices. We have SOPs for tasks ranging from paying bills to month-end closing to how to communicate with clients.
Everyone trains on the SOPs extensively. If an employee is out on vacation, another person can step in to work with those clients until the first one returns, and the level of service remains consistent.
The SOPs address areas that often fall prey to errors. This is where technology is vital. We have an integrated technology stack that includes Bill.com, QuickBooks and Hubdoc. This reduces a lot of the manual data entry.
Technology enforces standardization every step of the way. Take Bill.com for example. It’s our AP solution of choice. The employees train on it, keep current on its latest features and get certified on the solution. We strongly recommend that our clients use it for bill payments. The firm and clients benefit from automated workflows, mobile access, e-payments and documented audit trails. Auditors love it!
Here’s the secret to integrated solutions: You want to use the fewest number of solutions needed to achieve a firm’s objectives and build efficiencies. Find the industry-proven, cloud-based solutions that are simple to use, scalable and provide the most bang for the buck. When a firm tries to adopt too many applications, it can complicate things and work against your objective of streamlining and standardizing processes.
Standardization crystallizes your brand.
If a firm doesn’t consistently deliver services, performance suffers, and clients will have difficulty associating its name with excellence.
Branding extends beyond logos and websites. Work, staff and everything about a firm contribute to brand perception – either good or bad. Consistent, accurate, helpful and insightful results make clients happy. A happy client will communicate your firm’s excellence and be pleased to refer it to business colleagues.
Trust serves as a vital component of branding for a firm. Standardization allows firms to onboard clients in a consistent manner and ultimately deliver value. It supports the credibility of an organization. And the transparency and collaboration afforded by cloud-based solutions nurture trust from day one.
Standardization lets you focus on value-added services.
When you standardize, you inevitably create a more efficient organization. With SOPs and technology, you’re no longer entrenched in transactional work. Staff members can accomplish more and deliver more value to the clients. Unnecessary steps and paper reliance shrink. Automation, mobility, integration and real-time, accurate data are the result. Conversations with clients turn from transactional details like schedules for printing checks to cash flow analysis, analytical review of expenses and how to improve margins and the bottom line.
It makes your clients’ lives much easier (and they appreciate it).
Clients want to run their businesses. They don’t want to research accounting best practices and technology. That’s why they come to the experts at accounting firms.
SOPs are the blueprint for saving clients time and elevating convenience. Clients take the processes and toolkit they need for accounting from a firm. They do less heavy lifting to complete accounting-related tasks. For example, they can review and approve a bill via the Bill.com mobile app. They don’t struggle to find contracts or a payment history. It’s all at their fingertips. They can click pay from the beach or the boardroom. Firms cut the time it takes for clients to complete AP by 50 percent or more. A few taps and they’re done – and back to focusing on their company.
One warning about change
When standardizing, it’s important to find ways to make improvements – especially because these improvements extend across an entire portfolio. Be certain to only embrace changes that add value and do not create chaos. We have regular discussions at our firm about potential improvements, but too many changes will introduce a constant flux in processes and ultimately work against standardizing.
How your firm can start
To start with standardizing, find out what matters most for your firm. Where are you currently? And what is your desired state? Take advantage of low-hanging opportunities by identifying the processes that are the biggest abusers when it comes to staff performance, efficiency, time and costs. Explore how you can improve those processes with SOPs and accounting technology with features such as automation, integration, collaboration and mobility. The sooner you begin, the sooner your firm can benefit.
Orin Schepps, CPA, owner and CEO of Consultance Accounting, founded the firm in 2008 with a desire to change the way accounting services were provided. Since then, the firm has become a trusted trailblazer for accounting technology innovation. He identifies “people, process and technology” solutions that significantly improve accounting operations and allow business leaders to focus on what matters most. He is a certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor and a member of the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants.