Breathe. The days are getting longer, and spring is around the corner—which means you only have a bit more time before you finish the busy season for the year.
Hopefully, your thoughts gravitate toward a much-needed break before getting back to improving and growing your firm. But before your vacay, it’s a good idea to get your bearings by doing a bit of post-busy-season cleanup.
What’s involved in a bit of spring practice cleaning? Identifying and correcting potential issues.
Enter the correction of errors
A Correction of Errors (CoE) is an exercise in identifying the cause(s) of issues in your firm. Fresh off the busy season is an excellent time to think about bottlenecks in your process, gaps in your workflow, and training issues with the team.
The rundown on completing your own correction of errors isn’t complicated.
Identify anything that happened that seemed off, whether blatant mistakes or things that weren’t right.
Spend time thinking, researching, and plotting a plan to correct highlighted issues
Implement your plans to correct these problems (in an order that makes sense)
First, reflect on what just happened
The power of the CoE comes from looking back on the timeframe. For your firm, fresh off the busy season is the best time. Start by opening up a doc, taking out a notebook, or creating a fresh spreadsheet. (Accountants love spreadsheets, am I right?)
Templates like this one are also available to give yourself a starting point.
Problem areas usually boil down into two categories, both of which we’ll cover in more detail.
Soft skill problems
Soft skill issues either come from your team or the clients you serve. For example, if a team member is terrible at communicating with clients, it slows things down. Clients may get confused from a lack of explanation or feel your team is cold and dry instead of warm and friendly.
Other opportunities surrounding soft skills are things like:
What firm owner wouldn’t put these three skills at the top of their list of importance during tax time?
On the team side, it’s essential to remain objective. For example, consider why certain employees weren’t adaptable and dependable during the time you needed them most. Another great idea is to think about how you may have fallen short of empowering them.
For clients, CoE is more about how quickly they delivered documents, responded to questions regarding expenses, and other typical time-sensitive tidbits.
Note: While listing negatives is the primary idea, you’ll also want to list the positives (for instance, list clients who were a dream during filing season.) Think about their attributes to improve your ideal client profile and find more clients like them.
Note (part deux): CoE time is also when to consider staff retention issues. Losing someone at a critical time, like tax season, is detrimental. It’s likely many of the problems that find their way into your report grind down the relationship employees have with your firm. Retention is an especially important concern for firms (and just about any other organization, right now).
Technical (and administrative) problems
These issues subdivide into workflow, software, and file structure. The good news is you’ll likely find most of your issues with a deep dive into your workflows. The big ones to think about are bottlenecks that occur during:
New client onboarding: Cleaning up the books, getting needed access and documents, ensuring the work gets to the right teammate are all potential time-wasters without a solid process. (Not to mention, cleanup and manual bookkeeping aren’t the most fun jobs for accountants.)
Communication: One client does email, another wants to text, it’s a pain to get customers using your firm management software. Then there is team communication. Is your staff using Slack, Teams, or yelling across the office? And the big question: How is jumping from platform to platform causing issues that need correction?
Hand-offs and approvals: This item is related to communication, but more on the people side. Take a look at how many times client work changes hands. It’s also crucial to look at yourself (as in the firm owner/partner) to see if you are a bottleneck.
File structure: Data bloat is a real problem for firms. Think about how dirty your file organization is, and multiply that by your team’s size. (If you're using QB desktop, a whole new set of complications comes into play, including having enough physical storage, robust security and backup schemes.) Clean files are as important as clean books. It’s worth the time to work on implementing standard file protocols.
Once you have your soft and technical problems list, describe each as briefly as possible. Give some thought to each issue, and identify the root cause of each. Then, it’s time to develop your cleanup strategy.
Next, it’s time to build your plan
This section will vary wildly, from firm to firm. After all, each accounting practice is different and will require different approaches to fixing opportunities. That said, some set practices apply to most.
Prioritize from largest to smallest: Clock’s ticking. You have at least five months (May through September), which seems like forever when tax season ends. But you must take each CoE item and prioritize it. You can either list it from most beneficial to least, or do a mix of benefit/cost, meaning how much effort it takes to fix added to the amount correcting that item improves firm conditions.
Treat each correction as a project: Set these “projects” in your spreadsheet, or use a tool like Trello. Then subdivide each into tasks like “researching solutions,” “develop learning plans for the team,” or “implement an automated bookkeeping system.”
Set aside the necessary time: Block out time each week, devoting it to one of the errors. Set regular deadlines and meetings with other team members (if necessary). In other words, take it seriously.
Select champions (optional): If your firm is a bit bigger, with teams and/or partners, consider divvying some of the errors to well-qualified individuals. You’ll cover more ground and allow others to feel like they’re making a real contribution to the team.
Finally, keep your eye on the prize and execute
After identifying issues and building out a detailed strategy to mitigate and eliminate—it would be a shame to let that spreadsheet gather digital dust.
So, set those meetings, block off that time, and work to improve your firm. And if you’re like many other owners, finishing the busy season accounting work, you want to save time on bookkeeping and client onboarding. Botkeeper is a solution accounting firms use for automated bookkeeping and onboarding. If your CoE includes things like “improve capacity” or “reduce redundant workload, " consider how we help firms like yours.