“Just one more thing, then I’ll call it a night.”
At least that’s what you tell yourself. Next thing you know, you’re leaving the office after the sun’s gone down. After all, there is no shortage of tasks in an accounting firm. Once you finish all of the basic accounting tasks (bookkeeping, payroll, and such), there are administrative tasks and HR to-dos. And if you get caught up on those?
Well, there’s always the future of the firm to think about, like marketing, growth, and process improvement. Who needs evenings off? And vacations for accountants?! That’s why you have a motivational picture with a palm tree in your office.
But do you ever stop and think, “Does it really have to be like this?”
This is not a psychological post. There are no inkblot tests, and we’re not going to have you lie back to talk it out. That said, changing the less-than-ideal accounting work conditions firm owners are accustomed to requires some perspective and a shift in mindset.
A fresh dose of perspective
Does anyone judge a person’s success by bags under their eyes? Probably not. Some accounting firm owners still wear the number of days since their last vacation as a badge of honor.
Trying to impress by always looking busy (or actually being “busy”) leads to overwhelm, possibly at the expense of your health and business. And no one gauges success by the number of individual accounts you’re able to balance!
On the other hand, if one of your colleagues told you their firm is profitable, has open capacity, and they’re actively working to close new clients — that’s impressive.
This example is a big shift away from what you’re “doing” toward what you’ve accomplished.
Now that we’ve highlighted the issue that plagues many firms, it’s time to discuss the most common excuses for overwork while offering solutions for each. If you ask any firm owner, there are three broad “excuses” you’ll find for lack of work-life balance:
Too much work to do
Too many issues popping up “last minute”
Not enough staffing to handle the workload
“There’s just too much to do.” — Most accountants
As an accountant, you know many things. But not all knowledge affects you and your clients the same way. For example, you know how to do bookkeeping and how to develop a comprehensive forecast (as well as suggested strategies based on the forecast) for clients.
Without automation, bookkeeping for a small business with a decent number of transactions takes several hours per month. The time commitment is always the same, the revenue generated is also always the same.
A forecast and strategy session, on the other hand, takes a comparable amount of time (for the forecast) as well as regular 30-60 minute meetings with the client. But this time invested has a two-fold return:
Your client avoids common pitfalls, is able to expand their business, and even saves thousands of dollars on their return via tax strategies, all from your higher-value services.
You’re able to prove value while increasing the revenue per client.
Here’s the problem: One of these things must be done before you can move on to the other. In other words, books aren’t just going to keep themselves.
One solution is hiring a dedicated bookkeeper. Another workaround is to partner with a firm only offering bookkeeping services. Both of these involve training, collaboration, and more tasks on your plate — even if you’re not the one crunching numbers. There’s a better way.
Automation reduces the manual and redundant
Getting redundant tasks off of your plate is the cornerstone, the first domino of taking control of the overwork problem. It’s also a likely cause of increased stress in your accounting firm over the last several years.
The accounting industry is in the midst of a shift. In the form of AI and Machine Learning, tech does many of the redundant tasks previously completed by humans. The shift comes from firms still trying to handle these things manually, including:
Many more, really
Most of the one, two, or four hours per week, per client tasks now happen in real-time (if you’re using the right software). The key point? Automating repetitive tasks (for you and your team) is powerful enough to take you from overworking to 40-hour workweeks.
But don’t rip that motivational palm tree off the wall just yet.
“There are too many last-minute issues.”
Yes, there are many things that “come up” in a firm. Plus, you’re a business owner, which adds to the list of potential fires to put out. But if you find the same kind of issue rears its head repeatedly, it’s something you should start planning for.
Many other would-be emergencies give clues to foretell or herald their coming. For example, an employee’s performance dips a few weeks before putting in their notice to change careers or go to a different firm.
Other fires still come from gaps in your processes. Things like hand-offs between your team or a lack of process for communication with clients (aka getting what you need from them).
And yes, then we have the “Where did that come from?” type of emergency.
Listening, planning, and preparation mitigates emergencies
Listening means taking notes (even physical ones) when issues arise. Over time, you’ll notice patterns in what you call a last-minute problem. Your notes begin to show root causes of many of the things keeping you in-office on nights and weekends.
After a bit of time, cracks in the workflow process will seem like caverns, and it will be as though your business speaks about its problems loudly, begging for long-term solutions.
Next, it’s a matter of researching, planning, and preparing the solution for each of the most common problems that come up in your firm. Finally, you’ll come up with lasting solutions to those issues, whether they stem from your clients, staff, or processes.
Note: Automation ties in here, too (remember, the domino effect). Once you get things rolling, there is far less maintenance and upkeep to automated solutions than manual ones. Plus, using the accuracy of algorithms reduces common issues and mistakes (like bad bookkeeping habits) when handling things like bookkeeping.
“It’s hard to delegate when you can’t find staff.”
Yes, it is. No arguments here. Finding and retaining talent is perhaps the challenge of modern accounting firms.
If you (firm owner) are in the thick of doing the accounting work alongside your team, it’s difficult to improve team performance. And when the staff sees you’re as overwhelmed as they are, it’s a subconscious indication that things aren’t quite right in the firm.
Focusing on your current team is more important than hiring
Recruiting is more of a constant practice in successful firms, as opposed to opening up a position when you think you need someone. Another great practice is to focus on improving the quality of work for the team. These improvements don’t necessarily mean unlimited chocolate and a nap station, but rather a career that allows them to feel fulfilled in what they do and even advance their skills under your company’s umbrella.
But that’s not possible if everyone is bailing out water 50+ hours per week.
Note: That automation snowball is still rolling down the hill. If using automation for bookkeeping, payroll, etc., frees up your time, wouldn’t it free up even more time for your staff? Your time is best spent on improving client relationships and better delegating. And the team is better spent fulfilling higher-value services, increasing how fulfilled they are with your firm (improving retention).
Automation is the first step to curing overwork
Automation gives you time to improve your other processes, reduces the mistakes that lead to issues, and provides a more enjoyable experience for your employees. Not working at night won’t happen overnight, but before long, you can rip down that palm tree and replace it with pictures from a real trip you’ve actually taken.
Want to learn how automation can make you more efficient and effective?