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7 Ways Leaders Encourage their Accounting Firm Teams to Do Less and How They Achieve More

“Less is more.”

We’ve all heard it, but sometimes in the business world, the old adage can strain credulity. It’s always tempting as a leader to push for more, more more. We want more hours, more clients, more contracts, more proven results.

Some of the wisest leaders, though, do use the “less is more” mentality when they’re working to improve the long-term health and viability of their firms. They take an active approach when it comes to creating a productive, employee-friendly culture; intelligently leveraging technology; and creating trusting, value-based client relationships.

When it comes to the success these firms are seeing, how are their leaders choosing to do less to achieve more?

Less Quantity, More Quality When it Comes to Relationships

Getting new clients in the door is almost always a positive. However, it can be rewarding, both in tangible and intangible ways, to devote more time to deepening the relationships you have already established.

Great leaders are always looking for ways to enhance their existing business relationships by offering additional services and a stronger value proposition to the clients they already have. When a level of trust and comfort has already been established with a client, you have the opportunity to leverage that and grow the relationship by adding lines of service or additional projects.

Jeff Bronswick, managing partner of Bronswick Benjamin, recommends effectively using this approach to “shift from a compliance to a consulting mentality.” It makes perfect sense; a client that has trusted your firm to keep them toeing the regulatory line will have an interest in hearing the sage advice you can provide in other areas.

When seeking to build these consulting relationships, look for opportunities to play an active role in the client’s business success. And, if clients are concerned about the financial impact that a deeper relationship might create, you can allay those concerns by offering flexible payment options and by projecting potential returns on their investments.

Less Time on Repetitive Work; More Time on Problem-solving

When it comes to work, great leaders recognize that it isn’t the number of hours sitting in your seat that matters. What matters most is getting the job done, and doing it well.

Instead of requiring staff members to juggle repetitive, manual tasks that consume their time but require little brain power, focus their efforts on deeper thinking. Encourage them to look for ways to deepen their client relationships, increase their knowledge and innovatively solve problems.

Many times, employers hesitate to allow employees the additional time needed for creative thinking. They may feel that they just don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate resources to a project that doesn’t immediately or directly impact the bottom line.

However, one of the best ways to unlock that extra time for your team is to look for technology that decreases creativity-sucking work and gives back a few hours in the week. For example, incorporating software and processes that reduce work for your support staff frees them up to take on some of the more menial efforts that may be bogging down your CPAs.

Less Turnover, Rehiring, Recruiting; More Loyal and Tenured Team Members

Smart employers spend less time on hiring. It’s not because they rush through the process. It’s because they make sure they are finding the right employees in the first place.

These managers understand the culture they are trying to create and they choose employees based on both their individual strengths and their fit into the overall culture.

Of equal importance, they also spend less time hiring because they take the measures necessary to keep good team members in place. Firms that are successful when it comes to retention do this by implementing the benefits that mean the most to their employees.

It’s not just about foosball tables and jazzed-up coffee machines. It’s about learning whether your employees want flexible schedules and/or locations, paid parental leave, opportunities to volunteer on philanthropic projects or the ability to go back to school for an additional degree.

When firms give employees the benefits they want, they show their commitment to building a healthy organization, one that’s driven by people as well as profit. And, the morale boost isn’t just a short-term perk; it’s a long-term benefit.

Porter Keadle Moore managing partner Phil Moore shared with Accounting Today that, in his view, “high performance and happy employees are correlated.” Under his leadership, the firm has committed resources to leadership development and accountability teams to build a strong support system for staff.

Less Paper; More Technology

“Going green” is such a familiar phrase that it almost seems outdated. While taking care of the environment is important, smart firm leaders take it a step further when they look to remove paper from the firm’s equation.

You probably wouldn’t handwrite all your clients’ information in a paper ledger anymore, because it’s just not timely and because keeping your information straight when it’s in one paper location just doesn’t work with today’s fast-paced business world. In the same way, conducting other business processes on a “paper” basis can prevent your firm from being as effective as you might like.

Some of the key benefits to eliminating paper include streamlining processes, analyzing data and reducing errors and duplications.

Reducing the time it takes to complete routine, regularly-scheduled processes can free up time for employees to focus on other higher-value tasks. For example, providing clients an avenue to pay invoices online can drastically cut the time needed to manage this process, as well as reducing the hours required to follow up on late payments, reconcile accounts and conduct collections calls.

Less Hassling Clients; More Time for Real Work

What’s the most dreaded call that a firm representative needs to make? It’s the one that requires them to ask a client where their payment is because it’s a given that no one involved in this conversation is going to enjoy it.

The staff member from the firm is put in an awkward position when they have to make the call. The client, in turn, starts to avoid you when your firm’s number pops up on their caller ID.

And, let’s face it, if the client is trying to dodge your calls, they’re probably not going to be open and ready to partner on additional projects and take advantage of the extra value your firm wants to provide.

Smart firms are offering their clients fee financing as a way to avoid this back-and-forth and the discomfort that goes along with it. Fee financing gives the client flexibility and an extended time frame to make payments, while at the same time making sure your firm gets its money up front.

It’s a win-win, because you’re working with a partner to make the funds available and getting the finances settled up front.

Fee financing eliminates cash flow uncertainty for you. At the same time, it makes the client feel comfortable with their financial situation and open to the possibility of adding additional services without stressing about where the money will come from to cover the cost.

Less Playing Taskmaster; More Work-life Integration

The market for CPAs is a competitive one, and shows all signs of continuing in the same vein for the foreseeable future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting jobs are projected to grow faster than the average for all other industries and will continue to be closely tied to the overall health of the economy.

With a market trending this way, employees need to look for ways to keep employees connected and passionate about their work, and to help prevent them from burning out. Some ways to improve work-life integration include considering family leave policies that work for employees, as well as opening the doors for nontraditional workers.

As an example, many CPAs may find themselves ready to wind down as they reach retirement, but not quite ready to stop and spend the rest of their days lounging on a beach. Working with these employees to create part-time or project consulting roles can give them the chance to continue employment at their desired pace, while at the same time, maintaining client and institutional knowledge that has great value for your firm.

While one employee may be interested in a nontraditional hours structure, another may want to be able to work remotely. Making these options available to employees can go a long way in securing their expertise for the long-term.

Offering flexibility for other employees can help to keep them from burning out too. And, flexibility comes in many different guises. Letting go of some of the control over workers’ schedules can be difficult for firm leadership, but there are a couple of important things to remember.

First, employees can and should be evaluated based on their productivity, not on the number of hours they’re sitting at their desk. Billing in hourly, or tenth-of-an-hour, increments may be the way most firms started; however, clients are more impressed by being sold on value than by the number of tally marks on their monthly invoices.

Second, opening up new opportunities just increases the overall pie and the company’s overall opportunities for success. Allowing workers to telecommute means you’re increasing the pool of qualified applicants to a national one, rather than only reaching out to those in your firm’s local footprint.

Less Routine Work; More Data Analysis

Most businesses now offer an online presence, and ecommerce as a percentage of total sales continues to trend upward rapidly. Data analysis is a big buzzword, and for good reason, since more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being generated daily.

Everyone’s eager to take that data and turn it into gold, but most companies don’t know exactly where to start.

The good news? Accounting firms have been doing data analysis for years, and are perfectly poised to take advantage of the growing digital economy. Firms already have software in-house that allows them to review metrics and create benchmarks for clients, and CPAs combine natural curiosity with minds trained to make sense of complex information.

The smartest firms will find a way to incorporate data analysis and educate clients on the value they can provide in addition to offering traditional auditing and accounting services. Some firms, including Atlanta-based Aprio, are going all in and offering data analysis as a full service line in conjunction with more traditional offerings.

Again, the most successful leaders will find ways to deepen relationships with current clients, and data analysis can be just one of the many avenues available to grow relationships and encourage additional business.