[IMGCAP(1)]Managing your own accounting practice is a gratifying and fulfilling experience, especially if you’ve worked many years to make that dream a reality.

However, many practitioners face similar pain points when it comes to organizing data, tracking projects and managing finances. In a business environment filled with complex client expectations, constant legislative changes and advancing technology, addressing these pain points by re-evaluating your internal work processes is more important than ever.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common pain points of practice management and common sense approaches to solving them.

1. Organizing Your Client Data
Needless to say, unorganized client data can lead to a complicated work environment and ultimately a disappointing client experience. We’ve all heard the horror stories of tax returns being sent to the wrong address or invoices going unpaid because a client moved offices.

These problems often occur because most firms use numerous systems to address their compliance, accounting, payroll, audit, CRM, email and document management needs. With so many access points, client data is nearly impossible to keep up to date and organized.

The simple answer to this challenge is a single database where changes and updates only have to be made one time. This is where an all-encompassing practice management system comes into play. With a single data entry point for all information, you can ensure consistency, accuracy and time savings for the entire firm—and this leads to a seamless client experience.

Before you make the commitment to implementing a single system, however, make sure the owner or partners of the firm have bought in and are supportive of the process. If staff sees that management isn’t following the guidelines, they’re much less likely to comply.

It’s also important to establish a champion within the firm to oversee the change. Give them accountability and clear measurements for success and make sure they have sufficient time to manage the process. Document the new process very clearly and make sure every member of the staff knows the firm’s expectations.

Most importantly, make sure to properly train staff on the new process and follow up frequently to confirm their understanding and ensure that they’re following the steps properly. If they understand the benefits of using a single system and the ways in which it will help them get their job done more quickly, easily and efficiently, they will be much more engaged in the process.

2. Tracking Your Projects
Whether you refer to it as workflow, due date tracking or project management, keeping track of your client obligations can be a big challenge. From current work to anticipated projects, it is imperative for a successful firm to keep track of who is working on what and what the real-time status is so that client questions can be answered in the same way, by any staff member. Further, your staff should have access to this information at any time and from any location. As we all know, clients now expect to call, email or text their firm and receive a response in real time.

With an integrated project management system that is part of an overall practice management system, you can track all aspects of your firm’s projects, including client/contact management, resource management, notes and interaction tracking.

As you evaluate and implement a project management tracking system, ensure that the system is not only easy to set up and implement but also allows for future growth and refinement, as the staff become more adept at tracking and updating the system. If the system is too complex and difficult to maintain, the staff will quit using it, which could result in a firm-wide breakdown in project tracking. You should also make certain that the system has a real-time dashboard and reporting function that allows any staff member in the firm to check on the status of a project in real time, in order to address any client inquiry quickly.

3. Managing Your Finances
Many firms think they have a handle on where they’re making and losing money, and don’t see the need to keep track of it in detail. These firms are often surprised at the incredible visibility they get into their business when they implement a practice management system.

In order to ensure the practice is running at its most optimal state, it’s important that you are able to answer questions about the type of work you do best, as well as which staff members are most productive and contributing most to the bottom line. It’s also vital to know which clients are the most profitable, as well as those clients for which you should raise fees or let go.

By addressing common pain points with a comprehensive practice management system, a more efficient and productive work environment emerges, giving you more time to focus providing the best possible experience for your clients.

It is important to realize, however, that making this change is a major undertaking. Without the support of the entire firm, it will be difficult to see the implementation through to completion. So, take your time, do your research, and make a thoughtful plan of action. If you do, you’ll undoubtedly realize the benefits are well worth the investment—and rest assured you’ll be providing your firm with a foundation of efficiency, productivity and growth for years to come. 

Matt Jagst is director of product management of the professional segment with the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters.

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