Small firms: Four questions to ask before you hire
As an accountant or bookkeeper, you know the importance of maintaining accurate records and staying on top of all financial housekeeping. Your clients hire you to make sure their taxes are prepared, their expenses are tracked, and their understanding of how much they can afford to invest in their business is always accurate. So, when it comes to running your small business, you apply the same practices to keep your financial records in order as you would for a client.
When your business grows and the time has come to hire additional help, it’s a good idea to take this opportunity to evaluate your recordkeeping and client management practices to ensure they’re meeting the same high standards. If you’re a sole practitioner, you may be accustomed to storing all of your important to-do’s in your head or on your own private to-do list. You may already know what to do in every client scenario because you’ve encountered them so many times before.
But when you hire someone new, you can’t rely on that person to know what you’re thinking at any given moment. You can’t expect your new hire to know exactly what’s on the paper to-do list sitting on your desk. If you don’t implement the right tools or take the time to make sure collaboration between you and your colleague is as seamless as possible, you may run into problems that lead to client dissatisfaction.
Before you make your first hire, here are four questions you’ll want to ask yourself to prepare your business to successfully scale:
- “How will my new employee be compensated?” In the early stages of your business’s growth, you might only need to hire an extra hand for occasional work. Maybe they’ll help out one day a week or one week a month. As you continue to grow, you may want to employ a permanent part-time or full-time worker – or several. Not only do you need to consider how much they’ll be compensated for the work they do for you, but you’ll also want to consider hidden compensation costs such as during their training period and for ramping up between occasional projects. Make sure you budget the time they’ll need to learn the ropes as they’re getting started.
- “How can I stay engaged with all of my clients?” Even though your new hires may be the primary account managers for certain clients, as the leader of the business you’ll still want to make sure you can monitor what’s happening with each and every one of your clients. Consider using a project management application and training your new hires to use it to track project updates in real time. You’ll be able to step in if your teammate gets sick and will know exactly where to look when your client calls with questions about their account.
- “How will I stay in touch with my employees?” Today, there are more ways to stay in touch with employees than ever before. Not only can you schedule weekly phone calls or video chats to share updates, you can also stay in touch throughout the workweek using email, group chat tools, or even comment and chat features within project management applications. In fact, one of the challenges of working today is that there can be so many communication channels that important messages get lost and fall through the cracks. Choose the right communication tools for you and be sure to implement structure and communication guidelines to ensure consistent communication, so important information doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
- “How will I ensure that all client work meets my high standards?” At some point, every small business owner thinks, “I wish I could just clone myself!” With a clone of yourself, you could ensure that every project gets completed just the way you would complete it. Although it’s highly unlikely that your new hire will complete each and every project just as you would, you can still ensure that finished work is of high-enough quality to meet your standards. Before new employees begin, consider planning a number of training sessions or discussions on how to deliver exceptional client work and offer them ample time to ask questions. You can also set up standard operating procedures for signing off on all client work as part of your best practices.
The right software
To grow your business from a team of one to a team of two or more is a challenge in every industry, especially in client service businesses. You’ll undoubtedly encounter obstacles and growing pains, but over time having an extra hand will allow you to grow your business more than you could grow it alone.
Successfully navigating the transition requires two things: management and tools. If you don’t already use collaborative, cloud-based software, now may be a time to consider evaluating your options. You can choose tools that allow you to stay in touch with your business and with your clients to keep everyone in the loop. Project management applications can allow you to assign tasks to your employees so that they can have all of their to-do’s in one place. And accounting and bookkeeping software with collaborative features can enable you, your employees, and your clients to track your clients’ finances at any time.