Compliance season is fast approaching, and it may have you questioning what new technology you can implement right away to ease some of the frustration from prior seasons. But from personal experience, demoing the latest and greatest technology is not how you are going to make your office more efficient this year.
Instead, I want to encourage you to take some time to outline your processes and find the bottlenecks. Eliminating these friction points is going to be the key to getting rid of the tax season blues. It will also be how you can build a long lasting sustainable business with duplicatable systems that you can share with your team as the business grows.
Once you’ve completed your deep dive and discovered how your processes can be improved, I’m sure data collection was one item that emerged at the top of the list. Organization, or lack thereof, could play a major factor in why your office (virtual or otherwise) isn’t running like a well-oiled machine. Addressing this problem head on will give you the time you need in order to add value to your clients in new, exciting ways.
As yourself, have you ever had to search the piles of paper on your desk or on your floor for hours just for one piece of paper you know you remember seeing in order to finish up one task and get it off your desk? This is so frustrating.
Better data collection and storage
Don’t you just feel the freedom to get work done when your desk is clean? I know I do. These random piles of paper can be eliminated or cut down to a minimum with data collection and secure storage policies for your firm.
I know collecting data from clients can be a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s being sent in multiple ways. You have email, snail mail, social media messages, SMS, or even by carrier pigeon (well not really, but you get what I’m saying here).
Trying to manage all these data collection points can be tiresome. Having one or two points of data collection will allow you and your team to work faster, maximizing efficiency. So, it’s time to decide how you will receive the data?
In my office, there are two principal ways documents are accepted, either uploaded to our secured client portal or those we accept during a set appointment time for scanning documents for clients who aren’t as tech savvy. These scanning appointments are 20 minutes or less and come with some rules and instructions that make the scanning process a breeze. Rules such as taking all of your documents out of the envelopes and making sure there aren’t any staples anywhere in sight.
The value of good data collection
How can something as simple as data collection allow you to provide so much value to clients? One word here – access. Being able to access data quickly will let you process information immediately and offer changes and insights that could’ve taken much longer if you had to hunt down data.
Do you remember having to wait 10-14 days after the month to receive a bank statement in the mail? Now we have online banking and can access bank statements along with the bank balance almost instantly.
Having immediate access like this can help us provide those additional advisory services that provide immense value, such as cash flow planning. This is what having immediate access to data provides.
Now that we have data collection nailed down, let’s talk about organizing the information received. We know clients will give us every piece of mail they receive if we let them, so we have to direct them. I love checklists. For every service we provide, there is a checklist of general documents we need from a client in order to provide the service.
We have turned these checklists into PDF forms that are housed on our website that we can securely share with clients in order to explain to them what we need. This also gives them the framework to gather the data before they send it again, streamlining the data collection process; two birds, one stone!
Having this framework also makes the data collection process scalable. Having a baseline that can be standardized in training will be important as your business grows.
Moreover, having a framework to start with allows you to customize the data collection request for special circumstances. There is also freedom in flexibility and speed.
Bringing it all home
Now that we have established a place to receive the data, and the client is sending us the data we actually need to perform the work, it’s time to make it easier for ourselves and/or our staff to get to work. Here is where setting up naming conventions for files will help reduce time searching for documents.
Knowing exactly what document you are opening based on name only keeps you from having to waste time searching for things you need. My office has a standardized folder structure for each client that makes it easy to share the right access to information and find documents we are looking for fast.
My team knows they can find a tax client folder by searching our directory by “Last Name, First Name” and then in that folder there is a folder for every year “20XX.” Nestled inside of those annual folders are folders for the client source documents, work papers, and delivered returns. This streamlined system makes it easy to train staff and to find the data you are looking for quickly.
Being paperless from the start of my business and adopting a data collection and storage policy has eliminated the need for bulky file cabinets and made it easier to adopt the cloud and embrace new technology. It also gave me the mental space to really advise my clients on matters that matter to them.
Whether it’s helping my accounting clients grow their business with CFO services or helping my tax clients save with tax planning strategies, collecting and storing data is one less thing I have to think hard about. According to an article by Roberts Wesleyan College, the average person makes an eye popping 35,000 choices per day.
So, let’s try to use some of those daily choices to benefit our clients in more meaningful ways instead of spending time looking for that piece of paper buried somewhere on your desk. One pathway to becoming a better advisor is eliminating those mundane tasks that can be automated or streamlined.
In the long run, eliminating these tasks allows you the time to learn, discover and explore more that can ultimately lead to benefits for your firm and your clients.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on AccountingWEB.