Remember those home renovation reality shows that were all over the place in the 2010s? The formula was always the same: find the jankiest, most run-down home on the market, gut it, and somehow end up with a beautiful property that more than made up for the renovation costs upon sale. The “before” homes are always in dire shape; tragic and dated layouts, crumbling roofs, pests, you name it. Yet somehow by the end of the show’s half hour there was this shiny little home sitting where the abomination of a dwelling once was.
These shows appealed to those of us who enjoy a challenge (you know who you are), making us see the possibilities awaiting if only someone cared enough to put in the work.
If you’ve ever encountered sloppy recordkeeping in the workplace that somehow became your responsibility to organize, you might feel a bit like those house flippers taking a sledgehammer to moldy walls and rickety decks. Something needs to be done but there’s so much mess you aren’t sure where to start. And if the mess is really, really bad, the only thing you can do is strip it down to the foundation.
The challenge of cleaning up others’ messes can come from many sides: the disorganized client who never sends over the right file, the colleague who goes on vacation and leaves you an encyclopedia of spreadsheet files to dig through to find the one you need, the poorly named files cluttering up team Dropboxes everywhere. You know what we’re talking about. You’re probably thinking about a time you’ve been in this situation as you read this.
And if you’re not, let’s give a real world example of a big mess. You’re assisting a client with an IRS audit – a daunting task even in the most ideal of circumstances like when it’s a Type A client who is meticulously organized – and upon requesting documents from your client you receive a stack of bankers boxes packed with paper receipts, printed invoices from who-knows-where, and hand-scribbled notes. Ah right, the IRS totally accepts random dollar figures written on the back of cocktail napkins as documentation. As the dolly of doom is wheeled into your office, the air escapes from the room and you hear the foreshadowing melody of horror movie music building somewhere in the distance. Perhaps the only thing worse than this scenario is when the client sends an Excel file in PDF.
Thing is, clients will always be disorganized. They aren’t thinking about how difficult it will be for their accountant to sort through this mess, all they know is that you need the receipts. What magic you do with them after they’re delivered is not clients’ concern.
And this is where you become the master of your own fate. Much like the reality show house flippers who choose prefab cabinets over custom made to save time and money, you can save future you so much time – and frustration – by nudging these clients toward digitization. Other than a small few clients who will never adapt to technology no matter how many pep talks you give them, most old school clients are receptive to digitization if you sell it as a timesaver for them (remember, they don’t care about you). Tell them they can save 45 minutes a year by not loading bankers boxes full of receipts into the car to shlep them to your office and hey, you might have a convert.
Once you’ve sold paper-based clients on digitization, it’s time to look at your own house (heh, home renovation pun, sorry). Are you making the most of available technology? Not just the nifty technological innovation that forces a pop-up reminder in Gmail when your email says “see attached” and you haven’t attached anything but organizational tools. Things like Trello to facilitate team communication on ongoing projects. Google Keep for quick checklists. Calendly to let people book meetings with you based on your schedule without the pesky back and forth in email comparing availability. And of course the biggest one: practice management tools that solve problems instead of causing them and consolidate the tedious minutiae of your practice in one place.
“For deadlines, you need a project management system that keeps track of those and automates as much of the recurrence as possible,” says Brandon Gray, CPA and Founder of Firm360. Don’t be afraid to consider a personal assistant, too. Getting help from someone whose job it is to take things off your plate can free up so much more time to be used evangelizing digital records to dinosaur paper clients, among other things. “Game changer!” Brandon says.
Perhaps your problem is not a lack of technology to help organize your practice and your work life but rather that your firm adopted too many solutions which leads to a unique problem: the “solutions” are causing more problems. Piecemeal solutions are often not solutions at all but more work to just make them play nice together. It’s not only more work, it’s wasted time spent training staff on each solution and often it takes more steps than an all-in-one platform only to arrive at what might be a subpar result.
“One of the main challenges we faced in our firm was training someone to do the work, and then having to manage that workflow,” said one Firm360 client. “We were using 5 different systems to run our firm. Firm 360 consolidates that into one cloud based platform, everything is encompassed there and team members have to learn one platform now.” In flipper terms, imagine what happens when you have five different contractors working on five distinct parts of the house at the same time with minimal communication among them. You end up with…a mess. Which is exactly what you want to avoid.
Practice management is not something people get excited about (unlike dramatic home renovations in reality show form). But it’s necessary to grow your practice and perhaps most importantly to save your sanity. Those awful “before” homes would only look worse with fancy additions slapped on them, that’s why they are stripped down to the frame and beautifully rebuilt with cohesive design. That’s what an all-in-one practice management solution can do, and it scales as you grow unlike a beat-up house with a crumbling foundation. So grab that sledgehammer and get to fixing your mess.
This reminder to renovate your practice was brought to you by Firm360. Firm360 was built by accountants for accountants with the sole purpose of taking the stress out of running your firm. Their all-in-one, cloud-based practice management platform empowers you to easily manage your clients, projects, documents, time, and billing in one place. Hundreds of accountants rely on the Firm360 platform to run their firms and take the mess out of practice management. They can’t tear down your load-bearing walls but they would love to discuss how Firm360 could help you and your firm get out from under all that mess. Book a demo with them today! That’s demo as in demonstration, not demolition.