Episode 18: How to Create a Perfect Work Schedule for your Accounting Team ┃Wize Mentoring
In this episode of The Wize Guys, Brenton Ward with Jamie Johns and Ed Chan discuss workflow scheduling and how to plot work for the next few months.
If you just wait for work to come in, you'll tend to become overwhelmed, stress your staff out and frustrate your clients. You have a choice to just sit there and wait for the work to come in or take control of the situation and lead. If you want to become a good leader, it's important to plan out the next 12 months based on the capacity planner of your firm.
So, don’t forget to grab a pen and paper for another action-packed episode!
0:35 - Understanding the concept of work scheduling
2:03 - Why leading is important
2:16 - How capacity levels can affect productivity
2:41 - How to deal with clients’ work
3:45 - The importance of sending out letters
4:01 - The 80-20 rule in work scheduling
6:07 - How to schedule workflow
7:43 - Why you should educate clients
8:06 - The importance of managing work schedules based on capacity
8:52 - How helpful are the workflow scheduling tools
10:06 - Why bookkeeping is more self-driven with deadlines
11:42 - How to handle budget and forecast strategies with clients
13:04 - Building Capacity vs Advertising
15:43 - How to balance on and off marketing
18:33 - Tips for encouraging clients to come in
20:01 - What you measure is what you can manage
20:28 - How to plan out your capacity
22:47 - Key takeaways
“The 80-20 rule, as long as you get 80% of people following it, then you can manage the last 20%.” - Ed Chan
“You should have time… If you turn the engine on and don't let the wind blow the sails.” - Ed Chan
“The more metrics you can use to manage your business are good, but you don't want paralysis by analysis. So you need to sort of keep it as simple as possible, but you may focus that around the ideal team.” - Jamie Johns
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The analogy that Jamie used was the water in the cup if you have it right at the top, and then you try to pour some more water in it, it spills over. Your bet spilling over of the cup is like pushing business away from you.
Brenton Ward: So guys, let's talk about workflow scheduling and your internet will manage to drop in and out. So I think your connection is pretty good at the moment.
Ed Chan: Yeah.
Brenton Ward: No, you’re right. Where do we start with workflow scheduling and looking at work planning work for the next 12 months? Where do you want to start on that topic?
Ed Chan: Okay. I can probably attack it from a big picture point of view. And then Jamie can come in with the, with the data.
It's you have a choice and I use this analogy, you can jump in the sailboat and let the wind take you. Or you can jump in a motorboat and turn the engine on and direct where you want to go. And if you choose to salvo, right, and just wait for the work to come in, then often you'll get it all coming in at the same time. And you might think, ‘Well, that's okay. I'll just take longer to do it.’ Well, there's a domino effect.
There's a knock-on effect from that. It, stresses your staff out, right? It frustrates your clients. There's often, they think they're your only client. And they drop it off today and expect it to be done tomorrow. And they don't understand that you've got other clients.
So you have a choice of just sitting there and waiting for the work to come in and doing it as it comes in, or you take control of it and lead. What we suggest you do is that you lead. And what we do is that we plan out the next 12 months based on the capacity planner of your theme, married and going on the honeymoon where they're having a baby or whatever.
So you've worked at your capacity for your staff as to what capacity you have to do the work. Then you've got to turn your attention to the clients and to work out. You know, if you've got to, you know, making this up to $60,000 worth of work coming in October, and you've only got 20,000 with capacity, then you're going to disappoint the clients because it's going to take longer to do the work. What we do is that once we've worked out the staff capacity, then we start to look at our clients and work out when they should bring their work in.
If the clients always bring their work in February, for example, then in your show drooling, you schedule him in for February. And if in most clients generally bring it in at a period in a particular period. If they always bring it in August, then you put them in for August. And if they always bring it in, may put them in May, and sometimes they always bring it in May, but you'd like them to bring it in April or February, then you start to manage their expectations.
Now, what we do is we send out a letter to all the clients and we ask them to bring it in at a particular month of the year. We work firstly, with when did I normally bring it in. So if they bring it in August, we suggest they do it in August. So what happens there, therefore it's not everybody follows it, obviously, but as long as you can get. The 80-20 rule, as long as you get 80% of people following it, then you can manage the last 20%. It's just when you're trying to manage a hundred percent, that it gets chaotic. So, we do all that planning in June, July, and we start sending the letters out and asking them to bring their work in. We send out a letter to say, we'd like you to bring your work in February. Then as we get closer to February, someone follows them up. So in around December, they're going, well, it's coming up to February now, have you got your work together yet and so forth. We're very proactive in that way.
Often clients say, a lot my accountant would be more proactive than they're kind of stuff that they're talking about. Like not just proactive in, in terms of tax and wealth creation and all that. It's all also proactive in terms of managing them because they're very busy and they'd like someone to manage them for them. And if you could do that, that differentiates you from the guy down the road or the girl down the road. So, it's not that hard to do, but it does start with your staff reviews to look at when they get there, they're away on holidays. And then from there extrapolates out. And so we get each team to do it. Each of the client managers does it, and they shed you out their whole year. Then the partner works with them to help them, but I work as a team to share the workout. And then, by May of the following year, you should be right on top of your lodgements and you should be doing tax planning. You should have time. They had to do the tax planning, the IGMs, all of that kind of stuff. If you turn the engine on and don't let the wind blow the sails.
Brenton Ward: I like the analogy. It makes a lot of sense.
Talk to us, Jamie, about your speed boat.
Jamie Johns: You have a look, when we started doing this, we took it to a whole another level with the guys, the senior client managers, and we've put in the Wize Vault lock a template to fill out because ultimately you've only got so much time. Each team has only got so much time and capacity in a year. Then we just use the template. We can break that down Brenton into per month.
So basically what you look at is you do this for each team, the senior client manager leads it and you do it for each month. Once you start getting yourself organized and sending out the letters, there's a series of letters to send out. And with the letters that you send out, it's the first round of letters. Like Ed said that is the month that you'd like to do the work. So the month you'd like to do the work. And then as the months roll by then, it's a reminder, but then it's also like a checklist of exactly what you need. So there are a couple of ways to do that car, but there's a great video in the vault in Step 6: How carbon as a system. We'll go out and ask the client for all the information that you need. Because, depending on what you're doing, whether you're time billing or whether you're fixed pricing, to be efficient, you want to collect all the information upfront.
So part of that, all that shingling and scheduling the worker course, and then educating the client. Once you've educated, the client will look, this is what, you know, this is what I need to do the work. Certainly that is a spreadsheet that we've got in the vault, and I know some of the members of having started filling it out, and then you should learn your work each month. Your scheduling along with your monthly capacity. At the end of the day, if it's sorta quad to work. It's not urgent, but it's important. But by jeez, if you do it, your practice or run very smooth.
As Ed said, you'll only get, you always get the 20% of people who want to reschedule it. So we, our guys here recently did it. And I just overheard, the practice manager saying that ‘Oh, there are quite a few clients who want their work done early this year.’ So then, straight away that opens up communication lines around. ‘Can we fit it into July and August?’ Traditionally they might have wanted in November and then other clients Brenton, ‘Can we push it back a couple of months to fit them in?’ So it's a very proactive step and efficient step because if you follow the process. And just stress to everyone, it will take time the first year. I was talking to some members the other day, and it does take time the first year to get the letters organized, get all the templates done, but you'll find the second year that you got to do it. It'll just be a lot, follow the process again. Because when you collect the information upfront, the senior client manager or the assistant client managers got to put the letter together to know exactly what they need. But once you've done it and invested in the first year, in that quad two activity, you want to have to do it. Then it'll take you like 90% less of the time doing it the second year. And then you just get into a routine to do it, but your whole business around so much better because the clients will just systematically drop their work in and you'll get it done. And the turnaround time will be good.
So that the whole system, and comes back to what we said earlier. The whole system manages clients' expectations and all they've been saying to clients now where they don't get their scheduling letter, they missed it for whatever they ring up and say, ‘Oh, you haven't told me when you haven't told me when you want me to do your work.’
Brenton Ward: In terms of a bookkeeping business, Jamie. Just on that, do you guys use the workflow scheduling tool for your bookkeeping clients as well?
Jamie Johns: Yeah. With bookkeeping clients that is different because you'll normally have the, it's monthly, weekly, or quarterly bookkeeping requirements. A lot of the business activity statements, they're either monthly or quarterly.
Brenton Ward: It’s self-driven.
Jamie Johns: So it's all just self-driven and we all know what those deadlines are.
Whereas with a tax practice, we all know that the funnel diet for lodgement is around May 15th to may. Now, you can't do all your work in one in May, so hence why we schedule it.
Brenton Ward: Yeah. So Just in terms of that, I mean, obviously bookkeeping is different. It's more self-driven in terms of deadlines. I was even listening to a lady, who's got quite a large book of business in the states. And she says, based on when they engage their clients, they say, your client manager will be focused on your books on a Tuesday at a particular time and if you have any questions, we will answer them during that time. If you need us outside of that time, we have a specific process. Now I'm not saying that's the right or wrong process, but this still is, communication or structure there around workflow scheduling. Is that something you guys do anything particular with your bookkeeping clients?
Jamie Johns: We've got quite a logical bookkeeping in that sense of communication. We don't like it. If there are queries around the questions if it seems Xero often that's in real-time because you can post queries in Xero against the transactions in real-time. And that sort of just for us to just get solved as part of the package as going along doing the bookkeeping. However, if you're a bookkeeper and someone who likes doing says, ‘cash flow forecast for the client,’ then I would certainly, and I lock them into either a six-monthly update of their cashflow forecast or this time of year.
As Ed said earlier, it's a great time to budget for the year ahead. It just depends on your angle, depends on your specialization, and depending on what sort of industry the client is at times. But this time is a great time to forecast whether that's just a normal budget and Xero for an example of that platform or QBO, they all have pretty good budgeting facilities. So you can encourage your clients and make it part of your fee proposal to do the budget for the year ahead and articulate the value in that for the client because in a part of the budget is, ‘When's all my tax year.’ And I like if I'm paying tax, ‘When is it due? when do I have to pay it?’ The whole streamlined of all the payments.
Brenton Ward: Building capacity versus advertising. This is critical for us as new clients directly affect our long-term workflow, given there are weekly touch points with clients.
So, Jamie, Dianne's a big bookkeeping business as well. And our clients vary from $300 per month to $20,000 per month. So staffing to this is very difficult. It is getting easier as we'd scaled up over the last 18 months. However, I'm looking forward to learning more about what we can do in this regard.
It comes back to them, I guess what you've mentioned there, the forecasting of the capacity. Is it more related to that capacity plan?
Jamie Johns: Oh, would say so.
Yeah, absolutely. So with the bookkeeping side of it, whether those clients are the $300 a month, or whether they're the $20,000 a month, it's so critical to go back to your capacity plan with the team. Whether Diane has one team or two teams, it doesn't matter. Go back to the team and look at the capacity of that team. What is the physical capacity of that team? Then compare it with the actual forecast fees. You'll soon find out.
As Ed would always say it's like water in a glass. Like capacity at the full glass is full of capacity. What you want is the water down a bit so that you can throw more clients in, because if you're trying to tea water in a full glass. Everyone's just going to lose the plot. So you must have some spare capacity. And around that though, just to go further Brenton. You must try and measure. To measure whether it's time billing or whether it's a fixed thing, you must try and measure the speed of the jobs.
There's another comment on there from the poll, ‘Does Jamie use time dollar budgets in carbon?’ and the answer is we do. What we do is we have hours in the tab budget and you can also have a dollar budget in there as well. So that's right.
The more metrics you can use to manage your business are good, but you don't want paralysis by analysis. So you need to sort of keep it as simple as possible, but you may focus that around the ideal team. But I come back to the teams and charge-out rates per person and having it's having the right people doing the right type of work.
Brenton Ward: So Ed, just a quick question back to Diane's comments there about building capacity versus advertising. And that kind of makes me think about, turning on and off the marketing tab. How do you look at that issue? Cause you may have the capacity now, and then you turn the marketing tap on, and all of a sudden your cup's overflowing. So how do you manage the balance there?
Ed Chan: Well, it's harder for tax clients because they're not coming to see you today, but they may not come and come to do their work for a year. So, we're constantly measuring the prospects versus the clients versus the actuals. It’s constantly run a spreadsheet based on the number of clients we've seen, what is likely to do to most of them again.
We're measuring workflow work capacity constantly. It's a bit easier with bookkeeping because when they want bookkeeping, they want it straight away that I come back to you in 12 months' time to do the work as a lot of the tax clients do. But it's when you get to a point where the existing staff is too busy but there's not enough work to hire new staff. The new staff might be only 20% capacity. You were investing in a new person and to until there's enough work there to keep them busy. But that's a challenge that every business faces and you've just got to manage capacity with actual, as you go along.
If you're lucky enough to go into advertising or marketing and how much it brings back consistently, then you can plan for that as well. But often marketing is a hit-and-miss thing. And we move clients. So for example, one of our teams might be, as Jamie says, ‘When you work out the capacity, you don't have it at a hundred percent capacity. You have it at about, 80% capacity.’ So that there's capacity. Sorry for using the word constantly. But to take on any new business, like often when they're so busy, they don't talk to the clients about you doing a cash flow for them. On the opposite, the body language is just too busy. So, clients come to you and say, ‘Oh, the bank said, I need to do a cash flow.’And you go, ‘Oh, do you need one?’ Like body language, turns business away because they're at full capacity, but you want the situation so that they're talking to their clients and encouraging them to do a 12-month capacity budget for you, but let's do 2 or 3 years. You're looking at encouraging work jobs to come in, but that's a function of how busy they are. So you'd need to keep it at about 80%.
The analogy that Jamie used was the water in the cup if you have it right at the top, and then you try to pour some more water in it, it spills over. Your bet spilling over of the cup is like pushing business away from you. And that's because it's a function of how busy they are.
Every team should be at about 80%, but often, when they go above that 80%. So let's say a particular team picks up a really big client and that big client like 40, $50,000, but that client is perfect for that client manager saying, you should go into that team. So what we do is then, we move some of the smaller clients or another client that might be better matched to another team. So we're constantly, working the capacity with the actuals, with the new classes coming in and we work with our spreadsheets to see how many new clients we've picked up. And when are they going to come on board and where are they just tire kickers or are they real. It's constant.
Brenton Ward: That makes me think of your sky hub, Jamie. In terms of how you're weekly tactical in focus on your sales pipeline and then feed into your phase one and last feeds into the plastic plan. There are a lot of cogs in the system.
Jamie Johns: Yeah, that's all linked together, because you mentioned it's the marketing, knowing what lead you've got, what you can take on. It's that weekly tactical, that I always say is the glue that holds it all together.
Brenton Ward: Nothing. It comes back to the old, what you measure you can manage.
Jamie Johns: That's exactly right.
Brenton Ward: And You don't have the surprises coming down the line.
Jamie Johns: Yeah.
Ed Chan: Okay. So once you've planned out your capacity and your sending you've sent letters out to your clients as to when to them to bring their work in and so forth. Then you should start scoping the work. So when the work comes in, if it's a $5,000 client, you should scope out that work as to it might be four hours for bookkeeping, an hour for accounting, and half an hour for tax planning. Each person with that scope will then go into their calendars and put the time into their calendar.
So if I was the accountant and I had 20 jobs here and I'm going to work on each of those 20 jobs, but at my area then I would block off my calendar for two weeks for the kind of work. So now Brown might take two hours of today. And that goes on to Smith and Smith might take three hours of the month take a day. And then I've got a six-hour, sorry four. I think it was four hours left and that's allocated to Morrison. And so my calendars or planned out as to who I'm going to work on for two weeks. With that, everybody has to have that planned out for two weeks. You don't want the situation where someone runs out of work and says, ‘Oh, I haven't got any work on today.’ And then it creates a domino effect up to the partner. So everyone has to stop, drop their work, go looking for work, and bring in a ring, the clients are trying to chase work that brings them in. It's just so efficient and so clunky.
So we understand that from two weeks' worth of work, populate it into their calendars. Again, it's not an exact science, and as long as you can, that 20%. It's just when you've got the wind and the wind is just blowing into your salad and taking you wherever. That's a hundred percent of it just coming in with no control. And that's when people get into trouble. So I was just sort of finished off on that.
Brenton Ward: Yeah. Well, it's someone on following in the marketing world and he said, show me a calendar and I'll tell you how much money you're making. And it's kind of an interesting point in terms of how. It's the simplest tool that we've all got, but how do we use it to different questions.
Again, linking those systems back to the basics is a really important thing.