Manage Your CPA Firm on Purpose: Are You Driving Firm Profitability — or Merely Accepting It?

Would real-time, actionable metrics help you make better decisions? They certainly have in our firm. Like so many other accounting firms, we used to review firm performance metrics a few times a year — usually when we got invitations to participate in MAP surveys.

But now, we have implemented our proprietary performance management system, backed by robust business intelligence, and it has been nothing short of transformative for our firm.

Today, we can quickly analyze productivity and realization numbers by service line, by engagement, even down to the partner level. At any point during an engagement, we can see how profitable it is, so we can do something to turn it around if needed. As soon as billing begins, we have the numbers to tell us how profitable the engagement was, allowing us to make decisions about whether to pursue similar opportunities and how to staff them.

Yet in most firms, performance metrics are used as little more than a history lesson. And there’s a very good reason that most firms don’t review these metrics more frequently. Generating them typically requires pulling data from multiple systems and dumping them into standalone spreadsheets. Not only is this process time-consuming, but it can also be error-prone. The result is often outdated metrics, with different versions of the “truth” being generated by these disparate systems.

If you lack a single version of the truth, you are essentially driving blind. Without the real-time, actionable data you need to make good decisions, you could be heading down the road to an unprofitable outcome. By the time you realize it, it is probably far too late to make course corrections.

What’s Your DTA?

The truth is that any firm can make these performance metrics part of a regular review process. It’s a matter of priority.

Back in the 1980s, when I worked for Coopers & Lybrand, we had something called a Daily Time Analysis (DTA). Every day, each person on the job would post their time on a sheet of 13-column paper. The senior on the job maintained the DTA, spending at least an hour every day tabulating those columns and comparing with the budget. If the senior could not produce an up-to-date DTA upon request, he or she would be taken to task.

The point is that, even without technology, you can choose to make regular profitability analysis part of your expectations and standards.

Luckily, we do have technology today that can quickly and accurately generate performance metrics. Far more than the glorified time and billing systems of the past, today’s practice management systems integrate time tracking, billing, workflow management, customer service, sales and marketing functions into one integrated system. When these solutions are backed by robust business intelligence, they can quickly analyze all this disparate data to produce simple, powerful graphics illustrating the trajectory of the firm.

These practice management systems answer a lot of questions very quickly. How does the tax department realization rate compare to the audit division? How did billable hours compare to budgets on each engagement?

When departments or individuals aren’t performing well, you have the numbers to hold the responsible parties accountable — and to give credit where credit is due. Accountability is key to performance management, and performance management is key to driving a profitable firm.

In a series of upcoming blog posts, we will pose some questions for you to ponder. Among them:

  • Does each division and staff member have a productivity goal? Are you (and they) regularly monitoring their progress compared to those targets?
  • Can your system calculate realization percentages as bills are generated?
  • Can you easily calculate realization for each line of business?
  • Do you know the firm’s unbilled work in progress by billing manager on a daily basis?
  • Can profitability be assessed for each business line and not just firmwide?
  • Do you know realization percentages for each staff member?
  • Assuming that you can generate some or all of these metrics, are they available in real time to allow partners and managers to monitor their people and engagements and make midcourse corrections? Or are they simply a history lesson?

As you begin to discuss these issues with your management team, remember that in today’s competitive environment, the only way to continue growing is to deliberately drive firm profitability with actionable intelligence.

But maybe you’d rather sit back and enjoy the ride, accepting whatever destination you happen to reach. Myself, I prefer to be in the driver’s seat.




Combining CRM with Practice Management: Can you Have It All?

Is your firm’s business development dependent upon the individual actions of your partners and managers? Looking for something more streamlined and consistent?

Yes, there is a better way.

While many partners and managers do a fairly good job drumming up new business, we recognize that well, life happens. People get busy and sometimes they don’t follow up as quickly as they could have and that business opportunity slips away …

Each firm has different business development strategies – this we know. But we also know that implementing a practice management system like TCPM or Microsoft Dynamics CRM can automate your workflow and make your life a whole lot easier – whether you are cross-selling, re-selling, up-selling or new selling. The process becomes predictable and consistent.

One of the challenges many firms face is a lack of consistency in their pipeline for new and existing business. This is one of the first things a CRM system gives you. It also offers an ability to manage a pipeline and a firm wide sales process that is team-driven, not siloed. It provides a platform to look at all the potential opportunities, the next step for those opportunities to become sales and the individual who’s responsible and, therefore accountable.

If firms do not yet have a structured sales methodology, it can be a dramatic cultural change to transition into using one that is managed well. When you implement an automated workflow you can set up each stage and type of opportunity – whether it’s new or reoccurring business, in accordance to your firm’s needs. You can choose what strategies and functions you want to use and grow into the system over time.

Say for instance you are scouting a prospect. You can set your workflow up, make an initial call within 24 hours of the lead and simultaneously schedule a conflict of interest check to verify this is approved business to pursue. With this type of workflow you can set up a prompt for responsible parties to follow up within a day – regardless if the lead comes from online or an individual. Someone with authority within the firm will be reminded to make that call. This task will be on the calendar where it will sit until the call is made and the individual acknowledges success or failure with that prospect.

The great thing about setting up an automated workflow system through CRM or TCPM is that if your partner or manager gets busy (which we all know happens) time passes and that opportunity begins to age, workflow can also be waiting for a completion of events. If that follow up contact is not completed, let’s say two days after, that task can be reassigned to another individual and the system will send you an alert to remind you to do so. This is most likely a process many firms would go through anyway, but with CRM or TCPM consistency offers a predictable response – and there is less room for individuals dropping the ball.

It’s always ideal if a firm knows how they want to manage their sales process in advance – as the more this process is defined upfront the more quickly the benefits of cross-selling, up-selling and new selling will be realized. But there is a tremendous benefit to firms who want to grow into the system. CRM and TCPM are scalable and grow with you as your team’s needs evolve. And who doesn’t want a more empowered business development team?

For firms who decide to use TCPM or CRM it helps to refine the very best practices they have already discovered. It also helps those younger CPAs learn business development– as it is an automated institution of knowledge of a firm’s insight. It provides an extra level of assurance as those younger staff members go through training on the way to the partner track and it creates a long-term transition plan for more veteran members on their way to retirement.

In addition, implementing automated workflow indirectly works as a relationship management tool with clients – providing reminders to your clients once the current engagement is over. What better way to remind your clients about their business for next year than with an email you don’t even have to think twice about sending. In a very subtle way, it provides partners with follow up reminders to look ahead and plan for those upcoming projects, while also nurturing client satisfaction.

Investigate how you can create a more consistent workflow with TCPM or Microsoft CRM. We’re ready when you are.

Have you checked your billing manager’s workbench lately?

Your firm’s billers shouldn’t be spending their time doing paperwork.

And if they are, you may want to take another look at their system. Go ahead, look. Most likely, if your firm isn’t using CRM, their process is spread out over multiple programs, their time is spent looking for expense reports, trying to find people for review – and all of it slows down their day. Which, ultimately slows down money coming to you.

Your billers need to serve their client rather than shuffle paperwork. Period. Yet another reason to consider a CRM system – efficiency and productivity is enhanced because there is no need for multiple software systems. No more separate log-ins and passwords – just one centralized depository for client information that helps you manage your practice in a variety of ways.

With a CRM system such as TC Practice Management, one of those ways allows time and expenses to be entered with project work-in-progress (WIP) details. Without leaving the billing screen, invoices and expenses can be reviewed, unbilled time can be realized, and notes and comments can be read. Client invoices can be easily created and a user can choose from multiple billing handling options – meaning clients are billed faster and the firm’s cash flow improves.  It’s the biller’s workbench – and with CRM you can get a bird’s eye view.

An integrated system also allows the impact of a billing decision to be seen right upon realization – giving you a sense of the decisions you are making in terms of profitability.

There’s a perk for marketers as well – as the billing manager is usually the person to turn to for the most up to date client information. Instead of running around and begging people for data, CRM creates a common system for the firm’s contacts to be found. And during a big campaign when time and efficiencies are precious commodities, nothing could be more valuable.

For many firms billing is an arduous task. The process can be very manual-oriented; as many people need to take part sometimes across multiple offices and getting approval in a timely manner can be cumbersome. Investing in a common online tool to collaborate that is “point-and-click” – not only may end up saving you money but also frees uptime for your billers to do their number one job, serve clients.