7 min read

Mastering modern accounting workflows: your guide to efficiency and success

May 31, 2024


Today, accountants have access to modern accounting workflows that replace physical, paper-based processes with automated ones. Whereas paper-based processes are inefficiency and error prone, digital accounting workflows are faster, more accurate, and leave more time to devote to clients. 


Unlocking the full potential of digital accounting workflows requires the right approach. This means defining and implementing standardized digital accounting workflows that make it easy to track critical files and stay on top of important tasks. 


In this post, we'll walk you through everything you need to know to optimize your accounting workflows, including: 


  • What workflows are
  • What role workflows play in your business 
  • The most important workflows 
  • Best practices for implementation 
  • Common questions about workflow optimization



What is an accounting workflow?

An accounting workflow is the chronological steps required to complete an accounting task and the basic directions for each step.


A complete accounting workflow will document steps as well as who performs them, what tools or databases they should use to complete the steps, and how long each step should take. 


 Depending on the type of task, a workflow can be simple or complex. For example, requesting a client signature is a basic workflow. There are 1-3 steps total. More complex workflows might have multiple variables, steps, and stakeholders. Preparing a client’s annual tax return, for example, requires multiple documents and steps. 



Workflows vs. business processes

A business process is used to detail all of the activities required to achieve a business objective or solve a large-scale issue. Steps within a business process can be assigned to an individual or an entire team. They are more process-oriented and strategic in nature and often consider outside data and business impacts. 


  • Workflows are more granular and are designed to complete an individual task. They are more tactical and include a series of steps. 



The benefits of accounting workflows


Accounting workflows help make sure that tasks get done on time by outlining who needs to do what, and when.  


When accounting workflows are well documented, your firm can think about automating them to improve speed and accuracy.


Standardization reduces the chance that someone will make a mistake or overlook something important. This process focuses on creating standards for specific tasks, ensuring accuracy, consistency, and repeatability. It also makes employee onboarding much simpler because new hires get a clear idea of their role and responsibilities. 




Using workflows helps break down complex business processes into manageable, incremental phases. This can be especially beneficial for bookkeepers. Instead of focusing on monthly, quarterly, or annual journal entries and records, bookkeepers can focus on recurring tasks



Delegation and oversight

With delegation and oversight, team members have a clear idea of what each task involves, while leadership has greater visibility into individual workloads. This makes it easier for all parties to assign, delegate, and prioritize critical tasks and projects. 




With consistent, repeatable results, it becomes easier to retain clients through the high-quality services you provide. Having the right processes in place makes it easier for your firm to grow. And a systematic approach to business processes makes it easier to automate and scale your accounting operations. 



Optimization and decision-making

Workflows help to enable more accurate and consistent data collection, supporting more informed decision making. Rather than manually hunting down and consolidating critical information, you have a high-level, real-time view of your business. You can even use analytics to help guide your decision making. 


Thanks to the visibility and transparency workflows provide, it's also easier to identify bottlenecks and weaknesses in business operations, like issues around the handoff from sales to customer success. 



The most important accounting workflows


While it would be ideal to invest time and effort into developing and mastering workflows for every major task and process in your firm, your time and resources are limited. You need to start small, narrowing your focus on where workflow optimization will have the greatest impact. For most firms, that means focusing on the following areas. 



Client onboarding workflows

Efficient client onboarding is essential for retention and long-term success. You must welcome new clients and establish a working relationship with them as quickly as possible, all while clearly communicating everything they need to know. This contributes to faster revenue growth and results in a higher rate of customer satisfaction.


For context, a good onboarding process can increase conversion rates by roughly 80% and boost customer lifetime value by as much as 500%.


Important client onboarding workflows include:


  • Data collection: Seamlessly collect a new client's data and integrate it into your systems and processes. 
  • Communication: Keep in touch with the client during and after the onboarding process.
  • Handoff and training: Create an onboarding checklist or process that clearly tells the client what they need to know about working with your firm and details next steps. 
  • Client support: Proactively identify and resolve potential issues and ensure your team is available whenever the prospective client needs help.



Project management workflows

Process inefficiencies can cost a company up to 30% of its annual revenue, and poor project management is among the most common causes. Potential bottlenecks include improper planning, ineffective resource scheduling, and problems with leadership. The following workflows can help you avoid these common pitfalls:


  • Delegation and progress tracking
  • Internal communication 
  • Standardized data collection and recordkeeping 



Service delivery workflows

How can your accounting practice offer value to clients outside of basic services? It’s important to have workflows in place that ensure consistent and efficient service delivery, with distinct processes for services like audits, tax preparation, and bookkeeping. 


Beyond that, you might also want to consider adopting a strategic workflow that enables your team to pitch and provide additional advisory services for clients, both new and existing:



1. Identify characteristics or behaviors that might indicate a client is looking for advice on financial decisions, tax structure, or other accounting challenges. 


2. Create a tailored pitch to present your advisory services to the client based on their goals, strategy, and needs. 


3. Collect relevant data from the client and use it to begin modeling a strategy. 


4. Build out a long-term strategic roadmap for the client.


5. Meet with and advise the client on a recurring basis to discuss goals, progress, and success metrics. 



Sales and marketing priorities

Traditionally, accounting firms rely on referrals to generate new business. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, this is no longer feasible. A strong online presence and high-quality content are more important than ever.


So with that in mind, what strategies does your firm have in place to attract new clients? How do you intend to plan and execute marketing and advertising campaigns? Do you have a clearly defined lead generation and qualification process?


To put all this in place, focus on the following areas:


  • Create marketing collateral and define your sales and marketing strategies.
  • Determine the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts through analytics.
  • Purchase placements via Google AdWords, Facebook, and other platforms.
  • Identify and attract potential leads to your accounting firm.
  • Define your ideal prospect, then use targeted messaging and questions to determine which leads are likeliest to convert.



Client management workflows

Effective policies and processes for invoicing and client management help ensure more effective service delivery, payment processing, and communication. These workflows represent the other side of client onboarding and the second critical ingredient to customer retention. To keep things as painless as possible for both your practice and its clients, develop workflows for the following:


  • Invoicing and payment processing
  • Updating and maintaining customer information
  • Customer support
  • Recurring reminders
  • Account termination
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Recurring client task management




Depending on your region, the nature of your work, and the industry in which your clients operate, compliance for your accounting business can take many different forms. It could be as simple as ensuring financial data is stored and financials are closed out in a timely fashion. Or it could be as complex as complying with multiple regulatory and privacy frameworks. 



Utilizing accounting workflow automation


Automation uses software to complete tasks so that humans don’t have to. Accountants can automate one or more steps in a workflow. 


Automation can help improve accuracy. For example, you can automate the preparation of an engagement. The software will look at your client data base to pull in the client’s name and address. The risk of error is much lower than if a human manually typed or entered in that information. 


Automation also saves time. Even the automation of simple tasks has the potential to save accountants between two and four hours a day.


For example, tax preparation is often a complex process, requiring extensive data collection, validation, and reconciliation. 


Accuracy is crucial because a single mistake can be costly. Automation ensures that if documentation is available, a tax professional always has access to the most up-to-date information on everything from income and losses to credits and deductions. In addition to keeping data collection free of human error, automation also helps tax professionals to reclaim valuable time they can spend addressing more complex tax challenges or engaging with additional clients. 



Streamlining accounting workflows with templates


Workflows can be challenging to build from scratch, but with workflow templates, you don’t have to. That's why a good starting point for automation is to use pre-built templates. ShareFile provides pre-built templates for creating and automating repetitive tasks, making it easy to streamline your accounting workflows.


Through our Custom Workflow Automation feature, we make it easy for your accounting practice to put routine tasks on autopilot, building and maintaining processes that free time for more valuable work. You can quickly pre-fill forms with client data that already lives in ShareFile. You also maintain full visibility of all workflows and can save any workflow as a template for future use. 



The takeaway: workflow automation is the future of accounting


Efficiency, precision, and transparency are the pillars on which all successful accounting practices are built. As the world continues to transition to a digital economy, it's increasingly difficult for accounting practices to fulfill all three through manual processes alone. To stay competitive and drive future growth, accounting firms must embrace standardized, automated workflows.


This is best achieved through specialized, purpose-built software — that’s where ShareFile comes in. 


Combined with support for custom workflows, our platform uses the same security as the world's largest financial institutions, with full email and file encryption, access control, and user authentication. Alongside integrated e-signature functionality and a built-in client portal, we provide everything your practice requires in order to meet — and exceed — client expectations. 


Interested in learning more? Feel free to reach out.