Ettean Smit - July 2020 

Ever wondered whether you are a small or medium-sized firm? And whether the problems you face are normal? It used to be a question I struggled with, purely because, like most practitioners, I respect the privacy of my fellow accountants. Secrecy prevails and even the most accommodating practitioner will, when asked, hide behind confidentiality and the fear of losing his perceived edge in the market.

I did extensive research so that we can better understand the issues faced by different size practices. 

It was a real eye-opener for me, but I have concluded that small and mid-sized practices face specific operational challenges that Practice Management systems can improve. Although we all have unique frustrations, every practice has strengths and weaknesses associated with staff skills and partner management styles. But before we can improve, we need to understand ourselves better.

Larger firms have different personnel executing roles in areas such as marketing, operations, administration, HR, IT, and other business areas. In smaller firms, they often concentrate these operational needs in fewer people.

If we do not identify our challenges, we cannot address them adequately.

So where does your practice fit in?


Small Firms 

Consider the following operational issues for small firms:

- Practitioners frequently do most work, and few tasks are delegated to staff.

- Clerical staff rarely have firm administration skills.

- Work comes in waves with deadline pressures.

- Small firms cannot delegate client issues because no one is available or simply may not have the skills needed.

- Client requests for special projects can be disruptive and inefficient, yet hard to turn down because of the client relationship.

- The need to take time for personal matters or ill health can disrupt the entire team or clients.

- It is challenging to distribute workloads evenly or fairly among the partners and staff.

- Small firms typically handle personnel management at the partner level and can take away from focusing on firm or client issues.

- Local managed service providers who do not specialize in accounting firms often lack the application-specific expertise to solve many computer hardware or software issues within the firm.

- Many small firms focus primarily on tax, bookkeeping/compilations, and business consulting, which have different management requirements.


Medium-Sized Firms

While they have the scale to address many standard processes and workflow-related matters, they frequently have a unique set of issues:

- Recruiting and maintaining staff with the right skills.

- Scheduling engagements and projects.

- Managing extensive projects or engagements with multiple phases which span over more extended periods.

- Client work becomes more complicated, requiring more capable management.

- Multiple partners in the firm bring unique skills to the practice and fair compensation can be an issue if the firm uses the “book of business” approach vs. the single, corporate firm approach.

- Recruiting clients and growing the practice requires more time, including managing advertising and marketing efforts.

- Poorly defined processes create more work, which decreases efficiency, delays project completion and increases frustration from partners, staff, and clients

- When roles and responsibilities are not limited, essential tasks are more likely to be overlooked, causing errors in the final product.

- Inadequate, outdated, or missing process documentation makes it harder to train staff and manage the business.

- When the status of projects is not visible to either partners or staff, tasks become much harder to manage.

- Without standardized processes, the data provided by a workflow system becomes unreliable.

- Audit and assurance work becomes an option at this level, client advisory services, client accounting services, wealth management and other practice areas become attractive because of client needs and profitability

Source: The Realities of Practice Management—Randolph P Johnson via AccountingWeb


We have established that sometimes our clients are underutilizing SmartPractice - So what makes the difference in Practice Management?

First, your attitude about practice management is critical to your success.

Are you using our system to coordinate your practice to serve clients better, or do you consider SmartPractice a necessary evil to “get the bills out?”

Which of your current tools are you willing to change to make your processes more effective?

Do you have questions or are you in need of more advice? 

Email, let’s start a conversation for the benefit of our industry.


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