The Top 10 Things Efficient Firms Do
Thank you guys. You'll see here that we've got four panelists today. We're talking about Practice Efficiency. We've been doing courses all month, it's the month of March, so we've been doing an entire set on Practice Efficiency. This is the cap stone and the end of all that. If you want to see an overview, that's Maximize your Efficiency with your email clients and team. Then we've talked about it from a personal level, about your email moving into team, collaboration, client communication and then getting visibility across the firm.
Today, I'm joined here by some fantastic practitioners and experts. Those that I've met and worked with in the past. I appreciate you guys taking the time. We're going to talk about the top 10 things efficient firms do. Those are things that we've come up with on the Karbon side. Ultimately, it's from all the work and some of the road shows and round tables that we've done where some of you guys have participated in as well. It's coming from that 350 plus firms that we've talked to. It's in no particular rank order, though I did put it on numbers so we'll get into that in just a short bit.
Before we get started, a few tips for those out there. If it's your first time using Go-to Webinar, you'll see the control panel there and a little arrow that you can collapse or expand it. Close any apps that you might have that are currently running, like Skype and whatnot. Then it does say that we'll discuss questions at the end, I'm actually going to field them as we go, so go ahead and use the question box there on each one of the topics and I'm going to go ahead and feed them in as we go through the discussion.
My name is Ian Vacin, I work for Karbon, you can see the logo on the bottom right. If you want to learn more, go to karbonhq.com. This is a webinar that's co-produced by Karbon and by Intuit, specifically around the firm of the future, so we appreciate Intuit, helping put this together. If you want to know more about Karbon, go to karbonhq.com. It's a task management for accountants. It's a place to be able to organize your information and see across your team and ultimately get work done. I'm not going to go through a particular demo. Again, if you want to check it out, go to karbonhq.com/events, which you can learn more about what we do, from bringing all of your communications together to managing it to work, to doing checklist and to-dos to get it done, and ultimately being able to manage your contacts.
I'm joined today by four fantastic folks. You can see their images here on the screen on the video. Everyone, say smile and hi. We've got four folks. They're on my left and maybe different in terms of your video feed, but that's Chad Davis, head, primary CEO, founder of LiveCA, say hi, Chad.
Next we've got Jamie Satterhwaite. Did I say it correctly?
No, but that's okay.
I will get it- from Nelson & Swaite. She, again, fantastic matter in Portland, and really doing some really progressive stuff. Jamie, thanks for joining us today. Then we got Michael Hsu which is on my far right, CEO and Founder of Deepsky down in Orange County. Say hi, Michael.
Then Jessica Daley from Xcelerate Business Solutions out there in Denver, holding down the fort as this snow and blizzard comes through. Hi, Jessica.
I've got everybody. We've got-
We've got sound and we've got video. Let's get into what we're going to talk about today versus the pleasantries and stuff beforehand.
I brought the four people here today to talk about their experiences, what they've done, how they've been able to progress their own firms and really be able to exemplify some of the different characteristics that we see on the road. It really comes down to three different categories: around people's behaviors, the strategies of how they approach their own business and how they work with clients, then some mindsets as well. We're going to dig right in.
I want to talk about the first topic that we're going to talk about today. When we went back and forth and talked to folks time and time again, when we looked at how they were handling their own personal communications and how they're dealing with things on an individual level, most people were spending about 18 hours per week doing email, but those who were doing it well and doing it quite efficiently, were saving about 12 of those hours to be able to move things to different areas or to have certain processes that were actually going to accelerate that. I brought it down to some folks being able to only spend six hours per week doing specific email as related to working with their firm and their clients.
That's our first topic today, on the 10 most effective tips. I've actually given quite a bit of a talk about this on other webinars, so it really comes down to your superior personal email habits. Again, I don't want to be the one that's always the one talking here, so I want to bring in, firstly, Jessica. I want you to kick us off today, and talk a little bit about what you do specifically and how that's able to translate into you spending less time in what we would call email hell or your inbox being the thing that you dread every time you come in the morning. What are some of the things you do ultimately to limit that amount of time and be more effective?
Okay. Thanks for having me. A couple of things that I do is, in the subject line, I always have an email that says either action or urgent or info and then the specific subject line. For instance, if I'm sending an email just to read, then it would be info: and then what it's about that I'm reading. That way, the participants who are viewing the email that I'm sending know, this is urgent, I need to read it right now, it's an action item, it needs to be done, or to read, which can go ... you can put that on the back burner. Obviously we're huge Karbon users. If you put that subject line in, then it also helps with creating work that they know that this is something that I need to read, I need to react to and I need to respond. From that subject line, they automatically know what they need to do.
We love Karbon, and I'm going to put a huge clunk in that there for us, because we love the fact that you can have work that's planned, that's work in progress, that works as completed. I can go back and I can see what's going on. As you know, we get hundreds of emails a day, and it is depressing when you're excited about your inbox and it's deleted and then you wake up the next morning and you've got 20 different, 20 more things to do. It always feels like you're never done. With that continuous improvement process that we're looking at, you can never continuously improve your inbox but the influx of emails that you get. You have to have systems that can help control that for you.
Another thing that we do is turn off notifications. We make sure that we check email at specific times of the day, instead of all day long because then, you're not productive. You get stuck into maybe a one-hour project and you've only been able to work on one email. If you can project those out where we act and respond, if it's an action item, get it done and delete the email. Or if it's a big project, just give yourself the permission to not have to do it right then and to do it at a better date when you have an hour or two to respond to that email.
Do the larger-
A couple other things that-
Let me stop one minute.
Just for the larger group here, how often do you guys check your email? Do you guys do it all the time incessantly or just periodically, and when would you do it?
I do it at 1:00 p.m. every day and when I'm out and about, when I'm walking. But when I'm in the office, I only do it at 1:00 p.m. every day for 25 minutes.
For 25 minutes, so you have a set time frame that you work from.
Yeah. 1:00 to 1:25 every day. That's the time I check email. That's the only time I check email. Besides, when I'm out and about, I have my phone and I'm waiting, sitting in the car or something. When I'm in the office, it's 1:00 to 1:25.
What about you guys? Chad, or Jamie?
We think of it in a little bit from the opposite perspective and instead of scheduling time that we do check email, we actually schedule work time when we specifically don't check email or take phone calls. We do that in 60 to 90 minute increments and we kind of get together in the office and sort of agree that we're going to start a 90 or a 60-minute work period and then we work for that time. Once that's done, we take 30 minutes or so to resolve any questions among the team, emails or phone calls that we've received during that time.
Maybe I'll just add that ... it really depends too, on the role because depending on the type of work you're doing, you might need to be on call all the time. For what I do, I probably don't have as many experience as Ian does, but putting email up on one screen and always having it open during this sales lead generation process, that's important for us to be able to respond really, really quickly. For other people in the firm, scheduling time like Michael does, and like Jessica does, that's part of...maybe just the fact that there's different situations for different roles. There's no one right or wrong answer as kind of how we approach this one.
Back to you, Jessica because I did cut you off. You were going to go on one other piece that you do.
Oh, that's okay. Well, when I started my business, I was a stay-at-home mom, and now we're growing into a company. One of my biggest learns was my business and my personal email were combined. Being able to separate those out, so that I can check my business when I check business and I can check personal. Just, you know, if there's other accountants out there who are also- this is a beautiful work environment where we can be virtual. If there are those integrated lives with your business, if you can separate those out, that's really helpful to have a clean break from the different emails that you get throughout the day.
Yeah. One of the things, again, we talked about is, it's just like when you talk to your clients about don't mix your business expenses with your personal expenses because it's just in pain to unravel. On email, I have three of them. I have one that's for spam. If I'm not sure about any site, it goes to that one. Then I have another one that's personal, another one that's actually for business. If you hit the spam one, good luck. I'm probably not going to respond. You guys have the other one.
What we're going to do is we're going to keep going on rapid fire because we only have an hour. We're going to go through each one of these topics. That was topic number 1 which starts from, starting from yourself, on your inbox and personal email habits. We're going to do to topic number 2 now.
This is a big one because one of the big frustrating things with email is email coming in and dealing with that info. You talked about, that you can actually suppress, Jessica. One way you can do that though is to siphon out email that doesn't have to be coming in through your inbox. That's really where there's a lot of big technology changes around the team collaboration space and tools. If you're adopting one of those particular solutions, you're able to pull your email down by almost 60 percent. It's what we see typically from folks. That's not necessarily meaning that it's completely gone, it just means it's being dealt with at some place where you get contacts, you're able to quickly be able to process it and you'll be able to collaborate on whatever the thing that needs to be done from a work context.
Chad, I want to put you on the hook here. I actually think that you've been one of the folks that's actually embraced the team collaboration tools really early on and you've been doing it for quite a while. Your team is pretty vibrant as well. I want to get your take in what you use and how you've been able to improve upon that with your processes to get people to work together and ultimately be more efficient overall.
Yeah, sure. I think a really, really quick background would be that we started off as just my business partner and I, and today, just under three years later, we're about 14 people. We're based with no offices across Canada. From Vancouver on the West, to Halifax on the east, and almost every province in between. It was really tough on the very beginning when there was just the two of us because it was just all through email. I remember really vividly that the first person that came on board with us was our tech director. One of the first things that he put in was an online chat tool. It wasn't Slack, Slack wasn't out then, but it was really nice to be able to segregate internal versus external.
That piece really helped initially, but over the years, as Slack became really, really prevalent, so did our use of it. It's now like a tech company like Karbon that is probably using 150 different connections into it. We're still using it in a way where it's really segregating and creating different pockets for things like support and statuses and updates on new clients and team collaboration pieces and private groups. Just keeping that all out of the inbox has been pretty incredible. Now when I do get an email, it's always customer facing, it's a customer email or spam and we work with it from that perspective.
I guess for the last part of your question, how has it changed. It's made us in what is traditionally thought of as an introverted, very isolated group, turning to I think, a more vibrant and collaborative environment than when I worked in an office with people, because everything is just so right in front of you and it's not intrusive and with the right boundaries, you can create a really nice work environment. That's what we're still trying to work on, and we'll never be finished. No one ever is, but putting those procedures in place has been pretty nice. I know that's one of the topics later on so I won't spoil anything but that's where we're coming from.
One question for you, and again, I want the rest of the group to jump in as well in terms of what you use and your experiences with it. One question for you, Chad, is there's always concern when using the technology and having a virtualized environment whether or not you're able to create that conduit in that sort of sense of people being able to work closely together. Do you feel like your adoption of this, because I know you have a somewhat virtual team. You're virtually outside of your office right now. Do you feel like it's done a good job in terms of bridging the gap to feel very connected with everybody that works across the office and across the work?
Sure. I mean, we actually don't have an office, so yeah, I'm working from my basement right now. I always do. So does everyone else that's with us. The answer to your question is yes, with the right boundaries, you can create a really collaborative environment. When Slack introduced the automatic do not disturb features, it was, I'm impressed because before we tried to enforce rules around timings and postings and direct messages, but now with that on, we just make it so that after 7:30 at night, everybody defaults to do not disturb. In the morning at 7:30 it comes back on and you can turn it off and on if you want to, but it's been great to be able to just turn off and put do not disturb whenever you need to.
What about the rest of you guys? Is anybody else using Slack? I know Jessica, you're using Karbon. Jamie?
We also, of course, use Karbon and ... we do have a traditional office, a more traditional firm, but in just a few months, it's become apparent that it's definitely not necessary. We still work together very closely and at times, we work together to work better because we work in a very social office. It's really easy to walk in and distract your coworker. It's actually nice in that way. We don't feel disconnected at all but there may be less tendency to chat. I also like the fact that it is easier to disconnect when it is time to disconnect. When you're working on a project, and we don't sit necessarily with our email open all the time anymore. We can go check it when it's a good time for us. It really helps us stay on task when we're doing something and then it helps us to really get things done in a very focused way when it's time to start addressing those.
What's interesting is again, you guys are in the same building.
When have you decided to have the conversation where you go from an office or around the wall to have, versus actually have it in the online collaboration tool set? What different depths of conversation-
Yeah, I think documentation is one time that we really try to do it using Karbon. Because a lot of conversation happens, it happens in an office and then somebody has to go back and somehow document it. We really try to especially use Karbon in those moments when we have a conversation that maybe somebody else later needs to tie into so that everyone can see it.
Perfect. Jessica and Michael, anything to add there?
As far as collaborating with the tools that we use, definitely Karbon where you can see the history and see the emails that are attached. I would also say, because we're all virtual as well, there's seven of us that there's also an education around our virtual team of being a participation age company and working together. That allows them to realize when they're typing something in Karbon, or the other, Slack or whatever, when they're typing something in, it's really important and the value that they bring building up a case or the history of a client or if there's a problem and you're having to research it. If you can educate your team on the value of what they bring to that team collaboration, I think that goes a long way too.
Awesome. What we're going to do is we're going to move to the next chat. I think we're leading into some of that as well. Let's go into the third one we have here. This is actually a really big one. When we were on the road, on average, most people were spending between 60 to 90 days to complete and onboarding. That's really going from the point of closing and actual deal, to the point where the work became routine. There's a lot of variables, there's a lot of different definitions across that. But in the reality of those who are doing it really well, they're able to do it underneath 30 days.
Michael, I know you and I have talked. You actually have that down to 14 and Chad, you've done a spectacular job on this as well. I think there's really a lot to learn here in terms of what you guys do and how you do it in order to make onboarding as efficient, as effective as possible. One of the things that we identify and again, both of you guys are doing this as well, is that you actually have someone that's dedicated or having someone that has dedicated time to making sure these things happen in a very expedient fashion. Chad, I'm going to have you kick it off going around the horn here, then Michael, I'm going to have you chime in too, because I'm really impressed with what you guys do.
Cool. Thanks, Ian.
I think how you onboard people and how you sell is obviously a direct result of your business model. It can be different for every single company and a lot of different people that are on the webinar today. This is really just a reflection of what we've done and if it works for some people, great and if it doesn't, that's okay too. For what we've chosen to do, assuming someone's decided to come on board and the proposal's been signed, we've hired one person to become the onboarding specialist. That happened about year one and couple of months in. We realized that the experience that people had as soon as they wanted to sign up with you. When they first decided to spend money, it's that first experience kind of sets the tone for the rest of the relationship.
It was really important to us to have someone that sort of embodied that friendly nature and the technical skills and the accounting skills to be able to answer questions that were both from a technical and accounting perspective, but also set them up for the next stages, be able to speak to situations that might not be common to someone that doesn't have an accounting background. We call him the onboarding manager. He was a team of one when he came onboard. I guess, when you put that much focus on the onboarding manager or the team, it becomes really important. When you have people referred to you because they love the onboarding process so much, it becomes [inaudible 00:22:19] sometimes and that person's time is very busy. They can only spend so much time in the same method that represents the business model so you have a high turnover piece, maybe onboarding takes an hour and you're done. In another situations, it could take half of a day or a day just to prep up files before you can start.
We ended up actually hiring a second onboarding associate and now our team, on the onboarding side is made up of, I guess depending on how you classify it, two people that are dedicated specifically to training and onboarding people that are chosen to work with us. What do they do? They have obviously a dedicated process. The whole purpose of today's webinar is to talk about efficiency. You learn really fast what those that work, and that's what we did. I remembered my first kick off call email was four lines long we're thinking, "Yes. This is fantastic." We're being very, very diligent. Here are the four things you need to do. Let's move on. Today, that onboarding email could spend 2,500 words and more with introductions and next steps and login information and just everything that they normally would need to answer that in order to get them to the next step.
It's been an evolution, and it will always be an evolution. I think that if that's something that you want to spend a lot of time on, to be known for, just put a lot of effort into it so that your customers can really that this is something you put time and effort into that actually is valuable to them, then it's a great move. It was the best decision we could have made from that investment perspective because that is happening now, where people just love the process so much that they want to go through it again and see why it's different than other firms. It's different but it's not necessarily the best way or the worst way, it's just something different.
Yeah, I do think that going back to substantiating value and first impressions and then really being able to get them up and running. It's a really, really critical point in the whole journey, and it really substantiates how we're going to work together from day one, so I completely agree with you. I think Michael probably agrees with you as well, because I can see the head nodding over there. Michael, what have you been doing and how is it working for you to bring down that time so much? Is it similar or do you do some slightly different bits?
Pretty sure Chad and I work in the same company because he just said everything I was going to say. But just add something real quick. One of my mentor and sales coach actually taught me this, maybe three or four years ago that right after the customer sign up with you, well actually the day that they sign with you, the day that they cut the check through you, is probably their happiest moment and then it just drops. It's buyer's remorse. Everybody is worried about, "Well, I just invested this big money. I'm switching accounting team and I don't know what they do. They all sound the same," and they just go into this pit. They start asking something really tactical, which is, "What is your login? What is your EIN number? That's really boring, really dry stuff." Now they're really freaking out because before that, you were promising them rainbows and unicorns.
The sales coach, what he taught me was, immediately after they sign, they don't want to work with you anymore. This is probably their lowest phase and happiness they have with you. It's super important to hold their hand. Like Chad, we have someone dedicated. In fact, I used to finish selling then I turn around, I go back and sell some more and I have my team handle everything. Right now, I still have a built out process and I have my team handle all of the tactical stuff and all of the accounting stuff. But I actually stay on for the 14 days.
The reason why it's 14 days is because that's the only amount of time that I can invest in it. When it was 30 days and 60 days, I made excuse just like, "Well, I can't do this. I got to go back out and sell. This is my job, and you guys do your job," then you have this kind of disconnect within your company where the sales are doing sales and the accountants are doing accountants and the sales thinks accountants don't do anything. It's terrible. Then your clients suffer. Your customers suffer.
I made it a point to push that and just take in that extra sales because prospects are important, but customers are even more important than they are, right? Because these are the people who already paid you. Onboarding is super important to us, we take 14 days, because we take out a lot of the nuances. We implement our systems, we implement Google forms too, so the EINs and the tax return...are automatic. Then the accountant and the onboarding specialist can take care of the other stuff that softwares cannot take care of. I take of the hand-holding, the, "How are you doing? This is everything we promised you to be. Do you still like this?" That type of stuff. It's a lot of the very soft stuff combined with a lot of the tactical stuff.
I agree with that. I think a lot that comes down to people realize it's ... it will go over, it becomes extremely tactical with no relationship overlay. The whole point is when someone signs up, they're signing up for a relationship. They want the advice, they want the help. If they don't feel like there's someone at the other side of the table that has as much passion in their business that's going to lead them down the path, then you've set yourself up for a really, really bad situation on the back end of that. Before we move to the next one, Jamie or Jessica, you guys have anything to add to that, or anything that's different or interesting from what these guys are trying to do?
We use a system called Insightly. We found that to be really helpful with having a pipeline in your sales and your leads and your opportunities and projects. Then when you're in the pipeline, depending on the stage, then you can add activity sets. For me, it was making sure that the business, the process could run without me. That system has worked very well for us. Our onboarding specialist uses Insightly and automatically knows which activity sets to apply and out of those activity sets are very specific things that she would have to do based on onboarding that certain client.
Yeah. It's very prescriptive. Then you also have a dedicated on boarder as well?
Right. Yes, we do.
Let's do this, because Jamie, I'm going to put you on the hook for the next topic that we've got coming up. You're not out of the woods just yet. This goes to the point of, we just talked about the fact of onboarding and creating that relationship and creating that- again, it is consistency because you want to be doing it not only quickly, but you also want to be providing that relationship and you want to make sure that all of your clients feel the love and so forth. One of the things that all of you have done that we've seen again is when delivering work, it's very consistent. The quality is very high. Hopefully it's on time. Not always, but it should be. It really comes down to the big piece about that, this is- Jessie, you highlight it at the end in terms of what you had at Insightly, which is a very clear and well-documented, but also living process. Something that's not actually stagnant.
One of the things I'd love to get from you guys collectively is knowing how often you guys are updating this process or how you're addressing it. Jamie, I know you guys have done a really good job in documenting what you do and keeping on top of that. We talked about it earlier when we're talking about team collaboration. Can you give us a little bit of...at how you guys do it and a little bit of maybe the rules of the mantra that you have around the office?
Sure. We recently actually hired our very first administrative type person for our firm. Up until that point, we were all CPAs basically doing every task for ourselves. It's part of our relationship building with our client. We don't ever want to miss an opportunity to have an interaction with our clients. It really helps us know them better. But we realized as we grow, that we have a process, but it's really in my head essentially, and my head certainly can't be at the office all the time. We started the process, that was the first job, task for the administrative person we hired, was to go through and document all of the processes that we have for obvious reasons. It's great for training, it's great for consistency when we're dealing with clients, they're getting the same thing.
The benefits that we got from it that we really didn't think about during the processes, we really found some gaps in our process, when we started to put it on paper. It gave us the opportunity to think through each step and do whatever we could to make it better. We do that always. It's funny that our project manager decided she wanted everyone to have a printed copy of our process so they could look at it. After the 16th time she printed it in two days, I finally convinced her, "You know, it needs to be a live document online because it literally changes every day." It's changing every day for us right now because we're growing and we've added staff and we're using new tools.
As time goes on, it'll probably change less often, but I feel like it will still change. The tools are constantly changing. The requirements are ... part of it's dictated by the kind of relationship that we build with our clients. It will continue to change very regularly. We change it as much as we need to. We have a flowchart that dictates what happens when something comes in the door all the way through to when it goes out and follow up with a client. I feel like it changes about 16 times a day.
What tools are you using to track that? You said you were using flowcharts, what are you using as your living repository?
We use the checklist in Karbon, that's part of our documentation. Of course, we use a flowcharting software to do the flowcharting. Beyond that, we're still really working out what it the best way to document so that everyone can see it so it can be a dynamic document. We're finding that certain pieces will reside in maybe a flowchart, certain pieces will reside in a checklist in Karbon. It really depends on what it is and what the project is.
At least the person who was printing it out wasn't laminating it, which I've seen many times before. Because that's a whole another step of it, then you got to cut it out. It just gets all ugly. What about the rest of you guys? In terms of ... I think Jessica, you've been doing quite a bit of also process improvement and a lot on this side of the house as well.
Yes. We have, all of our virtual team members, we would like the ability for them to switch clients. When each other go on vacation or just for good cross-training. We have had all of our account specialists document monthly procedures and yearly procedures because as we all know, year-end is a beast in itself and very different from the monthly piece. Then we upload those procedures in smart vault, under each client's smart vault account. As those change, we just re-upload those back into smart vault. We also use Google docs for some things, but that's mainly what we use, is Smart Vault.
For Michael or Chad, anything for you guys to add in terms of what you guys do or how you do it differently?
Yeah, I'll go really quickly and you can take it, Michael. I guess we've been heavily influenced by books and other people that have better thinking and thoughts than we do. Michael Gerber's E-Myth was obviously a pretty influential book for hundreds of thousand of people, if not millions. We realized really quickly that things are broken with our documented processes. When someone writes about it and you really just are reading every page and you're just like, "That's right. Now I can see this happening." And you want to make things better. We realized, probably in our second year, towards the end of the first year, into the second year, where we realized that things are going wrong. Things are breaking. Without these documented processes, we didn't have a line to stand on. We really just wouldn't be able to grow.
We took that to heart and really, we all got together in no disclosure and met for four days and just talked about how can we become a firm that's based around documenting what we do, not just for posterity but just for debate and for sharing and getting people's opinions. Now that's kind of leading into some other topics later on so I won't go into it too much, but it was obviously a very big turning point for us.
It's not without its faults either. Being overly documented can create different atmospheres in a firm that you may not want to have happened. Knowing where to draw the line between professionally judgemented documentation is something you should always communicate and it's what we're going through right now that is a bit challenging but it's nice to know that we've got a really good foundation and from a tech perspective, we use Google docs because it's always really nice to be able to edit those and we have those links just posted up on a page that's accessible to our team where they can just click into it really easily and see what the process is for a certain thing.
I'm going to have you hold off, Michael, because I'm going to put you on the spot on the next one. You'll be able to put color in it because it's kind of related. I would say one thing. I met with a woman in Charlotte, actually, Donna Bordeaux. One of the craziest thing was she wanted to make sure she had a proper succession plan, so her and another firm partnered together to mimic and completely document how they did their firms and replicate them across the two so that they could change ownership back and forth with their firm if somebody was disabled or had issue or had to go out. It was so well-documented in how they managed that, that they were easily able to be able to take the helm of the other firm temporarily if need be.
Which again goes back to some of the power if you really document well. We're going to get Jamie back here in a second, she dropped off but just hold tight. The next one here on number 5, was that answers are always a click away. Being able to know what you need to know in a moment's notice, it really comes back down to ... It's not just about having the processes and having them documented, but it's the behavior and the characteristic inside the firm of knowing that you need to be documenting so that it's helpful for everyone to be able to et the benefit of that.
Actually that's something we do here in Karbon. It was a huge changing point for when we did that, because anytime I need to know anything from any point in time at any perspective, it's all right there. Michael, I know you do similar things. Again, it's really important in a growing organization and a large organization just like all the three of you have. Michael, what's your views and thoughts in terms of how- how do you instill that sort of culture and get it so that you have it, so that no it's not just document, it's a force thing, it's something that people are thinking about not secondarily, but first.
One of my mentor taught me that if you ever want to get your staff to do anything, or actually, if you ever want to get anybody to do anything, is to keep repeating yourself. You repeat it to a point where your team members are making fun of you or they're finishing your sentences for you. The things that I do with my team was every time we talk, every time we have a discussion, every time there's a decision made, my question is always, "Whoa, is that in our Wiki?"
Like everyone else here that's how we have our processes. Actually our processes are we have level 1 process which includes everything that the company does, and then we have level 2 processes which are these boxes broken out and then we have, we'll call them [inaudible 00:39:06] Wikis, how to do these processes. We...that with our project management software which are task lists, and then we have level 4 customer.... Customer...are things that only you would know if you work on that customer. Again, this is just for ease of transition.
Almost every decision, every conversation that we have in our company, we resolve with, "Was that in our Wiki?" Or is that in our process? Or is that documented? Then we just keep repeating it to a point that your team just knows. Every time I look up, I mean, we have two new staff that joined us about a few weeks ago. It's really funny just watching the new staff working with the newer staff and whenever the newer staff ask us questions like, "How do you do this?" Our people will say, "Well, is it in our Wiki?" Then when they say, "Well, it's not in the Wiki," then I will kind of look up and they will turn around and say, "Well, when Michael ask you why is it not in it."
It's the whole idea and the culture that everybody documents everything. I actually stole this from one of my clients, one of my customer. They run a technology company. When you show it to this company and there's no ... there's a guy that welcomes you there but then, we sit at your desk and then their desk are all movable and they have one manual, and that manual was written by everybody in the company. The idea that your manual or your process or Wiki, or whatever it is, it doesn't come from the top down, because there's no way that I know everything. In fact, I don't know probably 90 percent of the operations that's going on in my company. I know what needs to be done, I have a general idea, but the actual to-dos, everyone else on my team knows better than I.
Our staff who's ... really weeks into it. They're updating our process. The reason why they can update, they don't ever have to feel like, "Oh yeah, I have a thing here for three weeks, I have no right in updating these documents." In fact, they actually do, because the Wikis and the processes are written for people that have no clue what we do. They ask the best questions. The older staff, they will write the Wiki and we feel that the way our mind work is that we fill gaps with our knowledge. As we're writing these things, it made sense to us because we have to experience- actually we're the worst people to write a wiki because you know, the..."Oh yeah, that totally makes sense." But the new staff always have the best input and they always update our Wiki. It goes back to the idea that everyone documents everything. Everybody has equal rights and equal responsibility to kind of contribute to this master plan, if you will.
I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, it comes back down to you have to do what you preach, and again, I see a lot of folks who would ask their staff to do it, but then they don't. That just ultimately breaks down the entire process. Jessica or Jamie, or Chad, how do you guys do it? I know Jessica, you're documenting pretty heavily, Chad, you are as well. Anything to add there?
I've got a conflicting, I guess, opinion, but relatively the same. Everybody contributes. What we found is that without one person policing or reviewing the types and quality of the work that goes into the document, it became a little bit of a smorgasbord of writing styles and formats and things like that. Our tech director, his name's Dave, right now he's tasked with documentation for all aspects of the firm, but he works with people in each department and make sure that it's adhering to all the writing standards and formats and quality pieces. It's a good test too, because ... He's not a tax accountant, but he can go through the different procedures and ask good questions just like those employees can. It gives you that one level of assurance that what you're actually creating is something that's good for a while, versus multiple types of writing.
What am I to do Chad, because you just spoke up. We're going to keep moving because we're getting a little bit behind topic schedule here so I'm going to move to the next one. One question to follow up on that, why I put the slides there. How long did you go down that process until you realized that you had the smorgasbord and it was out of control? That you needed to have someone focused on being able to correct for that? Was it pretty quick or did it-
We assumed it, while we were going through that retreat, during that four-day retreat. We said, we don't want there to be a smorgasbord so maybe it's completely wrong, and we just guessed incorrectly, but we just foresaw some problems coming up with that and we just guessed. No science there.
We're going to go to the next one. I'm going to put ... Actually, Jessica, I think you're on the hook on this one. The concept here is when we see firm to firm to firm, and again, all of you represent this really, really well. From the outside, seems like it's operating like a well-oiled machine. You guys don't have to tell us how the secret sauce is made. It may not be the same internally, but the idea here is that underlying all of that, and what you guys do, it's the critical field that you've used to build your practices on and to leverage in order to make sure that you're running an efficient practice overall, but it's being supported by a foundation of technologies.
Jessica, I'm going to have you go first a little bit. Just talk about what are the key ones, because again, it's not about having 20 of them. I've got 20, 30 on my side that we're using because we're a technology company, but it's a little bit different. But even then, it's overwhelming. What are you using and what's that sweet spot of things and how many are really the ones you're living and breathing in that you really have to have?
Okay, sure. I would say we use about seven different systems that integrate beautifully together. That is always something that's really important to me. If it's a third party app through Intuit, that can sync beautifully, that really makes my day. For password protection, we've got hundreds and I know all of you do. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of passwords. We use Lastpass Enterprise, and we share- as business owners, my husband and I, we have chosen at this time to keep all the passwords to us and then we share the login, but not necessarily the password with our account specialist. Then they can go and look at the clients' bank and we can honestly say to our client that the passwords are safe in our Lastpass tool that we use. I feel like clients really value that as some of them are going from our old school accounting to cloud-based accounting, and we're having to educate them on the safety of that move.
The other system that we use for our filing cabinet is Smart Vault. I even like the name of it. I've heard several clients mention, "That even sounds safe." When you got the word "vault" in the name of a filing cabinet, it does, I think that name allows people to feel like, "Okay, it's vaulted and no one can ever get my info." Is that true? We all know. If Target can get hacked ... Things happen all the time, but we're able to create the safety and security. We love cloud-based accounting so obviously, becoming a Quickbooks Pro adviser, and using Intuit products, using bill.com that integrates amazingly for Bill Pay. We do a lot of church business and they're a lot of our clients so they use Expensify because they have a lot of reimbursements on a weekly basis. We're getting into Fathom as well, which is a new reporting system that again, is a third party app with Intuit. We'll be able to add some value to what we can do with the cash flow analysis and benchmarking.
For job costing, we use Tsheets. Having that integrate, again with cloud-based accounting products. Our big thing is if they integrate, that is really the make or break deal with the way we do business.
The rest of you guys, real quick. How many would you say, just hold out fingers, how many applications would you say is core to your business. We had Jessica saying it's about six or seven. What about you guys? Four for Michael.
I guess it's how you define core, right? Core for yourself, core for your customers.
Fair enough. For yourself. For your own business, to make your own business go forward.
Yeah. I think the number's less relevant than the fact that there's just lots out there and there's no one magic bullet these days. You can save 20, 30, 100 or two, it really doesn't matter, does it?
Yeah, well you got to....
How many do we use? Too many. How many is core? Four.
Yeah. What I'm going to do is I'm going to keep this moving. We're going to go on to the next one. Chad, I was picking on you. I'm going to pick on your some more here. This goes back to the value and being able to capture maximum value from your project and your client. That's no shocking, we're talking about value pricing of services here. If you have it, I would say go check out Chad's site, at liveCa.ca. I think you've done a fantastic job on how you articulate and present it forward. I think all of you are doing some sort of fixed or value pricing. Chad, tell us a little bit about your journey on that and how you've been able to move that and what it's done in terms of impact, just in terms of your projects, and ultimately, in terms of value.
Okay. It's a big topic, but-
It's a big topic, and I'm going to keep you constrained to a few minutes. I know it's tough.
I'll keep it really, really high level. I guess every firm or company has a few leaps. One of our core beliefs is that every customer that is trying to work with us should be treated individually. The notion of fixed prices in our belief system is that that is unfair if we are willing to put resources and time into actually trying to extrapolate what it is they're really trying to get out of our relationship, in different phases or in different projects, I know they're completely different terms, but the core belief of ensuring that they get the most out of the relationship is indicative of using value pricing. It allows you to, at its core, be very inefficient in the sales process.
It's finally that this is an efficiency based webinar, but value pricing is probably the most inefficient thing you can possibly do when it comes to sales. On the flip side, the impact that that creates during the sales process creates efficiencies down the road, that I believe are very becoming and very fun. Things like ...
Another core belief is that if we felt like we had to fill in a time sheet, I think we would be doing an unjust use of our time for our customers. We'd be putting time there where we could be focusing on them. From day one, we didn't choose time sheets, we didn't track time. We used it for estimating capacity, which was very important in the beginning, once you kind of know what you're working with, but at the same time, that act of tracking and recording time has been to no benefit.
The biggest efficiency gains have been that everyone in the firm knows that they should be focusing on specific customer values and we track that. Different people are calling to us for different reasons so we know where to put our efforts and our time. We can evaluate ourselves every year based on that as well, so we know what to talk about with them, we know how we've progressed through the relationship and create milestones based on what they do value. Just taking the time to do those upfront and create all this documentation and really understand them, not only leads to a higher conversion rate, but it also allows you to know what you're selling and know whether or not they're a good fit for the things that you do. Sure, there's elements of things that we don't do that we know we can say no to right off the bat. But if I had my prices on my website and people just selected and came on board, how would we know that without qualifying yet again.
There's a lot of different models. It's not to say that this is again better or worse, but just based off those core beliefs, it's allowed us to have a different relationship that what we were used to in previous firms. Sorry for rambling.
No. My...on this is that, again, this is a long topic in the tooth, which we've talked about previously. But the key thing you brought up there, it's really a mindset shift. Yeah, it does elongate sales cycle, but it's consistency on the back end and it also changes just how you do work overall and ultimately, gets you a better engagement with a client, and ultimately, everybody gets more value out of it. We're not going to explore it too much, but again, we do see that those people who are more efficient are spending more time being able to deal with the relationship side of the business from that freed up time and it's a core component of being a really effective firm, both on clients but also internally and in terms of where the business is where going to go on an outcome.
I'm going to move to the next one, keep us going. The next one here, it's actually built on the value placing bit. It's another extension of that in a little bit different realm but what I see time and time again from folks like yourselves, is that you get less surprises. Obviously, value pricing helps to ensure getting less surprises, but it also- you get better project delivery at the end of it. What we're really talking about this, and again, I'm going to put Michael on the horn here for a little bit. Just quickly, in terms of what are the things you put in place to ensure your team is going to meet its deadline time and time again? I've seen weeklies or daily stand-ups, weekly meetings, monthly and quarterly communications from the senior staff around business projection, where they're headed and what they're doing. Mike, what do you do and how does it work for you?
Basically boils down to ... We already talked about process. You build a process and then you have the metrics that you measure out. Hopefully, you have the metrics that you measure a guess as those process are working or not, then you got to have a rhythm. The rhythm is exactly what you talked about now, it's just super simple. We had a daily huddle every morning with our entire team. Everybody did three, four max. What I did yesterday, went around my issues, who do I need to connect with? What is my Top 1 today? Top 1 because you cannot focus on only one thing. One day, that's our core belief.
From there we have weekly, weekly team meetings and weekly team meetings are run by our team, and we actually talked about what work, what doesn't work, all of the issues that came through, we looked at- we actually do track time, which is pretty amazing and I'm sure it surprises a couple of people that know me for a long time. We looked at those, we looked at issues, we looked at projects that manage a software, then we implement new processes and this is where we double check on our Wiki. Also new processes and new tasks that's been updated.
From there, we have quarterly strategy meetings. The quarterly strategy meetings are super simple and again, we have five focuses per person at the company. Obviously comes down from me, our five goals and then breaks down to my operating team and then it breaks down to my accounting team, on some of those things. Just really three levels: daily, weekly and monthly check ins.
Quick question for the rest of you guys. Do you guys have aligned goals where your goal's overarching the firm are then translated down to the staff so that their projects are aligned purely with your goals overall? Do you guys have that mandated or process in place for that? Chad or Jessica?
We're working on it.
Yeah. It's really tough because how you communicate that and make it public. Yes, in an essence, it's very rudimentary, but it's on my Asana task here to figure out what to do and speak to the...what we can do here. It's what a lot of people want to make sure that what they're doing is aligned with the vision of the company. Michael's got it down, would be nice to be there, but reality is, not just yet.
Yeah. We're definitely discovering our big why and why we do what we do and translating that down to our virtual assistant and our account specialist in our onboardings, why do you do what you do. That leads back up to the goals and the strategic plan, so ... good job, Michael.
Again, from the outside looking in, it looks nice. Then when we're in there, everyone's like, "Ah ..."
We're going to keep Michael in the spotlight here because he's going to talk about the next one as well, which goes back to a bit more of the mindset, which, having more engaged staff and clients doing more, and actually Jessica, you brought this up before. Chad, you brought this up in terms of onboarding, kind of the mantra of always be training. Anytime you want to have- this is both internally and externally. You need to make sure that your staff is equipped to deal with clients and deal with the processes, but also your clients are equipped to deal with what they have agreed to do, when, let's say you're signing up for value pricing on their responsibility. Michael, what have you done in terms of training overall, both internally and externally?
I have two jobs at my company. One is to sell ... Three jobs, I guess. One is to sell, the other is to provide a vision and direction, and the third thing is training them, education. I'm a firm believer that I can't do everything, so then ... We actually have a process for our training program. That was for the first three months for our staff. Every staff come on, they go through the same three-month training process. During our weekly review, we ask questions like, "Do you still like your job?" "Are we helping you to progress?" and then "Do you want to keep your job?" The first time you ask them that, they freak out, they think you're firing them. It's actually pretty interesting.
After that, we really take on the whole everyone updates everything. During our weekly meeting, our last session is scheduled learning days. During scheduled learning days, we have ... the next week, anybody can be a teacher. Anybody can be a teacher about anything. We usually do a lunch and learn, and sometimes it can be accounting-related, sometimes it can be technology-related. A lot of times, when I've been taking notes about what you guys are talking about, there's a couple of things I'm going to go back and go to my chat system say, "Hey, who's going to volunteer on research on Insightly?" Sure enough, someone will take that up and then probably in two weeks or three weeks time, we'll have a training session on that.
It's really just taking everybody. In the beginning, I used to teach everyone, then I realized these people know so much more than me and I should just leverage their knowledge. I found that's really been super helpful.
Awesome. Jessica, anything to add there before we go to our last topic, before we hit the end of the hour?
Let's go to the last one because I want to make sure we don't not cover anything here. This is really a mindset. I see it from all of you, and hopefully everyone is watching this right now. I'm seeing it from everybody that's on this panel, but there's a concept here of constant process improvement and not being satisfied for where you're at today. Michael just mentioned he's writing things down at a piece of paper, taking notes. Chad, you've talked about you've got your Asana task, so things that you want to change.
Jamie, I want to put you on the spot right here in terms of where you are at your continuous improvement. You mentioned before earlier in terms of your processes and how you want to define things a little bit. You're still working through that. How do you keep this always top of mind, and how do you translate that across the organization so they're also thinking about they always do something better so that way, tomorrow is going to be better than today.
Sure. I've heard it mentioned a lot already. The reality is we feel like we do some things really well, but never the best that we can do them. When we're doing something, we're like, this is a really great way to do it, but there is always a better way. There's always going to be a new tool, there's always going to be something that comes up that will allow us to do it better. We're really excited about that. We, as a firm. Everyone gets to participate, we talk about things constantly and if somebody finds a new way to do something, we work it then to the process. We read a lot. We read things within our own industry, we read things outside of our industry for how people do things. How they have improved their own organizations. Because sometimes, you'd get the most valuable information from a business that doesn't even do the same thing that you do. Or the mindset, even.
We talk to our clients a lot too. A lot of our clients are very successful. We have very close relationships with them. We ask them, "What are you doing?" "What's working really well for you?" A lot of times, we can translate it into our own firm. It's really a passion and a vision that we have within our firm that everyone shares. That we can always do things better. There's always something, tax seasons are a busy time. We do a lot of tax returns, and there's always something right in the heat of things, in our process, that breaks. Whether it's how we were printing or how we were delivering. Something that we have no control over, and we really are ... Our focus is that's an opportunity for us to just do it better. Just find a better way. While it seems stressful in the moment, when we get out the other side, we usually are like, "Wow, that actually is really going to help us do this better."
We're really excited about doing things differently and trying new things and talking with clients and reading, and talking to other practitioners.
Yeah, I see it from all of you guys. You all have ... you're murking and learning from others and adopting and adapting it for what's going to work best for your practice. There's no one right way of doing it. I'm going to bring us to a close, everybody, because we're getting here at the end. We're going to be a couple minutes over so I apologize to you guys.
What we talked about here is, this is a lot of the benefits that we covered here. The top 10 things effective firms do in terms of where you can be in a different place that you are today. Here's where it all comes down overall, which, again, starting from email habits and we went all the way to continuous improvement mindset. If you're going to do a screen grab, this is the one to take. This again, culminated the entire webinar series for us from practice efficiency. You can learn and see all of those at firmofthefuture.com. Likewise, you can go to karbonhq.com/events if you want to learn more about Karbon or you want to see some of these topics as well.
Coming up next month for Intuit Firm of the Future, we're covering on post-service sales and marketing topics. We've got a bunch here in terms of getting out of the seasonality, we'll talk about tax, understanding how you up-sell and cross sell, the referral side of marketing, and so forth. Check that out, again karbonhq.com/events and Firm of the Future. Again, if you want to learn more, go to Intuit's firmofthefuture.com.
I want to say thank you to all of you guys. I really appreciate the hour, plus I realize we're a little bit over. Again, for myself, my email is there, email@example.com. If anybody wants to ask a question, but I want to say thank you to Chad, Jessica, Michael and Jamie. It's a really busy time of year for you guys to take an hour and then share what you guys do is phenomenal. I'm sure everybody watching this is extremely appreciative. Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate it. Any closing comments? You guys wanted to say bye?
Just curious, is that email on the screen your spam email or your work email?
That's my work email, but it's not my personal one, and you have my personal one, Chad. Everybody else in the panel can have it too.
I just wanted to say it's great to learn from all of you and it's great to learn from each other and those watching the webinar, you're doing the right thing if you're learning and listening.
Thank you everybody, I appreciate it, and we'll catch you on the next webinar. Bye.