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INCREASE EFFICIENCY 8 mins 26 Mar 2024 by Marcus Dillon
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Key takeaways

  • An operations manager can significantly enhance the efficiency and scalability of your accounting firm.
  • Hiring an operations manager allows firm owners to focus on strategic growth, value-added services, and work-life balance.
  • The right time to hire an operations manager is now, regardless of the season.
  • Success for a new operations manager involves clear expectations, support, and effective communication.
  • Technology and automation are key allies for operations managers in improving firm processes.

Unlocking efficiency in your firm

Your secret weapon for streamlining and scaling your firm could well be a role you haven’t yet filled: the operations manager. Is the time ripe to bring someone onboard who can take the reins of your day-to-day operations, freeing you up to focus on strategy, client satisfaction, growth, and work-life balance? For many solopreneurs and small firm owners, the answer is a resounding yes. 

And for operations managers stepping into these now-pivotal roles, especially during the crunch of tax season, there are some tips and tricks for hitting the ground running. 

Whether you're an accounting firm owner or solopreneur on the verge of making a tactical hire  – or an operations manager looking to carve out impactful processes in your new accounting practice – read on about how this role can be a critical driver of efficiency and expansion. 

What do operations managers do, and how can they benefit accounting firms?

Accounting is really no different from any other business – there are just too many decisions to make in the day. So, most firms get to the point where there’s too much to do; they experience decision fatigue and work overload. Ideally, they’d like to bring somebody onboard to help them determine the right path moving forward. 

“This is the topic that we're talking about now – having accountants who are solopreneurs moving to having operations managers,” says Enae Jackson-Atkins, owner of Esquire Accounting. “We're solopreneurs, and a lot of times we’re wearing lots of hats. That's not efficient, obviously, especially when your work and your service comes at such a high dollar.”

An operations manager maintains key operational procedures, creates efficient processes, and helps ensure smooth day-to-day operations. This is someone who can help keep firm owners accountable and help determine what to prioritize.

At my firm, Dillon Business Advisors (DBA), we got to a place where we wanted to work smarter and partner with somebody rather than rely on ourselves to know everything. We brought on a Director of Operations, Amy McCarty. 

How to prepare for bringing on an operations manager

When considering hiring someone for this role, it’s time to align your infrastructure, company culture, and strategic goals. 

At DBA, our leadership team looked closely at the strengths and weaknesses of our existing team. We considered our vision, mission, and values. We did some hard work looking at what we wanted our organization to look like, who we wanted to serve, and who we wanted to hire. Those are the big questions that every firm needs to identify. Through those exercises, we saw an opportunity for a new role and to bring on somebody with a fresh perspective. 

Then, as a leadership team, we developed a job description with goals and responsibilities for the position, as well as what success would look like. 

Buy-in from our leadership for this position was necessary. They agreed an operations manager would add value to the team as a whole and fill some gaps. Ultimately, adding an operations person shouldn't change the DNA of the firm; it should support it.

In my mind – and a lot of firm owners’ minds, I think – operations is about looking at different procedures and alternative approaches in order to  have more successful days. A lot of what Amy McCarty did in her first days was put the pieces together. 

Is accounting experience important for an accounting firm operations manager?

Knowing the landscape of what opportunities exist and the ability to identify those that should take priority in your firm is key to this role, so I think it’s important to at least have a background in the business you're going to work in. 

On top of that, skills such as organization, initiative, and intelligence also factor into the role. 

Having industry knowledge helps with communicating with the team because I understand the work they’re doing and can recognize what’s really going to help them be more efficient,” Amy McCarty adds. “With that background knowledge and understanding of all of it, I can say, ‘We don’t need to pursue that,’ or ‘I’m ignoring that email – there are other things to focus on,’ which sets me up for success as an operations manager.” 

Working with Amy, we’re convinced an operations manager – or some type of fractional operations support – is needed and can benefit firms of all sizes. 

When should you hire an operations manager?

“If you feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to get things done, then it’s time to evaluate hiring somebody to help you – and that’s where an operations manager would come into play,” says Amy McCarty.

“Not for client work, but for all the other stuff you need to get done that you can’t get done because either you’re trying to tackle client work yourself or you’re trying to support a team member with client work.” 

I couldn’t agree with Amy more. Given the rapid pace of change – with technology, available opportunities, and environmental changes in the market – the best time is yesterday. I wouldn’t delay it. 

We all talk ourselves out of big change or big opportunities because of the time of year, such as tax season. When we look at most industries, the time of year doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t have to for accountants, either. If you’re trying to move to a business that has a less cyclical nature and is less deadline-driven, you don’t want to isolate hiring to a particular time of year and maybe pass up a great opportunity to bring in the right person. 

Plus, the longer you wait, the longer that delays better organization within your firm. So really, anytime is a good time. And if you hire during tax season – when you may be at your busiest – having someone there to support you during that busyness is great!

Sure, onboarding may look a little different for that time of year versus the summer. But even in the summer months, people are trying to take vacation, so they don’t want to onboard someone then, either. So either way, you’re going to try to talk yourself out of it. Well, don’t do that.

“Part of forcing the transition from ‘I don’t have a life’ to ‘I do have a life’ in tax season is actually starting to do these things when it's tax season,” says Enae Jackson-Atkins. “Because we're never going to be able to smoothly transition if we don't. I need something like this now because I did just hire an operations manager and I do want to turn over these types of things to her. And I think the best way to… overcome these obstacles and challenges with the compliance calendar is to do it in high compliance season. So, while it would probably be easier… to just push it off, we’ve got to get into the habit of shifting that. We're never going to have a life outside the season if we keep saying, ‘Nope. We're going to wait till after the season is done to do that’.” 

New operations managers: Concerns and expectations

Amy McCarty says the concerns of coming into a newly created role as an operations manager in an accounting firm would be: what are the expectations? How is success going to be measured? What type of support exists? 

“For me, it was about having support coming in to be able to make change,” she says. “It just requires open, honest communication back and forth to make sure that, on both sides, things are moving forward the way that both sides anticipated they would.”

As a firm owner myself, I would add to that the following questions: What does a good pace of onboarding look like? What does success look like in the first 30, 60, and 90 days? You want to make sure your operations manager is becoming equipped as they further into their new position. But I would give a lot of grace, too, especially if it's a brand-new role you're defining as you go. 

“This is something necessary,” says Enae Jackson-Atkins. “This is something that's going to change the trajectory for our firms and our businesses, and it needs to be done.”

Best practices and strategies for effectively integrating an operations manager

To successfully bring on an operations manager, a lot relies on the firm’s culture and making sure that the culture fit is the same, as you would any new team member. 

Amy, for example, spent some of her first days having one-on-one conversations with the team, getting buy-in, introducing herself, and introducing her role as she knew it. It was about really defining what success – both short and long-term – would look like in her role; for her to understand that and have the ability to repeat that to team members was pretty important. 

Amy McCarty also points out that it’s okay to delegate. “In fact, it’s smart business to delegate tasks that you know you’re not best suited for,” she says. “They’re the ones that you never get done – the ones on your list that you know you need to do, and then you get mad at yourself because you don't do them.” 

Following on from that, with opportunities that exist, I've started asking myself and the clients I lead two questions – is this going to make your life easier and is this going to provide more value to your business

Not, is this going to make you more profit, but is this going to make your business more valuable? Of course, sometimes profit is the key, but some people also convince themselves that they’re just going to fire everybody, do the work themselves, and make as much profit as they can. Well, that doesn't make your business any more profitable, and it doesn't make your life easier. 

So, whenever you've reached that point in your life where you start to value your time more than the next revenue benchmark, those are the questions to ask. I ask myself those questions. I have other people ask me those questions to keep me accountable, and then I ask clients those questions. 

Technology and automation – an accounting firm’s and operations manager’s friend

As your accounting firm evolves, bringing on an operations manager and optimizing your operations with the help of technology becomes increasingly crucial. 

While your operations manager streamlines your firm's processes, the Ignition platform can seamlessly integrate into your operations… an indispensable partner. From simplifying the sending of engagement letters and proposals to automating client billingclient payments, and new client onboarding, Ignition helps pave the way for optimal operations. 

By harnessing the power of automation, operations managers can unlock new levels of efficiency, allowing your firm to focus on growth, client satisfaction, and strategic planning. Watch an instant demo today to see how Ignition can revolutionize your accounting firm's operations.

Meet the author

Marcus Dillon

Founder and President  Dillon Advisors

Marcus Dillon founded Dillon Business Advisors, a remote client accounting and advisory firm, in 2011 and DBA | FIRM in 2023. He also cohosts Who’s Really the Boss, a podcast for accounting firm owners and leaders. Marcus gives back to the accounting industry through speaking, mentoring, podcasting, and thought leadership. Marcus currently serves on the Ignition Council, ADP Accountant Advisory Council, Board of the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, and he was previously named to CPA Practice Advisor’s 40 under 40.

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Published 26 Mar 2024 Last updated 10 Apr 2024