Why documenting your processes is important

At the beginning of my solopreneurial career, I found myself stressing out when I faced certain tasks at one or another of my bookkeeping clients. Upon leaving, I was invariably longing for wine or chocolate. Or both.

That couldn't continue if I was to be efficient and successful, not to mention healthy! So I turned to two of my experiences in the corporate world.

For my first accounting job, I transferred from another department, and started out with zero accounting classes. But they needed me and I needed them, so we made it work. You better believe I wrote down everything. Years later when changing desks, I found those notes. I hadn’t used them after the first several months, but at the time they were invaluable.

Fast forward to another departmental transfer, where I utilized both my accounting experience and classes, but in a different capacity. My company was subject to FDA regulations, so processes were documented to the nth degree in most departments, including my new one. While getting all that documentation correct and in place was no picnic, the result was very gratifying. My coworkers and I went from thinking, "How do I...?" to "What's the name of that procedure where...?", to just getting busy and accomplishing the task.

So drawing on those experiences, it made perfect sense to document processes for my clients' needs, as well as for my own business. Processes done daily or even weekly generally become second nature pretty quickly, but bookkeeping usually involves monthly financial statements, and inevitably annual financial statements; it's those processes that can seem brand new either twelve times or once a year.

I highly recommend documenting your business practices, whether on paper or electronically. Make it as detailed as needed. Make a checklist. Make a flowchart. Whatever works for you is the right way to do it. The next time you do that process, follow your checklist or worksheet to see if you documented it correctly. If you didn’t, update the checklist or flowchart. As the relevant mantra goes: Document what you do, and do what you document. If either isn't right, figure out what needs to be changed.

When I took on a client in an industry new to me this year, I have again documented the heck out of things. (If I hadn't, the wine and chocolate thing would have resurfaced.) New client, new industry, new type of accounting and reporting: process checklists and flowcharts have been a life saver!

Oh, and in case the client is subject to a formal audit, which my new one is, well documented processes followed consistently go a long way to explaining what's been done and why.

Documenting bookkeeping processes and procedures is a service I provide for my clients. In addition to helping me provide good financial reports, there may come a day when the client grows enough to hire an employee to do the bookkeeping in-house. The new person can take the documentation and use it to ease their transition into that job.

It can be a challenge to find the time to document, but it’s well worth it.

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