Automation during the holidays: how businesses make it happen

By: Paul Murray, Posted on: December 22, 2017

The Christmas break is almost here! Are you wondering how do others in the industry handle this period of down time? Do they close up shop? How do they manage the workload? What cloud technology software do they use to automate business processes? Do they find it hard to switch off in this digital world? In the first of a two-part series about how businesses approach the Christmas and New Year period, we spoke to seven industry leaders about how they approach this down time and what advice they’d give to others.

Kim Anderson, Marketing & Customer Success, SuiteFiles

Not everyone goes away over the break, so we make sure that we continue to provide support over the holiday period. We find that many business owners take this down time to trial new cloud-based software solutions, so we like to ensure we are available to provide that support if necessary.

We use a series of automated emails and customer service support through our CRM programs year round. Drip is our marketing automation tool, we use Bluetick for email automation and Helpscout is our help centre platform. This automation means staff can take holidays while the customer service continues.

It’s important to take time to recharge and retune, because we are a small team and we’re switched on and working hard throughout the year. We communicate our office closure through our newsletter, a message on our website and out of office reminders on work and personal emails.

For accounting firms wanting to manage client communication through the break, I would suggest exploring automated content. Tools such as MailChimp offer cost effective platforms to prepare a series of email responses to manage enquiries and showcase your range of services whilst the office is closed.

Jason Lawler, owner, JPL Accounting

I’ll be taking a brief break between Christmas and New Year and working a two or three day week throughout January. As a solo operator, my clients expect me to be available for them, but it’s much quieter in January so the reduced working hours suits me best. I tend to be very busy in December as clients want money back for their tax returns. Also, I want to tick off as much as possible in December so I can spend as more time with family over the summer.

In December I power through by working late nights. There’s no distracting calls so I can turn off email and be really productive. This means I’ll be a few weeks ahead of schedule come Christmas, so I can take a break knowing everything is done. Xero has helped my business improve in efficiency because plenty of manual tasks can now continue automatically.

I prefer the organisation and peace of my office, so I don’t often work remotely. The office is much better than working from a hot caravan with noisy kids running around! I’ll be spending time at Torquay, and if I need to work a few hours I will go to the local library.

Heather Smith, Chartered Accountant, Cloud Solutions Expert, Business Automation Virtuoso, YouTuber,  Podcaster, Author & Speaker

The great thing about being an accountant in Australia is there are very few compliance obligations over the festive break. Work slows down, so I like to take advantage of this.

I am a digital nomad, and my entire office fits in my handbag.To keep everything running smoothly over the break, I use Xero. I set up sales invoices as repeating, so they automatically are created, approved and sent out every month. On my iPhone, I have Receipt Bank for scanning bills and expenses. I use Expensify for managing my corporate card expenses, and trip itineraries. I also reconcile my accounts using the Xero app and have recently added the ANZ app go Money, which enables me to transfer money between accounts. I’ve added my ANZ credit card so I can conveniently use my iPhone to pay for business expenses.

I facilitate an online Facebook MasterMind community, and I normally check in daily.  Other than that, it’s unlikely I will proactively check in. I’ve got many short trips planned, plus, a holiday to Asia, where I used to live for many years.

Matthew Peng, Director, Business Continuum

We work with hundreds of accounting firms across Australia and we encourage them to take time to enjoy the break. I would encourage any accounting practice owner to switch off and enjoy a time of recuperation and renewal. Taking that down time gives you an opportunity to think about your business with the perspective of a little distance. We see a lot of accounting firm owners come back after the break with a fresh focus and determination, and their business is better for it.

As for Business Continuum, we have a few small projects continuing in the Christmas break but we will mostly be closed. We communicate our plans to clients and book them in for any required work either in advance or when the office reopens. It’s important to set client expectations about your availability in the break.

Dianna Butterworth, Owner, LDB Financial

We specialise in the hospitality and retail industry, so it’s a really busy time for our clients. Restaurants and retail stores have huge cash flow fluctuations, and it’s often their busiest and most profitable time of year. So, it doesn’t make sense for us to close our business when our clients need us most. Our clients have a heavy payroll period around Christmas time with the extra penalty rates and public holidays, and because they pay staff weekly, we are there take care of those payments on their behalf. We work in between Christmas and New Year to handle those transactions for our clients, then take a break in January when many of our clients quiet down.

During the January break we use Receipt Bank to manage ongoing expenses as they’re incurred. We get our clients to use it as well. When we’re out and about incurring costs such as entertaining, travel or personal expenditure, Receipt Bank makes it easy to capture expenses as we go by taking a photo and adding the expense directly to our records. We also use the Xero app on our phones, we will check that every two or three days to make sure our clients’ accounts are up to date. Using the Xero app, we can reconcile a few expenses, such as bank fees, so that our team is not slammed with costs to reconcile when we get back to work. We also use Dropbox for all our files, so we can access files wherever we are. And of course we use the email out of office assistant to let clients know how to contact us if necessary. Regardless of the office closure, we like to be available if our clients need us.

Sasi Santharajah, Owner, Proactive Accounting

We do close in between Christmas and New Year, but I’ll be checking in remotely each day to see if clients need anything. My team will enjoy a break with friends and family, but I find myself more able to relax after I’ve checked in and feel comfortable that there’s no issues that need my attention. Most of our clients are closed for business as well, so it’s a quiet time anyway.

If I need access to files while I’m interstate, I will use our NAS (Network Attached Storage) device to access any electronic files remotely. Xero will automatically take care of monthly invoices. For emails, Office 365 gives me the ability to send and receive emails from anywhere (Wi-Fi notwithstanding). My mobile is connected to our email system, so I can respond to any urgent emails using my phone. I take pride in being there when clients need me, so they know they can contact me on the mobile any time. If necessary, we can chat over Skype as well.

Paul Murray, Owner, Murray Business Solutions (and founder of AccountKit)

The first few weeks of December are a touch manic as the team squeeze in a months’ work into two and a half weeks. We then slow to a snail’s pace for a few weeks over December and January, as lot of clients don’t want to think about tax or work and are off on a break. Amongst clients, there’s a general preference for beach and family time rather than work, so we keep a loose eye on our emails should anything important arise.

We tell our clients in advance that we are shut for a few weeks and our out of office messages serve as a reminder. It’s rare that anything would come up during this time, but we are available in case of emergency. It’s a great time for staff to relax and reflect. They often come back inspired with potential new goals to strive for. The break is an important priority for me because it’s not often Paula and the kids get my undivided attention. It’s time I’m tremendously reluctant to give up—without them and their support none of what we do (within the business) would be possible.

If your practice is enjoying a quieter start to the year in 2018, then take advantage of the opportunity to trial new cloud-based software solutions such as AccountKit. With cloud-based practice solutions, owners can automate tasks, increase efficiency and grow their business.  Learn more at our next webinar or start your free trial today.

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