October 2011


This list comes courtesy of David Ringstrom, CPA, CPE Link instructor and Excel expert.

1. Macros are programming code that you can add to your Excel spreadsheets to automate repetitive tasks. Macros can be as simple as a single line of code to carry out a task, such as typing your company’s name. Other macros interact with accounting programs, download data from the Internet, or collect information from users via custom forms—you’re often limited only by your imagination.

2. You don’t need to know anything about programming. Excel’s Macro Recorder feature makes it easy to create your own macros. Think of it as Excel’s version of a camcorder, where you click Record and have the actions you carry out transformed into programming code that you can play back over and over. This allows you to automate simple tasks such as cleaning up a text file that you download from a web site.

3. Many of the tools that you use for macros in Excel 2007 and 2010 reside on a hidden Developer tab. In Excel 2007, click the Show the Developer tab checkbox on the first Excel Options window. In Excel 2010, right-click on the ribbon, choose Customize the Ribbon, and then click the checkbox for the Developer tab. You’ll find the Macro Recorder button on the Developer tab, as well as a Visual Basic button that enables you to get behind-the-scenes to your macros in the Visual Basic Editor.

4. You don’t have to create your own macros. Programming isn’t for everyone, but knowing that it’s possible to have a tool that carries out a repetitive task dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times can be a huge time saver for your company. You can hire an expert to create a macro-enabled spreadsheet that allows you to accomplish your task with the click of a button.

5. The best way to learn about macros in Excel is to have a project in mind that you wish to automate. Many of Excel’s features seem to fall into the category of “why would I want to know how to do that”, but given the proper context you have that “Oh! I get it!” moment.

If you find yourself carrying out the same steps over and over again in Excel, try experimenting with the Macro Recorder, or do a Google search on automating your task. You’ll be surprised at the wealth of information that’s just a click away!

Need a last minute Halloween costume? How about going as a victim of a productivity-sapping, opportunity-killer of a meeting. All you need is a glassy-eyed stare. Or perhaps the panicked look of someone who desperately needs to make up for wasted time and actually get something accomplished.

“Today’s firm administrators, staff, and accountants spend so much time attending meetings, but few know how to plan and run them,” says CPE Link instructor (and productivity maven) Laura Stack. “Most meetings frustrate employees because agendas aren’t distributed, objectives aren’t defined, time runs over, and no decisions are made.”

Sound familiar? An estimated 25 million meetings take place every working day in the United States alone. So you’ve probably been a victim many times — and maybe even a perpetrator. You can mend your ways, says Stack. Here’s one of her tips: “Meetings should only be used for issues requiring dialogue, decisions, or team building, not merely for informational issues.” For meetings that are absolutely necessary, Stack advises establishing a code of conduct for your department or organization.

If you were writing the meeting code for your firm, what would you include?

Then you can be the happy Ghost of Meetings Future for next Halloween.

. . .Then, you just may not be doing them the most efficient way you can, says CPE Link instructor, Larry Perry.

Making money on small audits can be challenging, Perry acknowledges, but it can be done. Small audits can make money today and be profitable over the long haul, as the small business client grows bigger. “There is a lot to turning a profit on small audits, but first you have to build a foundation for efficiency. You have to think holistically and prioritize efficiency from the start to finish,” says Perry.

Start with being selective about clients. Evaluate and accept only clients that are going concerns with high integrity and grow with them. “Eliminating messy clients goes a long way to toward increasing firm profits.”

Hire outstanding staff and train them well. Where efficiency matters, experience counts, so assign the right people to the engagement and supervise them appropriately.

Have a functioning quality control system in place. “For audits to be easy and profitable, all engagement personnel must know and comply with the QC and auditing standards that apply,” says Perry.

Design unique audit strategies for each client, using common sense and practical approaches.

And micro-manage for efficiency. “Take advantage of EVERY opportunity to save engagement time—even if it’s only minutes,” says Perry.

Small audits can be easy and profitable—with the right know-how.

She thinks he’s picking up the dry cleaning. He thinks she’s doing it. That’s an expectation gap. After a few cross words, all may be forgiven and forgotten. But expectation gaps about bookkeeping services are another story entirely. They can–and do–lead to malpractice lawsuits against accounting firms.

In fact, according to Continental Casualty Company, the underwriter of the AICPA Professional Liability Insurance Program, 11% of accounting malpractice claims stem from compilation and bookkeeping.

For example, CPA firms have been sued for failing to detect fraud because they didn’t examine cancelled checks. This wasn’t part of the engagement, but the clients expected it to be done as part of the bank account reconciliation process. That nasty “expectation gap” could be an accounting firm’s Achilles heel.

Expectation gaps arise, says CPE Link instructor Russell Madray, because there’s a lack of authoritative standards or definition for “bookkeeping.” Many smaller CPA firms add bookkeeping to their menu of services because the revenue is steady, the work isn’t complicated and they think risk is low. But risks do exist and they are growing, warns Madray. Disputes over engagement scope are just one type of malpractice claim against CPAs who perform bookkeeping services. Others include: general ledger errors, misappropriation of client funds, failure to disclose a conflict, and failure to detect fraud or theft. “Once you’ve recognized the risks of providing bookkeeping services, you can employ risk management techniques to help reduce your exposure to claims, says Madray.

The customer is always right, right? Maybe if you sell clothing or run a restaurant. But for accounting firms, let’s dispel that myth immediately. If you want your firm to be more efficient, productive, and profitable, seize the reins from your clients and take client accounting online, advises Darren Root, CPA CITP, and CPE Link instructor.

“For many years in my own practice, I allowed my clients to dictate the process. It was the client that was in control, delivering their data on CD, in paper format or by email. They also got to choose what client accounting system they used—and version!” Root calls this “living in the silo” and says its time knock down those silo walls and break out into the clear air of “the cloud.” The next generation accounting firm will have a strategy for online accounting and delivering services in a shared space that’s convenient for both the client and the firm.

“In a shared space, data is always accessible, current, and easily exchanged between the firm and the client because it resides in a shared environment. The real value of adopting the shared space mode is that you control the workflow. And when you are in control of your own processes, many pain points are eradicated,” says Root. In a shared online environment, you won’t be waiting for the client to deliver CDs. Instead the data is always available to you. You have correct data at processing time, because errors in journal entries have been caught and corrected along the way. And you’ll take back several days during the month because the client is no longer a bottleneck.

What do you need to move your practice into the cloud and greater productivity? Here’s what Root recommends:

o Think about your services
o Take an inventory the solutions your clients use
o Develop a strategy that promotes efficiency
o Identify solutions hosted and software-as-service solutions that support your strategy.