Your clients may not sell the same amount of goods each month. They’ll probably not have the same level of inventory each month either. Ultimately, no matter what, they’ll have to close their books and officially end one fiscal period to open up the next. Their monthly operations may not be consistent, but the month-end closing process is one thing your client can always look forward to doing. Here’s some best practices for helping your clients efficiently tackle and survive the process.
Create Close Schedule
The first step to streamlining the month-end close process is creating a schedule of activities. This schedule should list everything that has to happen as part of close. Along with a description of each task, the schedule outlines which staff member is responsible for completing it and when it has to be done. This includes when physical counts of inventory occur and who’s responsible for the task. The schedule should be presented in the sequential order of the tasks so your client has a visual depiction of what the close is going to be like.
No month-end close will be exactly the same. There will always be variances to research, or variances not worth the time to research. Help your client draft practices to set the rules for month-end close. For example, address your client’s materiality level. Is too much time being spent fixing dollar amounts that don’t really matter or have that big of an impact? Did a $10 piece of inventory go missing, and does that really matter? Once this materiality level is set, ensure your client communicates that any variance under this level isn’t worth pursuing. Having everyone on the same page about tasks that involve professional judgments like this helps push away work that isn’t really necessary.
Everything might be shaping up for a perfect month-end, except somebody who handles month-end processes calls in sick. You should work to cross-train staff so multiple people can step into the month-end process. If one person gets stuck on a step, they can turn to others to get their opinion. If somebody is out, the month-end close process can still go forward. Relying too heavily on one person should be a warning signal that the month-end process could be streamlined a little more.
Distribute the Work to Lighter Areas
Once your client has the month-end schedule created, it should evaluate staff workload, especially the timing of responsibilities. The close schedule should drive when tasks get done. If a certain staff member’s plate is too full, your client should recognize the schedule isn’t reasonable. Instead of automatically adjusting the schedule, work with your client to address ways to alleviate the workload through delegation, automation of entries, or seeing if the process really is important.
Evaluate the Process
After month-end, your client should set aside time to make the process better before the next month-end. It isn’t reasonable to come up with long-term solutions for these problems during month-end. But during slower periods where there aren’t tight deadlines, your client should meet with staff, walk through the month-end schedule, get feedback on workloads, and take note of whether specific close items relating to inventory have to occur every month (or if it’d make more sense to do things quarterly).
Every month, your client has to close its books and record the inventory balance. Since this happens consistently, your goal should be to make life as easy as possible by streamlining the month-end close process. Help your clients develop close practices, allocate workloads, train staff, and evaluate how things went. It’s normal for problems to randomly pop up, but with these practices, your client may actually end up looking forward to month-end.