Adelaide-based conveyancer Denise McKay shares some of the business processes that boost her practice’s bottom line.
Conveyancer Denise McKay of McKay Business Services believes in processes, precedents and policies. Without this level of organisation, businesses are “really flying blind and efficiency will be at a minimum,” she says.
Denise has a long history of expertise in the area: “I can remember playing pretend offices in the garage in my school holidays, running an office, and putting things away and tidying things up.”
Before eventually setting up her own (real) office as a conveyancer 13 years ago, she worked as an office manager for a solicitor. “The day I started with her I said we can do things better than this, and I ended up setting up the whole office. I just seem to have a natural aptitude for it.”
Most business owners seek business efficiency but we're not all gifted when it comes to organisation. Here, Denise guides us through the key components of her office management system:
1. Staying organised with checklists
A simple paper checklist attached to each file, with a tick and date against each task, is a powerful risk-management tool, says Denise. A comprehensive checklist for each type of conveyancing transaction reduces the chance of errors and lapses.
To make the checklists user-friendly, divide them into stages. When acting for a purchaser, for example, Denise breaks the items into before, during and after settlement.
Checklists have an added benefit for smaller offices, too. “We have more part-time staff than full-time staff, so checklists are an ideal way of tracking what has been done on a file. Anyone can pick up a file and know what stage it’s at, then assist with any queries in order to complete the transaction.”
2. Managing largeworkloads with templates and diary ‘to do’ lists
Denise uses CATS conveyancing software in her practice. Like many similar programs, it includes a set of base letters and other templates for conveyancing. But Denise also encourages her colleagues to add additional templates to make life easier.
When questioned on the extent of her template system, Denise admits she has templates for most things. As the business expands into new areas, she creates templates and ‘to do’ lists to match. The diary ‘to do’ lists prompt the conveyancer when tasks need to be performed. This helps prevent the team from missing deadlines.
When Denise recently transitioned to PEXA, her office precedents and systems were ready to go from day one. “I came in the weekend before and modified my letters to suit. It took me just a couple of hours to change my templates to be ready for PEXA.”
3. Using procedures and policies to help train new and old staff
“What we do, how we work on a file, how we open a file, how to order a search. It’s all fairly detailed,” says Denise, describing the extent of her office policy and procedure documents. While staff training is important, these documents are also crucial. “Without them, you really have to reinvent the wheel every time you employ a new staff member,” she says.
It sounds like a big time investment, and it is. But Denise believes it’s a worthwhile process that contributes to effective risk management. To begin the process of documenting procedures and processes, Denise recommends avoiding the big picture and taking a “one step at a time” approach.
4. Conducting regular audits to help minimise mistakes
"I audit files regularly to ensure procedures are being followed. This also minimises the risk of mistakes," says Denise. She has based her business model on quality rather than quantity, and these regular audits ensure the balance is always tipped in the right direction.
When conducting an audit, she looks to the checklist and goes through each document on file. When the office has a new staff member, she conducts more thorough and regular audits.
Recently, when conducting a file audit and crosscheck on a file before settlement, Denise picked up on an account that wasn’t paid. “It was about $400 and had been missed off the statement. We would have been chasing the client for this later. More than likely, we’d have ended up paying it instead of the client.”
Denise treats her systems and processes as “living things that grow and change as time goes by”. While they require a substantial initial effort and ongoing maintenance, the efficiencies provide a great return on that investment, she says.