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‘A Day in the Life’ of…Armanino LLP Manager, Blake Oliver

Posted on 27th July 2017 in Business

Written by James Marren

Whether you’re a business owner that’s currently in a rut or buzzing off your latest success, it’s always useful to look at the world around you to get inspiration for the next chapter. This feature is designed to give you a window into the lives of exciting entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs from varied industries and shine a light on how they are changing the world for the better. In this blog, we chat with Armanino LLP Manager, Blake Oliver

1/ My alarm goes off…

I have a two-year-old and a Jack Russell terrier, so one of them usually preempts any alarms I may have set the night before! But if my alarm were to go off, it would be at 6 a.m. I try to get to the office at least an hour before my coworkers. It gives me the chance to plan out my day as opposed to reacting to an inbox full of emails.

2/ I’m responsible for…

As a manager at Armanino LLP, a top 25 U.S. accounting and consulting firm, I’m responsible for taking care of our clients and making sure that our staff are on track with the work we’ve promised to do. I also scope out new engagements, write engagement letters, onboard new clients, stay up to date with the latest tech, and work on ways to improve our team’s productivity. It’s a lot to stay on top of, but I enjoy the variety!

3/ My typical day…

I usually head into our West Los Angeles office early to avoid the worst of morning traffic. I’ll tackle email and some projects first, then hop on a few Skype or Zoom meetings. Even though I work in an office with 150+ people, almost all of my scheduled meetings are virtual. That’s because the Outsourced Finance & Accounting team is spread out over five offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and Dallas, Texas. In the afternoon I’ll have lunch with the staff (practice management), or I might head out to a meeting with another professional (networking) or a client prospect (business development). I might also have a client meeting on the agenda. For a handful of our engagements I’m the outsourced controller, meaning I meet with clients regularly to review their financials and help them understand the trends in the numbers. In the late afternoon I’ll head out early to beat the worst of the rush hour traffic. We’re very tech savvy for a large accounting firm, so I can log in when I get home and finish my work for the day.

4/ I track the following KPIs…

As an outsourced accounting department, we track:

  • Hours worked vs. forecast (yes, we use timesheets!)
  • Overtime by staff
  • Accounts Receivable aging
  • Revenue per head
  • Effective hourly rate per head

One thing I’m pushing for at the firm is less reliance on hours worked and more on revenue per staff person. We’re already attracting some of the top talent in the profession. If we can better align staff incentives with firm objectives, such as revenue growth, then we can accomplish anything. Right now the incentives are based on an old hourly billing model. It takes time to switch that over to align with fixed fee engagements, but we’ll get there in the next few years.

5/ I communicate…

It’s my job to figure out a budget for each new engagement and communicate that with the staff when onboarding the client. Managers are responsible for periodically reviewing work-in-process and making sure that we’re coming in on target with our hours. I try to do it at least twice a month. We’re currently implementing a tool that will allow us to easily do it every day. Checking budgeted vs. actual hours is especially important for fixed fee engagements, where the firm will eat the hours if we go over budget. Fortunately, the partners at Armanino understand the value of long-term client relationships, so write-offs aren’t a big deal, as long as they aren’t happening every month. If I’m writing off hours every month for a client, first I try to figure out if I’ve priced the engagement incorrectly. If not, then I’ll work with the staff to determine if we’ve got a scope creep issue, or if there’s a productivity bottleneck within the team. When we’re coming in on or under budget month after month, I’ll send a note to our director and CC the staff, letting the boss know about their success. Showing gratitude and calling out good work is the best way to keep staff happy (assuming compensation is already above market).

6/ The best and worst part of my job…

The worst part of my job is the nature of public accounting for small businesses: juggling dozens of clients and projects at once. It can be difficult to stay on top of incoming emails, urgent client requests, outstanding proposals, and scheduled client deliverables, all while making time to work on the practice itself. It’s definitely not for everybody! The best part is the variety. I have clients in all sorts of industries, from non-profit to manufacturing to technology.

7/ My most memorable work moment…

That would be when I sold my first business. It was an online bookkeeping company. We were one of the early adopters of Xero in the United States, and quickly grew from zero to 200 clients in under 3 years. That proved to me the potential for cloud accounting to revolutionize the accounting profession.

8/ After work…

I spend time with my son, Thomas, who is two and a half years old. One of the perks of working for my current firm is that everyone is set up to work remotely, even though we also have offices. That means I can be home most days when Thomas gets back from daycare. Then when he’s asleep, I can open my work laptop and finish any open items from the day. I also work on my personal blog and my email newsletter, called Cloud Accounting Weekly. I don’t make any money doing it, but it forces me to stay up to date with the latest trends (which is valuable in itself). Plus, I’ve made many valuable connections in the industry as a result of sharing what I’m learning for free.

9/ Top tip for entrepreneurs…

If you want to build a business you can sell, you have to take yourself out of the business so you can work on the business. When I started my bookkeeping company, I was the business. Even as I hired employees, it was really hard to extract myself from the day-to-day work for clients. But when I did, I was able to dedicate 100% of my energy to growing the business. That’s when things really started to take off.

10/ My prediction for the future is…

Most routine accounting and bookkeeping work will be automated within 10 to 20 years. That means accountants who want a job will need to focus on analytical skills that computers can’t do, as well as managing client relationships. For more, check out my LinkedIn article, An Under 40 Perspective on the Future of the Accounting Profession.

11/ Plan B is…

I love technology, especially the big kind. Think Elon Musk’s self-driving cars and reusable rockets. I’d love to work on something like that, which could fundamentally change how we live.


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