Planning for the year ahead yields major benefits for your accounting or tax firm. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the demands of the busy tax season or scrambled to collect documents and statements last minute, you know that trying to navigate it spontaneously is stressful and inefficient.
The less-hectic pace of the rest of the year seems almost cruel by comparison. Couldn’t it be balanced somehow? It can if you optimize the upcoming year at your firm by putting some plans and goals in place.
You can’t make tax season less busy at your firm - you probably don’t want to - but you can better manage the chaos.
During the slower months, there are still payroll returns, regular bookkeeping, financial statements, budgeting, audits, and IRS requests for information to tend to. Strategic planning is essential to help you balance these two nearly-opposite “seasons” at your firm.
Knowing how to manage your work and communicate with clients in the slower months can reduce the amount of time you need to be in-office or actively working remotely during the busy season.
Here’s how you can make next year your firm’s best year yet.
Optimizing Your Tax Season
This is the notorious busy season, whether you’re auditing or preparing tax returns. It can be chaotic and stressful. You know that you’ll be working longer hours, more days of the week, or both. You might see your coworkers more than you see your family and friends for a while.
Use this knowledge of what is coming to your advantage.
Ask for Tax Documents Ahead of Time
The clients you work with year-round are only a phone call or email away. Start asking your clients to provide their documents, wage statements, and earnings statements a few weeks before tax season. This will help your firm avoid a bottleneck at the height of tax season and enable you to provide better service to your clients overall.
Once you’ve managed to request and receive most clients’ tax documentation ahead of time, tax season is suddenly wide open. All you’ll have to do is file the tax returns.
Stretch Your Firm’s Work Week Temporarily
How busy was your firm during last year’s tax season? If everyone seemed overwhelmed from working exhaustingly long hours 5 days a week, you may be able to optimize the coming year by trying something different.
Bringing staff in (or online) on Saturdays, whether it’s once or twice, as needed, or every weekend, can provide additional working time and enable everyone to leave work sooner during the rest of the week.
Talk with your employees to find out how this kind of temporary plan will go over. Some may prefer working longer weekday hours in order to keep weekends free. Others might appreciate getting home in time for dinner every weeknight in exchange for working a few hours on Saturdays.
Accounting Today’s latest survey found that 39% of firms said everyone works on Saturdays during tax season; 27% said they work some Saturdays. If you can plan to have your staff working on Saturdays in the upcoming year, you’ll be better prepared for next tax season.
Set Limits for Next Year
If you’re working solo, you know your own limits during tax season. Don’t feel pressured to take on additional clients if you know it will swamp you. If you’re running a firm, review the number of clients your employees served last tax season and meet to discuss whether it was a manageable amount for them. You may find that it’s helpful to set limits on the number of clients each CPA or tax preparer should handle at a time for the upcoming year.
After all, if everyone’s overwhelmed, mistakes happen and deadlines can be missed. Offering your loyal clients the best service is what keeps them coming year after year, so don’t be afraid to turn away new ones until you can increase your staff.
Better Manage Extensions
You know the feeling: It’s a day or two before the corporate or individual tax deadline and you realize that you’ll have to file an extension for a client. You’re overwhelmingly busy, but now you’ll have to reach out to your client and let them know you need to file an extension. If you’ve been in the habit of making these decisions last-minute or avoiding or procrastinating about client communication, now is the time to change your plan.
You’ll have a better handle on tax season and the year ahead if you are upfront with the clients you’ll be filing extensions for. A quick call, video chat, text, or email (depending on what the client is comfortable with) gives you a chance to briefly explain your decision. You can let them know you’ll be in touch if the extension is rejected.
Optimizing Your Post-Tax Season
The first quarter may be dedicated to taxes, but the next 3 quarters can be utilized in big ways for your firm.
Take an Honest Assessment of Your Firm
Take a step back and look at your firm objectively. Do you need more employees? Fewer? How’s your customer service and marketing? Are you making good use of technology, software, and tools that make the firm more efficient? Do you feel it’s time to transition to virtual operations? Is there a niche you’re moving toward specializing in?
Whatever you determine from your honest assessment of your firm should guide your strategy for the upcoming year. Keep your staff in the loop. They may have valuable suggestions or additional goals to set.
Plan to Complete CPE Requirements
CPE requirements are a fact of life for CPAs. It deserves attention at your firm. Once tax season is over, come up with a plan to ensure you and your CPAs have plenty of time to complete your CPE requirements before the year-end deadline. Your entire firm can benefit from a clear schedule that outlines when CPE courses should be started and completed.
Make a Point to Stay in Touch with Clients
Keeping in touch with your clients after tax season is important to optimize your firm. It builds your business relationship, strengthens client loyalty, and gives you an opportunity to advise best practices for the coming year and give a heads up if you’ll be needing documents from them soon.
If you’re planning on making changes at your firm next year, let your clients know what to expect. You can keep in touch with email blasts, individual messages, holiday cards, and phone calls.
Looking Forward to the Year Ahead
Making the busy season less hectic and more strategic will benefit you, your clients, and your staff. Prepare for it by collecting what you need from clients ahead of time, choosing the best working schedule, setting limits on new clients, and managing extensions mindfully.
After tax season, commit to getting to the heart of what you believe your firm needs to grow. Put a plan together for how your firm will accomplish the goal next year. Make CPE requirements a priority for your CPAs during the slower months to keep them abreast of industry changes and news, and keep in touch with your clients beyond tax season.