It’s that time again, and we either love it or hate it. What’s the secret to a great tax season? After 30+ years of weathering this storm, here are five ideas that will help you have a successful year:
#1: Set a Schedule. About three years ago, our firm decided we weren’t going to take any more evening appointments, work a half day on Saturday or work at all on Sunday. Instead, in our free time, we would do the things we enjoyed! I still went to every orchestra rehearsal and concert, while my partner went looking for treasure every week at garage sales.
A new thing we tried last year was spreading the tax work throughout the entire year. How did we do this? Through pricing. If our clients wanted their returns completed by April 15, they paid a higher fee. The closer their returns came to April 15, the higher the fee, and no returns were accepted after April 1 for completion by April 15, unless they were willing to pay double. If they wanted to save a little money, they could allow us to send in an extension.
#2: Review What’s New. Take the time to see what changes were made in your software. Beginning this year, our software, Intuit® ProConnect™ ProSeries®, requires a password to open each client file. Learn the new changes in the tax code, but you only need to know the new code as it relates to your clients; you don’t have to learn it all!
Is your software up to date? Has everyone’s return transferred over from last year? Do you have enough paper, toner and folders? Is your computer working well? Are you familiar with any new tools you may use? For example, client portals or eSignature? Knowing what else is new that could have a positive impact on your productivity is key to getting more done.
#3: Organize. We went through last year’s calendar, determining when clients usually came in, and created a master list, showing who showed up when. At the beginning of each month, we called them to set their appointment time. A bonus was the additional “touch” – the clients loved the fact that we took the time to call.
This is a relationship business. It did take more time to send client organizers than it did in the past, but it was worth it. Most clients didn’t use those organizers anyway, and we had the chance to find out what was new in their lives. Taking the time to do this cements your client connection.
Go through last year’s tax return to see what documents are needed to prepare this year’s return. Create a checklist for each client on what pieces and parts (forms and documents) made up their individual tax return. When setting up their appointment, tell them what to bring. When they arrived or dropped off their files, we checked those items off the list, and the return wasn’t started until everything was there. This really saved time. There’s nothing worse than starting a return only to realize an important document is missing.
For tax year 2017, we are totally paperless! It was a process. For example, we came up with a naming convention for all scanned document: “YEAR – DOC – CLIENT.” There is also an organized folder structure: CLIENT NAME> SCANNED DOCUMENTS. CLIENT NAME: TAX RETURNS. The bottom line is to come up with an office standard, so everyone in the office knows where to quickly find things.
#4: Get Help. We hired a client coordinator for tax season to assist in the administrative details, such as calling clients to remind them of their appointment time and scanning and organizing all documents for each client. The coordinator followed up with clients on missing documents or incomplete paperwork. Where to find this person? Call a temp agency or hire your kids. This frees you up to handle the more important tasks, such as actually doing the return! Our frustration level decreased since we weren’t having to do the administrative tasks.
#5: Take Care of Yourself. Just like the flight attendant says, “Put your own oxygen mask on, first,” you cannot take care of your clients unless you take care of yourself:
- Get enough sleep! Eat right. Exercise.
- Take a quick walk around the block. Get up every hour and stretch.
- Stay focused. Turn off your phone and text message alerts. Stop checking Facebook.
- Read your email at 4 p.m. You’ll get a lot more done and won’t feel as frazzled.
If you are anything like me, you get lost in the work because you love it. Remembering to take care of myself helps me help my clients – and it feels good. Tax season does not have to be brutal when you plan, organize and take care of yourself. Share your tips by inserting a comment below. What has worked for you? I’d love to know.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Jan. 18, 2017, and updated for republication on Jan. 17, 2018.