If you work in the tax and accounting profession long enough, you’re going to develop a few bad habits. Have you thought about how you’re going to break these habits before the next tax season begins?
Since there is always someone with a tax problem, we all tend to stay busy year-round, but taking care of our clients leaves us very little time to take care of ourselves and deal with bad habits that we have developed. I think most of these habits revolve around technology and its misuse, but others include staffing and the age-old quality versus quality of our clients.
It’s all About the Technology
Has your firm made any technology changes recently to increase efficiency? If not, then it’s time to break some bad habits.
First and foremost, your firm must have good website. It’s 2017, and your site isn’t just a calling card to attract new clients; it’s also used to keep your name in front of your current clients and enhance productivity by interfacing your website with other technologies, such as a secure portal. It never seems to amaze me how many of us who work in the tax are operating without a website, or worse yet, not offering a secure portal to their clients as a method of communicating and exchange documentation.
Many years ago, I set up a secure portal and began the slow transition. As expected, it took some time to get my clients to use the portal, and just last year, I had a new website professionally designed with a back-end client management system. I switched to SmartVault for my portal system since it interfaces with my tax software, Intuit® ProConnect™ ProSeries®. The transition was very efficient and seamless, and the back-end client management system allowed my firm to increase productivity during tax season by a whopping 34 percent!
I didn’t do this all by myself, thanks to my trusted technology expert. However, I knew the transition was successful when I realized that none of my clients had a problem with SmartVault after being used to the old portal system. The new system directed clients to the new website, where many of them not only viewed the content; they also referred me to their friends for tax help.
Other technology changes that I’ve adopted – and encouraged my small business clients to also embrace – include switching to QuickBooks® Online from the desktop version. While my firm still uses QuickBooks desktop and we have many clients who also use the software, I have seen quite a few transitions to the online platform. As with any technological change, it takes some time to get comfortable with something new, for us and our clients. However, once you get comfortable with working in the cloud, productivity will increase and the headaches will drastically decline. You won’t have to deal with the constant battle of sending QuickBooks files back and forth between the client and your firm.
Using QuickBooks Online Accountant and being able to view my clients’ books from any computer or mobile device when I’m not in the office is an amazing capability that saves me time and saves my clients money. If you haven’t yet transitioned your practice online, it’s something you should consider. Recently, I transitioned one of our restaurant clients to the online platform, set up the picture-perfect chart of accounts, and got the client comfortable with the software. The client was very pleased, and once he saw the long-term vision, he asked to transition his other two stores. He even referred our firm to the corporate office; after viewing our website and marketing material, the home office offered to recommend us to other franchisees in Atlanta. So many great things happen when we embrace new technologies and implement them for our firms!
Moving away from technology to employees, think about the time spent when your staff goes out to grab lunch. Depending on how much staff your firm has during tax season, 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there begin to add up. While everyone needs a break, sometimes it works best when your staff eats lunch in the office or you can buy food you store in the refrigerator as company meals. It can be a win-win for the firm and the staff. And, if they eat in, you might consider letting them leave at an earlier time before they get totally burned out for the day and become less productive. Personally, I find that I am much more efficient when I come in at 5 a.m. getting work done that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do when the phones ring and emails floods my inbox. It’s something that doesn’t work for every firm, but perhaps some of these bad habits can be broken in your firm to help make the upcoming tax season a better one.
How About the Clients?
The bad habit most firms are challenged with is selecting quality clients over quantity, particularly during tax season when everyone tries to prepare as many returns as possible to maximize revenues. I learned many years ago that not every client is my kind of client, so I prefer to focus on quality clients with whom I can develop a long-term relationship and will come back every year.
With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in effect, the client relationship is even more important. As we approach filing for tax year 2018, I expect that most of us will see an increase in preparation time due to the complexity of the Sec. 199A deduction. Now, more than ever, I prefer to work with quality clients who value my service and want a long-term relationship.
Of course, I pursue new tax clients each year to increase my revenues, but I try to make sure any prospect is as good of a fit for my firm as it is for the client. The emphasis is on value. The last thing I want is a client who will shop around to save $20 or $30. Instead, I work hard to serve a client’s needs year-round to see the value I provide beyond preparing their returns. One focus, for example, is tax planning – a great way to increase revenues and provide additional value to my clients, particularly small business owners who will be impacted by the TCJA. Again, Sec.199A provides invaluable tax saving opportunities with the 20% Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction. It is a way for small business clients to save money and for tax professionals to generate a new revenue stream. The tax saving opportunities are best achieved with tax planning and working hands-on with our clients during the year, instead of when the year has ended. The more hands-on we are with our clients, the more money we can save them while generating a revenue stream that we may not have had in previous years.
Acknowledge Your Bad Habits and Change
We all have bad habits that need to be broken. The first step in the action plan is to acknowledge that your firm has bad habits. Just like anything else, without accepting that there is a problem, you can’t create a solution. From now until the time tax season begins is the perfect time to review how your firm operates, figure out what bad habits exist and determine the solutions to break those habits. Better yet, if you can avoid making the same mistakes next year, you’ll have greater productivity, higher revenues and less stress in 2018.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nov. 13, 2017, and was updated on Nov. 14, 2018.