“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” – Carly Fiorina, former executive, president and chair of Hewlett-Packard Co.
Tax season just finished; it’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos and forget to do all those little things that will matter once the storm has settled. I have been doing taxes for many years and learned valuable lessons each and every season. One of the most precious lessons I learned was to evaluate what actually happened during season before time, memory and opportunity have passed.
Hopefully, you had a game plan for this tax season. It’s a good thing. Hopefully, you followed through with this plan.
If these two things took place, the next part is easy.
If not, this is your golden opportunity to start! Your post-season strategy is to make a game plan for next year’s tax season. If you want to grow and make your life easier, this bit is vital to your success. Knowing the end game will help you set up that plan, but it will take a full cycle to see results.
Being prepared and following through are critical for a firm’s success and growth, even if you are just a firm of one. What I do before tax season affects what happens during tax season. What information I pull and actions I take post season take me right back to the beginning of the circle we run every year.
Part 1: Fill in the Blanks
I believe the expression “garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO) is most appropriate here. I’ve been hearing that all my computing life. It’s simple to remember, too. If your data is incomplete, the reports will be inaccurate.
Go back and fill in the blanks. There will be some. GIGO.
For example, I build an Excel worksheet every year from the client data that accumulates during the season. I love Excel – call it my universal translator. Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online and QuickBooks® Online Accountant export most data to Excel, and from there, I organize, sort and use it for the next part of my post-tax-season plan. I have three team members, besides myself, updating this spreadsheet throughout the season. Despite all our efforts, there are still blank fields. We are human, after all.
Part 2: Evaluate and Adjust
What’s important to you to know about your tax practice? I want to see who came in and when, and what technologies my clients and my team adapted to and which ones they didn’t. I want to see the fails as well as the successes, and if our pain fit the revenue. The sales reports I get from my books in QuickBooks Online Accountant are very useful for that and give me the global view of the client over the entire year. My team and I evaluate what went smoothly and where the holes were.
From here, I adjust. These adjustments can be to the process, tools, technology or the client. This is the time I evaluate if a client gets fired or kept. The same process goes for apps, workflows and processes.
This part is a lot like doing laundry: if it still comes out dirty, send it through again. If it comes out clean, fold it neatly and put it away for next time. If the item is damaged, get rid of it! Don’t forget about what did work and go well. Celebrate the successes and give kudos where it is due. If it was easy, see if there is a way to make it effortless.
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” – Sherlock Holmes, “A Study in Scarlett”
Part 3: Build, Shore up and Sustain the Framework
Now is the time to take all that data and implement it. Make sure your game plan is updated and sound. Run it by your team, listen to their feedback and make sure they understand their roles. Your role, too, for that matter.
This is not my first cycle. Truthfully, I have only been through a few. It is only this tax season that I am feeling – really feeling – the fruits of my efforts. Hindsight, that wonderful 20/20 vision, makes me wish I had started this when I was a firm of one. I probably would have slept better.
Missing deadlines keeps me up at night. Last week, I woke up in a panic feeling that I was very behind, hadn’t seen the amounts of clients I normally do and convinced I missed a few extensions for my S corporation clients. We did a thorough review of the client list, compared it with last year and discovered that not only were we ahead; we picked up several new clients along the way! Wow!
Take the time after tax season to regroup, assess your successes and figure out what you could improve on. No matter your plan, have one. Let it take shape and evolve as your practice grows. Attain the insight needed for your firm from the data, and don’t forget to take a few days off to refresh and open your mind to new possibilities!