Busy season is, well, busy. The increased workload from January through April is unavoidable for tax professionals, but that doesn’t mean we have to allow it to add to the misery of a cold dark winter. If there is some truth to the cliché that pressure is the result of being unprepared, then shouldn’t we strive to use our downtime before busy season as wisely as possible?
The key is to figure out what “as wisely as possible” might look like in your practice. Here’s something to help bridge the gap between concept and application: your unofficial pre-busy season preparation-promoting proactive pressure-reducing production list.
Must #1: Develop a to-do list of every federal, state, city and county tax return broken out by client, return type and deadline date.
Must #2: Reach out to business and individual clients to discuss their estimated tax liability and year-end tax planning strategies. It’s holiday season; small business owners will appreciate a friendly reminder to budget for taxes when deciding how much to spend on gifts and travel.
Must #3: For each client, prepare a request list to be sent out in January. Try to avoid the temptation to take a shortcut by sending the generic 100-page tax organizer that covers every tax situation possible. Instead, take the time to review prior year returns, documents and notes from meetings to create customized lists. It will leave a good impression and cut down on the time spent hunting down information during busy season.
Should Do #1: Review your clients’ books to make sure they are ready for tax prep. Ensure that beginning balances agree to the prior year tax return, especially on retained earnings. Review fixed asset additions, and check to see that temporary and permanent tax differences are accounted for separately with, for example, entertainment expenses, owner life insurance premiums and tax exempt interest income. For your QuickBooks® Online clients, review the “Prep for Taxes” tab to ensure all accounts are mapped to an appropriate tax return line item.
Should Do #2: Gather all staff for a tax refresher to cover changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, areas of high risks and any common mistakes made in previous years. In addition, consider attending some form of a high-level year-end CPE course.
What makes your firm different from your competition? As a bonus, here are two ways to stand apart:
Differentiator #1: Review your firm’s workflow chart to find opportunities for improvement. Analyze each task to see if any can be eliminated, combined or done more efficiently using technology. Consider assigning an expertise level to each task and shift lower level responsibilities away from higher-level staff.
Differentiator #2: Create an ideal budget for your time. As you navigate your way through busy season, think about how you would want your time to be spent on a daily and/or weekly basis. Ask yourself when the best time would be to perform different tasks, such as meeting with clients, responding to emails and reviewing/preparing tax returns. Don’t forget to budget in some personal time for healthy habits such as exercising, taking breaks and meditating!
Just because it’s busy season doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. Spend some time prior to January to get your house in order for a smoother, more productive season. Good luck!