Careful Planning Helps Firms Tame Tax Season
Albert Einstein once told a friend that he found income taxes the hardest thing in the world to understand. It can be for clients who don’t think about their taxes until March, or the practitioner who doesn’t prepare – especially for those clients who don’t think about taxes until March. It doesn’t have to be so hard. In fact, I’ve developed three key strategies for good tax season prep that can relieve quite a bit of stress.
Planning for Tax Season Is a Year-Round Activity
Professional athletes who keep up their conditioning in the off-season do better than their colleagues who take to the couch when the opportunity comes. Keeping your staff in play-ready condition is equally important. Training on the technical issues of both the tax code and software packages leads to more efficiency. If there were special topics that required research last year, make sure that information is up to date and within easy reach. If new clients or clients going through changes require specialized expertise in the coming tax season, get that extra work done during planning time.
As you are doing all this, make sure to keep in touch with clients. Updates from the firm about tax matters help clients prepare and reinforce the value of working with an expert.
Show Everyone What Winning Looks Like
Explain expectations to both staff and clients. Be clear about firm policies and procedures, detailing what will be the same this year and what will be changing. Take a second look at temporary staffing, increased automation, and work flow efficiency. Too much change can’t be assimilated at once, but improvements only come when you handle problems differently than you did before.
Talk about communications best practices both within the firm and between clients and the firm. Always encourage questions and disclosure. The sooner bad news surfaces, the more time you have to find a good solution. Make sure to keep the tone positive. Nothing hurts productivity more than bad morale. Set a tone from the top and be consistent in both words and action.
Let staff know that face time is not as good as productive time. Selectively working from home can ease emotional strain and ultimately improve work quality. For those in the office, free food and fun break time “events” help out as the work keeps coming.
Don’t Plan for Perfection
Create a schedule that includes time to address the unexpected. Make sure to regularly look at work in process. Know who is buried in prep or review, and where you may have excess capacity. Encourage staff to communicate roadblocks so you can be proactive at keeping things moving. Be prepared to talk early and openly with clients about actions they can take to get the best value from the firm.
Tax season is ultimately very tiring. Be mindful of the emotional impact to both clients and staff. The best tax season prep is to remember it’s all about balance. Despite Einstein’s assertions, income taxes are not more complex than advanced physics, especially if you take the time and prepare your team and clients beforehand.