Busy season has begun, but most CPAs likely have not reached that stage of eighty-hour workweeks and gallons of coffee. It’s still early enough to make a few adjustments to your processes and client management strategies to avoid excess stress.
During a panel discussion at AWEBLive!, AccountingWEB’s twelve-hour CPE marathon, two CPAs provided advice about what they are doing to maximize efficiencies and minimize unnecessary headaches.
Following are a few of the tips that could still be implemented now:
Set the Tone with Staff and Clients
"Take time to talk to your staff about the timeline and other priorities,” said Jason Deshayes, shareholder of Butler and Company CPAs in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Figure out how to negotiate the schedule.” Small offices can take a holistic approach; larger firms may need individual timelines, he suggested.
Give clients a letter to let them know what’s going on if there are any changes, he continued. Have a concise message.
“We have an extension deadline; it’s March 8. If you can’t get your stuff in by then, we have a right to extend you,” Deshayes said. “It’s not to create a threat, but to manage expectations.”
Butler and Company CPAs also bills with the tax return so as not to drag out the collection process. Some clients even bring their checkbooks and pay on-site.
Update Skills Now and Later
It’s important to evaluate what skills your staff excel at and where the firm needs to focus continuing education in the future, according to Michael Elliott, CPA, manager/principal-in-transition at Dittrick & Associates Inc. in northeast Ohio.
Dittrick & Associates has a “post-15th” list that includes items the firm needs to address in the summer. If there are errors in particular technical areas that you find in an audit, you need to speak to your staff about that over the summer. Peer review can point out areas you may need to improve your firm.
“Clients expect more of our time than in the past,” Deshayes said. His firm hired someone in January to provide better service levels to clients.
Ideally, late December/early January is a great time to learn, at the time when things are happening, he said. But even in February and March, there are other options to get extra help—especially interns.
“Interns are eager to learn and don’t cost as much,” Deshayes said. Offload things like copying records, sorting files, and other administrative tasks versus heavy lifting, which partners can then devote more time to because they are not required to handle those other tasks.
Give regular, timely feedback through review notes, especially with younger staff. It is worth the time to look at a few of the returns they’ve prepared thus far and correct errors to avoid repeat mistakes, Deshayes said.
As busy season cracks on, be in your happy place. Provide healthy snacks for staff, let people take a break, maybe even offer chair massages.
“It keeps people relaxed, rested, and in a mindset that allows them to be efficient,” Deshayes said. “If you have happy staff, you’ll have an efficient busy season. If you’re stressed out and exhausted, you will not be efficient.”
He even worked at one firm where everyone was allowed one three-day weekend during tax season. It may sound crazy to firms that have mandatory Saturdays, but one weekend off made a huge difference in coming back refreshed.
Hold short staff meetings to open communications and let people feel they are being heard. Fix issues as soon as possible, then hold a post-season debrief as soon after April 15 as possible.
For more ideas, listen to the entire AWEBLive! session here.
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in more than 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.