Back in my Territorial Army days, we used an acronym known as the seven Ps in our training. There are a couple of different versions, but this is the one we used: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.
Tax season is no different. As practising accountants, there are several things we have to think about to make sure everything goes smoothly. Planning and preparation means that we can keep all our clients happy.
1. Information required
Just before the tax season starts, let all your clients know what information you need from them.
I avoid giving general questionnaires because I want to avoid asking clients a lot of questions that are not relevant to them. It’s always better to ask each client for a tailored list of information specific to them, avoiding all jargon.
2. Capacity planning
Before the tax season starts, make sure you have the necessary capacity to complete all your clients’ accounts and tax returns on time.
When I calculate our required capacity, I build in the new clients I am going to obtain based on prior years’ acquisitions and deduct the lower figure of likely client losses. By working out the necessary capacity before the tax season begins, you can take on any extra team members or contractors as required.
Many firms do their scheduling based on prior years. They schedule staff on back to back jobs, which leaves no capacity for new clients or urgent jobs.
A better way is to do the work for your clients when it suits them, not you. I find that some clients like their jobs done early, and others don’t mind and some are always lagging behind. Working around clients’ needs means it’s easier to keep them happy — and easier on your scheduling.
Technology moves fast. Practising accountants can’t afford to be complacent or fall behind.
In our practice we use emails almost exclusively, having phased out snail mail some years ago. We also make our clients’ lives easier by having the same accounting software available that they use — so there is never need to print out long general ledgers. Physical papers are a thing of the past, and we are gradually educating our clients to submit their end of year information electronically.
5. Slow or bad payers
It may be some months ago, but it’s wise to remember the clients who messed you around last year and took ages to pay your fees.
Ask the really slow clients to pay 50 percent of their fees up front or make it clear to the slow payers that you expect fees to be paid when they are due; otherwise, you will not be working on their affairs.
A successful tax season requires an experienced and fully functioning team. Now is the time to deal with poor performers.
Carry out any remedial training as required, and make sure your team knows your procedures and processes. Make it clear that the clients are VIPs, and staff should avoid using any jargon when communicating with clients.
For your part, it’s important to create the best possible working conditions. Make sure your team is incentivised and motivated, and that they have everything they need to do the best possible job.
7. Value-add work
Although we may have loads of accounts and tax returns to prepare, we should also remember that we need to fit in business development work for our clients. After all, this is how we should be differentiating ourselves from our competitors.
Clients value all assistance when it comes running their businesses better.
Despite all the other things we have to do, it’s crucial to keep up to date, not only with tax and the changes to the accounts formats, but also with all the developments in bookkeeping and accounting software.
Block out time for training, CPD and helping clients to get to grips with their accounting software. Our philosophy is to help clients keep better books and use the best accounting software — because we can better use that time to help clients move their businesses forward.