Every sole practitioner scrambles to deal with seasonality and workload compression, so it’s not a surprise that this topic landed on the 2013 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, especially after this past busy season. I found that changing the way I work with my staff and my clients has helped me to tackle both of these challenges.
Smarter staffing. I have two part-time employees who both work remotely from their homes. These include a paraprofessional who helps with write-up work and payroll and a CPA on a time-share agreement with another firm.
The time-sharing arrangement with the CPA is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my practice. About five years ago, one of my peers in the Ohio CPA society was looking for part-time assistance and I also needed additional help. Through a social connection, I heard about a CPA corporate controller with Big 4 and midsize firm experience who was looking for a new direction. So, the other firm and I put together a plan in which this CPA would work for me two days a week and for the other firm, which is located in nearby Akron, for three days a week. Since I work out of my house, I provided the CPA a desk and a computer that he could use in his own home. I pay him as an independent contractor and he’s covered under his wife’s health care plan. He now works about 500 to 700 hours a year for my practice, focusing on about 75 corporation and partnership clients. Having him on board allows me to complete personal tax returns. In the past, I was filing extensions for all my corporate returns and completing them over the summer, but I can now work on these in season and devote my summer to other projects.
Sole practitioners often have too much work to handle on their own, but not enough work to hire a full-time employee. By partnering with a firm in your area—which could range from another sole practitioner to a larger firm—you can arrange a time-sharing agreement and have the best of both worlds! How can you make it work?
- Find a self-starter. The person you hire has to be someone who is able to work independently. He or she has to be able to take charge of carrying out engagements.
- Arrange face-to-face meetings. To keep us on the same page, I meet with the CPA every Friday morning for two hours. We review the work he’s finished and I provide projects for the next week. I believe that seeing him face-to-face once a week keeps us on track. If that type of communication was strictly virtual, I do not think it would have the same effectiveness.
Take control of scheduling. Another great idea that I instituted this year was to limit my face-to-face 1040 appointments to certain days of the week. In the past, I let the clients decide what days and times were best for them. This year, I offered them appointments on Tuesday and Thursday only. I felt much more in control of my schedule and was able to work more efficiently, really getting a handle on workload compression. Instead of constant interruptions for randomly scheduled 1040 appointments, I could plan my work and my client-centered time in advance. I had to make some accommodations for clients, but I was able to schedule about 90% of meetings for those specific days, and I didn’t receive any client complaints.
In addition, over the last few years, I’ve seen a large increase in the number of corrections to 1099s. This year I scheduled the clients who have substantial investment portfolios toward the end of March or the first week of April. I knew that if I saw them in the beginning of busy season, we could be facing a correction before April 15, and the worst thing for a sole practitioner is searching for time to correct and amend a tax return. Clients were comfortable with postponing their appointments because they’ve been equally as frustrated with the corrections. I’m happy to say that I didn’t have to amend anyone’s tax return for a corrected 1099 this year!
While workload compression is tough, sole practitioners can easily implement solutions because you’re in control of your entire firm! Once you begin to consider creative ideas, you can put them to work and reap the benefits right away!
Bob Fay, CPA is a sole practitioner in Canton, Ohio.