Leveraging Automation, Technology and Specialization to Mitigate Workload Compression 

by Joseph D. Brophy, MBA, CPA/ABV, CVA, ABAR, CM&AA 

I come from a family of accountants and have been in the profession since the 70s. I formed my professional corporation, Joseph D. Brophy, CPA, PC, in 1985. Since that time, my firm has built a strong client base that consist of primarily high net worth clients. Workload compression has always been a challenge in the profession, but it seems like it is an issue that becomes more of a struggle each year. Even with the type of clients we are serving, workload compression is still something that we are working to overcome. Many of our clients own corporations and partnerships that operate under March 15,April 15 and September 15 deadlines, so we keep waiting for K-1 forms. Around 40% or more of our individual clients will not file until after September 15, but before October 15, so that is really our heaviest work time. Over time, we have learned that making small adjustments to the way we operate and striving to be as proactive as possible has been very helpful in mitigating the impact of workload compression in our firm.

Planning is Key
Automation and technology have been especially useful in relieving busy season compression. We have also found that a large number of services can be done during interim periods to help prepare for busy season, and we are utilizing software tools that assist us in better performing those services. For example, most of the bookkeeping work we encounter is completed at the client level but we are taking on a more active review role. We visit client sites and assist with making any necessary adjustments or corrections prior to busy season. We have also been working with our clients to request and receive necessary data earlier rather than later. This is an ongoing process, but we have seen improvement.

Going paperless has also greatly improved our firm’s workflow. Our firm committed to going paperless in 2006, and just destroyed our last box of paper documentation this year. Larger firms may have made that switch years ago, but as a sole practitioner it took time to develop uniform practices around paperless operations and transition existing data. Along with that, our employees also have remote access to our server which allows them to maintain a high level of productivity when on the road working with clients.

We have also learned to be more diligent in preparing for busy season from a practice management perspective. Our most recent busy season was especially difficult, as we were surprised to learn that our office lease was expiring on September 1, 2016. Because of our local market, we made the difficult decision to relocate, which put our move directly during busy season. This was a real challenge, and I ended up working seven days a week through busy season. However, I was mindful to not put that same pressure on my employees—I was the only one doing this. That experience was a good reminder that while it’s easy to get caught up in the work, it’s critical to stay on top of general practice management as well.

Being as proactive as possible is another huge step in relieving the impact of workload compression, and client training is a critical component of this step. We work with our clients to help them understand our expectations and when we need data from them. We’ve noticed that the more you are able to prepare ahead of time, the better your work will be and you will have more time and energy to provide to communicating with clients.

Specialize to Fill Time Outside of Busy Season
In our profession, we have a unique opportunity to specialize our practices and that can also help to provide non-busy season work. For example, working in trusts is a growing area for our firm. Developing that specialization helps deepen and add value to our client relationship, while also providing interim projects outside of busy season.

As CPAs, we have an obligation to lead our clients and stay ahead of trends. We have valuable insights to offer in a number of areas, such as identity theft or quality control, and we need to ensure that we are offering that value to our clients whenever possible. Striving to move beyond just being a “tax person” is an excellent way to mitigate workload compression while also growing your business and improving client service. Sole practitioners should strive to be problem solvers and trusted advisors, for the benefit of your clients and your firm.

Though workload compression is a prevalent issue, taking small steps to alter the way your firm operates can greatly mitigate its impact. Automation, technology and specialization have been instrumental in reducing the stress of workload compression in my firm. The key is to find the steps that will be the right fit for your business. I would encourage firms to be proactive, and begin looking for the changes you can make as early as possible before the intensity of busy season begins.

Joseph D. Brophy, CPA, P.C. is a sole practitioner based in Dallas, TX.


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