Managing Workload Compression as a Sole Proprietor 

by Amy V. Hollander, CPA 
Published June 30, 2017

Throughout my career in public accounting, I have worked and gained experience in firms of all sizes—from a small boutique firm to the Big Four. Two years ago, after getting married, life led me to the Scranton, PA area, where I had the opportunity to start my own practice. Working as a sole proprietor is very different from my previous experiences, all of which provided me with the insight as to how I wanted my practice to ultimately take shape, and it has been most rewarding. I appreciate the flexibility that comes with being on my own, and the relationships I have been able to both sustain from the prior years of my career and those that I have been able cultivate through relocating.

As a sole practitioner with no employees, all responsibilities of my firm fall to me, which is where my experiences in a variety of firm sizes has definitely been a positive. Last year was my first busy season on my own and, as with any busy season, there were certainly lessons learned that I was able to carry into the current tax year.  Over the course of time, I fully intend to continue the learning, streamlining, and refining of my firm processes.

Communicate Early and Often
My practice is focused exclusively on individual and fiduciary tax planning and compliance. Consistent and open communication with my clients has been instrumental in avoiding the crunch of busy season and workload compression. Many clients do not understand the underlying pressures of busy season so staying on top of internal deadlines for client information can pose a challenge. I am currently in the process of finishing returns where extensions were filed and, while those do provide nice “summer work,” it can take a bit more time to track down clients to get data and finalize returns in this "off-season". (It is summer after all!) Clearly communicated deadlines, and promptly following up on those deadlines when necessary, are extremely helpful in keeping the process moving. This is an area where I plan to continue revising my process for the upcoming busy season.

Stay Organized and Leverage Technology
We work in a profession where organization and attention to detail are necessary skills at any level in any firm, but I have found that they are especially vital as a sole practitioner. Implementing small changes to my processes, like working through a tax return one day and reviewing it on a different day, has been extremely helpful. Having “fresh eyes” certainly allows one to look at the tax return in a new light.   Being able to work this way taps into actively utilizing project management skills.

I am a paperless firm, and with the conclusion of this past busy season, have begun to look for ways to streamline the handling of my electronic workpapers. I noticed that, without any kind of specialized software, working to keep documents together and well-organized was taking quite a bit of my time. Next year, I will definitely be investing in software, which will work to compile the electronic workpapers in an efficient and useful manner. I am involved with the AICPA’s Tax Practice Management Committee, and at a recent meeting I sought and am now acting upon the advice from my peers who have crossed this bridge with their own practices.  Leveraging your network and getting input from fellow practitioners is a terrific way to discover which products or efficiencies can help improve your practice.

Managing the whirlwind of busy season and workload compression is an issue that practitioners in firms of all sizes are dealing with, but as a sole proprietor you have the unique opportunity to take control in all areas of your practice. Make sure you are communicating with your clients early and often. Stay organized, and always be on the lookout for ways to streamline or improve your processes. Cultivate a network of other practitioners and use it! You never know when you will find the solution you have been looking for.
 
Amy V. Hollander, CPA is a sole practitioner based in Clarks Summit, PA.



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