In the next two months, as we approach the heart of tax season, it is important to remember that the services and value we provide to our clients are important and sometimes critical to our clients’ success. However, let us remember that what we do is not “life or death,” so let’s make the most of the contact we have with our clients to impart wisdom, counsel them and perhaps even laugh with them.
As we face the finish line, let’s try to find some enjoyment and levity in our situation. I like to tell our staff that we want each person on our team to take their work seriously but not take themselves too seriously. Below are some ideas on how to survive the final push.
- Find time to exercise, daily if possible. You can exercise before you get to work, at lunch, or late afternoon – doesn’t matter when, it’s just critical that you do. This will relieve stress and helps your body stay in shape for the long hours ahead (I struggle with this one mightily).
- Find a time in the day to pray or meditate. This is a proven way of maintaining your sanity when everything else around you is total chaos.
- Find an activity that helps you relax. As mentioned above, this could be exercising but it could be sitting quietly reading a book for 30 minutes a day, going for a walk, going to a sporting event or simply spending time with family and friends. Find something that you can devote small increments of time to weekly; something that will take your mind off work and help you relax.
- Always make time for family. If this can only be one or two nights a month, then make those nights count. Leave work earlier than usual, without your computer, and devote the entire night to them alone. Plan special date nights with your spouse and/or children.
- Get out of the office at least once a day, if only for 15 minutes. Get away from the phone, your email and yes, even your co-workers.
- Plan your day to maximize the best use of your time. Set aside certain times of the day to take and return phone calls and emails such as 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM and be disciplined about not being available any other time. By holding yourself to a schedule, you will be more efficient at work and you will manage your time better.
- Last but not least - drink plenty of water and try to get some sleep.
- Extend returns early. Determine which clients always get an extension -- and usually pay nothing with it -- and extend them prior to March 15th or April 15th. Our firm is doing this for the first time this year. These early extensions will be prepared by the first week in February and represent about 60-70% of our clients. For new clients who may be reluctant to extend, offer them these FAQs to reassure them.
- Move up the deadline for clients to provide their information to at least three weeks before the filing due date. Two years ago, our firm had an April 1st cutoff, last year we moved it to March 27th and this year we moved it to March 25th.
- Train all your clients on what information you want, how you want it and when you want it. We try to get our small business clients to provide us with their financial information earlier so we can get started earlier. With the partnership tax return due date moving up next year to March 15th, it will be critical that these clients understand the necessity of providing all information required to accurately prepare and promptly file their returns. (Modify and send this client letter on the new due dates.)
- If you have never started a list of “D” clients, start now. Identify your clients that are a drain on you mentally, a thorn in the side of your staff and/or not profitable and prepare to suggest that they find a new CPA firm. This client termination checklist and letter from the Tax Section makes this task much easier.
- Arrange for fun activities or “perks” for staff during tax season. Our firm has provided ice cream parties, happy hours, massage therapists, surprise breakfasts and car detailing for everyone working at the office. Consider providing lunch every Saturday from mid-February through April 15th for all staff working that day. We also have dinner brought in every now and then for our staff who are working late hours.
- Train your staff, particularly supervisors, managers and partners, to constantly seek lagniappe (a little something extra) that you can provide to your clients without their asking. Look for additional services that your firm can provide each client, if applicable.
- Set goals for how productive each staff member should be each week; this includes you too. Some people may use chargeable hours but we prefer “returns out the door.” We meet weekly to go over the progress of each of our tax staff to see what is moving and what is stuck in limbo.
- Provide the technology to your staff to work from anywhere, anytime. This technology is not cheap and can cause us Baby Boomers ulcers but it is absolutely necessary to attract and retain the best and the brightest young people.
Many folks strive for “work/life balance” and that is a lofty goal; however, when a large percentage of your business plan has to be executed in a 90-day window, it is important to realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is not an oncoming train!!!