Everyone gets a little anxious around tax time, but it’s nothing compared to the stress accountants feel. Most are inundated with extra work between January 1 and April 15. While the surge of clients can be great for the bottom line, it can also make for some long days of juggling countless demands. That makes tax season a risky time of year for CPAs, financial planners, and enrolled agents.
With so much riding on tax season, accountants need to prepare for the onslaught. Here are tips from some seasoned pros to help you keep your ship upright throughout the coming storm.
Accountant Tax Survival Step #1: Develop Smart Processes
There’s a good chance you’re a methodical person by nature, but even the most meticulous accountant can be capsized by the pressure of tax season. The ones who maintain an even keel are usually the ones who have systems in place to help them stay the course.
Those systems don’t have to be terribly complex, but they should address the issues you find most troubling. Nanette Slappey-West, founder of
Pathways Consulting (@PathwaysConsul), offers a number of low-tech solutions, such as…
- Focus on one file. Clean your desk and attend to a single project at a time. It might not make work go faster, but it can eliminate distractions so you can be more thorough.
- Plan for tomorrow. An hour of planning at the end of the day may seem like a lot, but Slappey-West says, “It is better to spend time making sure you aren’t missing something than to drop the ball and have clients asking where their returns are.”
- Tackle tasks in chronological order. Jumping from one squeaky wheel to the next is a good way to miss something. Instead, work on returns in the order they come in, says Slappey-West, “And let your clients know up front that’s your procedure.” This can minimize the panicky phone calls.
These procedures don’t replace any error-checking or record keeping you have in place, but they can complement those efforts.
Smooth Sailing Tip: Make sure your processes include room for taking care of yourself, too. “Get some sleep, eat right, drink plenty of water, and get up from your desk every couple of hours,” says Slappey-West. “It’s very easy when you feel the pressure of deadlines to neglect these things, but they are key to productivity and not making mistakes.”
Reducing human error can minimize the chance of a disgruntled client suing, but keep your Errors and Omissions Insurance in force to protect your business from negligence claims.
Accountant Tax Survival Step #2: Train Your Clients
For most people, tax preparation is a murky world of confusing laws and difficult math, which means most of your clients need some serious direction. But
Jack Gibbs (@jackjenn2000),
Fortress Financial, points out, the client-accountant relationship is actually symbiotic. “We strive to be efficient in our operations, but we also help our clients become more efficient,” says Gibbs. “This can help reduce their fees and enable us to focus on things that can potentially save them more money.”
One way Gibbs encourages his clients to be proactive is by providing them with e-organizers. As with paper organizers, accountants can pre-populate e-organizers with data and have clients fill out the rest. E-organizers minimize expense, reduce keystrokes, and speed up the process, but they can also help clients identify tax issues and opportunities they may not know about.
enrolled agent and founder of
Authoritax.com, also values teaching clients to make the most of technology. “I train them to use their smartphones as scanners so they can send me all their tax documents electronically,” says Ferraro. He recommends clients download CamScanner so they can turn their paperwork into a PDF and shoot it to his inbox.
“They never have to leave the house,” says Ferraro.
Smooth Sailing Tip: Technology can streamline time-consuming tasks, but it isn’t without risk. According to Accounting Today, the IRS has seen a dramatic increase in phishing and malware scams during the 2016 tax season.
Data breaches of all kinds are ripe during tax season. Protect your clients’ data by:
- Updating your anti-virus and anti-malware protections.
- Setting security levels within your practice to minimize access.
- Encrypting data that leaves your office.
- Strengthening your passwords.
You might also want to carry Cyber Liability Insurance. Policies often cover the cost of notification, investigation, and monitoring. Get more tips in “How RIAs Can Avoid Data Breaches.”