You’re already dreading it a little bit, aren’t you? Even before you finish the season of business taxes, tax season 2024 looms. It’s always there…the monster that eats winter and early spring. Every year, you say next tax season will be different. It’ll be easier. Well, in 2024, you can have a more successful tax season.
The key is to prepare as soon as you can. There are a few relatively simple steps your firm can take to ease the burden of tax season. With these practices, you can restore some semblance of work-life balance for yourself and your employees. You can also spread your firm’s business throughout the year so you’re not so reliant on January through April for revenue.
Part of the process of making tax season less painful might require more work from October 16 to the end of the year than you’re used to doing—but not much more. And it’ll be worth it when you’re home for dinner in March, and your employees aren’t burned out in April.
5 things you can do now to have a successful tax season
These practices for achieving a successful tax season are relevant at just about any time of year. They’re especially important to follow after business tax season ends in October. But you can follow this advice any time.
Go digital with everything
If you’re still exchanging paper or emails with clients, you’re slowing your processes and putting your firm at risk for a cyberattack. The first move you need to make is to the cloud. When you run critical business and tax applications in the cloud, you and your employees can work securely from anywhere and at any time. You can also share information with clients in real time in a secure online environment.
In the cloud, you never have to worry about version control. You won’t need to collect, scan or return paper documents. You can do everything online quickly and securely, and with far less risk of error. Clients should see the advantage of working in the cloud. If they don’t, you’ll need to educate them. There’s a very good chance they’ll embrace the cloud once they understand the ease, security and power of it.
The applications you use in the cloud are critical as well. Access to QuickBooks® Desktop whenever you need it is a huge advantage of the cloud. So is document management, which you can use to set up repeatable workflows so that employees know exactly how to follow key processes. Establishing workflows leads to less confusion, increased efficiency, better client service and a more successful tax season.
Appoint and train a client communications manager
On the topic of workflow, your tax professionals are busy enough when grinding toward annual tax deadlines. They don’t need to be customer service professionals as well. Your staff might not necessarily have great interpersonal communication skills, anyway. But you need someone who does.
Your firm should appoint, or even look into hiring, an administrative person to communicate with clients during tax season—and perhaps even year-round. This person wouldn’t process 1040s or do any tax work at all. The employee’s job would be to communicate with clients about the status of the work your firm is doing for them. The staffer could also make sure files are successfully transferred and answer basic production questions.
Obviously, you’ll need to trust this job to someone who is well organized, has a good relationship with your accounting staff and can deal with any questions clients have. The communications manager isn’t supposed to be a tax expert. This person will have to go to your staff for answers and then get back to clients. But if a communications manager handles that, your tax employees don’t have to. They’re just doing tax work. That’s the idea.
Train your staff now (or not during tax season)
You might need to hire temporary or part-time staff for tax season. Those people will need training—in handling documents, clients and your internal processes. The time to train them is in the fall or maybe summer. But it’s not during tax season. Yes, a lot of firms try to cram hiring and training into the first few months of the year, perhaps in an effort to pay temporary employees less and save a bit of money.
In the long run, a lack of advanced training will prove more costly than trying to save a few dollars in wages. Training during tax season tends to be rushed, sloppy and less effective. Providing education for both temporary and permanent employees in less busy times will lead to far greater efficiency when the pressure is on. That ultimately means fewer hours worked for temps and better work-life balance for full-time staffers—elements of a successful tax season.
Also, don’t be afraid to put administrative staff to work on menial or repetitive tasks. Hopefully, the cloud will eliminate a lot of busy work. However, if needed, you can have a well-trained and supervised admin person do that work. Some firms actually pass documents to partners first, which can create a huge bottleneck. Let admin people handle preliminary activities whenever possible before tax work begins.
Rethink how your firm handles client service
Some clients just can’t get tax documents in on time. They know—and you know—that they’re going to ask for a filing extension. The problem is that many of them don’t ask for an extension until April, in the thick of the busy season. By then, you’re deep into work for other clients and don’t have time to file extensions for the slackers.
Push those clients to let you file for extensions in January or February so you’re not taking time out of heavier tax season to do busy work. And if there are clients that just aren’t working out, don’t wait to let them go. Cut ties with them in the fall or at some other time that’s not tax season. Toxic clients can only make a successful tax season more difficult to achieve.
Also, consider offering three tiers of service for all clients, new and existing. Tier 1, the cheapest tier, would involve strictly digital communication with marginally collaborative clients. Your firm would provide, for example, digital communication only. Tier 2 would be a step up, and with tier 3, you would deliver platinum status. Tier 3 would include rapid response times and lots of live meetings. Firms have already used this model to make more money while doing less client-service work, and more money with less work will make any tax season easier to handle.
A successful tax season makes for a healthier firm
Moving employee training up the calendar and developing new service models might seem like a lot of work to take on right now. However, both efforts will pay off mightily in February when your job is easier and your employees—and clients—are happier. Taking your firm digital is both easy and quick to return investment. Making just a few adjustments now can make that tax-season monster a lot easier to tame and give you some peace of mind.
Tax season is better in the cloud. Make the move today.