We would all agree that there is no such thing as an easy tax season. Every tax season brings its highs and lows, but forces outside of our control, like government shut-downs and this winter's unpredictable weather, really put a damper on things. Over the course of more than 30 tax seasons, in public accounting and supporting my consulting clients, I have seen the benefits that come from establishing your own tax season "sanity" system.
Here are some core elements, which continue to pass the test of time, and can still bring excellent results for tax season:
1. Supercharge the Cash Register: Strong and fluid cash flow brings many advantages that can support your sanity. Billing daily is truly the best practice, but, at certain points in time during busy season, it may not be practical. If you do not have a solid time management system in place, it will be too difficult to bill clients daily. Setting a fixed time each week to bill clients is a practical, best practice that should be part of your annual tax/busy season routine. When bills are issued close to the performance of service, client push-back is minimized, and cash flow is enriched. In addition to a disciplined billing process, your demeanor will improve, with a strong collection and work control system. Suspending work for tardy payment, and requiring retainers from new and continuing clients are important cash flow accelerators.
2. Prioritize on a Rigid Basis: Staying focused on what is important tends to create success and satisfaction. Institute a Top 10 priority program, which will stipulate the Top 10 projects that you are going to complete each week, and review and update the list twice a week. The Top 10 program should be used firm-wide, by all accountants and administrators. Consider a contest for those who most frequently satisfy their Top 10 agenda.
3. Orchestrate Firm Craziness: Creating fun activities, on a regular basis, is vital to a positive outlook, especially during busy season. Establishing weekly themes and programs will help create organized fun and craziness that will reduce the stress of tax season. Ideas that work well include: talent shows, baking and cooking contests, "masquerade" days, trivia contests, best joke contests, scavenger hunts, bowling nights and Saturday Sundaes.
4. Use the "Ax" in Tax: Do away with all of your reasons not to have personal and family time each week. Socializing, as well as exercising, is crucial to maintaining a healthy outlook, during busy season. Continue planning activities such as, card games, date nights, ladies nights, coaching, sporting and family events. The work will get done and the ideas that you would like to share with clients will come more easily, if you are relaxed and comfortable. Tax returns can go on extension – life's special moments do not always come around a second time.
5. Live By a Value System: Feeling good about what you do and establishing a personal sense of pride and value need to be constants in our business and personal lives. Charging minimum fees is a great way to frame value for your expertise, filter out clients and bolster profitability. During tax season, your expertise is in high demand, and, as a result, you should be appropriately compensated. In setting minimum fees, consider factors such as, the true and average time of a project, targeted net realizable rate for your practice, your expertise, your position in the marketplace, the complexity of the work, and your cost structure, including your annual training, and system maintenance. Minimum fees, for all levels of compliance, serve to bolster internal self-image, improve professional gratification, and enhance your return on investment, for the time you and your staff are dedicating to tax season.
6. Countdown to Glory: Rewards are important after a long and difficult experience. Some of us plan for a post-season vacation, golf season, house hunting, shopping sprees, lavish gifts, family time, spring cleaning, or a big bonus. Whatever the indulgence – create a countdown calendar, and tempt yourself with pictures and reminders of the incentives that will come from your hard work, during busy season.
Whether you are a veteran of multiple tax seasons or a rookie, every tax season will put you to the test. Coping with tax season, much like any other challenge, is all about staying confident and in control. Find your own sanity system and keep the tax seasons coming.
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