Tax Season Survival Tips for Accountants
Making your way through tax season can feel like climbing The Rockies. You spend your days in a constant state of high alert because you don't know what’s coming at you next, how fast it's coming, or how hard it's going to hit you. But tax season shouldn’t be that intense.
While no one could have been prepared for the global pandemic curveball that was thrown at accountants in 2020, in most years, tax season does not need to be a traumatic experience. To help you and your staff avoid the hard hits of a hectic tax season, we’ve created a list of our 4 best survival tips.
Tip 1: Communication is Key
Good communication goes a long way to keeping things running smoothly during tax season. When your clients know what's expected of them and you make sending over their tax documents easy and convenient, their lives will be easier and so will yours.
- Start communicating with clients early. Come up with a schedule that requires clients to get you their tax documents in plenty of time. Give your clients a timeline and let them know that if they don’t send their tax documents as directed, they may have to go on extension.
- Use your technology. Everyone works with technology differently these days so it's best to try and connect through a variety of methods. Use email, text, and newsletters to get the word out in different formats so everyone is on the same page.
- Try a tax organizer. Use a tax organizer to make sure you get all of the info you need from each client in one place. Create a tax organizer as a fillable pdf and customize it to your firm’s needs. Then post it on your website and use your email newsletter to send a reminder along with a link to the organizer. Then all your clients have to do is download it, fill it out, and send it back to you with their documentation.
Tip 2: Be Realistic About Capacity
Before tax season arrives, take an honest look at the work that needs to be done compared to your staff resources. Ask yourself practical questions like: How many returns need to be done per day? Do I have enough staff to handle the workload? If your support is running a little thin, you may have to rethink how the work will get done.
It's no secret that good candidates in the accounting industry are scarce these days so if you're short on help, hiring another employee may not be an option. Instead, be realistic about how much your firm can do with the resources you have. Increase efficiency by taking advantage of online payment tools that help you get paid with less effort, file sharing platforms that are easy to use, and other ways of leveraging technology to save time during tax season.
Tip 3: Consider Firing Problem Clients
Every firm has those clients that show up at the very last minute with their tax documents and expect their accountant to drop everything and instantly prepare their return. If you have clients who demanded last minute service and stressed out your team last year, it may be time to cut them loose. Firing an accounting client may not sound fun but if what they’re paying you is not worth the time you spend on them, what’s the point? After all, you’re not in the game to do favors, you’re here to do business. That means, if the numbers don’t make sense, the client should go.
Tip 4: Take Time to Reduce Stress
In their article on coping with stress at work, the American Psychological Association cites work as “a significant source of stress by a majority of Americans” and they note one of the most common sources to be “excessive workloads” - sound familiar? It’s all too easy for busy accountants to get overloaded on work during tax season. Some sources say that accountants typically work up to 70 hours a week during tax season but we all know that those numbers can go even higher. So what can you do to manage stress?
Take regular breaks. If you overdose on stress, you set yourself up for a host of serious health problems. Let’s face it, no one lies on their deathbed saying “I wish I spent more time preparing tax returns’. Your health is valuable so it's worth building some breaks into your schedule in order to relieve stress. Try taking a short walk, breathing exercises, or whatever allows you to slow down and give yourself a rest.
Avoid unnecessary mistakes. Working nonstop means you're bound to make more mistakes and mistakes mean problems and problems cause more stress. When you're not exhausted, the quality of your work will be better so there will be less issues to deal with later on.
Work from home sometimes. Getting out of the office for part of the week and working from home is a good option for lowering stress. The organization Mental Health America says that there are mental health benefits of remote work. They say, remote work helps reduce stress and will even “improve productivity by reducing distractions during the work day”. So don't be afraid to spend some time preparing tax returns at home in your slippers with your cat on your lap.
Make This Year Different!
The approach of tax season is met with feelings of anxiety and stress for many accountants but it doesn’t have to be that way. You CAN get organized, manage your workload, control your stress levels, and stay sane. You’ve got this!