I know what you’re thinking.
It’s something similar to what you think when you turn on the television in September and start seeing ads for Christmas. Am I close? I mean, it’s not even Halloween yet, and some fast food outfit has the gall to play “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in the background of their commercial.
Yeah, it’s annoying. But there’s a reason advertisers do it, and that’s because plenty of people plan well in advance for the holiday season; their goal is to catch those folks and remind them to get the ball rolling if they have a lot to do.
Well, I’m here to grinch up your September by bringing up tax season for the exact same reason. If your firm is like most, you have at least a handful of clients who aren’t ready now, and definitely won’t be ready come January. You’ll ride them for the information you need to wrap things up and, if you’re lucky, get it last-minute. If you aren’t, they’re on to extension.
So how do you get your proverbial elves in a row starting now? Tax season will probably never NOT be somewhat of a hassle, but there ARE some things you can do to get ahead of it, and help get your clients in better shape, too.
Get the staff ready and motivated
For many accountants, even those who love tax, tax season can be a slog. So in the months running up to it, they can start to feel anxious—and it’s not a great kind of anticipation, more like waiting to get a root canal.
There are a slew of things you can do to help ease your staff into things, from team building to contests (who has the longest tax return?). You can also explore cash or prize incentives for performance (try NOT to make it about hours put in), providing a company holiday aligned with the holidays to extend employee time off a bit, or explore a company retreat in the fall.
Everyone knows there’s a ton of work coming, so avoid discussing the volume and complexity, and focus instead on support and reassurance. Express confidence in the team that they can get the job done, and gratitude for all the above-and-beyond you know they’ll do.
And when season hits, double-down on the good feelings with little surprises like having a massage therapist on site to give short desk massages, or a REAL dinner—not pizza—catered, with foods that have actual nutritional value. A few little boosts like this ease the pain of late nights and reduced family time.
Finally, check regularly on each team member individually. Simply knowing you’re genuinely concerned about their welfare and stress levels can help ease anxiety.
Have the team take a hard look at the clients
Every firm has clients who are superstars and do everything just right, and others that… well, not so much. It’s more than worth your time to spotlight clients who need extra assistance and motivation to get their materials in on time. Understand how many of these clients you have, and take special note of staff who handle more than one of this kind of client. They’re likely to suffer extra stress.
Reach out to slow or unresponsive clients before season starts and, if possible, get them in (or online) for a meeting. Explain clearly what you need from them to provide your best service, and see if you can secure a commitment to providing it on a set schedule. Of course, this won’t always be possible—there’s always the dreaded domino effect coming from end-of-year items the client hasn’t received from someone else.
It won’t work every time. But there are clients who will respond better if you prepare them more deliberately for what’s coming. And at the very least, understanding where your delays and difficulties are likely to come from can help you better prepare.
Don’t wait to get the books caught up
If you have clients whose books are behind come December, you can bet it’s going to cause trouble come tax season. Now is the time to see who is behind and by how much, then get them caught up.
I know—it’s not that easy, right? But maybe it is. In this excellent blog from Bloomberg Tax, the writer clarifies the value of enabling an organized bookkeeping system, as well as making use of efficient technology to reduce manual workflows.
So imagine if you could reach out to a partner who would clean up your clients’ books, link to their bank and credit card accounts to pull receipts and statements, automate reconciliations, and give you accurate, on-time books every month. If you started right now, even your most complex clients could be up-to-date and ready for tax season.
That’s what Botkeeper does. Working with QBO or Xero, Botkeeper automates the most labor-intensive aspects of bookkeeping. Our artificial intelligence categorizes transactions for you, and assigns a confidence score to each. If the categorization is under 98% certainty, it’s handed off to our senior accountants, who further train our machine learning to recognize that transaction type. That makes the AI even more efficient.
Best of all, Botkeeper keeps improving. In fact, 86 of the top 400 U.S. firms use Botkeeper, with more on the way.
You can ease yourself into tax season with your clients’ books clean and pristine, freeing up more time for consultation, advisory, and actually processing returns. Even if your clients’ books are up-to-date, automating with Botkeeper moving forward opens capacity in ways you can only dream of without it.
But don’t wait much longer. Before you know it, candy canes will deck the store displays, inflatable reindeer will dominate your neighborhood’s lawns, someone will be pushing pumpkin spice something at you, and tax season will be just a few weeks away.