How a Big Accounting Firm Survives Tax Season
For those that work in the accounting industry, just the thought of tax season is enough to bring a sweat to one’s brow.
While there are many dates and deadlines to be aware of during the year, April 15th – Tax Day – is undoubtedly the beastliest of them all. During these chaotic times, it’s easy for employees to get frazzled, frustrated, and fed up.
As a CPA in one of the largest accounting firms in the U.S., Ray Poirier has seen his fair share of tax season bedlam. The firm, Rehmann, has been in business for nearly 80 years: When they first opened in 1941, the company only had one adding machine that had to be shared between four employees. Ray currently serves as a manager at Rehmann and has been in the industry for nine years, specializing in accounting for the healthcare and construction industries, and as he tells it since the company ditched the old-fashioned adding machine and embraced technology with open arms, they’ve done nothing but grow.
Ray shared with us some of his tips and tricks for surviving the busiest time of year for accountants, and what Rehmann does to keep their employees happy and engaged.
Tip #1: Set Expectations to Reduce Last Minute Stress
As accountants know, small business owners often overlook the complexity of the tax return process and wait too long to get started with their return. For an accountant, there’s nothing worse than 90% of your client base waiting until the last minute to begin their filing process, only to find that they’re missing important information. Communicating with your clients as early as possible to remind them of their tax responsibilities could make all the difference, allowing them ample time to plan for their tax season and to meet with you to discuss deduction opportunities they might otherwise miss.
Many small business owners may also underestimate how early they need to start planning for tax season, and how much is involved with filing their taxes. Ray says that his busy season begins in November. He says that his firm begins communicating what their clients need to do as early as possible, distributing checklists and reminder emails to ensure his clients have the information and deadlines they need to meet the April deadline. “If they don’t have all of their information ready by March 1st, we inform them that they will need to file a tax extension. Trying to do everything in a rush is never good, both for the client and for the accountant.”
Tip #2: Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Communication Basket
We know that small business owners have a lot on their minds and sometimes struggle to stay on top of their to-do lists. Part of your role as an accountant is to make sure that your clients are not falling behind on their tax deadlines, but it can be a struggle to make sure that you are using the most effective communication method to get the message across. If you’re simply meeting with your clients in person and expecting them to remember everything you discussed during your time together, you may need to rethink your strategy.
Ray says that though face-to-face communication is important, he always follows up with his clients afterward digitally: “If you give them slips of paper in person, they’re going to forget about them, so I send them an email detailing what we discussed and any actions they need to take. We also use a program called SafeSend Returns that provides them with frequent reminders of what payments are due when and include links directly to the agency they need to make the payments to. That automation really helps with response rates and helps take some of the load off.”
Tip #3: Embrace Standardization
In any industry, it’s tempting to try to find a solution for every client that walks in the door. In the current age of ‘the customer is always right’ it almost seems like everyone is insistent that whatever the customer wants, the customer gets. Obviously, we’re not recommending that you provide your customers with poor customer service, but it’s important to realize when a client isn’t a fit for your business model. Trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole isn’t a good use of anyone’s time.
“Don’t let the client dictate what’s best for your team.” Ray states, “Figure out what’s best for your team, and standardize. The more you can standardize processes, the more consistent your work will be. Onboard everyone in the same way and your information will be more consistent across the board.”
Ray also encourages his clients to go digital as much as possible. “Most small business owners don’t realize how complicated things like payroll can be, how many returns they’ll need to file, etc. It’s the safest way to make sure everything is accurate and organized.” Ray states that for most clients, the payoff is greater than the initial payout. “The cost of the programs is relatively cheap, and in the end, they’ll save clients money. Most of these programs can talk to each other, which helps to make sure the client is covered.”
Tip #4: Check-in with Your Employees to Prevent Burnout
During a busy season, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in everyday tasks and forget to check-in with your employees. However, a good employee engagement strategy is vital if you’re going to prevent burnout and turnover. Ray mentioned that his firm tries very hard to keep things manageable for their employees. Managers at Rehmann meet weekly to discuss everyone’s workload and use software to distribute work evenly among the staff. They do this to ensure “that one person isn’t getting work piled on them while someone else has nothing.” He also stresses the importance of shuffling workloads early in the season. “If we rebalance workloads early on, it helps prevent stress later on. We learned that if we didn’t do it early enough, employees thought that they were falling short and that we’d lost faith in them, but by redistributing work early on, everyone is more understanding.”
Rehmann also understands the importance of taking a break, catering in lunches and having monthly group outings to ensure that everyone has a chance to recharge and relax, while still encouraging bonding time with one’s co-workers. When we asked Ray how he deals with the stress, he replied, “no matter how rough it gets, come to work smiling.”
While tax season is going to be busy, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Finding what works for you and your firm will help you have a successful tax season year after year and will also keep your clients satisfied and coming back. Incorporating these tips and tricks can help avoid sending you and your clients into a state of panic as tax season quickly rolls around. Remember that your clients are relying on you to have a cool head during this hectic time. Planning ahead, avoiding unnecessary stress, and checking in with your employees makes for a better work environment and a clearer mind to provide the kind of service your clients deserve.