Congratulations! You have made it through another beast of a busy season. You have cajoled clients and staff, put in long hours, and are beginning to forget what your family and friends look like. You are probably feeling that you deserve a nice long vacation on a sunny beach, preferably sipping (or gulping) something bracingly alcoholic, not a 1099 or a tax code reference in sight for miles.
Before you book that trip to Aruba, there is one thing I want you to do, and that is to take brief stock of what just happened. Why now, you might ask? Because Aruba may well dull the pain that you have felt for the past 6-8 weeks, fooling you into thinking that this was not so bad, after all, and that kind of thinking is a ticket to another beast of a busy season next year.
There are dozens of factors that have contributed to making this busy season what it was. You have a measure of influence over some of them: clients, staff, and workflow. Let’s look at them one at a time. I encourage you to use this article as a worksheet, taking notes as you read – what results may well be a blueprint for a better busy season next year!
Your clients: the good, the bad, the ugly.
The busy season can truly bring out the best and the worst in clients. If you can think of a few clients that made your days a living hell, now is a good time to consider letting them move on. Whether a client lied to you, made your staff cry, or made your life difficult by failing to meet deadlines and then insisting on immediate turn-around on your part, re-evaluate whether the relationship is worth the fee. Which clients are you going to fire?
After the nightmare clients have been identified, I would encourage you to think about the big picture of your business. Do you enjoy the majority of your clients and the type of work you do for them? If not, it may be time to take a fresh look at your branding. The clients that show up in front of you are a direct reflection of the branding message that you are putting out into the world. If you don’t like what you are getting (or if you don’t think you have a brand), now is the time for a closer look.
Do you feel you were adequately compensated for your hard work? Some tax preparers are emerging from this busy season dismayed with their financial results, especially in light of the hours they have put in. Billing hours are up, but revenues are down – what does that add up to? Making sense of the financials is the first step towards getting the answer.
Your staff: who pulled the weight?
Think about how the team worked together this busy season, and what changes you want to see next year. Was your staffing level adequate? Did you have the right people in the right places?
Did you have any undercover vampires on staff? Vampires disguise themselves as team members, but do not be fooled: they force you to spend inordinate amount of time on supervision and review, turn in a sub-par product, and drain the energy of the office faster than you can say “boo!” Who on your team was a liability more often than they were as asset?
Your workflow: Did you run the busy season, or did it run you?
The big category of “workflow” encompasses all the activities necessary for you to take in the client, process the documentation, and get the return out. Whether you use the state-of-the-art workflow management software, or a good old dry-erase whiteboard and paper client files, how did the approach work for you? Did you feel like you had a good grasp on the incoming returns, or did things fall through the cracks? When things did not go right, was it due to a technology fail or human error?
On the workflow note, when did you stop taking appointments? If a client walked into your office looking to hire you on April 5, did you take that client on? How did that work for you?
The more experienced professionals also ought to ask themselves if they were happy with the balance of preparing and reviewing that was on their plate. Is preparing returns the best use of your time during the busy season? Did you prepare any returns that could be delegated to junior staff next year?
This busy season was not only about the difficult clients and staff! May is also a good time for gratitude. Did you have a rock star client who turned the paperwork in when promised, in good form, and was responsive every time you had a question? How about a staff member who brought in breakfast for the office on a Saturday, left flowers on your desk, or brightened up your day with positive outlook? Was your spouse particularly patient and supportive during your long days and nights in the office? Let them know they made a difference!
So, what is the one thing you will do differently next year?