Posted by Jane Irene Kelly on Monday, January 13, 2014 - 00:00
Tax season 2014 is officially starting a bit later than originally planned. But that doesn’t mean accounting and finance firms are feeling any less pressure about what is traditionally their busiest time of the year. Here are a few tips to help even the most organized tax managers ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible for their employees and clients:
- Assess workload and support. Did you expand your client roster this year? Has the departure of one or more key staff members left your accounting firm understaffed or without important skills in-house? Have you simply been unable to hire enough personnel with the specialized expertise your business needs? Do you already know some clients will have complicated tax issues that will require the focus of your most experienced staff members? These are important questions to consider in determining whether your firm is truly ready to handle the expected demands of tax season 2014.
- Establish workflow. Determine early on which team members will be working on which accounts. Also, let your clients know who their go-to people will be at your firm during tax season. Set a standard time frame (e.g., two weeks) for completing returns to set expectations with clients and help employees plan their schedules accordingly. The good news: April 15, 2014, falls on a Tuesday, so your staff likely will be at their most productive level for the mad dash to the finish line (here’s why). Also, outline the process for reviewing and approving tax returns before they’re sent to clients. This includes deciding which staff members will be responsible for spotting and helping to resolve specific types of issues.
- Identify potential pitfalls. Apply lessons learned from previous tax seasons to develop strategies that can help avoid the repeat of past mistakes. For example, was there near-panic at deadline time last year because a few returns that required follow-up had been left to languish? The remedy for effectively tracking the status of returns might be a collaborative software program or a simple whiteboard updated daily. Was your team bogged down by verifying the accuracy of late submissions from clients? If some clients are habitually tardy with delivering their tax information, make a point to follow up with them more frequently than you might with other, more organized clients.
Help clients to think proactively about tax season
A final tip for smooth(er) sailing during tax season: Make sure your clients are always thinking about the next tax season. Consider developing a reference list of important tax dates and the types of documentation your clients should be collecting throughout the year. Use this guide as a handout, or post it on your accounting and finance firm’s website.
Emphasize to clients that their year-round organization can help assure a successful tax preparation process. Timely submission of accurate information to your accounting and finance team means they can work more efficiently — which can translate to a lower tax preparation bill. Even better, it gives them more time to identify potential opportunities for reducing a client’s tax burden.