It’s January, so tax season is literally around the corner. And, if you prepare payroll returns for your clients, then you are already in the midst of it. Either way right now is a great time to get ready for the next three or so months. We all know that tax season can be a grind. But, consider these nine best practices. That way, your mountain climb to deadline time can be a smooth sail toward a successful “mission accomplished.”

1. Start with a Freshly Cleaned Office

One of the best ways for a great start to tax season is to begin with a freshly cleaned office. Before you start hot and heavy in the new year, spend some time cleaning up your workspace. That way, the clutter is gone (hopefully to never return) and you have a great work area to do an excellent job.


2. Evaluate Workflow to Achieve Maximum Process Efficiency

Bottlenecks will occur. But, it is essential to evaluate the reasons and take action to keep work flowing. One of the best ways to upset a client is to call them in April to tell them that you need to put them on extension. This after they brought all their information in at the beginning of February. Luckily, if you have a good workflow plan, you can avoid these situations. You can keep things moving at a good pace to ensure that all client returns are completed on time.


3. Consider the Most Effective Use of Technology

Technology is available for project management, return preparation and even research. So, it's crucial to consider the most effective use of these tools. While it may be a hassle to get good with new technology, it can be worth it in the end. Learning better ways to do things can drive quality, efficiency and, yes, sanity. While using technology can be daunting, it can be a real time-saver in the end.


4. Think About Staff Capabilities

Nothing can be more frustrating than assigning someone a job they are unable to handle. Whether it is the level of knowledge or skills required, something doesn’t fit. It is a burden on the preparer, who probably feels insignificant and in over his head. It is a burden on the reviewer, who has to spend tons more time reviewing and noting corrections needed. And, it can even be a burden on the client, especially if the preparation process is slowed down and impacts the scheduled delivery of the return. Spending time up front, making sure that the right people are doing the right jobs, can make the whole of busy season that much more pleasant.


5. Have an Action Plan for Each Return

Sometimes it’s not possible, especially if you have a lot of younger staff, to get all returns assigned to an exact level of current knowledge and skills. Besides, most people do like to be challenged. One way to help ensure that challenging projects don’t get out of hand, both from a time and timeline standpoint, is to have an action plan for the project. In fact, having an action plan for each return prepared is a great idea. It helps to teach staff what the steps are and to make sure that all the important ones are completed. Having a good action plan can keep a project on course, in the pipeline (instead of out for remedial work), and out the door in a timely fashion. Plus, it can assist with quality control.


6. Evaluate How You are Communicating with Clients

When you think about it, most mistakes come down to a miscommunication of some sort. Maybe one person did not understand what the other was trying to explain. Or, a piece of information sent in an email was missed. Or, an incorrect assumption was made. Or, any of a whole myriad of other misunderstandings. But, effective communication can help reduce these problems. For example, sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone and call the client to get clarification of an issue. That way, if a brief conversation is needed, it’s possible. These days, it’s feasible to communicate in any number of ways, so getting things right should be easier. Also, learn how your clients like to be contacted. Some prefer calls, but others might prefer texts. One way to keep clients happy is to communicate using the mode they prefer. That way, you can get your questions answered and keep your clients happy, all at the same time.

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7. Consider a Healthy Living Blueprint for the Office

Tax season can be stressful, especially as deadlines get close. But one way to help relieve that stress is to encourage healthy habits like eating well and exercise. This is especially true as time in the office gets longer. Granted, that is often when we just don’t want to spend time working out. And, it can be easier just to grab the quickest thing available to eat. But, consider an alternative. Have healthy snacks available at the office and encourage people to get up and move around some during the day. It can make a world of difference. And that difference can show itself in happier, more productive people, even during this busy time of year.


8. Plan Celebrations of Milestones

An old proverb says, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” And, it’s true! That’s why celebrating milestones is significant, especially during tax season. They don’t have to involve food or drink either. If everyone is working Saturdays at the office, consider a little celebration for a week accomplished. Maybe a quick competition, where everyone can take part. The winner receives some small prize. Perhaps to get off an hour earlier one day the next week. Everyone can use a little more time, and an award like that is something that everyone can use.


9. Think About the Need for Accountants Professional Liability Insurance

Even if you have all the measures in place to keep mistakes from happening, they still do. It’s just part of being human. That’s why managing your risk is so important. One way to do that is with accountants professional liability insurance. This insurance covers you when a client or former client sues you relating to professional services you provided. And, since lawsuits can be expensive, even if you’re not at fault, accountants professional liability insurance can be a grand investment against lost time, money and reputation.

We know tax season can be long and arduous. But, these best practices can make it better. And a better tax season is always a good thing.