Preserving your sanity in tax return season - Time Management techniques (Part Two)

In Part One we look at the pitfalls of not managing your time in tax return season and the impact on client service levels.

Here is a simple checklist of things for you to do in order to change things;

What will happen if you do nothing (does this rings any alarm bells with you?)

  • The starting point is to measure the problem. Compile a spreadsheet listing exactly how many tax returns are outstanding and accounts needed to complete before 31st January.
  • Identify the number ‘in progress’ and awaiting information.
  • By reference to the fee on each client and budget- note the hours required to complete each outstanding piece of work.
  • Use your production work planner system to evaluate how many available working hours you have as a firm between now and 31 January. That’s after taking into account the other work that is scheduled in for completion during that period.
  • Compare hours required versus hours available and then decide what is the target production and completion rate of returns and accounts that must be completed each week from now on.
  • Sort the outstanding client work by client grading. Focus on A grade clients first.
  • Ensure ( if you haven’t done so already) that clients who have yet to supply information despite being chased, receive a letter saying you cannot guarantee you will be able to meet the filing deadline if the information is not received in 7 days. Explain how you will have to schedule in the completion of their tax return in the next available slot which may well be after 31st January.
  • Identify which clients you ‘will go the extra mile for’. These will be you’re a grade clients who pay you enough to mean you will always work to meet a deadline for them. There may also be clients who you will extend good will to as they are a good referral source of introducing new clients to you or are related/connected to an existing A grade client.
  • Explain the processes above to your team and make one person responsible for updating the control sheet each week.
  • At your weekly production meeting, review the tax return control sheet and measure the movement to confirm you are on target for the completion rate you set out at the start.
  • With weekly up to date information you will be in a position of control to discuss with the team if it is likely additional hours are going to have to be worked and what the overtime policy (if any) is.
  • Communication is the key to keeping your team happy. Introduce a reward scheme for meeting targets and ensure you give plenty of praise and acknowledgement ongoing.
  • Where clients are late in providing information consider charging a premium fee if they want to guarantee their return and accounts are completed before the filing deadline. I know firms who do this to great effect and share a proportion of the increased fee with their team to reward extra hours worked.
  • Explain to clients (whether in the next scheduled meeting you have with them, by phone or e-mail) that your service offering is changing from now on and for the better! Discuss how you need to be able to give them best advice so they can plan and manage their own cash flow and personal budgets. In order to do this you need to complete tax returns as soon as possible after 5th April each year in order to give as much notice as possible of personal liabilities and when the tax payments will become due.
  • This new system will allow you to control your own workload, billing and cash flow.
  • Client service levels will automatically improve and clients will appreciate the fact you are communicating with them about what they see as important- cash and tax.
  • At the same time, it gives you justification for not responding unnecessarily to those ‘slow/poor’ clients who don’t provide information on a timely basis. You will have identified by now which clients deserve the ‘premium’ service and those that don’t.
  • Train your team to collect tax return information at the earliest opportunity- when completing accounts, management accounts, VAT returns or at any point when they have client contact.
  • Many firms fall into the trap of viewing ‘Tax Return’ completion as a separate service and miss many opportunities themselves to gather information when doing other work for the client.
  • Clients regularly complain that they give tax return information to their accountant with the accounting records only to have the job completed and records returned and then for someone to ask them for the information they already provided months later! This is poor.

Summary

As always, none of this is rocket science but a quick reminder of what you can accomplish with a few simple and effective strategies. Book out a couple of hours in your diary tomorrow and set to work on making this tax return deadline season different than any other!

October 2015 Copyright - Finola McManus Practice Perfect

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