And as the rest of the population prepare to wind down for a nice, relaxing Christmas, the accounting community are bracing themselves for one thing...
But fear not, because here at Pixie we have you covered.
We're all about making life simpler, so here are 5 'fresh' tips for making tax season less...taxing!
1. Map out your process
Your first step should be to spend no more than one hour thinking about what your tax preparation process should look like.
The goal of this quick exercise is to design the simplest workflow you can get away with, that minimises the chance of work going back and forward or getting stuck.
If you're unsure where to start, here's a set of questions to get your creative juices flowing:
How many client touch-points do you want to have? We recommend at least three: one for requesting information, a second one for confirming any details you feel are incorrect, and a last one to review and sign the return.
How long do you want to wait for the client on each touch-point? It's good customer service practice to give your clients some time to collect their information and reply to your emails. Not too much time though, our goal is to keep the ball moving up field. If you're unsure make it 3 days.
When preparing the tax return, which internal steps do you want to ensure are followed? I have found that this depends on experience. The more experienced accountants tend to prefer a very simple approach, almost always a single checklist item. If you're just coming into the field and don't yet feel at ease with this process, you may want to add a note to double check all the forms and ensure nothing gets left out.
How long do you expect these internal steps to take as a whole? A good measure should be how much time you'll need to prepare a tax return.
Will you do a review meeting in-person, or remotely, or none at all? For the clients you offer high-touch service, it might be a good idea to hold an in-person tax return review meeting, or at least a Zoom/Skype call. This meeting needs preparation and booking.
At this point you should have a timeline in front of you: 3 client touch-points x 3 days each, plus e.g. 2 days to prepare a tax return, brings the total cycle time for a tax return to 11 days. Although most of it is waiting time, it'll give you a good idea of the latest day for starting a tax return job and ensure it meets the deadline.
Given our filing deadline here in the UK is 31 January, using this example workflow the latest date for taking on a new tax preparation job will be the 20 January.
Although I'm sure you've all had those deadline day clients in the past where the job needs completing in just a few hours!
2. Break up the job into manageable chunks
The last thing we want is to only start working on the tax return the day before it's due.
Following the suggestion above, to keep the job moving forward we can include milestones at key checkpoints in the process, ensuring small tasks are completed in a timely fashion by the client and yourself.
This is how a tax preparation workflow looks like in Pixie using a combination of regular tasks, email tasks and milestones:
As a razor-sharp reader, you'll have already noticed that you don't need Pixie to manage this process, you can just as well track it on an Excel spreadsheet. I find this to be the greatest trait of simple and clear processes: you can implement them in any way you want, even sticky notes on a wall, and it'll work all the same!
There are however a few other advantages to using Pixie, which leads me onto point number three (and four and five)...
3. Use a secure, GDPR-compliant document exchange
If you've been using email attachments to exchange information with your clients, you'll know how much of a headache it is to keep track and finding the files you need to get the job done.
Pixie has a built-in feature that delivers all the benefits of a document portal without any of the hassles, such as having to maintain and support client access.
In the example workflow above, I added a link to my email asking the client to upload their files to a secure location. As they upload the documents, it'll instantly show up in the files of my workflow:
The files will also be linked to the client, making it easy to refer to and review when the next tax season comes around.
It also means you comply with all the new GDPR rules so the ICO won't come knocking on your door...hopefully!
4. Track your individual productivity
As you get more tax preparation work, you'll hopefully appreciate not feeling overwhelmed by the simple process you have defined, and feeling in control of deadlines by having smaller milestones to work towards.
Pixie can automatically track these deadlines for you, arranging and distributing the workload across multiple days or weeks:
At this point, you should already have some idea of the process you want to follow and how to use Pixie to help you manage the tax preparation work. The last point I'd like to cover is team collaboration.
Tax season tends to be an all-hands-on-deck affair, and it's not uncommon to hire temporary help. You want to ensure everyone is clear on what they need to do next, and you'll want to monitor progress of the various tasks.
Once you've created the jobs, you can delegate them to other team members. This will move items off your to-do list and into theirs. Everyone will have easy access to the email conversations and documents related to a job. If you need it, you can transfer work across different team members too.
I've heard from other practice owners that they do weekly one-to-one meetings with their team members to discuss progress and blockers. To help you prepare for this meeting Pixie has a couple of reports:
In the Team section, click on each individual team member to see the work they currently have in progress;
In the Work Report section, define a filter to help you see what work that individual has completed in the past week.
For nearly anyone who prepares tax returns, tax season is a stressful time of the year.
You can take back some control by designing and following the simplest workflow. It's easy to give in to temptation and add more and more tasks. Then before you know it you've spent days designing a workflow that's unmanageable.
Less is more!
The goal is not to micromanage, but to stay in control, know where things are headed and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
We designed Pixie to not get in the way of getting things done and letting you know where everything stands at any given point.
It won't break the bank, with a single flat-price, regardless of how many team members you have.
This means you can get your whole team on board without any additional cost, even if they are only temporary staff to help you cope with tax season.