How to become stress resilient

With Self Assessment season looming in the background, accountants may find the winter months rather stressful. 

As workloads increase with chaotic tax records and Self Assessment returns, it's important for accountants to learn to take care of their stress levels. 

CABA, who recently launched a research project into accountants' well-being, said this can be done by building resilience. 

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  • Stress resilience
  • Stress management 
  • Striking a good work/life balance 
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Comments
Jason Dormer's picture

Stress    6 thanks

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

Some good tips there.

I would add that if you want to alleviate / reduce stress you need to:

 

 - Get rid of unreasonable clients;

 - Deadline everything and stick to it (ie 3 reminders, third and final one advising that if records are not bought in by X date then the accounts, tax return, VAT return whatever, will not be prepared in time and you will not be liable.

 - Charge what you are worth and make sure you get paid - far too many accountants are very busy yet no / little money in the bank - adding to stress levels.

 - Find a hobby and do it at least once a week.

 - Work on the 90/10 rule in that you cannot control 10% of your day but 90% is made up of you reaction to it.

 - Put things into perspective - compare what we are doing against that of the armed forces for example

 - Don't put profit above all else - have time off, go on holiday, have sufficient staff levels, refuse to take on some work, look at the whole picture.

Finally, enjoy it or pack it in.  Life's too short.

 

Jason Dormer

Seahorse (UK) Ltd - For Accountants & Bookkeepers

 

 

ShirleyM's picture

Jason

ShirleyM | | Permalink

I wholeheartedly agree with you.

I would add that the biggest single cause of stress is crappy inconsiderate clients. They are really not worth keeping ... even when they do pay on time!

Jason Dormer's picture

Shirley

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

Yep, some people advocate pricing them up to put up with the additional burden but not me.  What price do you out on you and your staffs mental well being?  I say get rid (or even better don't take on) and let them stress someone else out!  There are more than enough good ones out there not to tolerate the small minority of bad ones.

I think that you have to have some experience of the bad ones first though to know the warning signs going forward.  I know that I have had some, and put up with them for too long in the past, not a mistake I'd make again!

Paul Scholes's picture

seconded    1 thanks

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

It's a bit like being advised to build up your resilience and coping strategies in order to deal with a flat tyre or dirty printer cartridge.  Surely isn't it better to repair/clean or get new ones? 

Once the light goes on you realise the annual stress-fest is down to the accountants more than it is the clients.

Bob Harper's picture

Reason why

Bob Harper | | Permalink

When you want someone to do something it helps to use a marketing concept called the "reason why".

In Cialdini's book (which is a must for everyone in business) you'll how powerful the word "because" is. It literally gets people to comply with requests because it is hard-wired.

I'm working with an accountant whose clients have responded really positively to a request for information so that January is not stressful. He explained that his wife is expecting their first child.

I would not recommend using this one because my guess is that clients would suss you out after a few years, but I would suggest using the human touch. Forget discounts for early records, forget fines for late records....instead just explain to clients how it makes you feel at a personal level and how stress makes you less effective for everyone. You can now use YouTube to make it REALLY personal.

Having said that, clients that leave things to the last minute (like booking a flight) are opportunities for Value Pricing. I would recommend quoting 50% to 100% higher than normal on the basis of overtime being time and half or double time. Clients understand that.

It's a bit late for this year but make a list of offenders this year and start working on them March 2013 and my guess is that you will dramatically improve your workflow.

As regards the ones that don't respond and won't pay a premium just withdraw your offer of support.

Bob

 

 

mr. mischief's picture

Sorted!    1 thanks

mr. mischief | | Permalink

No stress here.  January is not tax return submission month, it is "Business Development with no other accountants in the room" month.

26 September - letter sent to 27 clients yet to file SA, informing them of a 20% up front price increase on 15 November if they had not produced the records by then.

Today - letters going out to the 6 remaining clients who still have not produced the records, informing them of the 20% variation which now takes effect.  Also that I need the records by 20 December or the variation will increase from 20% to 50%.

Last year not a single client paid the 50%.  The only clients who have left are the ones I have yellow carded and then red carded for not fulilling the actions on the yellow card letter.  I have around 15 or 20 clients who always filed in January with previous accountants who have filed by October every year with me.

Be absolutely clear where you stand with people, and put a price on your time in January, and the stress will be zero.  Twice in January 2012 I was the only accountant in a meeting room with 80 to 100 small business owners, any other month in the year and I would be one of about 6 accountants.

I love January!

 

Jason Dormer's picture

Bob

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

Agreed.  It never ceases to amaze me how many get stressed out at Christmas / January.

To not ruin your Christmas - say to all March year ends that the cut of for delivery of records is (say) 15 November (thats my deadline - just happens to be today) otherwise no guarantee of timely filing or the fee goes up 50%.  Otherwise, forget relaxing with the family and having a bit of me time during Christmas week, it would be a case of working frantically to process accounts.

For self assessment, same thing - deadline it early or fee goes up - two years running not tolerated even if paying premium, all new enquiries in January do on the basis that it's a one off for that year only, and going forward you want the records by June.

It's all about managing your clients, we manage our time, our money, our staff, our business - why are so many afraid to manage their clients?  If you don't then human nature as it is dictates that some (not all) clients will walk all over you.  And that's when the stress kicks in.

Obviously some flexibility can be afforded as judgement calls but if you have some sort of policy as a starting point then you will begin to regain control and regain your sanity.

I go so far as putting it in the engagement letter and the fixed fee is strictly on the basis that the records are presented between 3 to 6 months of year end.

 

 

Bob Harper's picture

Jason

Bob Harper | | Permalink

As you know, I have a mixed bag of work/revenue; MORE software, Websites, Crunchers franchise and private marketing engagements. They are all very closely related but in the last year I have also taken on a handful of accounting clients.

I have taken the accounting work on to help move Crunchers from bookkeepers to accountants, mainly to test out the Improving the Numbers framework. But, it has got me thinking of more down to earth/practical things like deadlines.

The guidelines I am developing are around:

  • Bookkeeping being done daily, weekly or monthly
  • Bank reconciliation complete by the middle of the following month (at the latest)
  • Accounts completed 8 weeks after the year-end

If clients don't want to do this it suggest a) they may not be the right fit or b) they may welcome extra support from us (that means higher fees). However, as our market is start-ups and very small businesses I doubt they will want to pay for the extra support package.

The fixed priced price is a condition of the agreement, there should be others on you and the client.

By the way, I found it really enjoyable getting my hands dirty again.

Bob

 

ShirleyM's picture

Christmas break

ShirleyM | | Permalink

For the last few years we have closed between Christmas & the New Year, and January is fairly quiet due to my brilliant admin lady who gets our clients organised, so everything is done and dusted in plenty of time.

Last year I took on some 'late arrivals' in January and I wasn't convinced they were worthwhile clients but gave them the benefit of the doubt. Most have got their returns in earlier this year, but the remainder are on dodgy ground.

memyself-eye's picture

I get stressed    2 thanks

memyself-eye | | Permalink

reading that "a huge amount of accountants suffer from stress"

when it should be "a huge number.."     :)

The best stress reliever is, and has always been, a good pub.

Rachael_Power's picture

Thank you

Rachael_Power | | Permalink

memyself-eye wrote:

reading that "a huge amount of accountants suffer from stress"

when it should be "a huge number.."     :)

The best stress reliever is, and has always been, a good pub.

Thanks for pointing that out, we have amended the article.

Amount v Number

chatman | | Permalink

Rachael Power wrote:

memyself-eye wrote:

reading that "a huge amount of accountants suffer from stress"

when it should be "a huge number.."     :)

Thanks for pointing that out, we have amended the article.

What is wrong with "a huge amount of accountants"? Is there a grammatical reason? I looked up "amount" to see if it was a countable/non-countable issue but it didn't help.

Please no-one tell me why a huge amount of accountants have something wrong with them

TaxTeddy's picture

Learn to say "No"

TaxTeddy | | Permalink

It took me years but I finally learned to say no - in a nice way. Really helps.

As an alternative I sometimes say, "OK, but it will cost you a LOT more". That helps too, I find.

January networking - really no stress?

Thehazyman | | Permalink

Sounds like a good plan but what if some of those 80 to 100 small business owners needed a tax return completed that month?  Would you say no to avoid the stress or quote a premium January rate only to see them stay with their existing accountants? Good client relationships should not involve fines as HMRC and Companies House are more than happy to issue those.  If a client always drops off their information in January then at least you can plan for it so I can't see where the stress is?  That said, I have a very good tax department!

 

johnjenkins's picture

If you have

johnjenkins | | Permalink

9 months stress free and the other 3 manic, I don't think that is too bad. Look at nurses and doctors. they can't "value price" (sorry Bob). So let's stop moaning and get on with the job that we chose to do.

@ShirleyM. A client that pays on time is a good client. If awkward you just charge that bit extra knowing they will pay on time.

ERP_Consultant_Dalbir's picture

Learn to say "No" and automate tasks as much as possible

ERP_Consultant_... | | Permalink

TaxTeddy wrote:

It took me years but I finally learned to say no - in a nice way. Really helps.

As an alternative I sometimes say, "OK, but it will cost you a LOT more". That helps too, I find.

 

Wise words from the bear.

Automating your internal processes in preparing accounts and SA's; tasking the clients and giving them deadlines to submit information also helps in relieving stress and relieving your parctice of clients that cause stress.

 

Dalbir

Arithmo Online Accounting Software

Jason Dormer's picture

Never mind all that...    1 thanks

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

I'm still reeling from the news that Bob is getting his hands dirty :)

ShirleyM's picture

Not for me, John

ShirleyM | | Permalink

johnjenkins wrote:

9 months stress free and the other 3 manic, I don't think that is too bad. Look at nurses and doctors. they can't "value price" (sorry Bob). So let's stop moaning and get on with the job that we chose to do.

@ShirleyM. A client that pays on time is a good client. If awkward you just charge that bit extra knowing they will pay on time.

All of our clients pay on time, so that isn't a problem.

I really can't cope with uncooperative clients who seem to make the job as difficult as possible, and the whingers and moaners (and outrageous excuses) and how it is everyone's fault but theirs.

I don't like to just put their fees up, else they just have something else to whinge and moan about, or get even less cooperative so they get their 'money's worth'.

I am a bit of a 'worrier' (and worry about their returns more than they do) so I would would rather do without clients that cause me stress.

johnjenkins's picture

@ShirleyM

johnjenkins | | Permalink

Of course we worry about our clients. That is the name of the game. That's the challenge. OK HMRC make it more and more difficult each year. They expect Accountants and business people to be perfect and compliant in everyway. If not PENALTIES. This will ease once they realise they are not getting anywhere and the Government coffers are still empty.

@Jason. Are you sure it's Bob's hands that are getting dirty?

Jason Dormer's picture

John

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

"A client that pays on time is a good client. If awkward you just charge that bit extra knowing they will pay on time"

I once had a client who -

 - Was always late so we could never plan the work

 - When he did drop it off he wanted it turned around urgently

  - Was rude to staff (and me)

 - Never listened to advice

 - Called me during anti social hours whilst I was at home with my family, always urgent, always rude, never considerate

 - And was an all round stressball, energy sapping pain in the backside.

Yet he always paid on time, every time.  Why did he do this?  My guess is that he though to himself that providing he was paying his fees on a timely basis then we would put up with him.  Not the case and he was shown the door.

But by your thoughts you would consider him a good client?

 

 

BKD's picture

Make your mind up, Bob    4 thanks

BKD | | Permalink

Bob Harper wrote:

Having said that, clients that leave things to the last minute (like booking a flight) are opportunities for Value Pricing. I would recommend quoting 50% to 100% higher than normal on the basis of overtime being time and half or double time. Clients understand that.

Basing fees on overtime rates sounds to me very much like time-based cost-plus pricing.

johnjenkins's picture

@Jason

johnjenkins | | Permalink

Good points Jason. I never give my mobile or home number to clients. There are a couple of exceptions but they are what I would call blue chip clients and I know if they phone at home then they do need pretty urgent advice.

Some people come across rude but really they are just blunt. The fact that they pay on time and don't argue with the bill means they are happy with your service and therefore, yes, I would consider them a good client. Jason the real answer is for you to control your clients and not let them control you. I know that is easier said than done, but if a client knows you won't stand any nonesense you're halfway there.

Jason Dormer's picture

John

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

Yes I agree the clients need to be controlled and the vast majority, with coercion and education, can be controlled.  My advice is to not go anywhere near, or lose, the small minority who will never change, are selfish, and show no consideration.

Agree re the mobile number - for blue chips only and for emergencies only - you live and learn!

 

Bob Harper's picture

Mindset

Bob Harper | | Permalink

@BKD - relax...I'd never think about charging by the hour or basing the fee on how long something takes; it's just one way of explaining to clients that if they leave it late the will pay. Well spotted though!

Bob

Pricing works

cmg | | Permalink

I got aggressive with clients this year, following two Januarys with noticeably increased stress levels, but am now suffering from the law of unintended consequences.

This year I told all my "always late" clients that if they got their records in by the end of October, I wouldn't increase their fee, but that if they didn't, the fee would increase by 10%. It worked a treat, and only one didn't come in. But now I've got a problem with those same clients already chasing for their accounts and Tax Returns. "Where are they? You only took a fortnight last year." 

All I seem to have done is move the stress two months earlier . . . . .    Groan.

Yes, I know. Get rid of the clients. They're clearly not worth it. But for all the moaning, they pay well, and every practice needs good-paying clients.

Jason Dormer's picture

Jason Dormer    1 thanks

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

cmg

 

That's something that is always going to happen.  The way round it is to agree a return date on delivery of records.  If you agree a date at the outset (one that works for you and the client) then you won't get chased up before that date

 

The clients that have tax bills to pay may want the returns back quickly to plan their liability but the salary / dividend mix directors with no personal tax to pay aren't usually that fussed when they are done, as long as they are on time.

 

With the clients saying that you only took a fortnight last year explain that this way of working caused a real problem for you and that you are planning the work better going forward, to the mutual benefit of you and your clients.  No one could really argue with that.

Paul Scholes's picture

Make it earlier    1 thanks

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Our deadline has been 3 months for 5 years now and whilst we have a sliding scale of increased charge, we hardly need them as most clients call to say, "dog's eaten the bank statements" or similar so we give them a few extra weeks.

The financial disincentive to be good is there as a fall back but is not the prime motivation, it's giving someone a deadline that is key and 3 months should be more than ample to get info together.

If you make your deadline 31 October, you're just asking for trouble as 1st or 31st of January are not that far off and people want to know what their tax bills are, plus, as we found when we used it, over half of our work arrived in the last week in October creating a manic November/December.  With 30 June (5 July) clients can forget about it so we don't get pestered, plus we tell them that Summer/Autumn is our busy period.

Thanks guys. I did make the

cmg | | Permalink

Thanks guys. I did make the point in my letter that money was not a factor, and it was all about reducing stress. Seven long days a week for a month just isn't on, especially at my age, and at least I can look forward to a rather more relaxed January this time.

I did get one interesting response: "Sorry, I'm camping in Japan at the moment", which was a new one on me, so I gave him some time, and saw him last week. 

It's all good, even if I do like to whinge!

mr. mischief's picture

standing orders also help!

mr. mischief | | Permalink

I think another way of getting in control is by offering a first year discount for standing order clients.  I've done this from day 1 back in 2009.  Over 75% of my business is on standing orders, and every single client except 1 - who is a near-zero credit risk - with a bill over £500 per year has signed up to standing orders.

For a business with tight cash flow, delaying the accountancy fee is in my view one reason for deadline chasing.  If you get someone with that mentality on to a monthly payment, suddenly they turn up within a month of the year-end!  Now the value for money is in getting their books done soon after year-end, not putting it off as long as possible.

January is my best business development month.  Not only am I the only accountant in the room, I am relaxed and cheerful because there is no deadline chasing to get stressed about.  I've also picked up several clients who had been let down by their accountants due to the January workload, knocked out their accounts in time for the deadline, and converted them from deadline chasers into model clients who turn up well before the deadline.

STRESS

StevieG | | Permalink

I have full collection of Laurel and Hardy DVDs which I will play during if I feel stress coming on better than pub visits or running round the park!!

Kent accountant's picture

What's wrong with being busy in January?

Kent accountant | | Permalink

Load of fuss about nothing.

What's wrong with being busy in January?

chatman | | Permalink

Kent accountant wrote:

What's wrong with being busy in January?.

Nothing if it doesn't bother you.

Paul Scholes's picture

busy is ok manic is not

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Especially when there is no need.

johnjenkins's picture

@ ShirleyM

johnjenkins | | Permalink

I shall be in Perth racecourse for the new year celebrations, deep in snow in my motorhome. Fantastic way to start January - all cobwebs cleared and ready for the onslaught. Then always on a downer in february so it's off to somewhere warm for a few weeks.

ShirleyM's picture

I hope you have a good time, John

ShirleyM | | Permalink

I'll be at home snug and warm with my big hairy pooch, watching all the film repeats that we usually get at Christmas, but it wouldn't be the same without them :)