Spring cleaning ideas for your practice

With the passing of the self assessment deadline last Friday, AccountingWEB members are already tidying away the tax detritus and considering their priorities for the next month or two.

AccountingWEB member woolley11 got the ball rolling with an Any Answers query last week asking what other practitioners planned to do.

On his agenda were: marketing to generate new clients; reviewing office procedures and software; and keeping the non-tax work flowing.

Essex accountant and rjoconnor81 were looking forward to a few days off and sleep respectively, but Ireallyshouldknowthisbut responded: “What is this break thing you speak of?”

Research carried out on AccountingWEB at this time last year found this was a common response for accountants, 81% of whom said they were going to be back at their desks after the SA deadline passed.

However 2013 may have been an anomaly, as many of our members indicated they had to get to grips with the real time information (RTI) regime for payroll. That distraction isn’t as prevalent this year, so could there be more scope for administrative reviews and internal improvements?

Thanks to sponsorship from Xero, we’re going to find out by repeating our tax season survey to identify what firms can do to make tax season better.

Last year, respondents identified the following as their priorities to smooth this year’s tax season:

Introduce higher rate to penalise late clients

44%

Better system for incomplete records

32%

Chase clients earlier

11%

Install integrated tax software

9%

Better organisation of self and staff

5%

Nothing, it ran smoothly

3%

But did our respondents follow through, and which of their initiatives had the most effect? This year’s tax season survey will build on last year’s findings and investigate:

  • How January 2014 compared to last year and whether accountants were more or less likely to take a recuperative break.
  • An assessment of HMRC’s performance with 2012-13 returns - where and how could it improve tax season?
  • Priority areas for making self assessment better next year, including new fee structures and client communication initiatives.
  • Internal processes where firms could improve.

As happened last year, the survey findings and suggestions from respondents will be turned into a report offering practical tips on practice improvements that can make the most difference to the workings of your firm.

Some of the comments and responses from AccountingWEB members already suggest that laying the groundwork now can pay dividends later in the year. Late clients remain the biggest problem in January, and athough practice development experts are always telling accountants not to undervalue themselves, many practitioners are wary about introducing punitive or premium rates.

But introducing penalty fees doesn’t have to spell the end of client relationships, as The Innkeeper found out in a recent thread:  “Have any of you actually charged more and have you retained the clients or have they walked?”

Andy Partridge was one of several who had adopted this approach and survived: “Few clients will leave on the basis of fees alone. If they believe in you and the relationship is strong they will stay. They will probably be just as late next year, though.”

As with so many client relationship and service issues, dealing effectively with late clients is down to communication. Ken Howard uses email to remind his clients at every opportunity about the need to pass on information needed to complete their tax returns. “Once you have regular direct contact, by email or phone, you've opened up communication channels and then you can get your message across far more effectively,” he advised.

The Accountancy Partnership, meanwhile, cracked the problem by putting in an automated reminder system to badger clients until their returns were received.

Complete the tax season survey to share your experiences of self assessment season - respondents will be entered into a prize draw for an Apple iPad Air, with £20 cinema vouchers for five runners-up. And feel free to your suggestions below for the most effective things practitioners can do to make tax work flow more smoothly throughout the year.