Small practice owner Susan Rahman shares the three processes that are already taking the stress out of her tax return challenge.
I am bouncing off the walls as I write this diary entry. I can hardly contain myself. It’s only the 19 July and we have completed 38% of our tax returns.
Current tax return statistics
- 224 tax returns
- 3 new tax returns
- Total number of tax returns to process 227
- 87 completed tax returns
Last year we had completed 83 tax returns by the end of August.
Looks like I may make that deadline of submitting all my tax returns by 1 December – Christmas may come early after all and have to keep my promise of taking my team to Amsterdam (I feel a bit short changed now because last year I took the team to Paris for completing the tax returns by 31 January).
I know exactly why we are ahead this year. My manager and I spent one solid week reconciling our tax software to our practice management software so that the numbers matched exactly. This means that we knew the exact number of tax returns we had to prepare instead of a ballpark number (that was out by multiples of 10 previously). This, in turn, means we know exactly the number of accounts we have to prepare, which means we know the number of books and records we have to chase. I feel so in control this year.
This year I have introduced three processes to try and achieve my goal. Being a small business of 10 I never really thought of being process driven believing that is for the larger firms. But having fixed processes in place means that we have received over 40% of client papers by the end of June 2018.
(I wonder if it’s a coincidence that we have received 40% of client tax return papers and we have prepared approximately 40% of tax returns?)
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Process one: Get those papers in
The first process I have put in place is called “get those papers in!” a five touch point process to getting in the papers.
- Email the client with a reminder that the tax year end is approaching
- Email just after the year-end and encourage clients to start getting their papers ready
- Email a month later and ask clients to give a date when the papers will be in.
- Email the client and ask for papers in a very pleading tone.
- Email a photo of your team harassed to evoke sympathy and laughter.
This is not labour intensive. We set up the email templates which then go out automatically on the date and time of our choosing. It is a passive process that requires no one to sit and send out copious emails.
Process two: Check and communicate
The second process is “check and communicate” the papers within 24 hours of receiving them to make sure that nothing is missing. We send a summary of the previous year’s tax return to the client for them to use as a checklist and then we use the same list.
As soon as the papers are received the “checker” logs its receipt in Onkho and then an automatic email goes out to the client to say we have all their papers. If something is missing we communicate immediately with the client to let them know. It’s a lovely passive way to keep in touch and interact with clients to let them know that we are still thinking of them.
Process three: Look, listen and motivate
The third process was a little harder and needed a little more thought I call this process “Look, listen and motivate”.
I looked to see how the accounts staff and the admin staff interact and worked together. The admin staff are usually disconnected from the tax return process other than to mop the brows and fetch endless cups of coffee as the deadline approaches for their colleagues.
So, this year I asked the admin staff how they could be involved in the process of getting the tax returns done by 1 December.
The team suggested that when the admin staff answers the phone they quickly check Onkho to see if the client’s papers have arrived and if they haven’t then they remind them. I also waved a carrot under their nose by promising that if all the papers are in by September 2018 the entire team will go the Amsterdam for a weekend.
So every Monday it is the job of the admin team to let us know how many client papers are outstanding and often I now hear the staff shout with glee informing the rest of the team that “they have got the papers”.
Such tactics do not work with the actual accountants doing the work. Strangely it’s the satisfaction of actually meeting the deadline that motivates them but we had an interesting conversation about when you count a job as being completed. To me the job is complete when the job has been approved, signed and submitted to the relevant authorities.
How to solve a problem like Mike and Gilly?
Given that we are in a race to complete the taxathon by the 1 December, ie all 227 tax returns signed and submitted. I am reviewing the status of the tax returns almost daily and interestingly enough, one team member called Mike* seems to have completed 40 returns to date and the other Gilly* has 47 tax returns paused and incomplete.
Of course, on the surface, Gilly looks like she is not performing as well as Mike but it’s all about the perception of when is a tax return marked as being completed.
Mike views tax returns as completed when his job is done and is marking the job as completed but the tax returns are not approved by the client and have not been submitted to HMRC. Gilly like me only counts the job as completed when the tax return is approved, signed, submitted and never has to be thought of again.
I wonder what other accountants do and when they mark on their workflow tools as a job being completed? It’s not just about marking a job as completed because it’s about keeping my staff motivated and involved.
39% of employees feel that their input is not sought after, in a small business like mine keeping everyone on board and motivated is key.
I realised that ticking a job was a huge motivating factor for Mike, where submitting the tax return gave Gilly job satisfaction. So how did I keep both team members and myself happy? With a cunning plan that both Mike and Gilly believed they came up with.
Both team members are my stars so I had to reach a happy compromise. We have introduced steps in the tax return preparation process. That way Mike gets the satisfaction of marking a tax return as being completed when he has entered in all the information, leaving steps approval and submitted outstanding and Gilly gets to mark the steps as they are completed. As for me I feel satisfied that I can see the jobs as paused in bright gold and know they are still not submitted.
So by spending a bit of time, putting in processes, breaking down the tax return preparation into steps and thinking of motivational rewards to incentivise everyone in the office means that we are all happy and are on track to meet our taxathon deadline of the 1st December 2018. Fingers crossed.
How many tax returns do you have left? What new processes have you implemented to take the stress out of this year's busy season?
About Susan Rahman
Susan Rahman, FCA, Managing Partner, runs KWSR, a thriving firm in South West London and she has put together a a secret diary she calls ‘Growing Pains’ about surviving running an accountancy business and sometimes, even enjoying it. In the diary, Susan looks at the day-to-day challenges facing a busy accountant and sets herself a target of a race to finish and submit (and maybe to get paid) all her client's tax returns by the 24th December 2018.