Practice owner Susan Rahman looks to Sir Ranulph Fiennes for inspiration this month as she faces her fears about hitting her tax return challenge target.
- 227 tax returns
- 125 completed tax returns
- 102 unprocessed tax returns
We’ve completed 55% of tax returns by 28 August. That is not bad for someone who has just spent four weeks out of the office sitting on the Nile. I can really see us achieving this deadline of submitting all the tax returns by the 1st December. If we can complete 32 tax returns a month from September to November, then like the Christmas turkey, we are done.
I am really excited but alas not my staff. They seem so down and not at all enthusiastic; in fact, they are really killing my buzz. Chatting to my managers we all agree that preparing and submitting 102 tax returns in three months is more than achievable but, and there is always a but…
For the clients whose tax returns that are left to do and who have already been contacted more than five times, 25% of them have responded to say that they don’t think they can give us their papers before Christmas and the remaining 75% have not responded at all.
I would love to know how other accountants tackle the stragglers. What is going to happen when Making Tax Digital comes into force? Are we going to be burning the midnight oil four times a year, instead of once a year? Are other accountants going to be charging their clients for preparing their tax returns four times a year?
Last year I had a conversation with another accountant in practice and she told me that she offers clients a substantial discount if they submit their papers before September.
I thought long and hard about this and tied myself up in knots. Do I offer the discount to those clients who already hand their papers in time or do I penalise those clients who hand in their papers late?
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If I offer discounts, then I am already cutting the profit on a very slim margin and if I threaten to penalise the laggard clients then they will go to some one else. If there are any accountants that have tackled this successfully I would love to know.
I need incentives that are non-monetary as I don’t really think this works for my clients.
Last year by 31st August we had completed 87 tax returns and this year we have completed 38 tax returns more – a 17% increase in productivity.
I know exactly what or rather who has contributed to this success – Sir Ranulph Fiennes, yes, the great explorer. Planning the solo expeditions to the North and South Pole is a lot like planning the mammoth task of preparing and submitting 227 tax returns by 31st January 2019.
Both require careful step-by-step planning, anticipation of things that could slow down the progress of achieving the goals and the ability to think and act fast to stay on target. I am not sure how Sir Ranulph would feel about being compared to a South London accountancy practice, but the parallels are undeniably endless.
Having read Sir Ranulph’s book ‘Fear: Our ultimate challenge’, I was inspired to face my fears about certain aspects of my business. The increase in efficiency of 17% has not happened by chance, it has happened because I was brave enough to change three things in my business.
Fear number one: Embracing the cloud
This tax year I decided to move all my business software applications to the cloud. This has enabled me to track and monitor client relationships, clients work progress and potential problems areas when I am on the road, working from home or whilst on holiday.
I have been able to react and give guidance to my staff immediately by using my practice management software.
Efficiency has improved because it means that my staff can also work from home if they need to or address queries immediately.
Fear number two: Public accountability
Every year on the 31st January I promise myself never to work up to midnight, and every year I do the same thing over and over and have been doing so for the last 20 years.
This year I decided to set up the Taxathon. If I publicly let other accountants know that I was going to track my progress, I would do everything I could to achieve this goal. I am a motivating force in the office. My entire office is on board with this initiative. This has made it easier for me to get them to account for their work on the practice management platform.
Each of the staff track their progress using a colour coding system. Even those staff that are not directly involved in the preparation of the tax returns also have a vested interest as they can see that their chink in the chain, such as bookkeeping or payroll processing plays an integral part in the preparation of the tax returns.
This has helped to create a more cohesive team, and everyone has now personalised their dashboards in the practice management system to track each tax return’s progress. Often during the day, I will hear clapping and shouting when another tax return has been completed.
Fear number three: Staying away from the office for four weeks
I have never taken more than two weeks holiday at a time for fear that I will have no business to come back to.
But this year my first-born leaves for University and I wanted to spend time with him. So I took four weeks off and am writing this looking out at Luxor Temple across the Nile. Having moved everything to the cloud and incentivised my staff with a traffic light system and a trip to Amsterdam, I feel safe knowing that I will have a business when I get back.
But just to be sure I have been logging into my practice management software on a daily basis, the Taxathon goal will be achieved and I can monitor what is going on even if I am not there. Better to be safe than sorry.
Who would have known that Sir Ranulph Fiennes and I have so much in common?
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.