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Why self assessment stress is all your fault

With all his tax returns wrapped up before Christmas, Kevin Whitehouse has some advice for those feeling the busy season pressure: there’s no one else to blame but you.  

13th Dec 2019
Owner and founder Prime Entry
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Office deadline

If you take part in the January busy season, which for some means dealing with low quality work and even lower quality fees, then I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you have no one else to blame but yourself.

“But, it’s the clients’ fault," you might protest. "They didn’t [insert excuse here].”

I’m here to tell you that it's not their fault. If you have rubbish clients who are reluctant to pay you and won’t do what you want, and if you allow the work to come in close to a deadline and put yourself under unnecessary pressure, the only person at fault is you.

Your clients don’t lay awake at night worrying about their business and suddenly think “I need a tax return, that will solve my problem”. But that’s what some are trying to sell them. Clients want more from you and most will be happy to pay you. They want reassurance, more help, support, someone to talk to, and someone to help them, and while you are there, take care of all that compliance so they don’t have to worry.

To do that well, you might want to consider two important factors. First, you need to understand who your ideal client is. What they look like? What do they really need from you? And secondly, how do you deliver your service? Maybe it’s time your clients look upon you as a benefit to them and not a hindrance.

Even if you are employed working for a firm struggling with all these tax returns and the deadline, you know something needs to change.

So, how do you fix this for next year? You need to make a big shift in how you look after your clients. This means you need to do something different.

When I say different, I don’t mean chasing information a little bit earlier or putting your foot down and stating “This won’t happen next year” isn’t a change. You’ll regress to the norm and do it all over again. No, you need to change your thinking. But will you? Will you really step up and get uncomfortable and change things?

The evidence to date is most won’t. Most will carry on making small insignificant changes. They might lower their prices, but then take on more and more work and invariably burn through good staff, damage their own reputation and more importantly, fail to serve the client properly.

No one likes change but unless you take action now, before long it will be spring, the sun will start to shine, the days will get longer and the few good clients on your list will soon be the immediate focus and the pain of January will be long forgotten. Then as quick as a flash, the clocks will be changing, summer will be over and it’ll be too late.

Planning and implementing change takes time and costs money. And although it might be painful, the outcome could mean an end to deadline madness and tax return stress. Instead, you’ll have a better business for you and your staff, more fun, more profits and more importantly, better service and rewards for your clients. 

Now is the time to really look at this in time for next year.

Replies (3)

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
13th Dec 2019 16:23

Have to admit I'm with you on this Kevin.
It's rare for me to be less than sympathetic with accountants. But on this issue I have long made the same point.

The 31 Jan deadline has now been with us for over 20 years. Many accountants have trained their clients to respond appropriately to requests to supply data in good time. But some have largely given up trying to avoid the Jan rush - and the attendant stress.

Biggest problem, in my experience, is that accountants don't put the same effort into getting data in Oct/Nov (or earlier) as they do in January. And they accept that Jan will be a challenge - but they're so used to it.....

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
15th Dec 2019 19:51

If you are wondering what the answers are, and facing a nightmare January this time around, do this next time around:

1. In October write to clients needing to supply data. Tell them they will pay an extra 20% (£100 minimum) if you don't have the data by 30 November. I sent 28 such letters this year, in my view at least 20 of those would leave it until 15 January if the letter just said "please" with no money involved.

2. On 5 December write to clients still needing to supply data. Invoice them the £100 or 20%. Tell them they will pay 50% (£250 minimum) if you don't have the data by 31 December. I sent 2 such letters this year, 1 client left after the letter in stage 1 and the rest sent in the data.

3. That 1 client always gets the second letter, he has always paid the £100 even though he pleads poverty. I can totally afford to see him leave.

I do exactly the same for limited companies, £250 if they get to the final month which exactly matches the Companies House fine. I currently do the accounts for 99 limited companies and have never missed a CH deadline for any client since I set up in 2009. No limited company client has paid the £250 extra fee more than once, because they either figure out they need to stop deadline chasing me, or take their rubbishy deadline-chasing habits elsewhere which is totally fine with me.

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Kevin Whitehouse
By Kevin Whitehouse
20th Dec 2019 14:04

Good points from both Mark Lee and Mr Mischief.

But, and I quote:

"When I say different, I don’t mean chasing information a little bit earlier or putting your foot down and stating “This won’t happen next year” isn’t a change. You’ll regress to the norm and do it all over again."

The whole process is wrong, it's broken. To put it right for you and your clients you need to change the way you serve your clients and not be a servant to the system!

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