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Survival tips for tax season
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Efficiency tips for tax season


Responding to the need for constructive encouragement and motivation ahead of the US tax busy season, Alison Ball convened an international panel to share ideas about how to survive the annual ordeal.

14th Mar 2023
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Introducing the panellists to this month’s Tax Season Survival Guide webinar, host Alison Ball commented: “When we came up with this idea, I immediately thought of these five people, who have some really awesome things to say on this subject.”

The panellists are:

  • Dawn W Brolin, CPA CFE, the profession’s “designated motivator” and founder of Powerful Accounting LLC
  • Orumé Hays CPA. founder and CEO of her own boutique practice and a vice president of the New York State Society of CPAs
  • Caleb Jenkins, a Modesto, California-based enrolled agent 
  • Randy Crabtree CPA
  • UK chartered accountant Charlie Carne.

These hardened practitioners have years of tax season experience between them, notably Jenkins, who confessed during the webinar to having prepared his first tax return “around the age of 13-14”. An hour spent in their company will be repaid with practical tips ranging all the way from delegation and client communication techniques to software and wellbeing strategies.

AICPA tax season advice

To kick the session off, Ball presented some suggestions from the AICPA that were generally approved by the panel, with a few clarifications:

  1. Send up a flare Let all your friends and family know you’ll be working 60 hrs, six days a week. While other panellists were doubtful, Hays clarified that CPAs get bombarded with emails. “It’s more about just letting family members know: if I don’t respond, you’ll know why.”
  2. Pass the torch Have someone else organise the things you normally organise. 
  3. Silence your phone Generally agreed, though Hays quipped with a guilty laugh: “How is that going to happen?”
  4. Make sure you’re reachable.
  5. Make time to recharge “That’s a good one.”
  6. Eat at your desk The advice from the panel was mainly no on this one, though Jenkins admitted: “I do it, because I’ve eaten at my desk basically all of my life.”
  7. Prepare for letdown afterwards Think about it more positively, advised the panel. “I like an after-tax-season getaway to refresh and plan,” said Jenkins. “Have something to prepare for and have something to look forward to,” added Crabtree.
  8. Take time off afterwards “Absolutely.”

Top tips from the panel

Each of the panellists was polled for their best idea to maintain productivity and sanity during tax season. Dawn Brolin led off by saying the motivation for her hyper-efficient approach to tax season was so she could make time to coach a collegiate softball team. “I moved to a 35-hour week because I found something that happens during tax season that I wanted to do. I am my own boss and I can set my own hours.”

To ensure she could make those practice sessions – and even take a week off in March to go to spring break training in Texas – she purged the troublesome clients and “evolved the technology so that when I’m not there, my office is still running and moving things on”.

For Orumé Hays, effective time management during tax season starts with delegation: “I was beginning to take on too much stuff, so I got an executive assistant. She has been a life-saver – responding to emails and following up with prospects and clients. That has been a big lifesaver. I’m now in a position where I’m able to hire new staff.”

Charlie Carne piped up with a UK perspective. US accountants might be shocked to learn that their UK peers get 10 months rather than 3.5 months after the tax year end to prepare client returns. “The problem is, of course, our clients know that, so I get clients sending stuff on the day before the deadline.”

To counteract that tendency, Carne starts to send increasingly urgent emails after the end of the UK tax year on 5 April. He’s also moving to an incentive-based approach where clients will be told that fees are going up, but if they get tax documents in by a certain date, the fee won’t go up. “It presents a friendlier face,” he said.

Using fees as an incentive for timely behaviour and the increasingly urgent communication chain were common techniques among all the panellists. To get her message across, Hays records a video for clients setting out the expectations for both clients and the practice ahead of tax season. “If you don’t get all the documents into the portal by a certain date, you will go onto automatic extension. If you want your return by the deadline, you’re going to get a rush fee,” she tells clients. 

Brolin, meanwhile, has her own trademark approach: “This is how we work with you,” she says. “I need you to turn things over quickly and if I message you, I need you to respond to me. Don’t hold me up, because you don’t want me on your doorstep!”

Avoid burnout

Randy Crabtree has devoted years to studying tax season survival tips and will be running a two-hour workshop at Scaling New Heights in June this year on the topic. Taking an overview of mental health and burnout around busy season, Crabtree said one of the biggest problems was the typical accountant’s mindset that wants to help other people. “It’s a great trait to have, but we have to remember not only to help others, but to help ourselves. Stress is fine, but uncontrolled stress leads to burnout. It happens to just about everybody in our profession at some point,” said Crabtree.

“We almost look at burnout as a badge of honour and we need to stop that. We feel we are the solution and we can help everybody. Delegation is huge – finding things that are not your skillset or passion and finding someone else in the firm who is good at that. We think we have to be there 24 hours and we don’t. I have plenty of [ideas to help you] work less, be more profitable, happier and go coach softball.”

Crabtree’s anti-burnout tips included figuring out when you are most alert and productive and blocking out “focus time” on the calendar during those hours to tackle the most demanding returns – a tactic that Jenkins and Brolin also use. 

Crabtree schedules 15-minute walks with his wife at 10am and 2pm each day and urged listeners: “Have a ritual that you shut down at the end of the day. Your brain is done at the end of the day. Shut down and be done. Turn off your phone.”

This idea got a strong response from other panellists, including Ball, who offered her own golden tax season tip: “Make sure you get enough sleep. That’s the foundation of everything. Make it a priority. Otherwise your beautiful biological engine and brain can’t function.”

There’s plenty of advice like this in the latest Practice Excellence webinar. Subscribe now to see it for free, along with several other sessions with Alison Ball looking at key practice themes.

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