Hughes, Isaac and Co
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My key practice resolutions for 2021

Making Tax Digital, avoiding burnout and Brexit regulations are all on Zoe Whitman's New Year's resolutions for her practice as she also reflects on the challenges and opportunities of the last 12 months and looks ahead to 2021.

21st Dec 2020
Hughes, Isaac and Co
Columnist
In association with
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2021 New Year's resolutions
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Like every firm, our immediate priority is the self-assessment deadline and at the time of writing we have more than 300 tax returns still to submit. It’s a manageable number but something we need to keep on top of weekly if we want to avoid our key team members burning out.

This year we’ve invested in Practice Management Software, which has brought together data from spreadsheets, paper files and a rolodex (!) and, critically, has helped us get a clear view of our workload. The system alone can’t help us manage burnout, but it gives us the data we need to manage what we need to do. We’re still working on perfecting the workflows and building trust with the team that nothing will be missed and although it’s not perfect yet, just knowing our numbers will help us through this January and, even better, will ensure we don’t have to face this kind of January again in 2022. 

For me, avoiding burnout is about making time to take care of myself, saying no and asking for support when I need it. We’re a good team, but as well as communicating between ourselves, we also need to be communicating with clients to get what we need from them, when we need it, in the format that helps us do our best work for them. 

Like many practices, we serve every kind of small business in the area and our clients are used to arriving with a handwritten cash book and a lever arch file when it suits them. They want to sit down with a partner and go through their accounts, pay their invoice and not hear from us again until the same time next year. Being at the mercy of other peoples’ time frames (and record keeping) is one of our biggest problems; it’s too late to re-educate everybody, but there is time to remind clients to get their books in before Christmas. We’ll be having a big push now to spread the work as much as we can. 

One of the great opportunities of the past nine months has been the conversations we’ve been able to start with clients who thought they only needed us to help them with their tax returns. Before the first lockdown, our clients were coming to the end of their first Making Tax Digital (MTD) year but were then hit with furlough, redundancies, and cash flow pressures they’d never experienced before. Compliance is what most clients come to us for, but 2020 has given us the reason to show how much more we can do with new partners on board. 

With so much else going on this year, it’s been easy to forget about that small matter of leaving the EU on 31 December. Making sure we’re on top of the regulations and are ready to support those clients who trade internationally is high on the agenda, and those conversations are another reason we need to keep talking to our clients. 

Communication must be a key priority for 2021, and next year we will be building on what we’ve started in 2020. After 30 years, our practice has a website - we’re regularly in touch with our clients by email, and we’ll be rolling out free webinars to help our clients get to grips with everything from the basics of business finance and accounting software to forecasting and budgeting in the new year. If we expect our clients to be ready for MTD, we need to start talking about it, and we need to show that we are working more digitally as well. 

Working virtually has of course had it’s challenges, and as a local practice I think we’re all pleased to be more or less back in the office. It’s the preference for our clients who have been used to popping into the office for the last 30 years - there’s an expectation that we’ll be there and I can’t see that we’ll ever move to a wholly virtual way of working. One of our learnings from 2020, however, is that we can work from home. 

It’s been a year of horrendous lows but also great and sometimes unexpected opportunities. Personally, I’m ready for the new year and I look forward to 2021 with excitement and hope. I’m sure we’ll be tired, but I’m optimistic that we’re planning well enough to not be burnt out at the end of January, leaving us ready to tackle the rest of 2021 with enthusiasm.

Find out how to save your practice time and improve profit margins here.

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