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Get ahead this self assessment season

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Accountant’s Millionaire’s Club founder Heather Townsend shares her top tips for tackling busy season.

24th Nov 2021
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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March 2020 marked the accountant’s perfect storm. In the midst of recovery from the previous busy season, the pandemic hit.

In the space of three months, a flurry of updates, changes and guidance was circulated throughout the profession and onto the screens of struggling clients. This was all handled during the shock of remote working, with many having had little to no experience of the home office world.

This year is different. We have entered a new normal of post-pandemic hybrid working, and the profession appears to be thriving under its rehearsed regime, finally free from the shackles of furlough.

As a result, there are fewer accountants with the Self Assessment backlogs we saw during 2020 - in fact, an increasing number of people appear to be ahead of the game with their returns.

While there is still undoubtedly the Covid bottleneck putting pressure on the profession, the storm is passing, and there are tactics firms can implement to weather the work backlog. Our upcoming AccountingWEB Live Expo is packed with expert panels and conferences that will take you through everything you need to tackle SA season.

Comfortable with being uncomfortable

Accountant’s Millionaires Club coach Heather Townsend has seen countless firms go through busy season. “The people that are well ahead are the people that are always well ahead,” she said.

She attributed this to the fact that certain firms have a process that they start early on in April, and they regularly remind their clients to get what they need in. They also impose consequences on those who fail to do so. In the Accountants Millionaires’ Club, these are the firms that regularly find themselves basking in a 90% completion rate come October.

“If you sit in the mindset of ‘everyone is working seven days a week in busy season’, you’re never going to make a change,” she said. “How comfortable are you with being uncomfortable? How prepared are you to make a fix?”

The badge of busyness

Across countless professions, employees will have a state of busyness. People often wear their busyness like a badge, Townsend explained: “It’s the first thing people often say when they’re asked how they’re doing - ‘nice and busy’.”

With accountancy, this state of busyness is often extreme - ‘busy season’ is acknowledged as the norm around this time of year, and people come to expect late nights and little holiday as part of their work and, as a result, their life.

But, as Townsend described, when you accept that this is just the way things are going to be, you leave yourself in a fixed state of busyness with no chance for change.

“The vast majority of the smaller accountancy firm’s day to day work is compliance work. That is very process lead - as a profession, around 70% of the workload is process-driven. There's a lot of standardisation,” Townsend said.

This primary focus can sometimes cause a lack of attention in the actual way a firm's  processes are working or not working. Again, this leads to the slippery slope of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“There's far too much acceptance in the profession that we will always be busy at month-end, we’ll always be busy at VAT time, rather than asking: what if we weren’t?”

With the social proof of everyone around you also drowning in the sea of Self Assessment, swimming to safety can seem impossible. But Townsend encourages firms to ask those crucial questions if they want to see a change.

Communicating with clients

Above all, Townsend attributed the quickest turnaround to those firms who have taken the time to educate and talk with their clients.

“It's amazing how many of our members that have been in the game for years said, for the first time, they actually asked clients to send their information across in April, and then [the clients] actually did.”

“It’s when you tell people if you do this, this will happen. Our best members have educated their clients about why they need to get it in.”

Once clients understand the process and the impact that will happen if they leave it too late, they are far more likely to make the effort to get in their returns early.

Townsend’s top tips to get ahead for next year:

1. Ask your client for it early: Clients tend to not send in the information unless you prompt them to. Communicating what you need sooner rather than later will ensure you’re not left waiting around.
2. Add some incentive: This goes for both your team and your clients. In Townsend’s team, if they get everything done promptly they can have all the days between Christmas and New Years off with full pay. This encourages them to get the work done and celebrates their achievements with recognition and reward. In terms of clients, Townsend recommends setting a date you need their information by and sticking to it - let them know they will have to incur a penalty if they don’t manage to meet the deadline.
3. Harnessing your management, time, and focus: These things take proper planning and leadership to make happen - what are you doing in your practice to give the management, time, and focus to make sure they happen?

Catch up with our recent AccountingWEB Live webinar on demand here, where our panel of experts explored tactics in managing SA season.

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By anthonystorey
26th Nov 2021 12:55

I was going to respond to this but I'm too busy at the moment.

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