Post-TCJA, this year might have been difficult and stressful, but it’s not too late to make 2020 your best year yet.
Before I go any further, I’d like to say congratulations! You just made it through the most complicated tax year we’ve had in decades. Now that the October deadline has came and gone, you can finally take a step back and relax. For most professionals, this actually feels like the first opportunity you’ve gotten all year to relax. In fact, the number of individual returns placed on extension increased by about 50% this year. That’s an enormous shift. As a result, the summer and fall seasons were both much busier than in prior years. That’s on top of the busier than normal beginning of the year we had because of the complexities and questions resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). After all you’ve been through, you deserve the chance to breathe – but be careful to not relax for too long.
As much as you might not want to think about it, the next tax season will be here before you know it. If this year post-TCJA has taught us anything, it’s that we simply don’t have enough time. Unfortunately, you can’t simply buy more time, but you can eliminate time-waste and operate more efficiently as a firm. The most progressive firms are using this time to make those changes – preparing today for opportunities tomorrow. The next season might be just around the corner, but you still have time to make sure it’s the best one yet!
Of course, that is easier said than done. Even though all of us would like more time, most of us are left scratching our head when trying to figure out how to translate that fantasy into a reality. Well, here are a couple of ways to get you started.
Avoid falling prey to the SALY (Same As Last Year) trap
Don’t get me wrong, last year’s tax return or financial statement can serve as an invaluable tool for this year. It’s natural to apply this same concept to how you run your practice. Unfortunately, doing so will result in missed opportunities to make next tax season easier and more profitable than your last.
Now is the time to challenge this way of thinking and take a few steps back from SALY mode to unearth a plethora of improvement opportunities. A great way to go about this is to debrief with everyone in the firm. This needs to happen while the pain of busy season is fresh, otherwise these thoughts easily slip our minds and we wind up with the same pain the following season. The most effective debriefs ensure staff feel empowered to question the status quo and individuals are assigned to champion each idea. This gives everyone in your firm a voice and guarantees progress will actually be made instead of the debriefing simply serving as a complaining session.
Maybe your staff will articulate the need for a web-based tax research system. If you are still using printed materials or even search engines like Google to find the information you need, then an unnecessarily substantial amount of time is being spent on finding answers. Consider how much time you would save if your tax research system used emerging technology that enabled you to ask it a question in plain English instead of learning how to search using keywords? Even your entry level staff could find the answers they need. All that additional time could then be spent on what really matters most to your business.
Maybe your staff will uncover the need for tax preparation software that supports your advanced needs and provides next-level integration with other software used for things like tax planning and practice management. Employing tax software with comprehensive forms coverage and industry leading timeliness can make a world of difference when it comes to battling tax season compression post-TCJA.
No matter the idea, it’s essential that you provide your staff with a platform to make their voice heard and a process to see those ideas through to fruition.
Set your office administrator(s) up for success
Often referred to as the backbone of the office, these individuals are key to the success of any firm. They are instrumental in a number of processes – new client onboarding, gathering client information/documentation, delivering returns, obtaining signatures, and more. But are you equipping these individuals with the tools they need to be efficient?
Consider how much more could they accomplish if they used cloud-based client collaboration tools with event-driven tax questionnaires instead of paper organizers and portals really only designed to share files or if user-friendly portals and electronic signature options were used to deliver tax returns to and obtain signatures from clients.
If they used a scan, sort, and populate solution then they could handle most of the data entry related to each client’s source documents instead of spending time manually sorting and labeling files or manually keying in data. Your tax staff could spend more time on higher value work, which is increasingly important post-TCJA.
Never underestimate the value of effective administrative staff. More often than not, equipping these individuals with the right tools and technology results in a return on investment (ROI) that is exponential.
There’s no time like the present
These are just two of the many ways you can make sure next year is not a repeat of this year. Although these will help make next year more profitable and less stressful, these changes are all easier said than done. Any impactful change requires careful planning and thoughtful execution, but it’s not too late to make some progress prior to next season. That’s why the most progressive firms are working now to make 2020 their best year yet.