Deadlines are part of every accountant’s day-to-day lives. Many in practice roll from one deadline to the next with hardly a breath to separate them. The problem with deadlines is not so much the rush and stress of requesting, collating, reviewing and submitting information, but more the myopic mindset that tends to develop as the deadlines loom.
A constant focus on only meeting deadlines and similar short-term objectives means that many accountants are unable to lift their heads, to look around and see what’s happening. It’s not uncommon for accountants to focus on the next return and this hinders them from making changes that may be necessary to deal what lies ahead.
A winning proposition
Instead of focusing on keeping up, it’s important to take a step back and consider how a small change might make it easier next time. Making changes “in anticipation of…” is a good example of what small business guru Michael G. Gerber describes as working on your business, rather than in your business.
No accountant should view a deadline as a burden placed on them to help clients comply. Each deadline should be an opportunity to reimagine client engagement. It’s a chance to assess and list every client (and accountant) frustration and risk area, to suggest changes that make work more efficient and, ultimately, mutually beneficial.
An end or a beginning?
When it comes to opportunities, not all deadlines are equal. Some highlight the tensions in your workflow better than others… like the end of the financial year. There are calculations that need to be done and tax returns that need to be submitted, as well as information from the budget speech that needs to be digested and communicated to team members and clients.
But there’s also an opportunity to assess client relationships and analyse everything from how documentation is requested, provided and processed to whether certain clients are the right fit for your practice (remember, not everyone is your customer!). It’s a time to ask questions like:
- Why do we struggle to get information from this client?
- Why can we not tell the client their tax obligation weeks before the deadline?
- Why didn’t we know that this client should have been VAT-registered months ago?
- Why does this client always complain about our fees?
- Why didn’t we know that this client’s shareholder loan account was in debt?
- Why are our educated staff making so many mistakes?
- Why don’t we look forward to month-ends?
Making a resolution
New Year’s Eve is the date for many new beginnings, but the start of a new financial year is a chance for accountants to start fresh – to make changes that help them, their teams and their practices to develop and grow. Why not consider implementing the following from 1 March:
New engagement letters
Clearly setting out the client process as well as each party’s responsibilities and deliverables.
Access to all client information at all times
This enables you to not only upsell or cross-sell into customers but, more importantly, allows you to assess the work that will be required before it arrives.
View-only access to every client’s bank account
This prevents unnecessary communication with the client and prevents delays in getting information, enabling you to plan work better.
Automated practice management software
Make it impossible for anyone to forget anything with emails, notes and time recorded against jobs/tasks that you can access from anywhere, at any time.
Tools that save time
Use tools that save time and stop your staff from having to manually capture any information.
The start of the new financial year is an opportunity to look up from the books and plan for the next deadline. Take your chance and make sure your next financial year end is easier, faster and more rewarding than the last.