It may seem early to be talking about tax return season, but you know what it’s like – it’s soon upon us! Thinking about it now and having a strategy will help to keep things as calm as possible.
Soon after January this year I rang around a few of my clients who are always late in giving me information and recommended a different accountant for them to use. Let me be clear, these were clients who were ALWAYS late, no matter how many reminders I sent them. I relented with one of them and said he could stay as long as I received everything before the end of July. He did it, I’m glad to say. By doing this I feel like I regained my power.
This is a two-way process and sometimes it’s easy to feel unrespected when clients leave everything to the last minute and expect you to jump. I don’t know if you’ve found this, but I tend to find that the ones who give you the information last chase it the soonest!
Therefore, I recommend that you do a similar exercise. It freed me up to work with other clients who took up much less time.
With the clients you keep, I would break down your list into:
- Proactive clients
- Last minute clients
I would concentrate on the better ones and get these done and submitted as soon as possible. At least then you’ve got your easy marks!
The other clients you need to keep on top of and keep chasing, but try not to let your energy be dragged down by their inactivity.
Carrot or stick to incentivise
Funnily enough, I was talking to a client about this recently. She’s one of the pro-active ones! She was talking about the fact that she spends a lot of time chasing her customers. What she finds is that if she says you can’t have this document until I have your information, that seems to work.
This is more of a carrot approach to incentivise rather than the stick approach I used earlier this year.
It’s worth trying both and see if either approach works for you.
One year, I fined all of my late clients who I did any work for in January (after warning them that this would happen). They all left after I’d submitted their tax returns. In a way, this is good as you get rid of your worse clients, but it can be a bit brutal on your cashflow!
The majority of my clients pay in advance, which I find softens the blow of not getting the tax return information early. At least then I’m not chasing information and payment!
I think one approach worth trying is to communicate the benefits of having your tax return completed earlier.
- Won’t be fined
- Will receive any refunds earlier
- Better on cashflow
- Can plan ahead
- Know how their business has done and can use this to plan for the next year
A high percentage of my clients use software now and that makes life a lot easier. Is this something you can pursue more as a strategy? In many ways, it was easier when the income level for MTD was so low as this was a great incentive to get all of your clients to use software. But it is still coming in even though the threshold is higher. It’s still worth encouraging your clients to use software; it’s definitely more efficient!
Of course, once you have received the information and drafted the tax return you’ve still got more work to do! You are very likely to have queries. How do you get these answered quickly and completely?
I tend to ask how clients like to communicate. There are so many ways now aren’t there! Varying from:
- Phone conversation
- Facebook Messenger
Whichever get’s their attention and response, I’d use that one.
Make sure your queries are as clear as possible and contain all the information and then they are more likely to be answered correctly.
Think about your own wellbeing
For me, January always seems a long month, especially if December has been full of trying to get March year ends finalised and submitted.
You can help yourself by:
- Pacing yourself
- Get plenty of sleep
- Eat well
- Exercise regularly
- Take enough breaks
- Try not to get too stressed
- Don’t take it personally
It will soon be February and the tax return season will be over for another year!
Planning ahead now will make January more relaxing and efficient. After each January I always take stock and consider whether there was anything I could have done differently. We’re always learning, aren’t we!
If you would like some further advice, I offer mentoring to accountants to help them achieve their career goals, so please get in touch.
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