How to put the TY2019 tax filing postponement to good use

Postponement of tax filing and payment can mean extra time for your firm to finetune operations and deepen client relationships.

With a few exceptions, federal forms and payments are now due July 15. Almost all states have followed suit regarding various business and individual returns, pushing due dates or often following the reset federal deadline.

Despite stimulus packages and the still relatively new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, these extra weeks can offer the chance to doublecheck returns, streamline operations, and step forward as a trusted source of information for clients who may be facing desperate financial times.

Here are some refinements you might try adding to your practice.

Address regular extension-time tasks

In a recent typical year, the IRS got about 15 million extension requests from taxpayers. Year to year, the number of extensions has remained roughly constant, though last year was probably heavier than normal due to then-new tax reform and a government shutdown in early 2019. Your practice is probably used to having many clients on extension (thus, October being “the second season”).

You’ll not only have even more time to hone returns, but also for many clients to make elections, find missing tax documents, or fund a retirement account. In addition, you can prepare for helping your clients after this season eventually ends, as almost half of taxpayers need help outside filing season with notices, audits, or other action from the IRS.

Examine your operations

Now’s the time to tinker with procedures that you’ve never had a few hours to work on –maybe tasks as simple as organizing clients’ paper or electronic records.

Start by tracking your time. Beyond creating more accurate records for billing, this can help you find and eliminate inefficiency in your workday. Identify jobs in your practice that produce the best results, and start doing them first as part of your normal procedure. If you find clients’ calls take up too much of your day, consider a window of only a few hours that clients can phone.

Keep a posting (physical or electronic) of your day’s goals visible all day. Digital sticky notes are good for this.

You’ll also have a chance to look at what time of day you do your best work on various tasks. When do you feel most comfortable and efficient tackling billable work? Fielding client questions? Reading and research? And, block out interruption-free stretches that you can devote to working out, walking, or meditating.

This also makes a good time to digitize all that old backlogged paper.

Technology matters

These days, a call or email from a prospect or client is probably the major interaction they’ll have with you. Technology has jumped to the forefront of business operations – and it’s key to set up an answering and response policy.

Your staff working from home, for instance, means you need call forwarding and a schedule to share responsibilities for answering the phone. You’ll also need a policy for missed calls. The same can apply to email in terms of who oversees and responds to emails in your firm’s general inbox (where unanswered messages can really pile up). Establish a timeframe for monitoring the inbox and for responding.

Email can be an interrupting distraction and a time suck. Consider checking it only a few times a day (set up an autoresponder to let senders know when those times are). When answering emails, try to keep them brief – otherwise, a phone call might take less time.

If don’t use these tools already, video conferencing and portals are worth a look. They allow you face-to-face (virtual) contact with clients, as well as the option to send and receive tax information quickly from anywhere.

Now, more than ever, you should be communicating with clients. Use, or set up, a blog and email alerts. Hit social media with short articles to guide your clients in headline matters such as CARES, stimulus checks, and keeping their livelihood going. This will pay dividends long after the postponement is in the past.

Time to answer some other questions

You’ve probably had a lot of questions about the above topics and others when it comes to running your practice. Here are assessments you might make:

  • Keep your electronic calendar up-to-date, and set your device to open it first thing when you log on. If that technology is too simple, do you need to upgrade to a project or time management tool?
  • When do you to say “no” to prospects and clients? Not often enough, or too often? Is it time to find and hire more professional staff?
  • What should you do to your fees during the postponement? Some practices lower them after the busy season. This year’s busy season, though, might last most of the rest of 2020. Should you raise, lower, or keep fees the same? Or, go a flat rate?

Originally published in Firm of the Future Blog by Jeff Stimpson

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