It is almost that time of the year. Where the typical five-day work week of most accountants begrudgingly becomes a six-day work week. This is also known as “Crunch Time” or “Tax Season” in the accounting world. Here are some tips and tricks to set you up for a hopefully stress-free tax season.
Educate your clients
Take some time to think about what questions your clients ask the most. Write a blog or film a short video explaining the answers to top questions. You can use that video in marketing campaigns or post it to your Linked In. If you are pressed for time, send out an email with quick tips or tricks to help your clients prepare. Creating educational content reminds your clients and prospects that you are an industry expert. It also helps them prepare for meetings so there is more time working and less time answering questions. For ourselves, we use an application called QuickHelp. QuickHelp is an online training platform designed to educate you and your colleagues. You can upload educational tracks about PPP loans, COVID response or tax season preparation so you and your colleagues can answer client's question.
Help Your Clients Prepare Early
No accounting firm wants to get a file dump from their clients 2 days before a filing deadline but it happens all the time. Just because you always manage to get the job done doesn't mean you can't help your clients help you prepare early. We know deadlines are important. There are a few more processes and tools that can help reduce the last-minute rush.
- Online Checklist – Provide your clients with an online checklist of documents you need. That may include income statements, income reports, expenses, and inventory. Let your clients know that the best way for them to help you prepare is to follow the checklist step by step.
- Client Portal: A secure client portal will allow your clients to upload documents year-round. The key is to ensure that the portal is easy to use, and your clients are comfortable with the technology.
- New Technology: Nowadays, there is a new technology or application for almost everything. Teach your client to use these so they can manage their finances throughout the year. Some examples of available tools are Microsoft Spend (an expense tracker) and Microsoft MileIQ (a mileage tracker).
Consider Hosting Your Clients' Accounting Package
Nowadays we are shifting more and more data and application hosting to the cloud. However, a large percentage of businesses still host their accounting information on their local network. Running the accounting software at their own office is less secure and more difficult for you, as their accounting firm, to have access to their data. Having real-time collaborative access to their accounting through cloud hosting provides the following benefits:
- Security: Online providers that host accounting packages such as QuickBooks online or third-party hosts, tend to be much more secure than a client's local network. These providers spend more money on data security and certifications than the traditional business. They spend more on cybersecurity as one negative security incident could put them out of business.
- Access: By having your client data online, you and your client will have real-time access to the same data, anytime and anywhere. This will allow you to have better collaboration with your clients and reduce the last-minute rush.
- Increased Retention of Your Clients: Having real time access to your client’s data allows you to meet all tax preparation deadlines. It also allows your accounting firm to provide extra services, such as revenue modeling, budgeting, and tax planning. These services will lead to additional billings for your firm and make the relationship with your client that much more valuable.
Secure Your Firm and Client Data
No matter where your network is hosted or where your client's data resides, your accounting firm network will have a lot of client data. Whichever is the case, protecting your firm and client data should be the top priority. Here are some basic levels of protection you can have in place to make sure your data is protected.
- Backup and Business Continuity Plan: We cannot stress this enough! Make sure you have adequate backups of all your systems, at least a daily backup. You should review and approve backup policies for any hosting providers you are using. Make sure you have a process to regularly test your backups and a business continuity plan in place in case there is an incident.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Just like how you would log into your personal banking account, accounting firms now have the ability to use MFA to protect logins to their network and resources. This means every time you are trying to access your network or resources, you will be prompted for secondary authentication besides your passwords, such as an SMS code or an authenticator app. Having MFA in place reduces over 99% of hackers penetrating your network and gaining access to resources.
- Conditional Access: This is often overlooked, but it's very effective in stopping threat actors. You can prevent access to your network even for authorized users if they are suspicious. Let's say one of the partners of the accounting firm is located in New York, yet for whatever reason, there is a login attempt from another country halfway around the world – and you know the partner is not traveling. That is considered suspicious, and even with the right username, password, and MFA, this login attempt will be rejected.
- Managed Detection and Response: Even with the best protection in place, every accounting firm must also have systems in place to detect and respond to an intrusion. There is no protection out there that is 100% safe – just think of the most recent successful attacks on multiple government agencies and big business. Your firm should have a detection and response system in place. You should invest in one that proactively detects anomalies with the help of artificial intelligence and provides the appropriate automated response, such as shutting down any affected systems or the entire network. That way, you can have the confidence in knowing that if the worst-case scenario were to happen, you will be able to know about the incident and respond in real-time.
A Final Thought
At the end of the day, no matter how prepared a CPA is, tax season is likely to be crunch time for accounting professionals. The help of the right tools when mixed with the right mindset can help you deliver the kind of experience and value that will keep your clients coming back year after year, and more importantly, month after month.