Learn from last tax season: Your wins, opportunities, and areas to improve

When the dust has settled after your most recent tax season, consider taking the time to conduct an honest assessment of your performance.

Learning where you and your team did well and where improvements can be made will help you better-prepare for next season.

This self-examination can be done informally or as part of your firm’s standard processes. The key is doing it with intent, welcoming feedback and being committed to act on your learnings, so you can boost efficiency and productivity, balance team workloads and increase performance.

Focus your learnings on these four areas within your firm

Taking a deep-dive into your firm’s performance might seem like a daunting task—after all, there are countless moving parts to your business. Consider getting started with these four main areas critical to the success of your firm. 

Being acutely aware of your strengths and weaknesses in these areas will help you focus and prioritize where you need to improve:

  1. Efficiency and productivity

  2. Workload balance and structure

  3. Technology adoption and usage

  4. Consistency in client services and output

1. Efficiency and productivity

Do you know how to identify your firm’s hidden inefficiencies? While it might sound overwhelming, uncovering even simple changes can give you some quick-wins.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Was your firm as productive as it could have been?

  • Did your team produce their work efficiently?

  • Were your staff and schedules organized?

  • Did your staff resolve mistakes and problem solve on their own?

Potential opportunities for improvement

Review your firm’s systems and procedures.
Consider reviewing your current systems and processes situation.

Have the right tools and procedures been established for your firm? Is your team properly trained and using the systems, processes and procedures currently in place?

It's important that you take this opportunity to gather some feedback from your team around their uptake of systems and processes during tax season.

The goal is to identify any breakdowns in process and/ or acknowledge existing gaps that created bottlenecks during the thick of tax season.

Standardize and document your processes and procedures.
Every small step can be improved to grow your practice, so looking for ways to increase efficiency should be top-of-mind and ongoing for every member of your firm. 

By standardizing and documenting your processes, you’re making sure each team member is performing each task in the most effective and productive way possible.

Keep in mind that standardizing and documenting all your accounting firm’s processes is a huge task—it will quickly become one of the most overwhelming projects you can undertake. 

Consider starting with one process and treat it like a practice or prototype. 

Recommended reading: If you standardize one process this year, make it this one 

Assess time management habits.
How do your team members handle work-life balance, especially during peak periods? Are they proactively scheduling their work in a way that minimizes interruptions when they need to focus, especially when working on complicated tax forms? 

If not, they may need help building positive habits that improve their well-being while maintaining their productivity during the pressures of that last-minute tax deadline crunch. 

Plus, having the quiet time to do the work correctly will mean reduced chances of needing to revisit or rework a client’s return due to errors.

2. Workload balance across team members

It’s hard to predict tax legislation changes and unique challenges that will impact your firm each tax year. Sometimes, these situations can lead to last-minute adjustments in staffing or training that can catch even the most organized firm off-guard.

You need to be sure your firm’s organizational structure is scalable so you can flex schedules during peak times with heavier workloads.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Were certain roles at your firm more heavily impacted than others or were all team members overworked during tax season?

  • Were there specific staff members who struggled to manage their workload?

  • What was the root cause of the workload issues?

  • Were your staff members properly trained and able to handle cross-functional tasks?

  • Did your organizational structure support the needs of your firm?

Potential opportunities for improvement

Assess your team—do you have the right people in the right roles?
Consider your people and their roles. Are their individual strengths matched to their current role? 

For example, do you have a team member who prefers to work alone and grind away at the routine tasks, but lacks interpersonal skills? If this person is in a client-facing role, they likely won’t be successful or in a position to best-represent your firm.

Be intentional with your hiring decisions and choose a team structure that’s built on a foundation of roles that will help scale and balance your workload throughout the peaks and valleys. 

Make the best use of skills for each staff member by finding the right mix of finders, minders and grinders.

Review how your team members are trained.
Consider how formalized your firm’s approach is to training. If your firm is lacking a solid and standardized staff onboarding process, you may be creating gaps in their training.

No matter how small your firm might be, having staff properly cross-trained ensures work is spread out and can be handled seamlessly if a staff member is out unexpectedly or for an extended period.

Take a holistic view of your organizational structure.
Invest your time to strategically review your current organizational structure.

By designing a scalable and nimble structure, you’re setting your firm up for growth and success. Not to mention happier, less stressed team members who will produce higher-quality work.

3. Technology adoption and usage

Technology is a leading differentiator between firms leading the pack and those falling behind. Consider the decisions you make in choosing the right tech stack. With hundreds of apps, tools and software available, it’s critical to make smart choices.

Recommended reading: The essential questions to ask when building your accounting firm’s ideal tech stack

Questions to ask yourself

  • Do you have the right technology for your firm’s needs?

  • When new technology is introduced, is it used and is it used correctly?

  • How do you monitor and evaluate your technology?

Potential opportunities for improvement

How much is too much? Learn when to declutter.
Tech clutter continues to be commonplace for firms as new apps and tools are introduced all the time. 

Be mindful of how new technology integrates with your existing systems and how it can streamline your digital process, not hinder it.

Training and proper usage.
Investing in technology not only affects your bottom line, but it also affects team workflows and output. Getting your team to adopt any new technology involves proper training and ongoing check-ins, soliciting feedback, and re-training as necessary.

Capitalize on the ‘early adopters’ and tech enthusiasts on your team to act as change champions, encouraging and facilitating training, and trouble shooting for the rest of your team. 

Evaluating and updating.
Just because you’re using a specific tool today, doesn’t mean you should ‘set it and forget it.’ Make sure you are getting the most from your technology investments and focusing on those that will make the biggest impact to your firm’s bottom line. 

4. Consistency in services and output

Your clients trust you and your staff to produce quality work, especially because, more often than not, you’re dealing with complex tax returns and/ or peoples’ livelihoods. So it’s important that you continuously review client satisfaction.

Delivering a consistent and positive experience every tax season requires your firm’s business operations to be well structured and standardized.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Does your firm have templated procedures for common processes and workflows?

  • Were documented processes followed to deliver consistent output in quality of work?

  • How did your team measure up with clients? Did they receive a consistent experience?

Potential opportunities for improvement

Ensure consistency through standardized processes.
One of the key results of standardizing and documenting your firm’s processes is your clients receiving consistent and high-quality service. 

Consider your clients’ experience if last tax season, their return was filed and processed in four weeks after dealing with several of your staff members, but the year before, it was completed in two weeks and they only needed to deal with their Client Manager.

The impact of this inconsistency is two-fold: 

  1. Your clients can’t rely on consistent service from you

  2. You firm is operating inefficiently

Having templated procedures for common processes will improve your firm’s efficiency and ensure output is consistent.

Ask for feedback and ask often.

Requesting feedback from your clients is one of the best gifts you can give to your firm.

The power of feedback is priceless, so encourage your clients to tell you how you can better-serve them. 

You’ll gain valuable insight into the health of your client relationship and firm’s brand (not to mention areas for improvement that may be hindering your firm’s growth).

There are many free tools to conduct surveys that give you useful and actionable data, like Survey Monkey or Google Forms

Remember: keep them short and simple.

Stay proactive and prepared each tax season

By taking the time to assess your firm’s performance after each tax season, you’ll have a clearer picture of where you can improve each year. 

Remember, the next tax season will be here before you know it, so choose to be proactive so you can continue to improve and grow your firm.