December 2022

4 must-do ideas on my year-end checklist

What a year!

It’s been interesting to see the effects the pandemic has had on accounting firms and their clients from a business and lifestyle choice perspective.

The one thing that’s clear to me—and you’re hearing it everywhere—is that business as usual is no longer sustainable. I hear from small to large firms that business models must evolve to better accommodate two of their firm’s most valuable assets: their team and their client list.

In this article, I’ll discuss the following four concepts—all the things I’ve been writing and speaking about this year—for you to use as a checklist:

  • Create a better tax season
  • Develop Smart Client Management
  • Implement Smart Security Management
  • Embrace Smart Team Management

Now, let’s empower you to go into 2023 with more confidence.

1. Create a better tax season

Tax season is right around the corner. Here’s a list of things you should implement before busy season gets started:

  • Name someone in your firm as the Client Communications Manager—aka the person that handles all communications, from start to finish, with your tax clients. Communications include setting the right expectations for all your clients. 
  • Plan a digital end-to-end process. That means no paper documents from clients. Have the Client Communications Manager set the expectation with all clients that the firm is implementing a completely digital process.
  • Set levels of tax returns and stop treating all returns the same.
  • Implement a notice protection fee plan. Add 20-25% to every invoice, with the option for clients to opt out, to protect the client from any additional fees from the firm if/when the client gets a tax notice from the federal or state governments.

I can assure you that if you implement each of these strategies, you’ll create a better tax season by working less and making more money.

2. Develop Smart Client Management

Smart Client Management is the future of a modern accounting firm. In this case, the word “smart” is synonymous with the word “intentional.” Consider for a moment what it means to serve a client holistically; that’s how clients want to be served.

In my mind, it means we’re coaching the client to maximize performance within their business, moving the client to the firm’s supported technology stack and taking advantage of all the tax planning opportunities available.

Create an ideal client persona—a picture of what your ideal client would look like if they were taking advantage of all the aspects mentioned above. This is what it would mean to holistically serve a client. 

The critical aspects of Smart Client Management are:

  • Creating the ideal client personas
  • Empowering a team member to be the Smart Client Manager—the person in your firm whose job it is to manage this process
  • Leveraging data to move the client proactively, from where they are to holistic

3. Implement Smart Security Management 

Securing data is one of—if not the—biggest threats to accounting firms. Firms seem to be drifting into an IT infrastructure strategy, which is understandable due to the decentralized nature of how our technology solutions are evolving. 

At any given time, accounting firms use around 30 different technology solutions. Some of these are native clouds, some are native desktops but cloud-hosted, and others are desktops sitting on accounting firm servers.

I suspect you know as well as I do that the technology in firms is just drifting, evolving and even unintentional. With that said, I think one of the most important decisions you can make right now is to implement an intentional IT infrastructure strategy.

Smart Security Management is made up of three elements: 

  • An intentional plan for DaaS (Desktop as a Service)
  • Professionally and actively managed protection on all devices
  • Continual security awareness training for all your staff

For the foreseeable future, firms will be using a blend of native desktop and cloud solutions…and lots of them. Onboarding, offboarding and password management of client and staff passwords is a significant challenge. That’s why it’s critically important to implement a Smart Security Management plan today. 

4. Embrace Smart Team Management

Your team is one of the most significant assets you have as a firm. I continually hear stories and surveys reinforcing the idea that staffing is a serious problem within today’s accounting firms. Just like firms drift with their IT plan, they also drift with their Smart Team Management strategy. 

One of the key drivers leading to staff dissatisfaction is the ongoing struggle of supporting a business model that no longer works for them. The pandemic taught us that work and life are deeply interconnected, and team members want the freedom to do both well. 

So, the question is, how do you create an environment where team members can thrive? I firmly believe you start by developing a healthy and sustainable business model. You figure out how to measure what matters to your firm because the amount of time spent working is no longer the key driver of hard work. And you regularly engage with your team, solving problems and building relationships. 

Summing it all up 

It may seem like a lot, but to be a modern firm, you must move forward. Year-end is right around the corner, so choose a couple of my ideas to implement now. Then have a plan to pick up right after busy season to move your firm even further forward. 

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a calm, controlled and prosperous tax season.


 

Reflecting, recharging and laying the groundwork for balance in the new year 

 

 

 

 

December—it’s a busy month for many, filled with completing those last-minute work projects while balancing regular work and family commitments. We’re programmed as a society to “Go, go, go!!!” and the pressure of #hustleculture is real. But is it healthy?

One simple definition of hustle culture is, “Pushing someone to move faster, aggressively.” What it looks like in action is someone who immerses themselves in work, taking on more and more until they barely have time or energy to do anything else. This leaves little to no time for family events, hobbies and life in general.

Don’t get sucked into the hustle culture vacuum

With the end of the year approaching, now is the time to reflect on 2022. (If you’re saying, “Reflection? Who’s got time for that?” you should keep reading.) We promise you this will be time well spent—and it can really be done anywhere. Walking the dog, driving in traffic—even while you’re wrapping holiday gifts

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. What was my greatest professional achievement in 2022?  
    • Was this goal planned out or did it just happen?
    • Did I have to sacrifice time away from family and personal commitments to achieve this goal? 
  2. What was my greatest personal achievement in 2022? 
    • Was this goal planned out or did it just happen?
    • What were my sacrifices to accomplish this goal?
  3. What was the best thing that I learned about myself in 2022?
  4. What am I taking with me into 2023?

The purpose of these questions is to spend time reflecting on and celebrating the wins in our lives. We’re often quick to just move on to the next thing. We challenge you to take the time to think about these questions.

Putting it all together 

Now, let’s come back to the definition of hustle culture: “Pushing someone to move faster, aggressively.” Does this definition resonate with your life? Do you find balancing work and life to be challenging? If hustle culture doesn’t resonate with you, what boundaries do you have in place to ensure a healthy balance? 

Last, consider sharing these questions and answers with your team. Not only will this be an opportunity for connection, but you may learn some important lessons from one another while you’re at it!


 

Checklists are for winners 

Jill Winter, Member Coach

 

 

 

 

“The checklist is one of the most high-powered productivity tools ever discovered.” – Brian Tracy, “Eat That Frog!” 

Brian Tracy’s book, “Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” lays out—you guessed it—21 principles to help boost productivity.  

The namesake advice, to eat the frog, means to do the hardest thing first in your day. Whether or not you want to subscribe to that principle is your choice, but I do agree with Brian that a good checklist is a powerful tool. 

As accountants, in December you’re already thinking ahead to the next several months, knowing there’s a lot of work to be done. So, let’s go over a checklist of some checklists that will help!

Client onboarding and offboarding checklists

This is the time of year when you may be onboarding several new clients. A client onboarding checklist is great to have when you’re going through the client setup tasks in your systems, to ensure you’re collecting all the document and demographic information you need for your systems and tech stack.

You may also be offboarding clients that don’t fit within your ideal client characteristics. Consider adding a client offboarding/exit checklist to be sure nothing is missed.

Systems and tech stack checklist

Now is the time to get start getting ready for the upcoming tax year—so get out your checklists for cleaning up your systems and tech stack. For each system, review projects, documents and clients. Then decide what needs to be modified, what needs to be made inactive and what can be archived.   

Monthly and year-end accounting/bookkeeping close checklist

As you prepare for year-end, a checklist for accounting/bookkeeping monthly close and year-end close is a must for every accountant. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been doing it; a reminder of every step will enable you to pause so you can ensure that every step is being taken for a successful close to your clients’ books. The checklist serves as a great training tool for the noobs, too. This is an essential step for the next process of completing the tax return.

Preparing for tax season checklist

Speaking of the tax return…you’ll need a start getting ready for tax season checklist. This checklist should consist of decisions that need to be made prior to the start of tax season—and then you’ll have the checklist to help ensure everyone in the firm sticks to those decisions. Some decisions to consider: 

  • How much are you increasing fees?
  • Are you sending out an organizer/questionnaire? When? Who will do it?
  • What are your cutoff dates for receiving supporting tax documents?
  • What will the tax process be?
  • Who is collecting missing information?
  • How are you delivering tax returns?
  • What is the signature process?
  • What is your client communication process? Who is doing it?

When thinking about each of these decisions, remember that some of these relate to workflows and processes. These should not generate additional checklists. This is an important distinction—workflows and checklists are NOT the same thing and shouldn’t be treated as such.  

Workflows are the steps from one person to the next in a process. Checklists are tasks that need to be completed. Make sure your workflows are not checklists.

The time before tax season is busy…and as you know all too well, it can also be overwhelming. Use the tools you have available. Rootworks has several checklists available to members in the Online Learning Library (login required).

Start with one checklist and delegate tasks within those checklists. Then give deadlines, cross-train your staff and document your processes. And then, start checking off the tasks. No frog-eating required!

“Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.” – Atul Gawande, “The Checklist Manifesto” 


Year-end checks to keep your online presence present   

Sometimes, all the things you need to do during the holidays make you feel like one of those snowballs rolling down a hill (except instead of snow, you’re a ball of to-dos). The faster the to-do ball rolls, the more to-dos it picks up, until it turns into a planet-sized ball of year-end to-do lists you’re running away from like Indiana Jones and the boulder.

Since I’m a to-do ball evader myself, I’m about to become your favorite Thought Leader writer with a quick four-item list of things to check, so you can avoid any interruptions or confusion with your online presence in 2023. Take a few minutes now to verify that:

  1. Your website domain is set to auto-renew.
  2. Your domain payment method is up to date.
  3. Your business hours are correct on your website, your social media accounts and your online business profiles.
  4. Your free business profiles are claimed on Google Business Profile and Apple Maps (or that they’re up to date if you’ve already claimed them).

And that’s it. Easy-peasy, right? Verifying these items won’t take long at all, and you’ll have four fewer things to worry about during tax season, when those to-do balls will inevitably start rolling downhill again.

Happy holidays to all—and may your to-do lists be light in the new year!


Give your online presence a year-end cleaning 

As the holidays approach and the year winds down, it’s easy for everyone to become distracted by everything but managing their online presence. Schedules fill up, priorities shift, people schedule time off…and the task gets put off for another year.

I know—conducting an online presence “winter cleaning” doesn’t sound very appealing when you’re scrambling to wrap things up before December 31. However, your end-of-year marketing checklist really should include at least a few things that will help you tackle priorities come January 1. Here’s a list of items you and your team should work through before the new year.

Sweep your social media and Google Business Profiles

After your website, your social media and Google Business Profiles (GBP) are the two most important aspects of your online presence. They’re also the two that are most often put on the back burner.

If you’re not actively monitoring your social and GBP, you’re likely missing valuable opportunities to connect with prospects. Here’s how you can clean up your social media and GBP, so you’re ready to start the next year strong:

  • Update keywords. Revisit your firm description, bios, services and other details to add in targeted keywords and hashtags that a potential customer might Google to find your services.
  • Refresh imagery. Add new photos of your office, team and other firm-specific images that show off the unique side of your firm.   
  • Build a social media calendar. Begin filling in your 2023 social media calendar with posts and outreach that align with your demographics and strategy. Don’t forget to incorporate posts from your Rootworks Content Package, which includes graphics and copy for a variety of content…from In The Loop or Advantage magazine, QuickReads articles and eBooks.

What’s the status of your online reviews?

Clients endorsing your services are one of the most impactful marketing tactics available to accounting firms—and a powerful way to show prospects that you’re the best at what you do. Conduct an inventory of your online reviews and make a plan to gather more reviews in 2023. Here are a few tips to get you started:  

  • Make sure all reviews from the past six months have been responded to. If the review had four or more stars, be sure to thank the reviewer for taking the time to share their feedback. If you had a negative review (three or fewer stars), respond by asking the reviewer to contact your firm directly to discuss their concerns. It’s always better to respond to a negative review in a non-confrontational voice than to ignore it. Additionally, responding to reviews shows Google that you’re actively managing your profile, which has a positive impact on where you rank in your local business (also known as pack) listing.
  • Was a certain period during the year when you had an influx of reviews? If so, what was the reason for it? Often, tax season is the best time to gain new reviews because you’re having more conversations with your clients—which then opens the door for you to ask them if they’d be willing to share a review on Google. To increase your chances of success, provide them with a direct link to post a review or use an online review software program like Grade.us, which sends out automated review invitations on your firm’s behalf.

Most importantly, make it a priority to actively manage your online presence throughout the year. By doing so, you’ll reap the greatest benefits and create a powerful online presence that will help boost your brand and gain new followers and customers, while serving as a valuable resource to your clients and community. 

Remember, managing your online presence should be a team effort. So, don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to members of your team to create buy-in and collaboration. The more involved your team is, the more likely they are to be engaged with the process throughout the year—which means your online presence will remain clean and pristine all year long.

And, if you’d like to learn more about how you can make your firm’s online presence shine, I invite you to check out Rootworks Marketing Solutions’ online presence management services.




 

Events for Rootworks members

Check out these upcoming December webinars exclusively for Rootworks members.

  • December 13: Winter culture webinar 
  • December 14: Staff Training:  Getting ready for busy season (Part 1 of the two-part series) 
  • December 20: Winter cybersecurity webinar: “Deep fakes”

Special vendor-hosted webinar:

  • December 12: Botkeeper: How firms are shifting from compliance to client accounting and advisory services in Q4 

See the entire member webinar schedule and register at Resources > Events > Webinars in your Rootworks.com account.


Events for members and non-members

Not a Rootworks member yet? We have you covered with live and on-demand events where you can learn more about Rootworks and the latest hot topics in the profession.

Visit rootworks.com/webinars for a continually updated schedule of events.


What’s new on the Rootworks blog?

Wondering how to express appreciation to your staff during the holiday season? Not sure what Rootworks membership encompasses? The Rootworks blog is here to help. Visit us to see what’s new—and don’t forget to bookmark the blog to keep up with new posts.

Read the latest post at rootworks.com/blog.


Member anniversaries

It’s time to recognize this month’s Rootworks member anniversaries! Help us wish the following firms a Happy Anniversary:

1 year
Chase & Chase CPA
Pantana Accounting & Tax Inc
Adrienne Brace, CPA, PA
Slachta Accounting & Consulting Services LLC
Affordable Accounting
Cunningham & Associates CPAs Inc
Ledgers (Kaufman, TX)
Ledgers (Stratford, CT)
Ledgers (Ypsilanti, MI)
Douglas A. Bicksler CPA
Michael Johnson CPA LLC
My CPA, PA
Intuition Financial Services
Palermo, Landsman, and Ross PA
Princeton Financial Group
MP 360 Financial Services
Success 2 Significance
David T. Cole, CPA, LLC
Dana J. Weber, CPA
Petrik & Murtha LLC
JSpence CPA PLLC
Wayne S. Knopp, CPA
A Fogel CPA PC
Councilman Farlow Marlowe & Co PLLC 

5 years
Copper Advisors
Hammerman, Graf, Hughes and Company, Inc.
Jebran & Abraham, PC

10 years
Lowe & Webb, P.C.
Landis & Associates LLC 

Congratulations on your success, and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with you and your teams!