Let’s be honest, accounting firms have plenty of work all year round. But when busy season hits, things really ramp up a notch. With tight deadlines and long hours, those mad few months can be a real slog. But do they have to be?
To help you survive accounting busy season, we spoke to some seasoned CPAs to find out some of the strategies and tools they use to make tax time that little bit less taxing.
But before we dive in, let’s answer a few important questions.
What is accounting busy season?
In the accounting world, busy season is another term for tax season — the months building up to the deadline for filing annual tax returns. It’s notorious as being the most hectic time for public accounting firms and accounting professionals.
Busy season generally spans the first quarter of the year, finishing at the end of April. That said, the tax year runs differently from country to country.
Accounting busy season usually coincides with the audit busy season, where audit professionals experience increased workloads during the first quarter of the year as they process financial audits for their clients.
What challenges does busy season bring?
Busy season is a notorious challenge for even the most seasoned accountants, both mentally and physically. There is a combination of factors that make this the case, including:
- Long hours
- Tight deadlines
- The complexity of work
- Client demands
- Problems gathering the information they need
What are the risks associated with this busy season?
The combination of long hours, tight deadlines, and heightened stress can lead to all sorts of detrimental outcomes, including:
- Physical or mental burnout
- An increased chance of mistakes or inaccuracies
- Missed deadlines
If left unchecked, these issues can lead to an inability to meet client needs — and an eventual drop-off in business. And while negative outcomes are possible even for experienced tax accountants, they are even more likely for rooky accountants facing their first busy season.
How to survive busy season — our top 7 tips
There’s no denying it — busy season can be intense. But with the right preparation, mindset, and tools, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. We spoke to a group of experienced CPAs to learn about the strategies and processes they use to get through it. In this section, we’ll look at what they said.
1. Find a routine that works for you — and stick to it
Every accounting professional is different. Some are at their best first thing in the morning, others kick into gear later on. Whatever the case may be, you must develop a routine that maximises your productivity and well-being.
“I follow a structured routine for each day with start and end times and never start the day in email (a hard-learned rule). I make sure to wind down the day and get a good sleep so that I can be fresh and fully present during the day. I read books in breaks rather than get on TV, Netflix, YouTube, or social media.”
- Steve Padgett, Owner of Padgett & Padgett
2. Plan ahead
Preparing for busy season the right way can make a huge difference when the workload spikes. Whether that’s getting your schedule and calendar in order or using tech to automate repetitive tasks, effective time management will make your life easier.
“Be organised. Plan ahead. Block out time in your calendar. Block out time for the gym and for doing nothing. Block out enough time to do each client's job properly. Use software integrations and automations to reduce the amount of admin you need to do. Set expectations with clients about when their work will be done.” — Jacqui Trumper, Black Cat Accounting
3. Stick together and support each other
In what can be a highly stressful time, it’s critical that accounting teams stick together and support one another. Regular communication is key to ensuring that everyone has everything they need to work productively.
“Create a plan and set targets, and follow up with staff frequently (we do a daily huddle) so that everyone can support each other and help when bottlenecks arise.” — Helen Hall, Director at Redlands Accounting and Taxation
4. Leverage technology
To survive busy season, you have to be organised. This is where technology can help. By automating and streamlining key processes relating to client onboarding, information gathering, and task management, you can spend more time getting stuff done.
“I use Content Snare to help me keep document and information requests organised in a single, secure, user-friendly place. I also use project management software and a self-created dashboard to make sure I'm on track with all of my clients.
With these tools combined, I can quickly see what are the most urgent tasks for that day and grab all of the important information I need to complete those tasks.” — Nate Coughran, Cookie Finance
5. Use checklists to stay organised
Checklists are another great way to stay organised. They help you standardise processes, breaking them down into manageable steps that you can tick off as you go. They’re also an effective way to visualise progress towards outcomes and goals.
“Implementing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) checklists has helped me stay focused and increased my efficiency. By rigorously adhering to these checklists, and implementing them into my project management software, I'm able to deliver a consistent work product for all clients and decrease the amount of time spent on each client engagement.” — Christian Putnam, owner of Augur Advisory Group
6. Streamline the client onboarding process
Accounting firms see a spike in new customers in the run-up to busy season, as people scramble to find a CPA to handle their tax returns. This is great for business, but without an effective system, it can also be a challenge to onboard new clients at scale.
Again, technology can help here. With a tool like Content Snare, you can streamline and automate the process of gathering client information, saving you much-needed time while providing a superior client experience.
“We’ve created custom checklists to send our clients with video, pdf, or written instructions on how to gather the information we need. It's helped us streamline our onboarding process and allowed us to gather all documents in one place. We love it.” — Marie Greene, Founder and CEO at Connected Accounting
7. Prioritise the most important tasks
With so many clients to handle and tasks to complete, the potential for becoming overwhelmed is huge. To handle this, you need to focus on the most important stuff first. Spending a few minutes making a list of what you’ll handle the next day can save you countless hours in the long run.
“One thing at a time. Each evening, make a list of what you need to accomplish tomorrow and pick the most important 3 things. Focus on those first. Then check emails, Slack, and handle smaller, urgent tasks.” — Marie Greene, Founder and CEO at Connected Accounting
Talking to clients about their specific needs and how urgent they are is also a good way to narrow down what needs doing now and what can wait for later.
“I ask clients if they have any particular urgency or not. If not, their deadline is not until the following May so they become a lower-priority task. — Chris Davey, Director at Accountica
Breeze through busy season with Content Snare
One of the biggest challenges of busy season is getting clients to share critical data and documents with you. Without an effective process in place, you’ll spend half your time chasing clients for missing information. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Content Snare provides a dedicated system for requesting, managing, and storing client information. Instead of having key documents scattered across outdated systems, or lost in messy email chains, you have everything you need in one place.
With Content Snare, you can:
- Create custom templates and checklists
- Request the right information in the right format
- Add context to requests via text, video, or files
- Schedule automatic reminders
- Approve or reject it with a single click
- View progress across all clients via our dashboard
Put simply, Content Snare takes the hassle out of gathering the information you need while providing a superior client experience. You can spend less time tracking clients down and more time spent meeting their needs.