As bookkeepers and accountants know, year end can be one of the most stressful times for you and your clients. In this article Jaime Rein advises Canadian bookkeepers and accountants how best to prepare ahead of time for year end. Read below to learn how to help relieve clients of any bottlenecks while driving an efficient workflow in your own practice.
How to get your practice ready for year end
Set up a client workflow
Efficient time management in your practice is critical to success during year end. Put together a checklist for each client that turns the required work each month into an easy to follow process. Having the following on hand for each client could save you countless hours:
- Business owner’s contact information
- Preferred method and time of communication
- Business #’s, CRA, provincial, WCB
- Software/delivery requirements
- Payment method
- Industry specific deadlines
Arrange letters of engagement
This is a good time of year to review your engagement letters with your clients and get them to re-sign for next year. It’s an ideal time to secure future work because the value you have added recently to their business is fresh in their minds.
If you have convinced your client to upgrade to new accounting technologies in the year coming, the new letter of engagement should reflect the use of new technologies with clauses in place to protect the bookkeeper from any external problems such as a data breach. Even if it is out of your control, the clients might have expectations that you yourself recommended the migration would be responsible.
Know when to refer a client
On the approach to year end, tax season, or any crunch times for a business segment you specialize in, it’s critical to know if you should accept, refuse or refer potential new clients.
Depending on the size of your practice you might start to look at new client opportunities as worthwhile or not worthwhile. For example, if a prospective new client comes in with a shoebox full of receipts, are they going to be a long-term client or are they just looking to file taxes and never darken your door until next year? You should ask these questions before you consider taking them on:
- Does this client’s industry fit your specialization or one you would like to service?
- Do you think you can add value to the client to move them on monthly or quarterly?
- Speaking with the client, do they have history of bouncing around to different bookkeepers?
- Are they passionate about their business?
- Do they have a viable business?
Remember, just because you have interviewed them doesn’t mean you have to take them on. Follow your instincts.
Beware of a burnout
You can only give clients good service if you have capacity on your client list and the energy to serve their business. This means you need to look after your own health and well-being so that you can do your job. As you approach year end, decide now the hours and days that you are going to work and ensure they are realistic.
Whether you are taking weekends off, the whole holidays off or doing a four day week, you need to balance your personal life with the work load. Inform your clients of your holiday hours with as much notice as possible to ensure there are no disruptions or delays. As year end to tax season will be busy, you might also decide to put an embargo of on-boarding new clients during this period for capacity reasons. You also use any time off over the holidays to plan out how to achieve your work priorities (i.e. client migration) and objectives for your practice (growth, hiring staff) for the coming months.
How to handle a backtrack
Even if you’re organized throughout the year, occasionally you will have to walk your client back through some of the months gone by and work to fill any gaps. This is something that can happen more frequently if you have a client that checks in with you quarterly. The best way to soften any negative impact of missing files is to consult your checklist each month/quarter and take note of files that have not been sent to you from the client in a log. In a perfect world you will tell your client straight away what you are missing and they would correct this. Worst case scenario, you have to chase them but you know what it is you are missing as opposed to a needle in a hay stack situation come December.
How to get your clients ready for year end
It starts at the beginning of the year
It almost goes without saying that the best way to plan for a smooth year end is to plan early, start off on the right foot and deliver consistent service to clients throughout the year.
This involves making sure each month your clients’ books are reconciled. It’s up to you to make sure that the books are clean and that you’ve gotten all the information that you need from the clients to keep things in order.
Top tip: Put together a bookkeeping checklist for your client that makes it easy for them to know what to give you every month. This is particularly helpful when the business has no internal accountant to liaise with.
By starting how you mean to go on, you can avoid back tracking in December trying to see where the gaps are for the whole year.
Clear client communication
Year end can also be one of those times that bookkeepers can prove to clients that they add value to their business. With this in mind it’s important to understand each client’s expectations of you throughout the year. A lot of this could be to do with the time of the month they wish to have their documents delivered, or correspondence replied to, but sometimes the expectations can be more bespoke.
For example, maybe your client likes a summary of all the work you are doing every month, or perhaps they like you to liaise with an in-house accountant. Have you established a mutually agreed SLA that you can deliver? Do they prefer minimal contact? Are they just concerned with getting their taxes filed or are they looking for some insight and some best practice advice along the way?
Once again, this is something that you should establish before you take the client on so that you can make sure that you are a good fit for each other and you can deliver satisfactory service throughout the year.
Simplify with technologyOf course depending on the size of your practice, it’s not uncommon for you to still have a number of micro ‘shoebox clients’ that appear throughout the year with a bundle of receipts (and maybe the occasional baked goods), but for the most part, the majority of small business clients can be served more efficiently with accounting solutions.
As you we approach year end, now is an ideal time to open up a dialogue with your client next about adopting new technologies to streamline efficiencies next year.
Receipt capture with AutoEntry
Now I’m not saying you’ve seen your last shoebox paired with a bag of Christmas cookies, but receipt capturing technology is certainly a game changer when it comes to bookkeeping for micro and small business clients. AutoEntry is an easy to use app that manually matches receipts to bank statements, helping users to reduce the number of man hours typically used when tracking down missing documents. By auto-suggesting which customer/supplier account, nominal and tax codes the client should use, the likelihood of the information being entered correctly the first time is increased. You can learn more by reading our accountants AutoEntry case study.
Needless to say when clients have implemented AutoEntry and have gotten used to using it every calendar month of the year, there is very little scrambling for receipts come December.
Cloud accounting software
One of the big problems at year end is that’s it’s a regular business month too! Clients still have the same requests as they would for November. By on-boarding clients to a cloud accounting solution you can reduce the pressure of requests at crunch times throughout the year. The client benefits from having real-time access to their accounts, enabling them to retrieve information from the cloud unaided by their accountants or bookkeepers, allowing them to focus on getting the year end sorted.
Know your clients’ delivery preference
Even if your client isn’t migrated to the most up to date technology, you still have to deliver service in accordance with your SLA. This could mean dropping of USBs or zip drives, emailing links to cloud accounting portals or even a face to face monthly meeting. Be sure to include this is your checklist for each client at hand to ensure you meet the client’s specific need.