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 advices on how best to get your practice and clients ready for year-end. Learn how to help your clients relieve 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 ID numbers
- Software/delivery requirements
- Payment method
- Industry specific deadlines
Arrange engagement letters
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 you from any external problems, such as a data breach. Even if it is out of your control, your clients might have expectations that since you recommended the migration you would be responsible.
Know when to refer a client
As you get ready for year-end, tax season, or any relevant crunch times for the business segments 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 year-end 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 get ready for 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 or doing a four-day week, you need to balance your personal life with the workload. Inform your clients of your holiday hours with as much notice as possible to avoid potential disruptions or delays. As year-end to tax season will be busy, you may choose not to on-board new clients during this period, for capacity reasons. You can 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 your clients haven’t sent. 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 at least 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
Begin at the start 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 your 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 each client.
Top tip: Put together a bookkeeping checklist for your clients that makes it easy for them to know what to give you every month. This is particularly helpful for businesses that don’t have an accountant or bookkeeper on staff.
By starting the way you want to end, you can avoid back tracking in December trying to see where the gaps are for the whole year.
Establish clear client communication
Year-end can also be one of those times that bookkeepers and accountants 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. This can be as simple as knowing what time of the month they wish to have their documents delivered, or correspondence replied to, but sometimes the expectations can be more custom or complex.
For example, maybe your client likes a summary of all the work you are doing every month, or perhaps they like you to correspond 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 year-end with technology
Of course depending on the size of your practice, it’s not uncommon for you to still have a number of ‘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 get ready for year-end, now is an ideal time to open up a dialogue with your clients about adopting new technologies to streamline efficiencies next year.
Snap receipts 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 small business clients. AutoEntry is an easy-to-use app that manually matches receipts to bank statements, helping to reduce the number of man hours typically used when tracking down missing documents. By auto-suggesting which customer/supplier account, tax code, and category the client should use, AutoEntry cuts down on duplication and manual entry mistakes. You can learn more by reading our accountants AutoEntry case study.
Needless to say when clients use AutoEntry consistently throughout the year, there is very little scrambling for receipts come December.
Use cloud accounting software
One of the big problems at year-end is that’s it’s a regular business month too! Your clients still have the same requests as they would in November. By on-boarding your clients to a cloud accounting solution you can reduce the pressure of requests at crunch times throughout the year. Your clients benefit from having real-time access to their accounts, enabling them to retrieve information from the cloud unaided by an accountant or bookkeeper. This allows you to focus on getting the year-end organized.
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 off USBs or zip drives, emailing links to cloud accounting portals, or even face-to-face monthly meetings. Be sure to include this in your checklist for each client to ensure you meet their specific need.