10 Mar March ’20
Most of you have lived through your fair share of busy seasons. You know that feeling when March hits—the dark cloud that can engulf your firm and take your culture from calm to chaotic. There are some who have simply accepted the standard tax season forecast: 100 percent chance of panicked taxpayers, missing documentation that bottlenecks the tax workflow and elevated levels of burnout among staff. If you are in this group, make this the year you change the forecast to calm.
I’ve seen many Rootworks member firms take control of their firm’s culture—no matter the time of year. This has led to eliminating the traditional seasonal chaos and maintaining happier clients, happier staff and a far more palatable firm culture. And here are the three truths that helped get them there:
- Firm culture begins with the firm owner—Stress and anxiety are a choice that begins with the leader. How you lead staff directly affects firm culture. So, be intentional about your “posture” while in the office. For example, take the time to greet every employee (with a positive, authentic tone) before tackling the day’s to-dos. Encourage staff to take a collective deep breath before the day begins, and remind your team that you are all in this together.
Think about it…if you set the expectation that people need to work days, nights and weekends, it’s going to be stressful. How you lead directly affects the overall tone of your office.
- You’re in charge of your time. It’s tempting to just let the day happen, but that approach can only lead to stress. Schedule your days to approach work in an organized and calm manner. For example, set up client meetings in the morning from 9:00-11:00 a.m. only…or maybe schedule on specific days like Tuesdays and Thursdays. The more you can schedule your day, the more time you have to get tax returns done and the more intentional you can be about communicating with your staff and maintaining a calm culture.
- Employees come before clients. You know this to be true, but do you always follow this truth? Would your staff agree that they come before clients? When employees begin to believe that revenue and quantity of work are top priorities in your firm, stress levels can skyrocket. Take control of your firm’s “climate” by choosing your team first. Make sure they know you care about them. Maintain regular communications and check-ins throughout tax season. How are they feeling? Should you order lunch in for everyone? Does the team need to schedule quick “reboots” during the day such as a short walk outside or even just around the office? The more you can check in with staff, the more appreciated they will feel, which is a natural stress reducer.
Tax season will always throw a few things at you that are out of your control, but your office culture should not be one of them. You have control of your culture, so forecast “calm” this tax season.
You are busy…probably incredibly so. As the corporate deadline approaches and 1040 clients continue to come through the door, take a pulse of how your staff is feeling. Consider the following suggestions to keep the culture and vibe of the firm positive during this busy time.
- A “Thank You” goes a long way.
- Giving positive verbal feedback is not just limited to the boss. Thank your peers when they jump in to help out. Teamwork and camaraderie go a long way when putting in those extra hours.
- If you use an internal communication platform like Slack or Teams, turn the feedback into a shoutout for the whole team to celebrate and get behind. There is power in momentum.
- Bring the staff together when you can.
- As people get busy, they often create their own silos—heads down, cranking through work. Providing breakfast or lunch once a week means one fewer meal folks have to think about, and it affords an opportunity for people to get out of their silos, catch up with each other and take a breath.
- Consider mixing in learning with the meal as a “lunch and learn.” This is a perfect opportunity for staff to share issues they are running into…and the resolutions they have found. This is time well spent if it results in the next person saving time when they encounter the same problem.
- Stock the kitchen.
- In between client work, when staff have an opportunity to catch a quick break, make sure to have plenty of snack and drink options available to them.
- Leave a signup sheet in the kitchen so that people can list the kind of treats, snacks and drinks they would like to have stocked and available to help them fuel through the day.
The season is upon us. Not just tax season, but virus season. And we’re not discussing the flu. We’re discussing the potential risks that can spread when external hard drives, referred to as USB drives, thumb drives or flash drives, are passed from person to person and plugged into computers without the proper precautions.
In the next few weeks, many of our clients will be bringing in their files and financials, often in the form of backups and copies stored on external USB drives. Similarly to washing your hands to prevent the spreading of the flu, there are a few precautions you should take to reduce the risk that your computer network gets infected with a computer virus.
- Never plug an unknown USB drive into a production computer without testing.
- Have a dedicated computer for running security scans on USB drives.
- Keep your computer up to date with all security and endpoint protection updates.
Our recommendation is that you ensure that your scanning software has the most recent definition updates, and then disconnecting the computer from the network prior to connecting the USB drive for scanning. If the drive were to have ransomware or some other malware, there is no risk to your production network, and the threat is isolated only to the scanning computer.
A few more best practices:
- Only buy USB drives from reputable sources.
- Use secure USB drives. Some newer models have safety features such as fingerprint authentication that help protect the device from hackers.
- Consider not accepting USB drives at all. Only utilize secure file transfer and sharing systems that have built-in malware detection capabilities.
Take advantage of increased client contact during this time of year.
The phrase “March Madness” has an entirely different connotation in our profession. Here we are, on the verge of entering into the thick of another tax season, and marketing probably isn’t the most pressing thing on your mind. That said, there are some easy tips to help leverage your increased traffic and direct client contact into an extended payoff, when it’s all said and done. Here’s a short list of easy things you can do:
- Ask for referrals. More than 85 percent of our new clients traditionally come to us by way of referrals, and referrals come from current clients. So use your direct contact with happy clients as an opportunity to seek out those new referrals.
- Ask for online reviews. The importance of online reviews can’t be overestimated. It gives a measure of confidence to prospective clients doing their due diligence, and it contributes to your overall search engine optimization (SEO)—it’s additional content that can help prospects find you online. There’s no better time to ask for a review than in the moment of client contact. Focus on clients that you know to be satisfied and abundantly good-willed, and explore the use of a tool such as Grade.us to help you manage your online reviews.
- Identify opportunities to grow relationships. How much do you really know about your clients and their needs? Use tax season as a touchpoint to ask relevant questions about what solutions your clients have in place for their larger financial management picture. A simple questionnaire can go a long way. Use this in conjunction with ClientView™ on Rootworks.com to build your client intelligence and identify productive ways you can grow your business relationships while making your clients’ lives better.
Finally, remember to keep it simple. There isn’t time to redraw your entire playbook now that busy season is in full swing, but you can make a tremendous difference by taking action on a few easy opportunities that are right in front of you. Here’s hoping this tax season is your best ever!
3 New How-to Videos
For those of you with Rootworks hosted websites that use NetClient CS or Onvio, we rolled out four new how-to videos in February, and we now have three more new videos in March:
- Onvio – Uploading to Onvio
- NetClient CS – Employee Self-Service
- NetClient CS – File Exchange
Review the Client How-to Videos resource to see the list of seven videos: https://rootworks.com/online-learning/f53764c2-328f-4eab-a3db-bef86a1afca3
If you’d like any of the videos added to your website, please just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and specify which video or videos to add.
- March 4 – Staff Training: Tax Season Status Check and Extension Filing Process. This training covers the tools and reports to use to track and manage tax season. We’ll then discuss the tax extension filing process.
- March 25 – Staff Training: New Bookkeeping Client Onboarding. Take your client’s experience with the firm and turn it from average to exceptional with a thoughtful, well-managed and executed onboarding process. It is important to train your clients on how they should be working with your firm. Components of that include setting proper expectations on timing, defining roles and responsibilities, and providing training on the tools that the client will be using.
- April 22 – Staff Training: Deconstructing Tax Season. Now that the April 15 deadline has passed, it’s time to determine things that went really well, things that were just ok, and areas that need improvement. The goal of this class is to help all firm members prepare for a Tax Season Debrief.
- April 29 – Staff Training: Working on the Firm, Setting Annual Goals. This staff training is designed to help owners and senior staff involved in the decision-making process to set goals for the remainder of the year. We will review the Rootworks recommended planning steps and dive into additional resources to help create goals, drive discussion and ensure intentional planning.
- April 30 – Spring Resource Update Webinar. The Resource Update webinar reviews and explains all newly added or updated items at Rootworks.com.
Register at Rootworks.com under Membership > Events > Virtual Events.