Rick Telberg

Four Success Habits for Tax Season

How does your busy season compare? Join the survey; get the answers.

March 17, 2008
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Busy season has a way of bringing into focus the habits and practices that separate the most successful firms from the less successful ones.

In reviewing our data so far, it's clear that the more effective firms share a few key traits. Their partners and staff report less stress, smoother operations and increased revenue — both overall and on a per-client basis.

What are they doing right? They tend to excel at four skills:

  1. Minimizing partner conflicts and people problems
  2. Planning and managing the workload
  3. Communicating with and properly preparing clients
  4. Embracing new technologies

But no skill is as important for CPAs as maintaining a positive mental attitude and a healthy personal life. Indeed, it may be a matter of survival.

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So, how do accountants de-stress during busy season? There are as many answers to the question as there are accountants to ask.

Through our ongoing Stress-O-Meter Busy Season survey, we've been hearing regularly from accountants across the country. The feedback from hundreds of accountants is providing clues into smart business practices as well as healthy lifestyle choices.

Atlanta-based sole proprietor Liz Hegarty, for instance, is having a relatively good year. Last year, her busy season was complicated by some family issues. But this year, she has stopped taking referrals and has raised billing rates to maximize her realization rates. And when she wants to wind down, she talks to friends or settles back with a good book.

Terry McCarthy, an audit partner at Green & Seifter CPAs in Syracuse, N.Y., is also having a better year, due in part to filling a critical position with a "high-level senior manager I can rely on." But he still has a hard time relaxing: "I clench my teeth, lose sleep and worry."

CPA/CFO Ron Mosocco in Williamsburg, Va., has expanded his client roster with advertising and some word-of-mouth, restructured his office operations and worked hard to increase revenue per hour. Still, when he wants to relax, he turns to some old favorites: a cold beer or nice glass of Merlot with a juicy steak off the grill.

In Reno, Nev., J. Frank Fisher is having a good year after he was able "to convert an intern into a valuable full-time employee and hire a highly qualified part-time employee." In addition, a potentially very large client has obtained funding for a development project that could add another eight percent to 10 percent in billings for the firm. Still, Fisher admits, "We can always do a better job of planning for the season. Get our organizers out earlier, say, late December instead of early January." To relax, Fisher plays basketball, takes a few "mental health" weekends and schedules some special events for Saturday nights.

Like a lot of accountants, Curtis Park in Camarillo, Calif., has "too much to do in too little time." But he's not complaining. Business is good. The client book is growing organically and Park is making the move to a paperless office. His secret survival tip? "Naps!"

And there's the sole proprietor who commutes to his office from a hotel this year after losing his home to flood damage in December. He calls it a good year because he's better prepared, has added some new clients and has increased fee rates. His suggestions to relax: "Take a bath, go to the gym and eat chocolate!"

In Tucson, Ariz., Richard Bratt at Beach, Fleischman & Co., reports a manageable workload this year due to better staffing. And business is up overall due to higher billing rates. His secrets: "I get in early on Saturdays and leave by 1 p.m. This way, I have a day and a half at home doing things I like to do. I also only work the last two Sundays before April 15."

April 15 is now fewer than 30 days away. And counting.

HOW DOES YOUR TAX SEASON COMPARE: Join the survey. Get the benchmarks.

COMMENTS: Questions, rants or raves? Send comments to Rick Telberg.

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About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.