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Six Top Tax Season Survival Tips

Meet your new best friends: Tio, Din and Mit. And put them to work this busy season to get things done, keep clients happy and live to tell about it. What are your tax season survival secrets? Email your tips here.

November 22, 2010
by Rick Telberg

After more than 40 years in practice, CPA Ed Mendlowitz knows a thing or two about tax season.

In fact, Mendlowitz knows more than "a thing or two." He holds the PFS, ABV and CFF credentials. He's the author of 18 books, the editor of four others, a prize-winning writer for the Journal of Accountancy, a college instructor, successful CPA firm CEO, a nationally recognized adviser to senior accounting firm partners, and the author, most recently, of the newest edition of the AICPA's best-selling "Managing Your Tax Season."

And he keeps notes. He has a to-do list of hundreds of items. It runs 45 pages in a Word doc. It contains notes for speeches, books and articles; obligations to family, friends and clients; and random thoughts and notions. "I use it as an idea fountain," he says.

But the one thing you will never find on his encyclopedic to-do list is the most important thing he needs to do. That's because he's already doing it.

He figures: If it's that important, it's too important to put on a to-do list. Long ago, Mendlowitz figured out that a CPA's ability to manage his or her own time is one of the key ingredients to success.

So he lives by three time management mantras, abbreviated:

  1. TIO (Touch It Once):
    "Eliminate your piles," he says. "Don't use your desk for storage." And that goes for your PC desktop, unanswered phone calls, your email inbox and work that is just not completed yet. It's how to keep things off your to-do list. Pick up the file, open an envelope or an email and do something with it, anything but flag it for follow-up later. Therein lies the path to ruinous procrastination, missed deadlines and unhappy bosses and clients. So file it, delegate it, trash it or do it.
  2. DIN (Do It Now):
    "Unpleasant things don't go away," he says. "So I always try to attack the thing that's causing me the most anxiety." It's the way to a peaceful life, a solid night's sleep and no heartburn.
  3. And, MIT (Most Important Thing):
    "You can only have one Most Important Thing at a time," he says.

To be sure, Mendlowitz is a fount of tax season management wisdom.

Start with quicker billing (No. 4, so far, on this hit parade). "The perception of the value of your services decreases as the time between performance of the service and the billing date increases," he says. "Actually, the greatest value of your service is before you do any work at all."

No. 5 Tax Season Tip: "Put the 'Q' in your quality control," he says. "Get it right the first time. Don't correct other people's errors when you're reviewing work. Send it back with notes and instruction." Or else people will only learn that mistakes are there to be caught by someone else.

No. 6 Tax Season Tip: Give clients what they really want. Return their calls. Show up for meetings. Don't blow deadlines. Be available. And when a client complains, deal with it immediately, recognize the importance of the problem to the client, and learn how to feel the way the client feels about it. You can't fool the client into thinking you care, if you don't.

Dealing with a client problem is like dealing with tax season in general. It is, Mendlowitz says, an "opportunity for you to improve and bond a stronger relationship."

WHAT ARE YOUR BEST BUSY SEASON TIPS? How do you make sure your office runs smoothly? What's your favorite time-management strategy? How do you keep clients and staff happy at the same time? How do you manage the stress? Send us your best: Email Rick Telberg here.

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Rick Telberg is president and chief executive of Bay Street Group LLC, advisors in marketing, management and strategy.

Copyright © 2010 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

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.