Rick Telberg

Four New Lessons From Busy Season 2008

What did you learn this year? Join the discussion; see what CPAs say.

April 14, 2008
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Congratulations! You survived another busy season.

It wasn't always easy. There were last-minute changes to the AMT and client pressure for those economic stimulus rebate checks; plus, there were the usual software glitches, staff shortages, sudden departures and naive or ill-prepared clients. And don't forget the usual personal and emotional crises of the season — spouses and kids who go too long without quality time, frayed nerves with partners and staff and significant challenges to your own health and welfare.

But all in all, most accountants are reporting a comparably better busy season in 2008 than last year. We'll get to the details in an upcoming column as soon as we can crunch some season-ending data. So don't forget to add your input to our ongoing busy season benchmarking project, here. You'll be joining thousands of accountants who have participated over the last four years.

SOUND OFF: How will you celebrate the end of Busy Season 2008?
What lessons did you learn this year?

Take the survey. Join the discussion.

(Free. Confidential.)

In the meantime, let's go over some of our notes from Busy Season 2008.

1. Remember the four habits of the highly successful tax practice.

In reviewing our data so far, it's clear that the more effective firms share some 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 the four skills below:

  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 may be as important as maintaining a positive mental attitude and a healthy personal life. Indeed, it may be a matter of survival.

2. Differentiate with "value."

With free online software, basic tax prep has become a commodity. And even with the more complex and sophisticated returns, delivering distinctive value is a constant challenge. Here are just a few examples of how some practitioners have been adding real value:

William R. Bloom, managing member of Bloom, CPA, PLLC in New York, N.Y., has turned to technologies such as e-filing and secure file transfer of client data and returns.

Frank Pavlica, president of the Palatine, Illinois-based Frank J. Pavlica, CPA, Ltd., was making "personal phone calls to every client to discuss their questions and tax returns."

Charles F. Kantorik, a sole proprietor at the Mt. Pleasant, Penn.-based C.F. Kantorik, CPA, told us, "When I find an item of tax interest for a particular client, I copy the article and mail it to the client or call them personally."

Charles L. Conway Sr., CPA, a vice president at the Jenkintown, Penn.-based Conway & Associates, makes tax time just a little sweeter for clients by furnishing "two large jars of candy for them to nibble on while we go over their data."

3. Make busy season fun.

There are all sorts of games and events that firms concoct to maintain morale, but few are as interesting or as worthwhile as the scheme devised at South Bend, Ind.-based Kruggel Lawton & Co. this year. They decided that instead of surviving on junk food and sleep deprivation, they would use the time together to get healthy. Partners and staff joined in a diet and exercise program.

"I think it's just been a greater emphasis on trying to maintain fitness level, trying to get a little more activity this time of year and also just trying to eat a little better than probably we've done in the past," partner Kevin Kruggel told a local TV news show.

"I'm now 10 pounds down," said Tax Manager Ben Silver.

At the last weigh-in, they had lost a total of 139 pounds and logged 402 hours of physical activity.

"Not only does it help with our individual goals of wanting to lose weight, but we have the support and the cohesiveness of everybody in the firm," said Silver.

4. Share the lessons.

Join our annual Busy Season Stress-O-Meter survey to share your war stories and learn from others.

HOW DOES YOUR BUSY SEASON COMPARE? Join the survey. Get the benchmarks.

ADD A COMMENT: Suggestions, questions, rants or raves? Contact Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

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.