Well, we made it. Today is Tuesday, April 18, 2006, and it's the first day after tax season. I hope you all enjoyed a nice beer (or iced tea, or glass of wine, or whatever beverage you enjoy), and reflected on the end of the season. I celebrated by treating the family (and extended family) to takeout Japanese, and by spending the evening reading books to my four year old. (I'm trying to enjoy time with my son while he still thinks I'm cool).
A few things I learned this year which I'm going to try to implement over the next year:
Workflow management and document management are the keys to following up on where you are on projects, and focusing on getting things done. I visited some accounting solution vendors recently, and one of the things which stuck out in my mind during the visit was the need to manage both your pipeline of tasks to complete and the documents needed to complete them. I'm probably not the only one who has tried (in vain) to use shared tasks to manage my workflow in Outlook, and have come up short. I'm not sure if it's my frustration with the to do list in Outlook or my own stubbornness, but it hasn't worked for me. As a Lacerte tax software user, I have been impressed with the UI behold both the Proseries line and Lacerte lines of tax software (note: similar functionality exists in most major tax software), which allows projects to be aged, status codes to be assigned (info pending, on extension, review pending, final, etc.). This works fine if you look at your tax software all day, but I wanted something which I could use for ALL of my projects - my tech implementations, the consulting projects for clients, and all of the other things I do besides tax returns. And I wanted more than just one screen of data on the stuff in my pipeline - I wanted notifications on status changes on things I've staffed, and want to know when something's ready for review. In short, I want the reporting and management structure of a top 100 firm without the IT department.
XCM Solutions offers an interesting app for this issue. XCM is affiliated with outsourced return prep vendor Xpitax, and is the method used by Xpitax to manage the workflow of items being processed offshore (think: the subcontinent). This tracking app seems to have lots of potential, so I'm testing it to see how well it works with my work style and my needs. More here to report later. (for an intro to what the heck I'm talking about, see XCM's flash demo here)
Good tax software makes your life easier. I ended up doing some states which I had never done before, and the combination of the Allstates Quickfinder and my REP (remote entry processing, or pay per return) version of Lacerte tax software went pretty well. I really love the little things in the tax software - the client tracker home page, the diagnostics which keep you from doing something really stupid in the caffeine-laced, sleep-deprived state that most CPA's are in during the winter. It's also nice when you can set up your documents to print in a certain manner, and make those customizations for how you want your returns to look, it prints EXACTLY the way you like things to look. I worked on a pro-bono (some would say por bonehead) project this year for an international student. I delved into the world of tax treaties, weird states, and the 1040-NR for free. After I was 3 hours into researching the exact rules relating to this country (let's call it Narnia), I finally broke down and spend the $28 to do the return in Lacerte. The nice thing about it was that the interview questions lined up perfectly with the Narnian treaty, and even though I'm not the world's expert in preparing Form 1040NR, it made the whole process easy, and ended up saving me a lot of time. At the end of the preparation process (which after I understood the law took about an hour, mostly due to telephone calls), I printed two copies of the return, packaged it in the presentation folders I use, and delivered it to the client. The client was impressed with the presentation, and I think he will be back when it's time for him to be a paying customer. Either way, the consistency of the styles and print ordering made it so organized that I could package this return in less than 5 minutes, including paper-clipping the postage-paid envelopes to the extensions, stamping the copies of the return "Copy", and printing the insert sheets for the presentation folder. Nice stuff.
What did you learn this tax season, and how did it help you make more money in less time?