Tax Season and Cupcakes

What do tax season and cupcakes have in common? Not much according to my life experience! Over the course of my 33 years in our firm, I’ve raised three kids and they always knew that Mommy didn’t make cupcakes from January 1 to April 15. But cupcakes were a priority once the last return was filed.

Now my children are grown and I’m the managing partner in our small firm. My two partners and I are the second generation of our firm’s leadership. We’re committed to developing our replacements and making the transition to the third generation as smooth as ours was a decade ago.

In addition to our three partners and two additional CPAs, we have three members of our professional team in varying stages on the path to licensure. We also have two administrators, two paraprofessionals and we just hired three part-time college interns, who are also potential future employees, to assist with basic tax and accounting tasks from now until the end of our busy season.

Work-life Balance

Yes, work-life balance is especially scarce around the March 15 and April 15 deadlines. But we can achieve overall work-life balance in the context of 12 months. On average each member of our professional staff will take 11 weeks of personal time between April 16 and December 31. But during busy season, we have to pull together to meet our client obligations. Our team members are valued members of our firm family. Each member realizes that if they work five hours less, someone else is going to have to work five hours more.

Because of workload compression, we are constantly looking for the staffing level that allows us to keep tax season hours for employees at a “reasonable” level while making sure that we are able to provide work for those employees for the other eight and a half months of the year. During tax season we establish minimum hours to be worked, not set schedules. Core hours are still 8 to 5.

Process Improvement

This year, for the first time we’re using electronic data extraction software to further minimize professional time. We are always seeking technology to help us maximize our most scarce resource--man hours. We use a cloud-based environment and have transitioned to a single software provider for our technical systems. We try to maximize integration of data between the software applications to reduce employee hours.

We constantly evaluate our processes in light of new standards and efficiency. Do tasks have a critical function? Is there a better way? We keep efficiency at the forefront of our weekly staff meetings. We use this opportunity to plan work but also to remind or educate staff on specific technical points or planning ideas. We share tips on how to be more productive with our specific software. We brainstorm ideas. These meetings also give us the opportunity to socialize to a certain extent which helps us develop and maintain a team and family atmosphere.

Strengthening Client Relationships

We require return signers—generally partners—to call every client and go over every tax return. We also use this time to offer ideas and suggestions for how to make the next outcome different. We show we care about them and their financial situation. We try to answer the questions they don’t know enough to ask. These conversations will frequently uncover additional services that we can provide to our existing clients after April 15. Each CPA maintains a tickler file of these opportunities.

Our philosophy is that anyone can put numbers on a form. If that is what the client wants or expects, there are cheaper options than our firm. What is really important is how we help the client manage their businesses or their tax exposure. Because in the end, that allows them to direct their resources to what matters to them

Susan Ezekiel, CPA, is the managing partner of Cobb Ezekiel Loy & Company, P.A. in Graham, N.C.

Last updated: 21 October 2019