Off-Season Tax Preparer Tips

The slowest months for accountants, bookkeepers and others who prepare taxes are generally August through January. Conversely, the busiest months are January through July. The latter period is based on the IRS starting to accept returns in late January and taxpayers who filed for extensions submitting returns by July. 

However, “slowest” and “busiest” don’t do justice to the challenges each period poses to tax preparers. The slow period can be a strange comedown from the peak months. While the busy time can push tax preparers to their breaking points, forcing them to work 60 to 80 hours or more per week. It’s no wonder tax professionals need to rest and regroup before the next tax onslaught begins.

What might you do during the off-season to recover from the peak tax-preparation months? There are four main goals:

  • Grow your professional knowledge 
  • Enhance your business operations 
  • Pursue marketing opportunities 
  • Clear your mind and relax

You’ll also want to take advantage of your slow period to review your professional liability insurance. Reason: If you make a mistake during next year’s busy time, an unhappy client won’t be able to capture your assets through litigation.

Grow Your Professional Knowledge

One of the best things you can do during the off-season is to get smarter. This involves not only learning new details about the Internal Revenue Code, but also exploring the capabilities of your tax-preparation software. Here are some professional-development opportunities you may wish to explore:

  • The IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework. This is a free online resource that makes you a better accountant (for tax preparers who also do accounting). It features a learning schematic covering firm strategy, performance management, reporting/control, information technology, analytics, business smarts and operations. The framework doesn’t just detail what it takes to succeed in accounting but also provides guidance on how to acquire that knowledge. 
  • The National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP). This group offers numerous online training courses and resources covering every aspect of tax-return preparation.  
  • QuickBooks Connect. Intuit’s QuickBooks Connect provides leading-edge knowledge about the field of bookkeeping and how technology can enhance the productivity of bookkeeping firms. It focuses on bookkeeping and bookkeeping technology, as well as on how to better manage small-business finances, especially the process of securing financing. The best part about QuickBooks Connect: Its virtual events and educational content library is accessible online 24/7. 
  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The main trade association for the accounting industry provides an extensive line-up of in-person and virtual conferences, training content, books and other resources. If you want to learn about where the accounting profession is headed, connect with this group. As a member, you can also join AICPA’s special tax section, which provides specialized information highly beneficial to tax preparers. 
  • Continuing education credits. If you hold an accounting license that requires continuing education, the off-season is a great time to catch up or get ahead on your earned credits. This will not only assure that your license will remain valid, it will give you useful knowledge to apply during your next busy season. 
  • Professional advancement. The quiet months are a great opportunity for non-CPAs to prep for their CPA exams and for CPAs to acquire another credential such as the Personal Financial Specialist® (PFS), Accredited in Business Valuation®(ABV), Certified in Financial Forensics® and theChartered Global Management Accountant® (CGMA). 
  • Knowledge sharing. The best way to solidify your knowledge of the Internal Revenue Code and tax preparation is to arrange to teach a course or seminar on some aspect of the field. That’s because the true test of knowing a topic is being able to explain it to someone else.

Enhance Business Operations

It’s hard to work on improving your business when you’re consumed with work. But once things slow down, you’ll have time to evaluate how well you handled this year’s tax work and how you can improve procedures next year. Here are some tasks to consider doing:

  • Evaluate your finances. It’s likely you’ll be flush with cash during your busy time. But don’t just deposit the money and forget about it. Assess your financial position after tax season. Did you hit your financial targets? If not, why not? Were you profitable or did you spend a lot of money on contractors and staff overtime?  
  • Assess staff performance. How did your team do? Was their productivity exemplary? Did they hit your technical benchmarks? Was customer satisfaction excellent? 
  • Evaluate tax-preparation technology. With the tax season behind you, evaluate how well your production software performed. Are you still satisfied with it or do you think it’s time to evaluate new packages for the next cycle?