Self Assessment season – not everyone’s favourite time of year. Are most of your clients’ tax returns done and dusted well before the 31st January? Or do you find yourself working right to the deadline, thanks to clients leaving things to the last minute?
It needn’t be that bad. If, like many accounting professionals you dread the thought of it, here are some ideas for making the run-up to the self assessment deadline less stressful in future. We’ve heard of a number of accounting professionals using these practices, and we’d love your thoughts on this too. Tell your story on Twitter using #selfassessmentstress and tag @QuickBooksUK.
Let your fees work for you
You could offer discounted fees for clients who submit their data in good time and in good order – say before the end of August.
You could offer a fee structure to encourage your clients to provide paperwork early. The later they submit, the more they pay.
You could tell clients that you’ll only be able to offer the same fee as last year if you receive all the necessary data before Christmas. After that, they’ll need to pay a premium (maybe 25% – 50%) in order to have their tax return processed before the self assessment deadline.
Make it as easy as possible for clients to send you their data
Make sure clients know exactly what data you need from them and how they should send it.
To reduce the risk of inaccurate and incomplete data, provide checklists of everything you need from them.
Use the same accounting software as your clients, so you’re accessing their data directly. You’ll eliminate errors and speed things up enormously. This also keeps you in closer touch and helps avoid people turning up in the last week of January with a bag full of receipts.
Set your own deadline
Get clients to work to your tax return deadline, not to 31st January. Once you’ve chosen it, tell them your earlier deadline in all correspondence, and don’t mention 31st January. Just be warned, you’ll have to take your own deadline very seriously to make this work.
Head off mistakes
Here’s a frightening statistic - one in five people filing their own self-assessment in the past two years think they may have made an error which has cost them financially. Given that over 10 million returns are filed every year, that’s a lot of mistakes – and a lot of potential clients needing your help.
So, outline to clients what some of the most common tax return errors are. Tell them how to avoid and prevent them. You can give examples specific to the type of client you’re dealing with at the time.
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Provide in-person support
Offer workshops or even online webinars, explaining to clients how they can make meeting the self assessment deadline easier for themselves. You can round up key points and any changes they need to know about, and it’s also a good chance to let clients ask any questions.
Staying in close communication with your clients like this will encourage them to act when you want them to.
Review your own systems
After the self assessment deadline has passed, it’s a good time to see how you can improve your own in-house processes.
What lessons have you learned?
What could you do differently?
Can any of your communications or procedures be improved in the light of what you’ve learned?
If you want the smoothest possible ride at self assessment time, make sure both you and your clients are using reliable online accounting software, such as QuickBooks. You’ll all be working off the same page (literally), which will save you huge amounts of time at this most stressful period.
Then you can approach next year’s self assessment deadline with confidence.
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