3 Steps to Surviving Self-Assessment Season

Most accountants have their own self-assessment horror stories.

Each and every client has their own mountain of documents that need to be included in their self-assessment returns, many of which either suddenly appear at once right before the deadline or never end up materialising at all. When this happens with one client, it’s stressful enough – but when it happens with multiple clients at once, it can be a nightmare. 

Self-assessment season is fraught with stress for many accountants and bookkeepers out there. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a reliable, highly repeatable process – and great tech to help you make this as efficient as possible – you can nail your self-assessment strategy for 2020 and beyond.

This means a happier festive season for you, without the impending worry of a nightmare January hanging over your head. 

So without further ado, here’s our short self-assessment survival guide. 

1. A year-round returns strategy

The festivities are over, you’ve had a wonderful holiday season, and it’s now time to head back to the office. But as soon as you step in the door on January 2nd, you’re hit by wave upon wave of documents from eager customers desperate for you to prioritise their self-assessment returns and get them the best deal possible.

Or, you suddenly realise that with the deadlines looming, you’ve still not received any documents from certain clients – and they’re not even replying to your emails. The prospect of having to sort out their entire return in one long, coffee-induced, highly-stressful session fills you with dread – but it’s quickly becoming the reality. 

This is no way to see in the new year. 

Yet, this has unfortunately become the accepted norm for too many accountants and bookkeepers. So what can you do to combat the work-induced January blues that self-assessment season brings?

One way of ensuring that you have a smooth transition into the year is by adopting a year-round returns strategy. Instead of waiting until January, make sure you’re receiving documents throughout the year. This will help you get everything in order for when self-assessment season arrives.

2. Be proactive 

You’re only going to be able to adopt a year-round returns strategy if you’re proactive about it. Clients want to think about running their own business, not about the distant self-assessment deadline. Given that this falls on January 31st, it’s usually thought of as “next year’s problem”.

You’re never going to be in full control if your self-assessment timeline (and process) is at the mercy of your clients’ whims. 

It makes sense to build out a timeline that you can then share with your clients. At the beginning of each new financial year, send them a one-page document outlining key dates: when you’ll need things from them, when you’ll be submitting documents on their behalf, etc.

However, this is rarely enough. Only the most organised of clients will remember these deadlines as they approach – therefore, it makes sense to invest in a piece of technology that will automatically reach out to clients and send them regular reminders about upcoming deadlines.

As well as a timeline, this one-page document also needs to include an exhaustive list of what precise documents you need from your clients. The last thing you want to do is to have an ongoing back-and-forth with each client about what they need to send you. 

To help you out, here’s one we prepared earlier – download and send it off to your clients in just a couple of clicks. 

3. Get clients on board

Successfully adopting a proactive, year-round strategy is going to require a significant amount of client buy-in. It’s all well and good saying this is how you want to operate. Yet, if your clients aren’t playing ball, there’s not much you can do. 

But how can you get client buy-in? After all,  you’re asking them for more regular effort just so they can help you out – right? 

You need to explain to your clients that the more time you have to collate their documents and mull over the fine print of their expenditure, the better a job you’ll be able to do. If you have to complete every client’s returns in January, you won’t be able to dedicate nearly enough time or focus to each of them.

Plus, there are some very real benefits to working in real time. If you’re able to keep your clients updated throughout the year – letting them know their ongoing tax liability – then they’ll be able to save appropriately for when their tax bill comes through the door.

Less stress. Better quality work. Fewer surprises. More financial control. What’s not to love?

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