With tax year 2015 officially behind us, many accountants are gearing up for the next tax season. One of their main focuses, as they look to improve next season, is workflow: how can we be even more efficient next year?
With that question in mind, we talked to Dawn Brolin, CPA, managing member of Powerful Accounting, LLC, a tax and QuickBooks® consulting firm. Dawn is a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor® and a member of the Intuit® Trainer/Writer Network. She was named one of the top 25 most powerful women in accounting by CPA Practice Advisor for the past five years. Along with QuickBooks Online, Brolin’s Powerful Accounting team uses Intuit ProConnect™ Lacerte® as hosting solutions, in order for her and the team to access the software anywhere, any time. This is especially important since Powerful Accounting has offices in Windham and New Haven, Conn.
Dawn described her five-step tax workflow so that you can leverage it to maximize your own firm’s efficiency for the upcoming tax season.
- Onboarding New Clients. Dawn’s workflow begins when she onboards new clients. Since her paperless firm works completely in the cloud, she interviews potential clients to ensure a fit with her business model, and she is careful to set expectations with her clients ahead of time. As she brings on new clients, her team explains how to exchange documents digitally, the practice’s process for tax returns and the pricing model.
- Document Collection. While Dawn’s practice is primarily paperless, some clients still prefer to drop off paper documents. “No matter how we get the forms, they end up in a source document folder within our hosting solution,” said Dawn. “We’ll electronically scan in all files that are sent to us in paper.” Team Brolin uses SmartVault for document storage. When forms for a client start coming in, the client is assigned a client manager on Dawn’s team to be sure all documents are collected into one engagement folder, before the tax preparer role on Team Brolin begins to prepare the return. “The preparer doesn’t touch the return until the client manager says it’s ready to go and all forms and QuickBooks files are ready,” she said.
- Preparing the Return. At the point where all documents are ready, the engagement, with links to all the relevant documents, is assigned via firm management software to a tax preparer. The firm management software helps track who is currently working on the tax return, while the client manager continues to be responsible for handling most communication with the client and ensuring that the process is moving. What Dawn says helps make their process more efficient is that Lacerte, SmartVault and the firm management software all exist on the same place in the cloud. “This one-stop shop makes it easy for my team,” she said.
- Reviewing and Processing the Return. Once the return is prepared, it is marked “ready to review” in the firm management software, and a third person on Dawn’s team reviews it. It is then marked “ready to process,” and a fourth person ensures they received the client’s payment, engagement letter and Form 8879 before processing the return. The team sends an e-copy of the final return to the client, and the document is stored in the cloud, where it’s easy to store and locate later. “The only filing cabinets we have store shirts!” she said. Dawn notes that while this process is new to her team, it is working very well. “Everyone has their own role. Completing one tax return involves four members of my team, each with a different function, touching the return. The beauty of the process is that it really leverages everyone’s strengths. The process is smooth, and everyone knows what to do.” She also notes that this makes onboarding new employees easy. “We just need to figure out what their strengths are.”
- Rinse and Repeat! I asked Dawn if she was done refining her workflow. “Never!” she said. At the end of October, her and her staff spent a day going through the list of clients to fire (“We get to be picky about our clients these days,” she said) and the list of clients who were amazing to work with, as well as refine pricing and review potential changes to the workflow. “We are always improving our process to be more efficient. We’ve fallen all over each other in the past, but we learn quickly from our mistakes.”
What will Dawn change specifically? “Next year, I will delegate the supervision of the tax returns a bit more. I want to interact with my clients, not push paper. My client relationships are so important to me.”
Whether you need a whole new workflow this coming tax season, or simply a few best practices to help you refine your current workflow, I hope Dawn Brolin’s workflow gives you some food for thought! If you have any other ideas for workflow enhancements to add, please leave a comment below.