What Have We Learned?

Another April 15th has come and gone, and many of you are getting your first well-deserved break in weeks. Congratulations! You’ve put another tax season behind you. Now, what have you learned?

This is a great time of year to sit back and take stock of the season that just ended, while it’s still fresh in your mind. So ask yourself a few questions — and take time to reflect on your answers:

  • Did you make all the money you wanted? I’m guessing a lot of you will answer “no.” So let’s dig a little deeper. Was this the first year you were disappointed? If so, can you identify why you were disappointed? (Local economy suffering through job loss, etc?) Is there something you can do now to prevent the same disappointment next year, or steps you can take over time to protect yourself? If this isn’t your first disappointing season, what’s going on? Is the problem revenue, expenses, or both? If the problem is revenue, then you’ve got two options. You can charge more from your existing clients, or you can go out and find more clients. It’s your call — but I’ll tell you that most (but certainly not all) TaxCoach members find it’s easier to charge more than to find new clients. Maybe next year will be time for a general fee increase. I’ve spoken with dozens upon dozens of TaxCoach members who have implemented significant one-time fee increases (generally ranging from 15-25%), and not one of them has ever told me they regretted it. If the problem is expenses, well, it’s time to take a good hard look at your spending. Are you getting value from your office space, your staff, and your other expenses? If not, perhaps it’s time for a change.

  • Did you work too long this season? I’m guessing a lot of you will answer this one “yes.” So again, let’s dig a little deeper. My son Oliver, who’s nine, is a big fan of Orange Leaf, one of those frozen-yogurt-plus-toppings places that seems to have popped up all over the place. (My guess is that these places are replacing all those cupcake stores that were so popular a few years ago.) Oliver and I will often stop by after dinner — and he’ll load up his bowl with too much yogurt, too many chocolate chips, and too many gummy worms. His eyes are bigger than his stomach, to say the least. A lot of us are the same way when it comes to work. We take on too much. Some of us take on too many clients, others keep too much of the work for ourselves and don’t delegate enough to our staff. Either way, we end up with the same sort of queasy feeling we get after too many gummy worms! If you’re one of those people taking on too much, then it’s time for an intervention with yourself. Can you really handle all the promises you make and still get home in time to take your kids out for dessert? If not, what’s the answer? Maybe charging higher fees will let you work less. Maybe it’s time to add staff. Or maybe it’s time to set new expectations for your clients so you can pass more work to the staff you already have. This is one problem that won’t solve itself. So what’s your plan for handling it?

  • Did you get the respect and appreciation you deserve? This question probably isn’t the first on your list. But it’s an important quality of life issue. Did you start your own business, at least in part, because you don’t like being treated like crap by a boss? If so, why would you put up with the same behavior from a client?I’ve had several TaxCoach members tell me that firing clients is the most fun they’ve ever had with their clothes on. If you’ve got clients who don’t give you the respect you deserve, well, you can show them the highway. If you’ve got a client who says, “I do it my way,” you can tell him he’s not Frank Sinatra, and send him packing.

  • What went especially well this season? What can you do to make sure it goes just as well — if not even better — next year? How can you turn it into a system to replicate that success?

  • What went wrong this season? What can you do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

  • What do you already know you want to do differently next year? What can you do now to give yourself a head start on it?

Don’t just breeze through these questions and put them aside. Take some time to answer them, in writing, even. Share them with your staff and get their input. (They’re smart people; that’s why you hired them.) Share them with your nine-year-old, if he’s the one who’s missing out on frozen yogurt time because you’re too busy.

The Greek philosopher Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Well, I’m not quite as profound as Socrates, but I will say the unexamined practice is not worth running. Now is a great time to do some examining, with benefits to your bank account and your blood pressure!