8 summertime to-dos for tax practices

April 15 is past, and September 15 and October 15 are comfortably far ahead, which means there are no immediate deadlines for tax practitioners to pay attention to – leaving them, perhaps, with some time on their hands.

While a long, slow summer of leaving early and closing on Fridays may sound nice, it’s probably wise to devote at least some of that downtime to fine-tune some aspects of your practice.

Stephen Mankowski, owner of Mankowski Associates CPA LLC and immediate past president of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners, has put together a list of the primary objectives that many of NCCPAP’s members — including himself — aim to address at this time of year.

1. Continuing education
Rather than wait until the end of the year or the end of the reporting period, now is a good time for all staff members — not just owners — to catch up on their requirements, and to fill in any gaps in their knowledge or improve any areas of weakness.
2. Firm operations
Smart firms hold staff meetings to assess and review the prior tax season to prepare for the next, and to determine their off-season game plan. In particularly, they review their staffing levels to see if they had enough staff during busy season, and if they have enough for the balance of the year.
3. Technology: Hardware
Tax practices should check their servers — reviewing the systems and performing any needed updates (and possibly consider going to the cloud — see No. 5).

They should also review the performance of their desktop and laptop computers to see if they performed as expected, and if any need to be replaced. Finally, from a hardware perspective, firms should consider how many monitors staff are working with — two is rapidly becoming industry-standard, and some are moving to three, or even more.
4. Technology: Software
Now is a good time to perform needed program and system upgrades and updates, and to check on the firm’s level of cybersecurity.

Perhaps most important, firms should evaluate their tax software in terms of performance, price, support, security and more; vendors are ready to offer demos (and possibly discounts) to those who are considering a switch to a new tax software provider.
5. Consider the cloud
For those practices that haven’t made the shift to cloud-based systems and software, now is a good time to give it some thought.

Among the pros, according to Mankowski, are added data security; the ability to access data and systems from any place with an internet connection; automatic updates; potential savings from not having to buy a server or manage the firm’s IT; and automatic data backups.

Among the cons that he identified are the need to have an internet connection to access data; the relative quality of the practice’s internet connection; the speed on any given device; and the nature of the expense.
Open plan office space at Shopify in Toronto
Employees at Shopify Inc. work in their office space in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on March 13, 2015. Rents for brick-and-beam real estate in the city's east end rose 26 percent to C$20.62 ($16.13) a square foot from 2007 and were up 49 percent in the west end, according to data compiled by CBRE Group Inc. Photographer: Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg
6. The office
With fluctuating staff levels from busy season to the off season, it’s worth looking at whether the practice is utilizing its space effectively. Is there enough space during busy season without excess during the slow season?
Calendar with a red box around Tax Day, April 15th
7. Extensions
Due dates won’t stay comfortably far away forever, so it’s best to stay on top of extensions to avoid a time crunch come September and October. Keep an eye on outstanding source documents and other information you need from clients, and begin sketching out how you’ll manage the work that’s coming.
8. Recharge the batteries
It’s not all about housekeeping and improvements to practice: Practitioners should also play lots of golf (or pursue whatever other healthy pastime works for them), take much-needed vacations, and spend time with family and friends.
More downtime to-dos
For more ways to work on a practice during the summer, check out "7 ways to take advantage of a summer slowdown at your firm."