When the clouds thicken at sea, sailors batten down the hatches. As the holiday shopping season approaches in mid-November, retailers stock shelves and line up extra store help. So what do tax preparers do in early January?

“Much like a farmer, I sharpen my tools for the coming season,” said Kerry Freeman, an Enrolled Agent at Freeman Income Tax Service.

In that spirit, here are some of your peers’ other to-do items from members of the National Society of Accountants and the National Association of Enrolled Agents.

A place for everything. Sorting the paper remains one of the first tasks – for you as well as for your clients. Freeman, like many, prepared by “drafting and printing organizers and appointment letters for a January 2 mailing.” EA William Keats of Keats Tax & Financial Service spent time updating the engagement letter he sends annually to clients. So for you maybe this task is more about sorting paper to make sure the paper gets sorted.

Tech talk, tech talk... It’s hard to imagine what tax seasons must have been like when “software” meant a No. 1 pencil. Now you need your bits and your bytes all in order before the first client shows. Updating tax software tops the to-do lists for preparer Eric Hansen at Hansen Accounting and EAs Jerry Gaddis at Tropical Tax Solutions and Stephen DeFilippis at DeFilippis Financial Group. Hansen is busy transferring over last year’s clients, and “We’re looking for a secure method of exchanging information through the Internet with our clients,” DeFilippis added.

Prep it and they will come. Working ahead not only makes you look sharp and on the ball, but it smooths the workload as the season heats up. CPA James Perkins made sure weeks ago to meet with or call “all of my business clients to discuss year-end tax strategies and plan for fourth-quarter estimated tax payments.” CPA and EA Charles Grass of Grass CPA & Associates is also making sure to push “year-end and multi-back-year arrears projects, to reduce season distractions.”

Making a list. Of? “The naughty clients,”’ said EA Paul Thompson, “who will receive a letter that they no longer are my client.” Thompson also joins many other preparers in monitoring any nice new tax legislation that may affect clients.

Now it’s personal. Do you remember your first tax season? After that season, did you remember your family and friends? On the to-do list of San Antonio EA James Berardi: “Prepare my personal life for the next four months,” he said, plus “clean the building very well.” Ditto George Hodge of Hodge Accounting, who’s also “attending last-minute seminars.” 

Now it’s personnel. As tax season really heats up, no slip-up rears its ugly head quite like the wrong staffers trying to do the wrong jobs. “Review my office systems for staff,” Freeman noted, for the “proper handling of private information, cash and the new credit card machine. Also phone etiquette and scripts.” 

Review and recharge. CPA Joanne Elsen was recently reviewing business clients’ financials “to determine if their January tax estimates need to be adjusted and to discuss final tax planning items ...  I [was also] reviewing my fees for both my business and individual clients.” So was Laurie Ziegler, an EA at Sass Accounting, who also just attended a retreat with other tax pros: “Our goal was to recharge our batteries and to share ideas of what works,” she said. EA Daniel Setters of Accounting Plus Tax Solutions plans a mid-January break “to recharge the batteries and begin a 36th year of doing it once again.”

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