[IMGCAP(1)]If you’re an accountant, this is your busiest season. As April 18 looms, you’re working nights, eating delivery food, and your schedule is on the verge of mayhem. But good news—it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can thrive at this time of year. The key: work smart. Here are five tips to make this season pay—and keep paying year-round.

1. Ask for payments early. When I was a partner in my own accounting firm, I noticed that a lot of the other accountants were reluctant to ask their clients for payment because they were worried that it would ruin their client relationship. This resulted in chasing payments for the work that they did—days, weeks or months after the busy season ended. This is detrimental for several reasons. It might mean hiring a collection agency, which costs you money and may damage your client relationships. (What client wants to be hounded for payment?) It may also result in not being able to pay yourself or your staff for work you’ve done until much later, or having to tap a line of credit during busy season to float the cost of getting the work done.

What I recommend is to collect payment from customers up front. To get clients more welcoming of this approach, give them an incentive to prepay by offering a 5 percent early-payment discount. When I offered this, not everyone chose to take it. But if they did not prepay I would ask to keep their credit card information on file and would charge it when the work was completed or milestones were met.

I found that offering the discount made it much easier to open the payment conversation right in the beginning of the relationship during the sales discussion. This is important, because once you get the payment conversation out of the way, your customer relationship trends more positive in the long run. My early-payment option also alerted me to potentially problematic clients. Those who made an issue over payment right off the bat I tended to avoid, figuring that these were the clients more likely to delay—or skip—payment later.

2. Get your staff to think like a business owner. I had my staff on salary, with a bonus structure that incentivized them to make fewer mistakes. Any write-offs caused by their work would result in a smaller bonus. For example, if a staff person of mine was working with 10 clients, with revenue for those clients targeted at $10,000 and, out of that $10,000, only $9,000 was collected due to write-offs or cash not collected from the client, then that bonus would be based on $9,000, not $10,000.

This encouraged my team to think like business owners and provide the opportunity to upsell services and generate more revenue for the firm, while earning a higher bonus. Over time, we virtually eliminated write-offs and our collections were up to date. During crunch time, we were much more efficient as a firm and worked more like a team.

3. Leverage a distributed workforce. There are a lot of accountants out there who want project work and you can use them to make your business more productive and profitable. How do you find them? There are networks to help you, including bookkeeper and accountant directories.

Leverage those resources to distribute your workload—and save overhead—and you can give a real boost to your business during your busy season.

4. Embrace technology. Some of the most rapid technology advances lately have been in the field of communications. You should put them to work for you. These include communication tools to connect with clients and operate more efficiently. You can also explore third-party tools that integrate with your accounting software to help you manage a distributed workforce and streamline job-management and workflow.

5. Stay healthy. Eating every meal out of white takeout boxes during busy season? Not sleeping enough? Friends and family wondering whatever became of you? This is not a good thing—for you or your business. Research shows that “work martyrs” are actually less productive. Even during your busy season, it’s crucial that you take a proper break for dinner, especially if you skipped lunch. Leave the office, eat with family or friends and finish in the evening at home.

I always kept healthy food in my office for me and my staff. Instead of having junk food around, we had apples and bananas. I would also suggest you have your whole office stop for 20 minutes and exercise together or take a relaxation or meditation break. These breaks are vital. If you stop what you’re doing for even a short time, your brain will recharge and power your productivity.  For those of you that need a playlist to use for relaxation or meditation, I have created this Spotify Playlist for you to use!

Busy season can be taxing. But if you work smart you can be more efficient and save a significant amount of time. Maybe even enough to do your own taxes.

Amy Vetter is the global vice president of education and head of accounting, USA, for Xero.

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