Art of Accounting: Free tax season checklists

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Checklists are a method of developing a technique where the right things will be done the right way, in the right order.

I am in the habit of developing a checklist for almost everything new I need to do. When I have to do it a third time, I make it into a checklist for others in my firm to use, and if applicable add to my checklist package.

Part of my planning process for something new is to try to figure out what needs to be done, what work is preliminary, and what will be the beginning steps that will be built on, and of course the end result and deliverable. When I first started practicing, I made notes on worksheet paper and they included a lot of scratch-outs and changes, but it was good enough for what I needed. As I got into the routine of using Word, it became easier to type it out, and I was able to put things in the right order regardless of when I thought of it, so I then always had a good-looking checklist.

I found that by using it when I worked with a client, it created a number of favorable impressions that inadvertently and pleasantly became part of my “brand”:

1. The client saw that I prepared in advance for the meeting or assignment.

2. I was much better organized since I did the advance planning with the checklist and that saved me time and effort doing the work.

3. I was able to determine what assistance I needed and at what level, and many times was able to pass on some of the work to others.

4. I was able to determine a module or step approach to the project, thereby setting prices for each step, or making clients aware of the entire scope of the project, and enlisting the client’s personnel so that the fees could be kept to a lower amount.

5. My staff became impressed with my evident organization of the project and that spurred them to work better.

The major benefit, besides being better prepared and organized, was that if a similar project came my way, I was a step ahead with the checklist and was able to leverage my knowledge with having staff follow the steps that I would have done.

A peripheral benefit is my sharing with fellow professionals. This made me feel good in being able to give back, but it also helped develop my reputation within the profession. It has also led to referrals from colleagues unable to perform certain services that my firm could do. I became the point of contact at Withum easing it for them and benefiting us with referrals.

In addition to the checklists, I share certain internal Withum information such as our Dress for Your Day booklet. This has been included with my checklists as has an internal memo for tax filing dates. Since I get so many calls from colleagues and have many interactions with clients, some of this has led to new checklists or additions to ones I have, so the value of the checklists has grown.

Each year I update them in January and make the new package available. The total is now 80 checklists you can use in your practice. It is available in Word so you can easily adapt and use in your practice. For a free download, click here. If you are having trouble downloading it, send me an email to GoodiesFromEd@withum.com.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Tax practice Tax preparation Workforce management Tax season