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What’s it Going to Take to Get Through Tax Season?

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

by Craig W. Smalley, EA

I have been in practice for 30 years and I admit I have been jealous of people that take vacations during tax season. I realized one day that I was killing myself and I did something about it. Here is what I did, and you may want to consider it.

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Feb 8th 2022

Let’s face it, the last two tax seasons have been rough on tax professionals and a lot are burnt out. In fact, some are considering leaving the business all together.

For 20 years I was the Senior Tax Partner for a firm where the philosophy was to take any client they could. We would charge $750 for a business tax return, and $250 for a personal return, no matter the complexity. This created a book of business of 2000 clients and I would kill myself to get all this work done. I missed my kids growing up, I missed holidays, I can even remember working on Christmas.

Further, when you take on any client you inevitably have the problem clients. You have the clients that are needy, and don't want to pay for your time. You have the jerks, you have the cheapskates, you have people that just think you just fill out forms and you get disrespected and think you have to take it.

If I went out of town I was still working. One day in the middle of tax season I was asked by the majority partner to do something unethical. I slept on it, went into his office and said I wouldn’t do it. Two days later, in the middle of tax season, I was fired.

The good part was that most of clients knew only me. So, the next day I set up a virtual office, and sent an email to all my clients telling them what happened and that I had left.

I ended up keeping a majority of the clients I dealt with, it was tax season after all. Some of the clients were great, however, there were also some that smelled blood in the water and were cheaper than ever.

I was happy because I needed the money, however I was getting burnt out. It was taking a toll on me and making me start to hate what I loved to do.

The breaking point was this long-time client had me drive to his mansion complete with an indoor pool. I talked to him for an hour and he asked what I would charge. I gave him the price because it was five returns he needed done. He complained, which he had never done before, and we started negotiating. I was so desperate for money I agreed to do five returns for $300. I was paying per return, and ended up making $50. That is when I had an epiphany.

I thought to myself I will drastically raise my prices, do fewer returns, and not kill myself. Long story short, I lost 50 percent of my client base and at the time the thought scared me. I was a one-man show and was doing accounting work monthly, and taxes during tax season.

After all, that’s what was done at the firm I came from. I hate accounting work, because it is monotonous. I love tax, and wanted to do more than fill out forms. Every idea I had at the firm I came from to branch out was shot down.

So, I got really good research software, and began studying everything. I was working 100-hour weeks learning. Not making any money doing it, and loving it. I started doing things I loved like tax planning, tax resolution and even went back to school to get a Masters in Taxation.

Despite initially losing 50 percent of my clients, these were the problem clients anyway, the clients that stayed, respected me. I introduced my new services to my client base and got a couple of hits, charged a lot and never got a complaint. I didn’t get a complaint because I was current on everything, was extremely competent, obtained a really good attorney and financial planner to refer clients to, and they would refer client to me.

The first year I went on my own, I made just enough to get by. However, the next year I was making so much it was like Monopoly money. More importantly, I wasn’t stressed and I took vacations, leaving my computer at home and turning my phone off.

After all, everyone takes a vacation, and people understood. I had the perfect work life balance. I didn’t take any client off the street. Learned how to advertise for free, and was loving life.

The burn out was coming from the problem clients. So, when they left or I accidentally got one, I fired them. I wouldn’t talk to the price shoppers and after meeting with clients, they never asked what I charged and never complained when they got the engagement letter or paid the bill.

My advice to you is to find a way to take mental health days even during tax season. Missing one day isn’t going to kill you. Nothing is urgent, and we are dealing with problems that aren’t really problems anyway. Fire the clients that are stressing you out over nothing and they will ultimately be replaced by clients that respect you and support what you do for them.

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