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Preparer Terror – It’s Real – How to Prevent It

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...

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By Stacie Clifford Kitts CPA

A phenomenon affecting tax return preparers often proceeded by recurrent nightmares centered around tax return preparation. People experiencing Preparer Terror may exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. Extreme anxiety  and temporary inability to remember simple tasks such as how to spell your name
  2. Being jolted from sleep accompanied by an overriding desire to run to the office
  3. Weight gain or if you’re lucky weight loss
  4. Constant fear that you are forgetting something  – like what return was I working on, where did I put that piece of paper, who am I – ya know stuff like that.

Ways to prevent Preparer Terror:

  • Set the proper level of client expectations.

Let your clients know the drop dead due date for receiving 100% of their tax documents. If I receive tax documents after my due date, I let the client know that I might not be able to file the return on time. I will try my best. I’ll even stay up all night. But there are only so many hours in a day. If your stuff arrives late so might your tax return.

  • Evaluate your level of staffing.

If you have a tax practice, the notion is that you have some idea how long it takes to prepare a tax return. Um maybe not. Sometimes partners are so far removed from the daily prep grind that they have NO idea how long it should take a staff to prepare a return. The general rule for me is if I can prepare a return in 8 hours, a new staff may take 3 to 4 times that amount of time. So partners, listen to your staff when evaluating your staffing levels.

  • Be organized.

Well duh, you say. Well ya this is a duh moment. When your mind isn’t working and you are on the verge of losing it, knowing how and where to find the information you need might save you. So if your administrative staff is responsible for filing stuff away, you had better make darn sure your processes, and procedures are being followed like their lives depend on it!

  • Set clear expectations of your staff.

The other day I was visiting a CPA firm, it was pretty late at night, and there were partners and staff in the office working away. Then an extraordinary thing happened, the staff up and left before the partners.

In my day, leaving the office before the partners created a clear and present career danger. It just wasn’t done. I am all about work life balance, heck my kids grew up in my office. However, if you want to have some sort of lasting career in this industry – might I suggest that you get permission before leaving the office during busy time?

Making sure your staff understands what it really means to OWN a project and take responsibility for its completion is an important part of not only managing your firm but also helping to prevent Preparer Terror.

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