With the self-assessment deadline out of the way, many UK accountants will now be celebrating making it through their busiest time of year. 

And for the second year in a row, that busy period was even longer than usual. HMRC waived late filing and payment penalties up until 28 February 2022, with 2.3 million people reportedly missing the usual 31 January deadline.

Perhaps you’re now ready for a holiday, or maybe you’re getting back to work in preparation for the end of the tax year. 

But if you’re already dreading the next time you’ll need to file your clients’ tax returns – and wondering how you’re ever going to persuade the stragglers to get theirs done before midnight on 31 January – we’d recommend using this time to think about how you’re going to make the next tax season easier and more efficient for your firm. 

In most cases, we think the best approach is a combination of smart systems, targeted client communications, and strategic pricing. 

Show your clients how filing their return earlier rather than later will help them – and be ready to charge a premium if they won’t listen.

 

The carrot: tell your clients why they should file early

Let’s face it – no one’s top priority in the summer months is to file their tax return, unless they can see a good reason to do so.

That’s why it’s so important to effectively communicate to your clients about the advantages of getting their self-assessment done and dusted as soon as possible. It’s not just about sending them a reminder – it’s about showing them why they should care. 

You’re probably well-versed already in the benefits of filing early, but as an example, you could explain to your clients how they’ll:

  • get visibility on their tax bill well in advance
  • be able to budget and plan effectively before it’s due
  • avoid a last-minute panic and the risk of penalties
  • have more time for effective tax planning.

That’s not to mention the savings they could make if you offer a discounted rate for early returns, and a premium for later ones. (We’ll come to that next.)

Your communications could take various forms, from social media posts and videos to a newsletter-style email. Whatever route you choose, make sure you’re thinking about the best way to reach your clients and the kinds of messages they’re likely to respond to.

You might also take a different approach to different clients depending on their preferences. An effective practice management system can be a powerful tool for this, helping you to organise your client data and keep track of who you’ve reached out to so far.

 

The stick: look at your pricing structure

Money is a strong incentive, especially for a business owner who’s looking for cost efficiencies. 

By offering lower fees for early tax returns, and increased prices for those who come to you at the last minute, you’re giving your clients a good reason to get their affairs in order sooner. You’re also charging fairly, based on the demand on your resources you face close to the self-assessment deadline. 

Some accountants are reluctant to do this, and worry that by hiking their prices for January returns they’ll put off paying customers. 

But to this, we’d say: do you really want those customers? Are they the kinds of clients you’re forming a valuable long-term relationship with? 

In many cases, those clients who consistently miss deadlines, expect a quick turnaround for a low fee, and generally cause a problem for you and your team, are more of a cost than an asset to your business. 

Don’t be afraid to push back on them and establish boundaries for your team. By doing so, you should have a more sustainable business model – and a stress-free start to 2023.

Get in touch to talk about streamlining self-assessment.

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