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1040 Efficiencies

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#1
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2022 was my first year being self-employed. At that, currently I'm a solo-practitioner with no support staff. That is hopefully going to change at some point 2023, and hopefully sooner than later. With that being said, I had some questions on how to increase efficiencies or spend less time in the process:

1) I use Canopy practice management solution. I prefer to handle stuff electronically as much as possible. If all I'm doing is preparing someone's 1040, I almost don't care to meet them in person. That being said, I still try to have a thorough process. For new clients I have them fill out a personal information page. I can upload this to the client portal and they can fill this in directly in the portal. I also have an annual questionnaire. Again this can be fill out directly in the portal. If a client wants to bring their documents in person, is requiring them to fill out these forms ahead of time through the portal or mailing them to them and setting the appointment far enough in advance for them to receive it something to consider? I believe I spent WAY WAY WAY too much time having clients fill these forms out live and in person this year.

2) I'm a talker and I tend to always give too much feed back or go the long way to answer questions. I've tried to get better at this over the years, but I know its something I struggle with. That being said, for most 1040 clients, I don't need for them to sit down and tell me the life story of every tax document that they have. I don't mind going over okay so you have x number of W-2's, x numbers of investment account 1099's, etc. but again, I feel like my drop off appointments were WAY too long. A majority of the time I can work through most things without the client giving me a ton of information, unless something really changed this year, new rental property, etc. I'd like to limit these meetings to no longer than 15 minutes. I've thought about even charging my consultation rate for meetings that go longer than this?

To sum it up, I basically want to figure out a way to dramatically spend less time on the intake/onboarding and drop off times. I don't mind some of it, but as my client list continues to grow, I won't have as much time for these meetings.
 

#2
ATSMAN  
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First you have to decide which role you prefer. A smart accountant that wants to be profitable or a Tax Coach?

Hire a part time assistant to do the usual chores that don't make much money but consume most of the time.

Onboard clients that are not going to be a resource hog. You have to establish based on your billing rate how much time you can afford to give a client/return to be profitable. For those that don't meet those benchmark get rid of them.

Use checklists to help your clients gather the information you need. I offer a 30 minute phone or video consultation as part of my engagement to new clients. Most of my established clients can manage without a video consultation.

Good luck for next tax season.
 

#3
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I agree that drop-off appointments for recurring clients are largely a waste of time unless there's something unique that happened during the year.

(1) I've tried a number of things and have never gotten more than half of my clients to have this filled in before their appointment. I limit my checklist to 1 page long and send it with my organizers (a separate, fillable PDF file for electronic organizers and on colored paper for paper organizers). This year I'm going to put a link on my appointments (which sends calendar invites and reminders) to see if that helps. If you have a receptionist/assistant, you can have them make sure that the forms are filled in, like at the doctor's office, if you want.

(2) If you want your drop-off appointments to be 15 minutes long, schedule them for 15 minutes and communicate that beforehand. Do a year-end newsletter with this information. I also put the meeting length in my appointments, so my clients would receive a schedule confirmation called "Drop-off Tax Documents (15 mins)" in this example. I also have a large clock on the wall of my office that is intentionally kept a couple minutes fast. These are just gentle reminders, but they work quite often. And if they don't work, you can consider whether an offending client is right for your practice moving forward.

That said, the tax return process should be much faster the second year. 50 new clients might take as much time as 100 existing ones so you might find these problems will disappear on the existing clients. Then, all you have to do is train the new ones that come this year :lol:
 

#4
JAD  
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I guess the question is what type of practice do you want to have. If I took some of the attitudes described above, many, maybe all, of my clients would fire me. My goal is to make each person feel like he/she is my only client. And I bill accordingly. Yes, it can be challenging to sit down for 1 1/2 hours paging through source documents that you are already quite familiar with, but if this meeting causes the client to have increased confidence in you, then it is time well spent, because the evaluation should be based from the client's viewpoint. And bill accordingly.

If the client considers you a commodity, does not want any human contact, and is happy uploading docs and not having any personal connection to you, then great, do it that way for that client.
 

#5
CathysTaxes  
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My in person client talk my ear off. What can one do? I plan to retire after next tax season.
Cathy
CathysTaxes
 

#6
smtcpa  
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We have our clients complete their questionnaires online using RightSignature; no portal, no downloading and uploading. Make it easy for them. We also use this for new clients to supply us with their basic info like address, date, of birth, driver's license info, etc. I have my part-time assistant do this and she is well worth the money.

I do not have any in-person visits since we are virtual. This cuts down on a ton of time.

For prep (I know you asked more about onboarding and initial visits, but this has been my biggest time saver) I started using Gruntworx two tax seasons ago. My admin handles the scanning and Gruntworx process but I cannot believe how much time it saves me in prep.

As far as being virtual and not meeting clients and wondering if you will scare away clients, it won't. When I told clients 15 years ago that an appointment was not necessary, there was a collective sigh of relief that they didn't have to spend time that they also thought was inefficient. It doesn't mean there is no client contact. I do it through email, phone, and zoom. But tax season is about compliance and that is not the time to be developing relationships. That comes during the offseason and tax planning. A lot of clients prefer virtual prep and if you shape your office strategies and marketing, they will come in that way. At least that has been my experience, and I can't stop new prospects from coming in the (virtual) door.
 

#7
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JAD makes a very good point. It is all about the client base that we service. I work mostly with moderate income taxpayers and I can identify with pretty much everything Warnick says.

I suppose the starting point is how one bills. Last season I moved from fixed fee to charging hourly. I am about to lose a business client as a result and, to be honest, I am happy at that. More time for everyone else.

Now, this may sound (ahem) direct, but I think it is rude for a client to turn up without having made an attempt to complete the organizer. However, charging by the hour makes it bearable - as long as they pay up, with or without a smile.

I think fifteen minutes is too little. Either they need to be dropping off (because there is nothing to discuss) or they have questions. I schedule half-hour appointments with a 15 minute break between each one so that I can sanitize my office and clear papers away in an orderly fashion. I only do appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the day, with one evening slot available Monday-Thursday if (and only if) the client is tied to a desk during regular business hours. I dropped Saturday appointments in 2021 and nobody has said anything. When a client calls for an appointment, I ask if they need one or if they just want to drop it off at the front desk (for clarity, I work from a Regus office and have no support staff of my own). It's amazing how many have moved towards just dropping off without an appointment. I hear the elevator, I hear their voice and by the time the elevator has reached the ground floor, their (sealed) package is in my hands. Mind you, there are unique reasons why I think drop-offs have been popular, but I won't bore everyone with the story.

Charging for longer appointments is reasonable in my view. The trick is in figuring out how to explain this to clients.
 

#8
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My firm has a "serve the client and charge more philosophy" like JAD's, but does something totally backwards. We do "NO drop off appointments" under any circumstance, but we provide "review" appointments instead.

There is nothing that I can't get from 99% of clients from our online organizers/questionnaire and then a simple email with a 1,2,3,4 type list of very simple questions - if its even needed.

Many clients demand an appointment prior to signing their tax return rather than just reviewing and signing on their own. This is no problem at all and here is where "serving the client well" comes in but the time is spent reviewing the return, discussing tax planning, and then finalizing the tax return - not working on the return.

We will NOT give a client an appointment until all information and documents have been provided and I have the tax return ready for their review and signature! Otherwise, the appointment is a waste of time for everyone.

I don't mind the "review appointment" because it catches errors/misunderstandings and it brings up important planning points that tend to save time later. Also, it serves the client - it is me they are paying for and I don't mind performing accordingly.

It also prevents clients form making changes over and over again after the return is finalized and delivered - which is a real time drain for me - I don't know how I ended up with such ineffective individuals. With the appointment, however, they come in (or meet online), look at it, discuss it, sign it, and I file it as they walk out of the office (or as they log off of the meeting). Done.

I have a personal rule that I keep all urgent non-tax pertinent opinions to myself - no one really wants to hear them anyway. That really shuts me up and saves time. I have a lot to say, but I don't say it - it's about the client, not what I have to say. Clients think I'm clever anyway because, with a half grin, I'll make a 3 word dry or sarcastic joke about what they are discussing about their taxes (rather than just repeat what they say). This also shows I'm listening and people love to be listened to.

This backwards method of no appointment drop offs is opposite of what I was taught - but it really works well for me. Clients will demand appointments prior to providing all docs but we always resist, explaining that it doesn't pay for them to sit there and watch me type data and check each line of the return while they sit there. We assure them that they will get a meeting once they provide everything.

Time saved. Client served. Client happy. Important tax items discussed. Tax return accurate. Nice big fee.


My in person client talk my ear off. What can one do?


I won't tolerate this. I will put my hand up and interrupt the client, reminding them that I have an appointment just after them and if they want to file their taxes with me, we will have to stick to the point. Unfortunately, I haven't lost any of these clients as a result. One even said, "OK, please just don't send me somewhere else".

This stresses me out to no end, I will admit however, I HATE dealing with "branchers".
Last edited by ItDepends on 18-Oct-2022 11:29am, edited 4 times in total.
 

#9
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JAD wrote:I guess the question is what type of practice do you want to have. If I took some of the attitudes described above, many, maybe all, of my clients would fire me. My goal is to make each person feel like he/she is my only client. And I bill accordingly. Yes, it can be challenging to sit down for 1 1/2 hours paging through source documents that you are already quite familiar with, but if this meeting causes the client to have increased confidence in you, then it is time well spent, because the evaluation should be based from the client's viewpoint. And bill accordingly.

If the client considers you a commodity, does not want any human contact, and is happy uploading docs and not having any personal connection to you, then great, do it that way for that client.


Obviously, if there was something new and unique with the client, I'd absolutely want to talk with them about it before preparing the return. And if it's the first year of a new client, I find that it can sometimes be a good investment of time. But for recurring clients with recurring situations, I haven't found the same benefit as you have.

Like ItDepends, my practice is focused on basically a "flip" of the traditional tax prep system. Instead of a major pre-preparation meeting followed by a quick client pick-up, I prefer a quick client drop-off and a major post-preparation meeting. As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

In my practice, my value-add is the delivery. When done live, the appointment is 30-60 minutes long -- we chat for a while, we review the return together (mostly based on the 2 year comparison), they sign the return, and I get paid. Basically, I'm just taking the chatting and catching up portion of the traditional pre-preparation appointment and moving it to the finalization meeting.

smtcpa wrote:We have our clients complete their questionnaires online using RightSignature


Would you be willing to share more about this process? I'd love to know how you use RS for questionnaires.

SumwunLost wrote:I only do appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the day, with one evening slot available Monday-Thursday if (and only if) the client is tied to a desk during regular business hours. I dropped Saturday appointments in 2021 and nobody has said anything.


This is, in my opinion, a good compromise. Even though we need to be open for our clients, it's important to impose some gentle rules.
 

#10
smtcpa  
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Here's a sample. You can enter your name and email and go through the document; just don't submit it. Basically, anything that requires a yes/no question or text can be sent via Righstognature. They complete it online and then we download it to our workpaper file.

https://secure.rightsignature.com/signe ... RJz2X76kxB

missingdonut wrote:
smtcpa wrote:We have our clients complete their questionnaires online using RightSignature


Would you be willing to share more about this process? I'd love to know how you use RS for questionnaires.

 

#11
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This use of RS is cool.

Please allow me to add that we use Google "Forms" to create questionnaires and we like it better because the questions can be programed with logic.

For example, when a question about having non-US accounts is answered "yes", it takes the client to an extra section with more questions about it.

It also opens up data entry boxes if the client indicates an address change, etc.

Then, "Forms" also allows for all kinds of sorting and spreadsheet exports. It's pretty awesome.

What a time saver it is and clients love it too. It translates well to mobile devices and clients can complete it while waiting in line or even in the morning in the bathroom, for example. :twisted:

It used to be like pulling teeth to get these things answered in writing, now it often comes back a few minutes after we send it.

It also gets authorization from all clients to file an extension.

Finally, it provides a link to my insanely long engagement agreement and it has them check a box saying the read it and that they agree (then they sign it later with the tax return).
 

#12
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I would much prefer the "at the end of the process" appointment that ItDepends describes. It's very common for me from May through December to work this way. But by volume, that's the exception. Most of my tax season meetings are at the front end.

The main problem with changing that is the workload in April. I don't meet with any clients starting 04/01/XX. I get all of my meetings done by the end of March. I'm not sure how to switch that. Perhaps more gets done sooner, but I can't imagine my sanity the first week of April looking at a calendar full of meetings.
 

#13
smtcpa  
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I like the programmed logic idea. If we move to TaxDome (big if) I will definitely implement the logic-based forms.

ItDepends wrote:This use of RS is cool.

Please allow me to add that we use Google "Forms" to create questionnaires and we like it better because the questions can be programed with logic.

For example, when a question about having non-US accounts is answered "yes", it takes the client to an extra section with more questions about it.

It also opens up data entry boxes if the client indicates an address change, etc.

Then, "Forms" also allows for all kinds of sorting and spreadsheet exports. It's pretty awesome.
 

#14
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Why did you say big if on moving to tax done?

smtcpa wrote:I like the programmed logic idea. If we move to TaxDome (big if) I will definitely implement the logic-based forms.

ItDepends wrote:This use of RS is cool.

Please allow me to add that we use Google "Forms" to create questionnaires and we like it better because the questions can be programed with logic.

For example, when a question about having non-US accounts is answered "yes", it takes the client to an extra section with more questions about it.

It also opens up data entry boxes if the client indicates an address change, etc.

Then, "Forms" also allows for all kinds of sorting and spreadsheet exports. It's pretty awesome.
 

#15
smtcpa  
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I am really struggling to get it to do some things that seem basic. Still working with support on workarounds but there are some oddities like not being able to record a date a project came in, export jobs that are in various stages, etc. I'm still hopeful because it does do some amazing things too.

TaxMan2020 wrote:Why did you say big if on moving to tax done?

[/quote]
 

#16
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I’m getting ready to evaluate it in November, I desperately need something to help and it’s the top of my list. Hopefully they can do it by date because I try to do returns FIFO and like to look at that by date.

Can you make projects or to do’s for anything like phone calls, etc?

smtcpa wrote:I am really struggling to get it to do some things that seem basic. Still working with support on workarounds but there are some oddities like not being able to record a date a project came in, export jobs that are in various stages, etc. I'm still hopeful because it does do some amazing things too.

TaxMan2020 wrote:Why did you say big if on moving to tax done?

[/quote]
 

#17
Miami88  
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I have a similar questionnaire for new clients and have never, ever had them file it out in person. I email it to them to print and complete and then drop off with all their paperwork. Most of my clients just drop off, we do a quick 3-4 minute chat and that's it. Some make appointments, some don't, but I'm not in the office all day every day, so I think that it's more of a factor of to ensuring I'm in.

I am a sole prop with no admin staff and will be making some changes this year. Mainly trying to group like things together, phone calls, reviewing returns, etc. Switching between tasks and being interrupted is a huge time suck for me.
 

#18
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smtcpa wrote:Here's a sample. You can enter your name and email and go through the document; just don't submit it. Basically, anything that requires a yes/no question or text can be sent via Righstognature. They complete it online and then we download it to our workpaper file.


Oh, that's really cool -- thanks for sharing! It's similar to Google Forms but without going through Google... I might have to give that a shot.

RazorbackCPA wrote:The main problem with changing that is the workload in April. I don't meet with any clients starting 04/01/XX. I get all of my meetings done by the end of March. I'm not sure how to switch that. Perhaps more gets done sooner, but I can't imagine my sanity the first week of April looking at a calendar full of meetings.


That's a tough hurdle, but off the top of my head there are a couple things you could try:
- Require clients to get their documents in earlier (or they go on extension).
- Push more clients toward extensions, in general.
- Limit the number of appointments scheduled per day, or limit them to certain days/times.
- Use a service like Loom where you can present the information to the client outside of a formal meeting.

I'm sure there are other options, and of course not all of my thoughts would work for all practices. Also, you don't have to change everything overnight; you can use next tax season as a beta test with a limited number of clients.
 

#19
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I'm looking into Loom as an option. I have a mortgage broker client who's been using it for years. He included me on a video he put together for a client and it has some incredible opportunities. We can anticipate 90% of questions from clients on their tax return and Loom allows clients to go back and review this information at their pleasure. I think the other 10% can either be a quick call or tackled in May/June.
~Captcook
 

#20
smtcpa  
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I want to look at Loom as well. But today I never have meetings with clients unless there is something we cannot do through email. If we must meet, it is through phone or Zoom. At the 'delivery' of their return, I send an email if their refund or amount owed was much different than expected describing what changed. I'd say 98% of my clients need no follow-up. I definitely can't see the need for meetings or videos except for a handful of cases, but it is a nice tool to have in my back pocket.

One more thing to add to the OP question, and that is purposely scheduling more extensions. We are evolving into more of a planning firm so we have a very good idea as to what a client's tax liability will be on 4/15. We can schedule those payment amounts today, and automatically extend returns during tax season. All new clients are being quoted with a 50% premium if they must have their return done by 4/15. And when they agree to extend, we are starting to schedule clients by week from January through August to even out the workflow. I decided it was time to end the insanity of tax season and I am slowly chipping away at it.

CaptCook wrote:I'm looking into Loom as an option. I have a mortgage broker client who's been using it for years. He included me on a video he put together for a client and it has some incredible opportunities. We can anticipate 90% of questions from clients on their tax return and Loom allows clients to go back and review this information at their pleasure. I think the other 10% can either be a quick call or tackled in May/June.
 

#21
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smtcpa wrote:I want to look at Loom as well. But today I never have meetings with clients unless there is something we cannot do through email.


As mentioned above, this all depends on the kind of practice you want to have. I liken my desired approach to fit the "Customer Intimacy" model. I want my service to feel personal and specific to my client. There are obvious constraints to that, but that is the aspiration. To the extent I can automate processes and still approach that goal, I will. A well dialed in Loom presentation is miles ahead of what any email could provide in that respect.
I think too many people, in all industries, rely upon email much too heavily. It has its place, but is still very impersonal and can easily be heard in a voice well different than intended.

There's no right answer here. Just the answer that aligns with the strategy you set for yourself.
~Captcook
 

#22
MWEA  
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RazorbackCPA wrote:I would much prefer the "at the end of the process" appointment that ItDepends describes. It's very common for me from May through December to work this way. But by volume, that's the exception. Most of my tax season meetings are at the front end.

The main problem with changing that is the workload in April. I don't meet with any clients starting 04/01/XX. I get all of my meetings done by the end of March. I'm not sure how to switch that. Perhaps more gets done sooner, but I can't imagine my sanity the first week of April looking at a calendar full of meetings.


I’ve done it both ways, I’ll never go back to drop off meetings again. Another practitioner told me I was doing it wrong but I wasn’t sure how to change the process when clients were used to meeting up front. Covid changed that and now we don’t do any drop offs. I’ll probably review returns with less than 50%, most of our long-term clients know what we need or we can give them the list by email. As long as the result is normal, they don’t desire an explanation.

The efficiency gains will be so high that I think it more than outweighs your other concern.
 

#23
MWEA  
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MWEA wrote:
RazorbackCPA wrote:I would much prefer the "at the end of the process" appointment that ItDepends describes. It's very common for me from May through December to work this way. But by volume, that's the exception. Most of my tax season meetings are at the front end.

The main problem with changing that is the workload in April. I don't meet with any clients starting 04/01/XX. I get all of my meetings done by the end of March. I'm not sure how to switch that. Perhaps more gets done sooner, but I can't imagine my sanity the first week of April looking at a calendar full of meetings.


I’ve done it both ways, I’ll never go back to drop off meetings again. Another practitioner told me I was doing it wrong but I wasn’t sure how to change the process when clients were used to meeting up front. Covid changed that and now we don’t do any drop offs. I’ll probably review returns with less than 50%, most of our long-term clients know what we need or we can give them the list by email. As long as the result is normal, they don’t desire an explanation.

The efficiency gains will be so high that I think it more than outweighs your other concern.


In fact, we believe so highly in this that for clients that aren’t able to upload, we mail them a Priority Mail postage paid envelope to send us their documents.
 

#24
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I’m going to think hard about making this switch. I know the meeting has to be more productive and effective for the relationship.
 

#25
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JAD wrote: My goal is to make each person feel like he/she is my only client.
.


Maybe I'm misreading you, but I'm personally wary about this approach/mindset with my set of clients (NYC area types). The most difficult clients I deal with think they are "the only clients I have" and are very demanding and take things personal when you don't meet their preconceived timelines/expectations of a "personal accountant"
 

#26
JAD  
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My practice is so very small. My whole world runs on about 15 relationships, counting a family group, their trusts and small businesses as one. I am 59 years old, and I wrapped up a brutal 4 1/2 year project as trustee (I will never do that again) in 2020. Age combined with too much work during the Covid insanity was a game changer. So, taken all together, I have done some major revaluation and downsizing. I am not accepting any new clients who aren't willing to be extended. Last year, a client provided his partnership information on 9/13 and told me to "do the best that I can." I didn't even open the email attachments. I said I would do it when I returned from vacation, that I cannot turn a return around in 2 days. I've never done that before.

So...taken all together, my world is not what it was even 5 years ago, I do have boundaries, but I can be extra accommodating since I have such a small practice.
 

#27
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JAD wrote:I said I would do it when I returned from vacation, that I cannot turn a return around in 2 days. I've never done that before.


Good for you. I feel too many professionals don't maintain their boundaries like this. It enables clients instead of them feeling like you went WAY above and beyond for them.
~Captcook
 

#28
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JAD wrote:My practice is so very small. My whole world runs on about 15 relationships, counting a family group, their trusts and small businesses as one. I am 59 years old, and I wrapped up a brutal 4 1/2 year project as trustee (I will never do that again) in 2020. Age combined with too much work during the Covid insanity was a game changer. So, taken all together, I have done some major revaluation and downsizing. I am not accepting any new clients who aren't willing to be extended. Last year, a client provided his partnership information on 9/13 and told me to "do the best that I can." I didn't even open the email attachments. I said I would do it when I returned from vacation, that I cannot turn a return around in 2 days. I've never done that before.

So...taken all together, my world is not what it was even 5 years ago, I do have boundaries, but I can be extra accommodating since I have such a small practice.


No CPA/EA ever lied in the grave wishing they had one more client to finish. Good for you.
 

#29
JAD  
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Yes, thank you. I guess the other thing was I wasn't operating very well for a while during Covid. And then earlier this year I broke 3 ribs and collapsed a lung, which just reinforced that I need to leave some extra time for life's emergencies.

All of that sounds well and good now. 15 years ago I would have just rolled my eyes and carried on as fast as possible. Lots of bills to pay, kids to raise, etc. Sometimes we don't have much choice.
 


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