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Managing your firm’s tax workflows with Google Sheets

Whether tax season is just around the corner or you work on taxes most of the year, most firm owners and supervisors dread the stress of busy season. It is a whirlwind experience, but also seems to go on forever, right? The worst part is feeling like you lose all control and you are having to circle back to do check on the same thing over and over again.

Gaining control of your tax workflow

The biggest struggle I found from running an accounting practice has been managing all of the firm’s work from a top level – not just each individual project. In the past, there was always a client that got lost in the shuffle, or a client I forgot to complete a critical step on that would horribly delay my timeline.

As an owner or manager, we need to learn how to manage several projects at once. This is where my Control Sheet has come in to save my life – and you can download my tax prep control sheet template any time you like. Since I’m at the top of the organizational structure in my practice, I need a top-level view of all the projects. Using a control sheet is how I’m able to have control without micromanaging.

Creating a firm-wide control sheet

For you to be able to have better control of your firm’s tax workflow, you need to be able to see everything at once and manage from that report. My control sheets are fairly simple, but they are amazingly effective. Here is the process:

  1. Create a collaborative spreadsheet. I use Google Sheets, so I can share the control sheet with employees or contractors. Everyone has access to update this in real-time, so I end up with a real-time dashboard of the firm’s work status.
  2. Determine the phases of your workflow. These phases will be listed as column headings. Once each phase is completed, a checkmark will be placed in the column to indicate that phase is done and we are now working on the next phase.
  3. List your clients. List all of your clients down the first column. I prefer to add a second column with the client lead or team owner on the project, so I know who is accountable internally. You can also add columns such as your client’s phone number or email address if you want to quickly access that information.
  4. Add filters to your spreadsheet. This will give you a more dynamic view of what is happening within your firm. Maybe you filter by the owner of the return to see how many returns they are managing and where they are with all of them. Maybe you filter by all the returns that haven’t yet completed a certain phase. This is where you get to dive in and really see what is happening.
  5. Leave room for comments. I feel like this is the most important part. Add a column for comments and also use the comment feature on cells within the spreadsheet. This allows you and your team to effectively communicate with each other on issues and other updates.

Here is a snapshot of a control sheet for individual returns:

Preparing returns

I reached out to a few fellow tax pros to ask them how they organize their workflow. Here’s what they had to say.

Preparing an individual return: Chris Ragain, CPA, of Halon Tax Software, uses these phases for preparing an individual return:

  1. Send organizer and engagement letter
  2. Review organizer and submitted documents
  3. Pre-tax meeting
  4. Tax return preparation
  5. Supervisor review
  6. Client presentation meeting
  7. Meeting debrief
  8. Tax Return changes
  9. Collect o8879s
  10. E-file
  11. Return originals with bound copy of the return
  12. Initiate tax planning for next year

Preparing a business return: According to Ira Blecker, CPA and Partner at Levy Tax & Consulting, these are the phases his firm uses when managing the tax workflow for business returns:

  1. Gain access to accounting system
  2. Other documents received
  3. Review books & documents
  4. Prepare return
  5. Technical review
  6. Partner or final review
  7. Send Final Return to Client
  8. Collect 8879s
  9. E-file return

“When a return is complete and ready for the client, we use the control sheet to note the final figures which our admin double check prior to sending out the returns and prior to e-filing to ensure nothing has changed from the final review figures,” said Ira. ”I think that is a great final step to ensure quality control and can even be another column on your firm’s control sheet.”

Practice management success with Control Sheets

Using control sheets in your practice can help you gain control of your firm’s tax workflow. Control sheets allow supervisors to see a top-level view of all the returns, and because this is a collaborative spreadsheet, you can delegate the responsibility of updating it to your staff. This makes the status of everything far more transparent and easier to communicate with your team on different issues or successes.

I recommend you go out and start taking control back this busy season by getting your control sheets in place. If you want a free template, you can get a copy on my website, QBOchat.com.

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