Tough Lessons from Tax Season

How to conduct an after-action review for a better season next year: 8 essential questions, 11 new opportunities.

By Sandi Leyva
The Complete Guide to Marketing for Tax & Accounting Firms

Now that the initial tax deadline is past us, it’s a good time to take a look back to see how things went and how they can be done better. This is called an after-action review, and it’s not the same as a de-brief or a post-mortem. It’s a great tool for large companies, and small businesses can benefit too.

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An after-action review is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.

The review provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do this season?” conversation in the hall. For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90% and your rate was 85%, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the 5-percentage-point variation.

Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase turnaround time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your turnaround during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.

The review requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the review is increased accountability.

The core questions to ask yourself and your team include:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What did happen?
  3. What worked?
  4. What should we keep doing?
  5. What didn’t work?
  6. What are some improvements?
  7. What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of tax season?
  8. What personal lessons did you learn?

Even if you don’t offer taxes or your year is not seasonal, you can use the review as a way to improve your business. Take a look at your first four months of performance this year. Are you on track? What improvements do you need to make for next year that you can work on over the summer and fall?

Some opportunities to use the review include:

  1. Technology changes and/or additions or training
  2. Staffing changes
  3. Hiring process changes
  4. Marketing changes and/or additions or training
  5. Practice management changes and/or additions or training
  6. New service development / new niches
  7. Changes in your existing services
  8. Client retention
  9. Sales cycle changes or development
  10. Pricing evaluations
  11. Client surveys, communications, and/or service level changes

The good thing about the review is you can make it as formal or informal as you want. You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind. Try it in your business, and let me know what you think.


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