Late nights, long hours, and lots of coffee. Sound familiar? If you’re an accounting professional, this may happen to you throughout the year. But, there are a few times in particular when the work days get longer. Cue busy season. So, when is busy season for accountants? And, how can you survive it without burning out?

When is busy season for accountants?

So, when is accounting busy season? Busy season for accountants generally takes place during the first quarter of each year (i.e., January 1 – March 31). 

During this period, you may have a time that’s busier than others, depending on your field of accounting. 

For example, auditors are typically the busiest toward the end of the quarter, while company accountants may be busiest at the end of each month.  

How many hours do accountants work during busy season?

If you’ve worked as an accountant during busy season, you’re probably all too familiar with the extra work hours required to do your job. Most accountants work well above the typical 40-hour workweek. 

According to one North Carolina-based public accounting firm, their accountants work anywhere from 55 to 100 hours per week during busy season. The number of hours depends on the accountant’s role:

  • 55 – 58 hours: Accountants
  • Up to 85 hours: Partners
  • 95 – 100 hours: Owner

Why is busy season … so busy?

What is it about the first quarter of each year that makes it such a busy time for accountants? There are several reasons that make this the most stressful time of the year for accounting professionals:

  • Beginning of the year: The start of the new year comes right after the end of the fiscal year for many businesses. For accountants, this means increased client demands (e.g., advisory, tax, budget consulting, etc.). 
  • Business tax return deadlines: Businesses that have a fiscal year ending on December 31 come to you for help filing their small business tax return on time:
    • March 15: Partnerships, multi-member LLCs, and S Corps
    • April 15: Sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs, and corporations (and multi-member LLCs taxed as corporations)

These beginning-of-the-year responsibilities coincide with other busy times, like month-end and quarter-end. And if you offer payroll services, you also need to help clients with their year-end payroll tax filings. For example, both Form 940 and Form W-2 have January 31 deadlines. 

In short, the first quarter of each year is a recipe for stress. But, there are several ways you can survive busy season—and even shave off some of those long hours. 

How to survive busy season 

Work, eat, sleep, and repeat may seem like the only four things you do during your busy season. But, there are several strategies you can try to minimize burnout and lower your work hours.

Here are five ways to survive busy season.

1. Use automation 

There’s a lot you need to do as an accountant, like advise clients, prepare business tax returns, and audit financial statements. Why not clear away the stuff that you can automate?

You can use APIs (application programming interfaces) to streamline your day-to-day responsibilities and save time for the hands-on work your clients need. According to Thomson Reuters, automating accounting processes can help you

  • Work faster
  • Streamline data entry
  • Protect data
  • File advance tax returns

APIs aren’t the only ways you can automate your work. The Journal of Accountancy also suggests using basic automation to do things like scan forms and populate databases.

Offer payroll services? Don’t get bogged down with quarterly and year-end tax filings. If you offer payroll services, you can use payroll software to automate your clients’ payroll from start to finish. Find a payroll provider with a reliable and reputable Partner Program to get started. 

2. Encourage clients to submit requests early

Ask clients to submit requests and information to you ahead of time. That way, you can mitigate the number of last-minute filings you have. 

Place a message on your accounting website, send out an email blast, and/or let clients know on social media about your firm’s deadlines. 

Communicate regularly with clients about when you need to meet and when they need to send information to you.

3. Be picky about the clients you work with

Do you have clients who call you up once a year—at tax time, and at the last possible minute—to enlist your help? If you find yourself taking on more clients than you have the bandwidth for, it might be time to get picky about who you work with.

For example, you may decide against taking on clients who hire you once a year. Instead, you could opt to focus on those you work with throughout the year. 

If your workload is full and you can’t take on new clients—or clients you’ve worked with sporadically in the past—be upfront. Consider including a message on your website, posting on social media, or sending an email about what your firm can and can’t do during tax season. 

You can even refer the clients you can’t handle to another accounting firm and receive a referral fee. But, make sure to brush up on the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct’s referral fee rules

4. Work as a team

If it’s just you in your firm, you can go ahead and skip this tip. But if you work with other accounting professionals, consider coming up with ways to share the heavy workload. 

One Atlanta-based accounting firm doesn’t require its accountants to work long hours during busy season—it simply incentivizes it for those who are able. The firm provides cash or paid time off to accountants who work more than 38 hours during tax season. 

5. Take time for you

When all you can think about is how much work you have going on, taking time for you is easier said than done. But, prioritizing your well-being can also make a difference in how you work by helping to reduce burnout and maximize productivity. 

During and after busy season, take time for:

  • Doing the hobbies and activities you love
  • Sleeping, exercising, and eating well
  • Being with family and friends

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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