3 ways to get a head start on Self Assessment

Starting blocks on a race track

It’s never too early to think about Self Assessment! If you’d like to cross the finish line easily in January, you’re in the right place. In a recent webinar, FreeAgent’s Tony Stevenson FCA (Senior Digital Enablement Manager) teamed up with a panel of experts to discuss strategies for the upcoming Self Assessment season and how to support wellbeing at your practice. Here are three key highlights from the session.

1. Gather information early from clients

Chasing information from clients is a common challenge for accountants and bookkeepers, so it’s essential to communicate with them as early as possible. Anna Nikolovska ACCA (Director, Digital Accounting Enterprises) said: “Self Assessment is such a long deadline, so it’s easy to concentrate on other tasks such as VAT and payroll. We need to start on Self Assessment a year ahead. 

“We started recommending FreeAgent to most of our self-employed clients two or three years ago. As long as we explain how to use it and check it throughout the year, it saves us time preparing for Self Assessment. 

“We also use practice management software to automate reminders. We send our first chasing email on 6th April. We might not get much of an initial response but after a month, there’s another reminder and another one. We’ve done half of Self Assessment for this year with automated chasing. And now we need to concentrate on the other half!” 

2. Build a winning culture

As the busiest time of the year ramps up, it’s important to maintain a happy and efficient team. Hannah Campbell (Partner, TaxAssist Accountants) shared: “I’ve had to be quite creative in this space, as we’re a traditional shop-front model. I can’t quite embrace the remote or hybrid working, so I started thinking about how else we could support the team.” 

“We spend so much time at work that I want people to be happy and healthy when they’re here. My team can check the diary, and if there’s office cover, they can book annual leave with no permission needed. An employee assistance programme is also available for them and their families, and we regularly work with Katie Maycock, who you can find on LinkedIn - she specialises in managing stress and preventing burnout. 

“If you’re not looking after yourself in terms of sleeping, eating, keeping fit, that is where stress can turn into burnout. It’s not always things I can change as an employer, but I can educate my team on how they can look after themselves and have balance.”

So, how do things go when it comes to January? 

“We try to keep it fun! Feeding the team is a big part of that to keep them going. But we also blow up balloons for every tax return to be filed, and we take turns popping them when the returns are filed. There are some occasions where we’re having champagne and cupcakes by lunchtime and others where it’s the 31st and we’re still working at 5 p.m. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.”

3. Find digital tools that fit you

Having the right tools at hand can help with practice efficiency. But how do you ensure you’re investing in the best technology and not just adding an unused subscription?  

Will Rush (Head of Commercial at Pixie) said: “Different tools have different attributes that might work for you and not for others, whether it’s FreeAgent accounting software or Pixie practice management software. With Pixie, you can send and receive documentation and set up automatic emails and workflows.”

Highlighting a gap in the market, Will points out, “One of the gaps we’ve identified as a business is that there are a lot of tools for email automation but there’s not many to automate WhatsApp messages or SMS messages. That’s something we’re focused on building into our product over the coming months.”

Adopting the right tool isn’t just about the practice itself - it also involves guiding your clients to understand and make the most of them. He continues: “It’s the same with your clients - if you implement FreeAgent, it’s also about educating them on why you’ve chosen it and how it will benefit them. The main reason that change gets rejected is because people don’t understand it.”

Watch the full recording here to hear all the insights and tips discussed in this webinar. You’ll even earn a CPD point.

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