By Paul Weber, Society of Professional Accountants director.

At the end of a tough year for the accounting profession, tax return time is almost upon us. How can you ensure the pressure doesn’t break you?

For many accountants, the phone started ringing in mid-March this year and hasn’t stopped since. And with further substantial announcements from the Chancellor seemingly every fortnight or so, there really hasn’t been much let up.

That means many of us are approaching the dreaded self-assessment season with our batteries already low.

There’s no magic solution but over the years, SPA members have learned some tricks and tactics for handling the stress.

Supply and demand

First, if you often find yourself too busy, it’s worth thinking about whether your pricing structure is right.

It can feel like commercial madness to turn away clients but ask yourself this: what would happen if I increase my fees by 10%?

The chances are that you’d lose some clients, but not many – and certainly not the ones who most appreciate what you do. And the increased revenue from those who remain will probably cover the corresponding loss of income.

You’re an accountant, I don’t need to tell you how to do the sums, but in general aiming for fewer, better quality clients is the way to go.

Don’t be shy about charging

Earlier this year, there was a sometimes bad-tempered debate about whether accountants ought to be giving away advice to support clients through COVID-19.

In particular, there was an argument that charging for processing claims for furlough pay was a bit ‘vulgar’. Others, meanwhile, stuck to their guns: clients could do it themselves if they weren’t willing to pay, via the Government’s online portal.

Now things feel a bit calmer, I’d underline the general principle that accountants should charge for their time and advice. Remember, clients aren’t only paying for the hour the job takes – they’re paying for the years of training and experience behind it.

If you’re feeling overloaded, charging – and charging fairly – for additional work is a good way to make some of it go away. Those who really need your help, and really value your guidance, will gladly pay.

Be clear and assertive

Across the board, it pays to be absolutely clear with clients. What do they expect? What are you going to deliver? What do you need from them, and by when, to do your best work?

Push clients to stick to agreed deadlines and be firm with them about the consequences of missing them: “I can’t give you an extension because my other clients will suffer.”

Of course you don’t want to fall out with anyone. That only increases the stress. That’s why it’s important to be calm and assertive rather than getting drawn into disputes.

Look after yourself

I hope these few quick tips are helpful but want to finish by underlining the most important point: nothing is worth the sacrifice of your own health, mental or otherwise.

We all expect to work some extra hours in January but try to stick to a routine as far as you can. Eat properly, exercise, sleep and spend time with friends and family – as far as lockdowns permit.

And if you find yourself struggling, talk to someone before you crack.

Join SPA for access to further advice, mentoring and networking for accountants.