Winter is coming

I’ve always found it interesting that the traditional busy season for accountants mirrors pretty much everyone’s experience with the early months of a new year:

1. January: Starts out slow. Everyone’s still got the post-holiday hangover. After the first couple weeks pass, though, people start to settle in and get used to the idea that it’s winter.

2. February: Generally awful. The weather is awful. The holidays are awful. February is the nadir.

3. March: Lion, lamb, etc. There are some welcome distractions in March. St. Patrick’s Day. Lots of basketball, if you’re into that. 

4. April: The worst is over for some, but not for others. There can be some unwelcome surprises in April. 

There’s some variation, of course, based on what kind of accountant you are or your geographic location. On average, a run-of-the-mill tax accountant in Boston has a far worse winter than, say, a transfer pricing specialist in San Diego.

This winter, as you all know, will be much different and—if the predictions are right—much more unpleasant. My colleague Luke Pardue explained in a blog post just how unpleasant:

The arrival of colder weather threatens to wipe out the jobs gained in August and September, or roughly $190 billion in economic activity. These losses are most acute in America’s mid-size and smaller cities: eight of the ten cities facing the largest projected losses have populations below 200,000 people. Black and Latinx workers bore a disproportionate share of job losses at the onset of this pandemic, and these further losses threaten to exacerbate the economic burden placed on those already struggling.

Accountants who serve small businesses have a lot of experience preparing for harsh winters. Still, this one will likely be harsher than virtually any winter you’ve faced before. And while I’m sure some of you like a good challenge, I seriously doubt anyone’s looking forward to doing all the busy season work they’re accustomed to doing, plus helping keep many businesses from closing, plus trying not to get sick. That’s the winter-from-hell trifecta if I’ve ever heard one. Throw in distance-learning for your kids and you’ve hit the superfecta. Oh, and it’ll be the first remote busy season for many firms this year. Almost forgot about that. 

Anyway, what Luke’s analysis underscores, at least for the purposes of the discussions we have around here, is just how critical accountants will continue to be to their clients for the next several months. Many businesses will be figuring out how to operate their businesses when everyone wants to be inside, but inside is maybe the worst possible place for everyone to be. This may require accountants to use some George R.R. Martin-level creativity to help their clients navigate the hardest winter they may ever see.

On the Margins Live

On the Margins Live returns with Will Lopez and me next Tuesday, October 27. You can watch on LinkedIn LiveFacebook Live, or YouTube. Among other things, we’ll talk to Justine Lackey of Good Cents Bookkeeping. BE THERE.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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