[IMGCAP(1)]As tax season speeds toward its inevitable conclusion, you may find yourself able to spend less and less time with each individual client. In some cases, this may be a good thing; some clients do not improve upon further acquaintance, and are best dealt with through e-mail, portals and other remote technologies. (Repeat after me: “We’d love to have you into the office, but I know you’re busy, and this is really much more efficient for you.”)
In many cases, though, this is less than ideal. Their returns may require more face-time, or you may simply enjoy their company and wish that you had the opportunity to really catch up. The latter is the key to why these kinds of compressed meetings aren’t great: Because with many of these clients, you need to catch up. You haven’t seen them since last tax season, and you won’t see them again until next tax season.
A similar dynamic applies to your business clients, though the time frame might be quarterly or monthly. The fact is that many accountants only see or talk to their clients when there’s some sort of compliance deadline to be met. They interact with their clients on timetables determined by tax authorities or market regulators or standard-setters.
And you know what? Your clients notice that.
A company called Wasp Barcode Technologies recently came out with an interesting survey of approximately 400 small businesses to find out about their relationships with their outside accountants. There’s some great news in there for you — 88 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with their accountant; 62 percent think that there is nothing more their accountant could do to save them money on their taxes; and accountants are ranked as by far the most important professional in terms of importance to the respondents’ businesses.
On the less positive side: Their No. 1 complaint about their accountants was that they were more reactive than proactive. And that may explain the statistic that interested me the most, deep in tax season as we are: 71 percent of respondents use an accountant for tax prep, but only 30 percent use them for tax planning.
The space between those two is the gap between reactive and proactive, between complying and adding value, between services that can be commoditized and those that can’t be duplicated, between maintaining your practice and actually growing it. Clients notice that kind of gap, and while you may still be their most trusted advisor with a focus on pure compliance, they’d prefer that you focus on forward-thinking advice, on improving their business, on helping them grow.
Tax planning is a perfect example of that, as are the new iterations of client accounting services, and the wide variety of business analytics services that firms are developing. Given your expertise in tax and accounting and business, you’re probably close to being able to offer these kinds of services already; you just need to do a little work to formalize your particular offerings.
After that, you need to start reaching out and being proactive. Clients won’t come to you at first, because they won’t know about your new services, and there won’t be any filing deadline to schedule it for you, or any date determined by a fiscal or calendar period. You’ll have to pick the clients who are the right fit — maybe you can start with the clients you like but only see on other people’s schedules. Find an opportunity to talk to them where you have all the time you need to show them what you can do for them — and why they should want to see you more than once a year, too.
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