[IMGCAP(1)]Picture this scene in households across the country: the daily fat stack of mail arrives. Among the magazine subscriptions and car insurance junk mail is an odd-sized, but strangely familiar envelope. The W2 has landed—the annual scorecard of the year that was.

A wave of reflection follows. Was this a good year? What did I do, start, stop, forget? Reflection gives way to practical thinking. Tax season is coming. Am I ready? Do I have the right person? Should I consider getting help this year?

This moment played out in nearly every home in America this January. Millions of people ask themselves, “Am I ready for this?” While some people will toss the form in a drawer and forget about it until April, most will take a moment to consider the alternatives. Younger filers may be ready to take the step to professional help. Your competitor’s clients are open to considering an offer from you. Your clients are wondering if they have the best help they could. With at least 82 million tax returns prepared by a tax professional you need to be ready for your industry’s equivalent of Black Friday.

It can be overwhelming to consider this during the busy season. Here are three categories and some suggestions to organize your thinking and get you started.

1: Getting New Business Now. Get found the moment people begin their search for an accountant.

• Focus on your online presence. If you don’t have a business website, get one! It’s 2015—people won’t find you if they can’t read about you online. There are plenty of services that can help you get one quickly. Consumers are also increasingly turning to mobile for their local searches so make sure your site looks great on mobile devices. Mobile offers speed and convenience for users who are usually very goal oriented. Three out of four mobile searches trigger follow-up actions, which can mean real results for your business.

• Optimize for search. A good website that can’t be found is the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Try searching for tax prep in your city and see what comes up on the first page. If your business isn’t there, get to work on search engine optimization. There are good books like “Local Online Advertising for Dummies” or lots of info online to help you. You will need to keep up to date as some of the rules change frequently.

• Fix your business listings. Search your company name online and check all the listings (Google, Angie’s List, Yelp and the American Institute of CPAs are important in your industry) to make sure they are right. You need to contact each listing service and provide them with the correct information about your business, and keep it updated whenever you make a change.

• Offer great incentives. Something as simple as “Free Consultations” goes a long way in getting new people in your door. You could also offer welcome back incentives to people who have used your services in the past or a percentage-off for first time clients.

• Pump it up with paid search. Use simple ad copy to describe your services, or better yet, promote your offers. More people will see these and be incentivized to try your business if you put some ad budget behind it.

• Ask for referrals. Consider offering a referral bonus —like 10 percent off a tax return—to get your existing clients to help spread the word about your business. Email them details about your services and rates that can easily be forwarded to friends, family and co-workers.

2. Protect Your Existing Client Base. Last year’s clients aren’t guaranteed. It might come as a surprise, but you’re not the only accountant in your area reading this article! Everyone is after your clients. You need to stay top of mind to ensure repeat business.

• Get back in touch. Don’t wait for them to call you. Start reaching out to your existing clients now. By getting in front of them early, they’ll be more likely to remember you when it’s time to start preparing their taxes.

• Be helpful. Position yourself as a thought leader by offering friendly advice. Send emails with helpful tips, newsletters with information on changes in tax law, or encouraging messages that show you care. There are many online services that can make this more manageable by allowing you to upload contacts and send professional emails directly from their platform.

• Seal the deal. Make sure you lock in their business by sending early-bird offers, loyalty incentives and countdown reminders.

3. Build for the Future. Not only are you in front of more people than ever this time of year, your industry is in the spotlight for a few brief months. Make the most of this time so that you can win more business beyond tax season.

• Collect customer data. This is the perfect time to complete client profiles and make sure all of your information is up to date. Ask every client that you speak with if you have their latest email, address, phone number and other relevant information. This way, you’ll have an accurate contact list for future outreach and campaigns.

• Get reviewed. Ask for reviews from every satisfied client you speak with. You’re not going to get tax prep reviews in November, so if you don’t get them now, chances are you’ll be waiting until next year and that will be too late. Reviews are critical to the success of your business—78 percent of purchasing decisions are affected by online reviews. You should also monitor and respond to reviews. It makes a big impact on consumers if they see you’re taking the time to address a review, regardless of whether it’s negative or positive.

• Surface new opportunities. Think of each client who comes in for tax prep as an opportunity for more business. Ask questions that can help you uncover any unmet needs and take the time to educate them about your other services that can help them out. Make a note to follow up with each client on specific opportunities after their taxes have been filed.

• Encourage repeat business. Use presumptive language that indicates you’ll be continuing a relationship with them, like “when do you want to get back in touch for next season?” Lock in future appointments and put the details in your contact list so you can send out reminders next year.

This may seem like a lot to accomplish during your busiest time of year, but investing time in your online presence will help you get better results and establish stronger client relationships. It’s not too late to make sure you have a successful tax season, and it’s just as important to take advantage of the time you are in front of your clients now to set yourself up for future success throughout the year and beyond.

Paul Bascobert is Yodle’s president of local. Yodle is a local online marketing provider that helps 45,000+ local businesses, including 1,300+ accountants, find and keep their customers simply and profitably. For more information, visit www.yodle.com or contact the company at info@yodle.com or (877) 276-5104.

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