Most tax preparers who have been at it for more than a season or two have their own routines when filing season comes to an end. It may be personal, such as a combination of making up for sleep deficits, an extended vacation, and going out for leisurely meals with the family.
Eventually, it may become business-related, such as compiling after-action reports, making plans to stay in touch with clients during the summer and fall, taking care of continuing education, attending conventions, or other activities to expand the practice, such as exploring financial planning.
START MAKING PLANS
“It’s important to regroup with the team at the end of tax season,” said Salim Omar, president of Clifton, N.J.-based Straight Talk CPAs and CPA Marketing Genius. “You need to determine what went well, what could have gone better, and what lessons can be learned. Try to consider any opportunities there might be from working things a different way, resulting in innovations.”
“Tax season is two-and-one-half months of very intense activity, but we shouldn’t let it go to waste because there’s a lot of learning that can come from it,” he warned. “You can chart out a one-year or a three-year game plan based on what comes from meeting with the team. You don’t want people to lose the momentum from tax season — you want to ride the energy, and continue doing what you feel you should be doing to expand the practice.”
“Most of the preparers I know say they are going to get some sleep, get reacquainted with their families, and eat a good meal,” said Beanna Whitlock, a Reno, Nev.-based practitioner and educator, and former director of National Public Liaison for the IRS. “One of them [had scheduled] a triple bypass on the morning after the end of the season. He said he never had to worry about dying from January 1 through April 15, but he knew God has a sense of humor and he will likely drop dead then.”
Although she recommends practitioners begin sending out their “firing letters” at the end of the filing season, she cautions against doing it right away. “Evaluate your client base, the income and the ones you want to get rid of,” she advised. “Don’t evaluate alone. Sit down with your office manager, partner or spouse and determine what is best for you.”
“Not everyone that needs their taxes done is a good fit for us to prepare their taxes,” she said. “Those are the ones that don’t listen to us or pay attention to our advice. They want their advice from their barber, the cleaning person or the guy at the 7-Eleven.” (That last may be a bigger worry than you might think: The IRS announced in early April the option of allowing people to pay their taxes in cash at 7-Eleven stores, aimed at those who can’t pay by direct debit, a check or a credit card.)
“At the end of the season you’re freshly reminded of how they treated you, and how you now have to deal with the bad advice they took rather than consult with you,” Whitlock added. “But when you’re tired you’re not going to be making the best decision. Wait until several weeks have passed, then write them, ‘Dear taxpayer, I will no longer be able to prepare your taxes.’ That’s it. You don’t have to give them a reason, you don’t have to give them a referral to another preparer, you’re just not going to do it anymore.”
A particularly prevalent reason for firing a client this season is that some are trying to “funny money” the system, noted Whitlock: “They’re frustrated with the government and what’s going on in the country and they think the only way they can express their frustration is by cheating on their taxes. As preparers, we have to not only deal accurately with the information we’ve been given, we have to assess whether the information we’ve been given is fraudulent or not.”
AFTER THE VACAY
“The first thing most preparers do is get some sleep,” said Roger Harris, president of Padgett Business Services. And then, “In reality, most take some form of vacation, whether for days, or weeks, or months. It may just mean they go home and reintroduce themselves to their families.”
“After that, it generally depends on their practice model as to what they do,” he continued. “If they’re primarily a tax business, they probably have a significant lull until the extension deadline gets close. If it’s a CPA practice with lots of audits, then they turn their attention to that. If they’re like we are, with primarily small-business customers, they go back and refocus the mind and hopefully engage in marketing to add new clients to the practice. Most will also start to plan their CPE for the year.”
Right after tax season ends is when preparers can expect to hear from their software companies, according to Harris.
“They’ve figured out that that’s the time you have the most money, so they get in touch with you pretty quickly and ask you to make your decision for next year,” he said. “If you had a bad experience with their software, they want to market to you before you sign up with a competitor, and if you love the software, they want to market it to you while you have money in the bank.”
“Once that’s over, preparers need to start working their accounts receivable,” said Harris. “When you have to wait for your money, it’s like you’re offering a discount you didn’t plan on. I would hope that most preparers don’t have a lot of receivables, but time is not their friend. The longer they wait to get paid, the harder it is to get paid.”
While most preparers just want to take a break and relax, tax season doesn’t end after April 18, noted Chuck McCabe, president of Peoples Income Tax and The Income Tax School. “We still have quite a few clients who come in late. They just didn’t have all their papers together, and they’re not concerned about the penalty or they know they’re getting a refund, so they come in through the end of April.”
“One of our preparers takes a week’s vacation, but he prepares returns and manages a separate office at one of our locations, so he’s burned out,” McCabe said.
“A lot are aiming to become more skilled through CPE or seeking a professional designation,” he said. “And many are thinking about attending at least one convention like the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums, or those given by some of the professional associations. It’s good not only from a learning standpoint, but simply to mingle with other tax pros.”
In addition to cleaning the office, shredding old records, and whittling down off-season expenses, McCabe recommends surveying your clients to determine how satisfied they are with your services. “You want to know if and how you can service them better,” he said. “The information is not only valuable in itself, it shows your clients that you care.”
“Usually the response to mailed surveys is pretty low, unless you offer some sort of incentive such as a Starbuck’s card or a discount on next year’s taxes,” McCabe said. “It’s worth the cost of that to get feedback. At one point we sent postcards so they wouldn’t have to open an envelope, and for the ones that didn’t respond, we called as many as we could.”
The most important metric to measure —and, if you want to keep the survey short, the only metric — should be the net promoter score, according to McCabe. “That’s the percentage of your clients that would recommend you to others. The goal is to have it in the 90 percent range,” he said. “You ask your customers to answer a single question: On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are they to recommend your service to a friend or colleague?”
RELAX — BUT STAY IN TOUCH
“The No. 1 thing most tax preparers do is to breathe a huge sigh of relief, and take a vacation somewhere warm and tropical,” said John Hewitt, founder and president of Liberty Tax Service. “Personally, I never take a vacation. I work every day and I play every day. Every day I work to improve our system and support our franchises and every day I do something I enjoy — like a great dinner out with friends. Over the years, I’ve learned to enjoy the journey and, for me, that’s both work and play.”
Although he is based in Virginia Beach, Hewitt makes the time to travel to where he finds enjoyment. “I go to Broadway plays, concerts and sporting events. This year I’ll be at the Kentucky Derby, Yankee games — traveling and other events. For virtually all of them, I’ll be taking Liberty people or prospects with me.”
“When your vocation and your avocation are the same, you’re always working and you’re always on vacation,” he said. “I’m almost always doing both at the same time.”
Marty Davidoff, of E. Martin Davidoff & Associates, likewise likes to include other activities during tax season. The Dayton, N.J.-based CPA and attorney doesn’t cut down on physical activity when tax season is underway.
“During tax season, I keep some balance by continuing my basketball every Wednesday evening,” he said. “For two hours I run up and down the court like a 12-year-old.”
“Unlike others, I don’t take vacations immediately after tax season,” he said. “First thing after tax season is billing, then catching up on other work. Also, we need to catch up on firm evaluations. As we’ve grown, we have become more formal about them. I usually do take time off in May, depending on what is taking place. This year is unusual as between June and August I have three weddings to attend, one of them my own. Also, we are having our first firm retreat in early May.”
As far as staying in touch with clients, Davidoff says he does that all year long: “For those who don’t seek me out, I seek them out, even if just for lunch.”
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