Is the ease of email damaging the personal relationships accountants are trying to build and keep with their clients and colleagues?   Some firm owners may worship the Internet for allowing them to expand their services to other cities and states without having to endure a strenuous commute for annual appointments.   Technology developments such as online portals allow clients to upload all their tax documents and download their return information without even speaking to their preparers.   This can save a firm countless man hours—and dollars—printing, copying and mailing such material and constantly calling clients for status updates.   But just because they don’t have to speak to or visit their clients doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. There’s something to be said for the value of face time.   Conferences provide a great venue to mingle with people in the industry and sometimes even speak to those in charge of implementing changes, especially at vendor shows.   Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of leaving their offices for multiple days at a time, let alone forking over the cash for the flight, hotel and conference fees.   Thomson held its 27th annual Creative Solutions Users’ Conference in Hawaii last November. Sounds like a great chance to enjoy some beach time with your CPE. But when the flight from New York costs more than $600 and takes roughly 13 hours, East Coasters likely thought twice. Attendance dropped by more than 100, which the vendor anticipated and attributed to the larger travel commitment and airfare prices.

Accountants don’t need to shell out a ton of dough to reap some of the benefits that come along with such ventures.   Unless they are stationed in Guam, chances are they have at least a handful of clients or associates within a reasonable driving distance. And it is worth the price of gas or a cup of coffee to spend an hour or two in front of them instead of tied to a desk.   Meeting face-to-face not only allows you to see how others work in their own environment but often opens doors to learn some more personal anecdotes that people might not be so inclined to reveal through electronic mediums.   January typically is a slower month for business consultants, so some of the editors here took the opportunity to visit a handful of them who are based in Manhattan, some a short walk from our downtown offices. Not only did we glean insight into some of the concerns they and their clients are preparing to address with Microsoft executives at the vendor’s upcoming Convergence conference in Orlando, but we discovered some tidbits of their life through photos and awards hanging on their walls.   One reseller shared a story of meeting Barack Obama right before he started his term in the U.S. Congress.   “He told me he was going to Illinois to learn how to be a senator. Three years later, he’s running for president,” recalled the reseller, who also shared memories of encounters with Hillary Clinton and Buzz Aldrin.

A reader survey we conducted at the start of this year triggered responses from accountants who experience difficulty juggling time because their clients want to talk to them about family updates and personal problems, not just tax issues.   The fact that they want to discuss such circumstances is a positive sign that those accountants are succeeding in establishing themselves as trustworthy confidants. Imagine how much more fulfilling these interactions could be if those accountants stopped their clients and asked them if they wanted to meet in person later that week or the following.   No, it’s not their jobs to serve as shrinks. But it shows they care while putting them in control of the timing and hopefully coming prepared with helpful advice on, say, balancing finances after a divorce.   We all live busy lives. Even within our offices, most of us are guilty of emailing or calling co-workers who are located on the same floor. Sometimes it pays to stop mid-conversation and ask permission to drop by their cubicles. You might just learn something.

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