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How accounting firms grapple with client retention

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With each passing year, new challenges for tax preparers present themselves. One thing that hasn’t changed is that you need to start preparing long before your busy season begins. Whether you’re trying to increase your profitability, expand your clientele, or improve your retention numbers, it’s important to review the previous year and explore what you could do better.

It’s a frustrating feeling to be confident in the quality and output of your firm, but to see a plateau or drop in your growth. All businesses face these periods of standstill and unease, but it’s usually a signal that it’s time to strategize new paths to growth. You’re not alone, as a survey by Accounting Today found that 36 percent of accounting firms’ biggest concern for 2020 was acquiring and retaining new clients.

Expanding your client base takes a lot of effort in several different areas including marketing, expanding services, hiring new professionals, and personal outreach. Retention is an entirely different animal, one that requires a different set of strategies. However, if you’re successful, it could prove even more valuable than expansion.

Putting retention in the spotlight

Attracting new clients is vital for growth, but retention is even more important. The impact of acquiring a new client is null if two clients walk away. One step forward, two steps back. In the accounting world, client loyalty is never guaranteed — if they feel a better arrangement is available, then they’ll probably take it.

It’s unwise to focus too many of your resources on client acquisition and not enough on retention. Fortunately, client retention efforts are almost always cheaper than expansion. Therefore, focusing on your retention numbers is paramount to maintaining growth without having to spend more.

Communication

For every form you need to fill out and process, for every document you need to go digging for in the filing cabinet, and for every signature you need to go track down, that’s time taken away from communicating with your client. The time spent on redundant processes is the bane of true productivity. Shifting from a system that requires manual processes to one that assigns these tasks to an automated model, allows high-skilled professionals to refocus their efforts toward strategizing, analyzing and communicating with clients.

Communication can even be improved without direct input from you, thanks to automation. Automated messages containing notifications or reminders let clients know their account is a constant part of your daily process. Furthermore, secure transmission of documents, protected by encryption, will let them know you take their privacy seriously.

Retain employees to retain clients

An important aspect of retention is the long-term relationship between clients and individual tax preparers. As mentioned earlier, client acquisition and retention is a big concern for firms, but according to the same Accounting Today survey, acquisition and retention of good employees is an even bigger worry as accounting firms prepare for the next season. The two challenges are tied together.

Clients want consistency. They need to build long-term relationships with their tax preparer, so they understand what they’ve been through and how their situation has changed year to year. They don’t want to have to retell their story to a new preparer if their regular one has left the firm. It’s especially challenging since turnover in accounting is higher than ever. In a highly competitive field, larger firms are offering more benefits to talented CPAs to lure them away from the competition, usually small firms.

It’s more vital than ever that accounting firms offer their employees an engaging work environment that allows them to be productive and accomplished, without being overworked. Fatigue and feeling overburdened at a job are some of the main reasons CPAs look for other opportunities. However, tech solutions can help lighten the load, namely by streamlining or even eliminating the most redundant tasks of a CPA.

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