Now’s the time for accounting firms to plan for the 2018 busy season and beyond

Register now

Time to exhale, sit back and think ahead to what you want 2018 to look like at your accounting firm.

Now that the final deadline of the 2016 tax season has passed, accountants have a small window to look at their practices and plan for next year. This means not only reviewing systems and staff in preparation for the busiest times associated with tax, audit and financial statement preparation, but also giving thought to ways they can ease the compressed workload that so many accountants cite as a major concern. Seasonality/workload compression was a top issue among firms with fewer than 10 professionals in the latest AICPA Private Companies Practice Section's CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, and it has been a top issue for firms of all sizes in recent years.

Diversifying the firm’s services with consulting work is one way to ease the pressure some accountants experience to accept more and more new tax clients during an already-busy busy season. Consulting helps get more revenue from your existing clients and can drive in entirely new customers willing to pay for value-added services.

Katie Tolin, founder of CPA Growth Guides LLC and the past president of the Association for Accounting Marketing, says that another reason to offer consulting services in 2018 is in direct response to buyer demands.

“Half of all businesses will switch accountants at some point in time,” says Tolin, who led a recent webinar on driving more consulting revenue. “That’s half of your client base that can potentially move. That’s scary enough, but look at why they would decide to leave,” she says, citing data from The Sleeter Group/Accountex Report. “The number one reason given is because the CPA didn’t give proactive advice, only reactive advice.”

Clients want insight and help with problems—even problems they may not know they have, and firms offering solutions with proactive advice can capture the attention of buyers, Tolin says.

How do you know what solutions will sell? Ask, says Tolin.

“You first have to know what challenge a potential group of buyers is facing,” she says. “With that, you need to uncover the desired outcome. You then go back and solve for the solution—and the solution is the offering you need to add to your repertoire.”

For example, if an accountant learns (either through examining a client’s financials or talking with the client) that inefficiency is eating away at profits, he or she has identified a challenge. The client would rather be more streamlined. “They want their people to understand what they need to do, while not wasting time on things that don’t add value to the buyer,” Tolin says. “That’s the picture of the outcome they are looking for. Now, how do you get a company from inefficient to efficiency? This is where you identify solutions that will help. The solutions will be advisory services.”

Or maybe the accountant learns many of their older clients are worried about retiring and how they will exit the business. Helping business owners prepare their businesses for sale could be the solution that your accounting firm offers.

Accountants have several ways they can identify the challenges that are facing their clients and prospective clients, according to Tolin. One-on-one meetings with clients, potential clients, people who write and speak to your buyers, association leaders, vendors and even out-of-market competitors are all good ways to learn about the issues and problems clients face and where—if anywhere—they get help with them today. You can conduct informal surveys or study survey data from industry associations to learn more about the top issues facing clients and prospects.

Once you’ve determined the challenges, you can begin to identify the desired outcomes and develop the solutions that you are best suited to offer or that have the most potential for your firm.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Consulting Tax season Small business Mary Ellen Biery