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Real life is like high school, and why CPAs should care

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The iconic actress Meryl Streep said, “Real life is more like high school” than college. She meant that in real life, your likeability matters more than your proficiency. If you think about it, the most important part of your job is your ability to make friends, i.e. build relationships.

That’s especially important for professionals, when so much of our client interaction is virtual. Millions of Americans were feeling isolated even before the pandemic hit. The nation’s “Loneliness Epidemic” was at alarmingly high levels. Now, half a year into the quarantine, the feeling of isolation is only getting worse.

In times of crisis, however, we are offered an opportunity to connect and build stronger relationships with clients if you lean into the situation. With so many clients and prospects feeling disconnected, they’ll welcome the opportunity to talk — especially if it’s with someone like you — a person they trust. They’ll be even more inclined to do so if you don’t just focus on their taxes and personal finances.

When is the last time you asked your clients:

  • “How are you dealing with this situation?”
  • “How is your health?”
  • “How are your kids and grandkids handling distance learning?”

Clients are buying a relationship; they’re not buying technical expertise

They don’t really know what “expertise” looks like. But they do know what a good relationship feels like and that’s what they’re willing to pay for. They already assume you’re great at the technical aspects of your job. Being technically competent is like showering. It’s expected, and you shouldn’t get any extra credit for it doing it.

Your job is to build trust to a high enough level that clients implicitly trust you. The more your clients trust you, the more they will listen to your advice, and the more you can help them.

During scary and unprecedented times like these, there’s never been a better time to connect with your clients on a deeper level. People are at their wits end. They’re spending an inordinate amount of time stuck at home. They can’t travel for work or for pleasure. It’s hard to see friends and family. School, sports and religious gatherings are not happening. And it might be this way for a long time.

Just make sure you have mastered basic connectivity tools and always dress for success, even if you’re not working from your office during the workday.

The trusted advisor who just happens to do your taxes

Clients don’t care if you’ve completed an accurate tax return or you have effectively consolidated their books. Again, expertise is implied. They want to know that you care. They’re stuck at home. They have personal issues. They want to talk about it during times like these. That’s a huge opportunity for you to be more than just the ”CPA who does my taxes.”

You’ve already talked at length about delayed filing, amended returns and the PPP program. Now ask how the pandemic is impacting them personally. They don’t want a tax expert. They want a trusted advisor — someone they can talk to about anything — who also happens to do their taxes. For you to provide relevant advice on the business side, you have to understand your client from the personal side, which is the underlying motivation for everything.

A year ago I wrote “Take a lesson from the sharks: Move or die.” The point was that CPAs, like sharks, have to keep moving and innovating or else they will be swallowed up by the competition and ultimately die. I was tying in to the hit reality show Shark Week on The Discovery Channel. But move or die couldn’t be more applicable for today.

The big opportunity in today’s disrupted, socially isolated world is there’s never been a better time to get hold of people (i.e., clients) and have meaningful conversations with them. Lean into all the changes before us and keep moving while you learn to adapt. It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s essential for your survival.

What’s been your experience with teleworking? I’d love to hear from you.

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