The annual organizer is dead – long live the engagement kit

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We recently merged two accounting practices into our firm this fall. One of the first things we discussed with our new colleagues was how to start communicating with clients when tax season kicks off in January. We discovered that one of the firms still mailed tax organizers to clients in January.

While they didn’t really expect their clients to fill out the paper organizers, they knew the document remained an effective way of reminding clients to start getting organized well before April 15—and to keep the firm’s brand top of mind.

Since clients generally don’t throw out tax organizers from their CPA, having the folder sit on a client’s coffee table is a round-the-clock reminder that tax season is coming and that your trusted CPA is always ready to help. But in order to help, clients have to provide you, their CPA, with all the necessary accounts, statements, receipts, financials and other supporting documents to give you the best possible result come April 15.

Annual Organizer 2.0

The "organizer" is no longer something that most clients will actually fill out and stuff, staple and paperclip. It’s a tool to get them organized and to prevent them from procrastinating about their taxes.

Here’s what high-performing CPA firms include in their annual organizers (engagement kits):

  • Updates on tax reform;
  • Significant changes to the firm over the past 12 months;
  • New team members who’ve joined the firm since last tax season;
  • 2019 tax planning items or 2018 changes;
  • Additional services and capabilities the firm offers—many of which clients are not aware of;
  • Let them know the organizer will be delivered electronically for their convenience

Annual Organizer 2.0 (The Engagement Kit) is a robust client newsletter and marketing kit for your firm all rolled into one. It’s not just a bunch of lines and boxes to fill out.

Key components of the tax season engagement kit

1. Let everyone know you’re sending this electronically in response to client requests to do so. This offers “Social Proof” to clients that “if other clients want paperless, then maybe I do too.”

2. Provide clients with a link to their own online portal that contains their organizer as well as folders where they can store their supporting documents.

3. Make it easy for your less tech savvy clients to call you and to arrange to have a traditional paper organizer mailed to them. Before sending, have a staff person call the client, acknowledge their request for paper, and let the client know they are able to print their own organizer directly from the portal. Surprisingly, many clients don’t realize this.

Early January is the ideal time for firms to start readying for tax season

Note how we’re using technology as a facilitator, not as a mandate. We let clients know we’re happy to mail them a paper organizer if they prefer, but the default option is electronic. Don’t make clients opt in for paperless — make them opt out of the portal. Every year, fewer and fewer clients request the paper version when they see how much easier and more efficient the portal is. It’s so much easier than sifting through stacks of paper and receipts on their coffee table.

When it comes to the portal itself, keep it streamlined and simple. Don’t confuse clients with too many options. Don’t give them more than three or four folders to work with. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Online portals, paperless organizers, value-added client welcome kits and re-engagement tools are not about using technology to look cool and contemporary — they're about leveraging technology to make your clients’ lives easier and to help them make the best possible decisions.

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Tax season Tax practice Client portals Client relations Client communications