tax and accounting clients
tax and accounting clients

Flipping the switch on advisory services during tax season

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If you want to grow your tax practice, expand your services and increase the difference you make with your clients, make sure you communicate your value to clients during tax season.

Many clients may think of you as their “tax preparer” and only consider your services to file tax returns. However, most tax professionals have amazing financial acumen and are capable of helping clients with many parts of their financial lives, including tax saving strategies, retirement planning, employee management, budgeting, forecasting, cash flow management, back office processes and implementing automation technology. The same clients who pay for convenience and confidence to file a return may be willing to pay for additional services. And, current clients can be the best source of growth because they already trust you, use your services, are very busy and would happily outsource additional services that can help them achieve their goals.

Tax season is the best time of the year to convert annual transactional clients into planning and advisory clients. Consequently, it’s important to have a communications strategy to increase awareness of your planning and advisory services. Many tax preparers complain that they give away planning and strategy without billing for the value they deliver, so it’s also important to position tax strategy, planning and advisory as separate engagements from tax preparation. Here are some ways to increase awareness of your services.

The tax meeting. Most clients don’t read your list of services on your website, and even if they did, they may not make a connection about how you can help them without having a conversation. Use the tax meeting to open the conversation up beyond tax preparation. Ask open-ended questions and track client responses, just like you do with a tax organizer, to identify advisory service opportunities. It’s important not to provide solutions during the conversation; instead, use the meeting to introduce additional services. For example, you could say something like, “We provide advanced tax planning services that provide a high return on your investment in our fees. We could definitely provide strategies to lower your taxes and help you reach your long-term goals. Would you like to schedule a planning meeting?”

Here are some sample questions to understand client goals and identify service opportunities:

  • How can we serve you better?
  • Are you on track to reach your financial goals?
  • Are you interested in tax savings strategies?
  • How much time do you spend on back office activities to run your business?
  • What is the most important thing you want to accomplish with your business this year?
  • Are there areas of your business you’d like to improve?
  • Is cash flow a concern?
  • Are there business reports or key performance indicators you wish you had?

Education campaigns. Firms that lead with planning and advisory usually provide general education to their clients throughout the year; this helps increase awareness of the firm’s expertise and planning services. Topics should be short and highlight the firm’s expertise in, for example, tax saving strategies, business growth ideas or wealth building strategies. The lowest fidelity channel is an email or mailed newsletter. Options that flex your technology aptitude include creating short videos to share directly with clients from your website, or from social media such as Facebook and YouTube. Video is more personal and engaging than plain text. Facebook can also be a great place to start conversations with clients and prospects. Again, make sure you are prepared to share a limited amount of general information in your education campaigns, and provide a call to action for the client to schedule a planning meeting. Everyone thinks about taxes during filing season, so increase awareness of your acumen during season, but offer your planning meetings outside of busy season.

Just do it. Another option employed by some firms is to simply update their service offering to include basic tax planning in every tax preparation engagement, and inform clients about the change. This includes a corresponding increase in fees for the increased value, and usually a process for clients to self select a planning meeting from blocked calendar options. This changes the value the firm delivers, from focusing on preparation to tax saving strategies, which most clients will appreciate. With this strategy, a few transactional clients may opt to leave rather than pay higher fees and engage in planning, but most firms agree the change just filters out clients who are not an ideal fit. Here is a sample message to communicate a change to bundled services to lead with planning and advisory services.

Client surveys. Sending surveys to every client after filing tax returns is a great best practice. Consider adding a question to understand how you can serve them better. Be broad and leave an open response text box. Some clients will tell you exactly what they want. Then, add a question “I would like to:” with a checkbox list of client benefits, such as pay less tax, plan for retirement, grow my business, increase my savings, automate accounting activities and simplify managing employees. Focus on their needs, not your services. When clients tell you what they care about, you have an opportunity to follow up and offer advisory services that align with their needs. In addition, when you receive stellar survey feedback from clients, consider asking them to write a public review on Yelp or your Find-a-ProAdvisor® profile. This will increase your referral and validation pipeline.

When your firm leads with planning and advisory services, your team can shift from reactive compliance to proactively helping clients reach their goals. Consider creating, and regularly updating, a living tax plan based on the client’s goals and changing circumstances, to replace the traditional, optional tax planning engagement.

With the right communication strategy, you can use tax season to fill your funnel for planning and advisory services. Make it a great season!

Jim Buffington, CPA

Jim Buffington, CPA, is an advisory services leader with Intuit® Accountants. He has 20+ years of professional experience in sales management, public accounting, strategic alliances, product marketing, business process design, new business development and strategic planning. Connect with Jim on Twitter @jimatintuit. More from Jim Buffington, CPA

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