Some taxpayers might need more than a do-it-yourself tax program but can't find - or fear they can't afford - an accountant. A new alternative for taxpayers this year is Teaspiller, a database of more than 20,000 accountants nationwide.
These are some benefits taxpayers enjoy. However, the true benefactor might be the practitioners who take advantage of the marketing and communication features offered by this service.
Accountants tend to be strong in number crunching, but less adept when it comes to blowing their own horns. Hiring a marketer can be expensive, and the same is true for establishing and maintaining a Web site. Solo practitioners may provide the best, most affordable tax preparation in town, but the expense connected with bringing new clients through the door can be discouraging.
Teaspiller enables accountants to list their names and contact information at no cost. While a simple listing is free, accountants have the option to pay for a more in-depth listing, according to Teaspiller CEO Amit Vemuri. An enhanced listing on the site can be far more affordable than other avenues of advertising.
Also, clients' ability to leave feedback on Teaspiller could lead to additional customers, as satisfied clients can be a major driver of new business.
With the availability of do-it-yourself software and online accounting tools, more taxpayers are opting to wing it on their own and save a few dollars on preparation, even if it costs them in accuracy. Also, many accountants report that yellow-page and online advertising are losing their effectiveness in drawing new business.
"Accountants have always maintained that they are better than software," said Vemuri. "But they haven't done much to prove it." Teaspiller offers a way for tax advisors to get their names and areas of expertise out there, along with positive references, so they can reach their target audiences without spending a fortune to do it.
Another advantage accountants find with Teaspiller is that initial contact for new engagements takes very little of their time. It can eliminate lengthy and possibly fruitless phone calls or walk-in visits from individuals who are shopping for price. Taxpayers can use Teaspiller to contact a preparer by e-mail. Accountants receive the message and can request more information by e-mail or phone, submit a quote, schedule an appointment, and, if both parties agree, send an engagement letter. The entire process, according to Vemuri, might take a few minutes of the accountant's time. The goal, he said, is to make the process as painless as possible for both the accountant and the client.
Because Teaspiller is online, taxpayers can find accountants in states where they need information. And the same is true for accountants who need to connect with experts in tax from other states.
"What we do is essentially marketing across country," said Vemuri. Accountants can interact with each other and say, for example, "I have a client moving to Miami. Let me introduce you."
Users of Teaspiller are free to look for service providers in any area of the country, which creates benefits for the site's users and accountants.
"I found Teaspiller to be a new and fresh way to get tax help to people and businesses across the country in an easy and understandable way," said Paul Dolnier, an Enrolled Agent from Rochester, New Hampshire. "It provided me with a way to interact and find new clients across the country that I might not have been able to locate and assist in any other way."
By establishing a format for contact, Teaspiller encourages communication with clients and prospects before, during, and after the tax preparation process. That ability to communicate helps to develop long-term relationships and a steady flow of income.
When establishing Teaspiller, Vemuri said his company went straight to the end-users for input. The company surveyed tax clients to find out what they wanted in their tax preparers. Then Teaspiller used the answers to build the accountant profiles that make up the database, incorporating questions such as "How long have you been licensed?" "Where have you practiced before?"
Accountants who participate in Teaspiller can receive payment for their services by credit card, a feature that many practitioners appreciate. According to Vemuri, the Teaspiller system makes it possible to speed up both the work and the payment by about 16 days, over traditional tax preparation.
Generally speaking, Teaspiller makes it easier for taxpayers to find accountants. For accountants, Teaspiller gives them a way to get their name out without breaking their budget, saves them time, and creates a space where they can connect with others in their field.