On the LinkedIn Tax Professionals forum, someone asked: “What sets you apart as a tax professional?”
That’s a good question.
After all, we face growing competition from do-it-yourself tax software (boxed/online), the purportedly less expensive storefront operations, and various volunteer programs, such as VITA, TCE, and tax clinics. Why should anyone need us?
There were some good replies in the forum, focusing on providing customized reports and analyses about clients’ tax situations and finances. It’s also definitely important to provide personalized service.
One of the most important things you can do as a tax professional is return phone calls promptly. Besides, who would want to refer their friends to you if you’re too busy to even return their calls? Long gone are the days when you could look important by not deigning to return client calls for several days. (A huge problem in the CPA firm where I worked. Although staff knew the answers the clients needed, we were not authorized to provide them. The partner would often wait a week or more to return calls. Meanwhile, clients were calling us frantically each day because business decisions, escrows, etc., were riding on the answers.)
Think about the things you do to make your relationship with your clients so important that they would never go anywhere else. Feel free to post them in the comments section below.
Here are some suggestions:
Listen to your clients. Instead of rushing them in and out, spend time with them, and learn more about them and their activities. We always scheduled each appointment for at least an hour and a half. I made notes about their activities in the current year and placed them in their next year tax file so I looked clairvoyant.
Have the courage to interfere with your clients and tell them when they must stop. Be a yenta – or busybody!
- A business that doesn't make sense any longer (unless you can help them find a way to make it profitable).
- Stock trading: Practically every client (especially men) reaches a point in his life where he discovers heavy day-trading. As soon as you learn this, stop them (unless they are the rare animal that actually turns a profit).
- Buying buildings with nothing down without generating a cash flow.
- Setting up entities because they've been listening to too many commercials or sales pitches.
You get the idea. Speak up and open their eyes – and interfere. Nagging is OK.
Speak up when, by looking at his or her W-2s, your client’s employers don't provide benefits. Go to the employers and show them how they can benefit by providing flex plans, retirement plans, etc. Also, help the employers with their employee manuals so they include valid reasons for staff to buy their own computers, why they must work from home for the employer's convenience, etc. You will get the employer as a new client – and maybe their employees, too.
When your client has a Form 1099 and really should be an employee, contact his or her employer. Be an advocate for your client. Educate the employers about why it’s to their advantage to handle their hires correctly. Tell them about the special, discounted VCSP route to get them back on track – cheaply. Again, the employer becomes a new client, and your client is better off. (Of course, you could always go the Form 8919 route. But that’s complicated and will cost them their job.)
But, most of all, know a great deal about the industries in which your clients work or own businesses. If you must, specialize. That way, you can help them with funding/financing, growth, connections to bankers, vendors, customers, shippers, etc.
As some have said, they don't need us to fill out forms. They need us to provide reassurance, advice, and a path to financial security, success, and growth.