Guest Author: Michael Platt, AccountingWEB, Inc.
Every six months you go to your dentist for a check up, and probably have done so for years. You do this because your dental professional encourages it, and because you know it's the right thing to do. You get fixed the easy-to-fix things that you've been neglectful about, you get an overview of your condition, problem areas are monitored, you get a toolkit to use (new toothbrush and dental floss) and you fill out a card asking your dental professional to invite you back in six months to do it all over again. If any big problems are discovered you make an appointment to come back for a follow up. In an hour you are in and out, with a feeling that you're on track while happily paying $75 - on your way out the door - knowing that you have peace of mind.
Why not employ some of these same techniques in public accounting?
It's now the beginning of tax season - why not send your top tier tax clients a reminder postcard asking them to call and make an appointment for a check up?
When they get to your office, limit the scope of your meeting to a "check up." Review financial records for last year, identify potential problem areas, fix the easy-to-fix problems, and give them tools to use for the next six months. Your goal in this meeting is to find ways to save your client at least the amount of money you will charge for the visit.
Let's look at what these pieces could consist of:
- The Postcard. That's easy. You've all seen one from your dentist. Design one on the computer, print it off and use it.
- The "Check Up." How about creating a 5-10 item "report card" that can be reviewed visit after visit for an ongoing financial history of your client. This is where your individual expertise dictates the process. Some ideas could include:
- Are IRA contributions being maximized?
- Did the client make any home improvements this year?
- Are there any unusual bonuses expected?
- Review telephone bills, utility bills, finance charges, mortgage statements or any other area of potential savings.
You've got all these questions in your tax organizer - choose a few and make them your unique report card.
- Review Financial Records. Did you identify any trouble spots on last year's returns? Ask what has happened and coach your client to better financial fitness.
- Give Away Tools to Use.
Good - A year end tax planning brochure.
Better - A single page with greater details on a particular area highlighted in the brochure.
Good - A reminder to check the status of private mortgage insurance on their home mortgage to avoid costly monthly payments.
Better - A step by step guide for how to do this with contact information for their particular financial institution.
Good - An application to get a copy of the client's credit report.
Better - A copy of their credit report that you ordered a month ago and have analyzed for them in advance.
Good - A reminder to get a copy of the client's social security earnings report.
Better - A copy of their report accompanied by your suggestions for how to fix any discrepancies.
You are in the best position to tell your clients how to use the tools that you give them. Like with your dentist, there are some things that a check up will solve that don't require any preparation from your client, and there are some things that require homework and some personal responsibility on behalf of the client throughout the year. Find the balance of tools and reports that's right for you and the culture of your firm.