By Tim Mezhlumov, CFP®, CLU®, CFS, EA, director, advanced markets, 1st Global
Ever wonder what separates the most successful CPAs and financial advisors from the pack? Many industry-leading firms attribute their success to their ability to get the most out of year-end planning meetings and tax-season meetings with their clients.
Year-end client meetings along with the “busy season” of tax returns are the foundation for the overall success of many CPA and wealth management firms for several reasons.
Tip 1: Focus Factor
It’s safe to assume that nearly all of the world’s professional athletes carry innate talents. But what separates the winners from the losers? It’s the ability to focus when the pressure is on. Think of those golfers who sink a birdie putt to win The Masters, the closers who strike out the All Star slugger to win the World Series or the kickers who drill a 50-yard field goal with time running out at the Super Bowl. The common thread is their exceptional focus.
The same is true in solo practices and multi-partner firms. Advisors tend to be more focused on what is happening in their business during the last quarter of the year and the busy season. This greater focus leads to peak-level performance.
Clients already are thinking about taxes and their finances as the year grows toward a close, so it’s a great time to discuss with them their other financial matters. Clients are more likely to act upon your advice during year-end and tax-season meetings than during the summer, for example, when many of them are taking vacations and preparing for back-to-school activities.
In other words, these times are the best opportunity you have to get your clients to take action.
One key element to upping your focus factor is eliminating as many distractions as possible. Try not to schedule meetings with vendors, contractors and wholesalers during year end and tax season. If you must, delegate these meetings to junior staff with less client-centered responsibilities.
Your No. 1 priority should be face-to-face client meetings.
Tip 2: Increase Exposure to Clients and Prospects
Year-end and tax season are when advisors face the majority of their clients. If this isn’t the case, you’re missing a big opportunity. Face-to-face contact is undoubtedly the most effective way to further and improve client relationships. This is especially the case with new clients.
Typically, you gain new clients during tax season, usually from referrals. It’s important to make sure that you allow ample time to meet with these new clients as this group is a top priority for any firm that wants to grow. During tax season, you should schedule follow-up meetings for the next quarter to ensure you get to know these clients better and uncover additional planning opportunities. If the clients are hesitant to commit, put their minds at ease by letting them know that the appointments can be rescheduled later if circumstances require.
Another tip: Never mail completed tax returns to clients, no matter how long they have been working with you. Insist that your clients pick up them up in person at an appointed time so you can personally meet with them instead of having another staff member deliver the return.
Remember, it’s your job to manage the client relationship and an in-person meeting is the best way to touch base.
Tip 3: Targeted Campaigns
A campaign targeted toward a specific financial planning topic will help you acquire new clients and deepen your relationship with existing clients. The first step is identifying an area you’d like to target. For instance, you can focus on qualified retirement plan clients and prospects as a way to generate additional deductions and facilitate IRA rollovers for clients. (Hint: Look for multiple W2s). A big component of this is selecting the right retirement plan provider. (See 10 Tips for Selecting the Right Retirement Plan Provider.)
You can also ask questions about items that do not appear on clients’ tax returns such as deferred annuities, long-term care and life insurance.
Consider building your campaign around the following topics:
- Sustainable retirement income solutions
- Planning for increased taxation in 2013 and beyond
- Roth IRA conversions
- Succession planning for small business owners (Read why this is key.)
- 2011-2012 Federal Estate Tax (FET) changes and additional changes that are possible in 2013
- Planning for long-term care expenses
Tip 4: Give Up Some Control
Decide who in your firm is going to run the show during tax season and make sure it’s not you. Efficient office managers or administrative assistants should be able to run your calendar, handle the bulk of incoming phone calls and prioritize your client meetings to make sure that you are available when clients come to the office.
If you are on the phone with a client and he or she wants to schedule an appointment, do not do it yourself – transfer the client to the person who manages your meeting calendar. This is the same practice used by other professionals such as doctors and dentists.
Tip 5: Priorities and Timing
Stephen Covey, the late bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, developed a useful grid for time management. Covey writes that the most effective business leaders creatively balance between those items that are important and urgent and those that are urgent but not important.
Everyone in your office should keep in mind that urgent matters are not necessarily the important ones. Your firm’s focus should be on what’s most important to the success of your practice.
One way to alleviate chaos during tax season is to establish an internal cutoff date for filing returns and extensions. Many advisors try to accommodate their clients by continuing to accept returns very late into the tax season. Keep exceptions to a minimum.
Plan to Win
All winning teams have a game plan. They rehearse various types of situations and scenarios before they occur. Your office team should do the same as part of the preparation process. The most successful firms start preparing for the busy season well in advance. That way when it hits, you will be ready. Have a great year-end and tax season!
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Dr., Suite 1200, Dallas, Texas 75251; 214-294-5000. Additional information about 1st Global is available via the Internet at www.1stGlobal.com.
1st Global was founded by CPAs on the belief that accounting, tax and estate planning firms are uniquely qualified to provide comprehensive wealth management services to their clients. Each affiliated firm is provided with education, technology, business-building framework and client solutions that make these firms leaders in their professions through dedicated professional client relationships built around wealth management.