A recent trend in accounting firms has been to have as little contact with clients during tax season. Where possible, the firms ask clients to email information or gather records and information and leave it with the receptionist. It is clear that this approach increases productivity during tax time. It is also clear that these firms are missing significant
opportunities to help their clients and grow the firm. A great deal of information about your clients crosses your desk during tax season. Although your might not take action until after tax season, you must capitalize on tax season opportunities.
Increase Fees, Increase Revenue
Raising fees is a typical way to increase revenue for the firm. Since the work requires the same type of activity and time, the increase becomes pure profit. Many firms have not been comfortable with the idea of increasing fees because they want to remain competitive and fear losing clients. In some firms, they have kept prices down because they know many of their clients are having a hard time. In this case, many firms do not want to appear to be profiting in a bad time or taking advantage of long-term clients.
If you have held prices down for the past two or three years, you likely need to increase your own revenue and profitability. If you are not prepared to increase prices this year, you can lay the foundation for an increase next year. Explain to clients that you have raised your prices, but because they are so valuable or loyal, you have decided to hold off the increase for them until next year. You can even show your new rates and discount them.
You, or your firm, have complete control of when you raise prices and for whom. You can create a checklist or a list of criteria qualifying people for the old pricing. As you review each return, you can decide to hold prices for clients who are experiencing difficulties. It will be Important to keep in mind as you do a review that the norm is to increase prices for the majority of your clients. As you review the returns, you will see a mix of people from those who are barely keeping their heads above water to those who are cruising the sea in a brand-new boat.
You can also begin the process another way, too. Before your firm reviews the client list, work together to define a set of criteria clients must meet in order to receive a “discount.” This might be “a small business with a net income of x. It might mean a mid-sized company with revenue greater than X and liabilities greater than x. It might be individual accounts in which annual income is less than x and the client is raising children or putting
children through college. The point is to define qualifying criteria and then evaluate clients accordingly, offering discounts to those you believe really need them.
Start the Referral Engine
Tax time is also your best opportunity to ask clients for a referral. The best time to ask for a referral is when your client is very pleased with work you have done for him or her. This is especially true if after last tax season you suggested a new strategy for reducing tax liability for the client. Remind the client of that conversation and point out the difference in tax liability.
When someone says, “thank you, you did a great job” or “I am amazed that such a simple change in strategy could make so much difference,” most CPAs respond with “thank you.” You should, of course, say “thank you.” You should also follow by pointing out that you are always looking for ways to help others. Ask the client if he or she knows of anyone who might benefit from the same type or level of services. If the client replies with a name, ask for an introduction.
This probably should be obvious to all of us. Surprisingly, it seldom happens. CPAs become focused on the details of the return and the stress of tax season. Business development is the farthest thing from their minds. Others are uncomfortable asking for referrals. We have found that role-playing the request for a referral a few times will greatly increase the number of times it actually happens.
As you are preparing of the coming tax season, I encourage every firm to think about raising prices or laying the foundation for price increases next year. Then start the referral engine in your firm. Decide in advance that a list of clients should be favorably inclined to referral. See at least those clients and have a conversation with them. If you cannot dedicate the time to see every client, select those you believe most likely to make a
referral. When you learn to capitalize on tax season opportunities, you will see new business opportunities arising throughout the year.