03 Feb February ’21
2020 was a rough year for entrepreneurs. Instead of the forward momentum we anticipated at the start of the year, businesses across the country were thrown into turmoil when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in late February. At that point, growth had to take a back seat to survival.
Now, at the start of 2021, we’ve come out on the other side battered but intact, even if our mode of operation has radically transformed. The pandemic is still with us, but the scramble of the last few months to meet its challenges have toughened us. We had to suppress our natural entrepreneurial spark, but we never let it go out—we just banked the fire for a few months. As a result, we’re ready (and raring) to thrive again.
While entrepreneurs tend to share the same traits—vision, motivation, decisiveness and flexibility, among others—the way we use those traits to achieve results will differ, depending on our situations and experiences.
In 2021, what will that rekindling of the entrepreneurial spirit look like for you and your practice?
Relight the spark
You may not have an answer now, but that’s fine; I simply want to relight that spark and get you thinking. So here are a few practical ideas to help you rekindle the entrepreneurial you—even during a busy tax season:
- Brainstorm as a team—Creativity isn’t just an entrepreneurial trait. It’s a human trait—something we could all use more of. There’s nothing more creative and renewing than brainstorming with a group of like-minded humans. Whether virtually or in person (depending on your working situation), why not spend one lunch period a month with your staff, sharing and brainstorming ideas for improving processes, or for going beyond compliance services? Even on the busiest days, we all need to eat—and you can turn it into an extra perk for your staff by springing for lunch via their local delivery service.
- Lunch and learns—Speaking of lunch, occasional lunch and learns are a great way to make sure your entire staff is familiar with the services you offer to clients. Or, if you’re using new software, to bring everyone up to speed. Or to convey the latest tax changes, or to keep everyone up to date on firm news. However you use the time, you all benefit with standardized knowledge—and some bonus team bonding.
- Upsell your services—What do entrepreneurs do best? They create and seize opportunities. Who has the on-the-ground knowledge of your clients to best understand their pain points? Your staff. Put all of you together, and you should be able to find one or two opportunities to upsell your services and build an even better relationship with your existing clients. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have annual business clients who could benefit from advisory or monthly bookkeeping?
- Could your seasonal business clients use help with fluctuations in cash flow?
- Are there adjustments that would benefit your individual clients’ tax situations?
- Would your clients benefit from retirement planning services?
There’s no better time of year to discover these answers than tax season, when the information presents itself naturally in a tax return. You and your staff can document these opportunities as they occur—whether you use legal pads, a spreadsheet or a client data platform like Rootworks’ ClientView™.
Then, after tax season, follow up with the clients on those opportunities—or mention your thoughts now and pre-schedule meetings for after April 15. You don’t need to be or act like a salesperson; the benefit of being aware and identifying them organically is that you can just give it a casual, friendly mention. Even if they aren’t quite ready to meet with you, they’ll appreciate that you have their best interests in mind.
By the way, a helpful resource for Rootworks members is the “Upselling Clients Staff Training,” which you can find in the Online Learning section of the Rootworks.com member site. It even includes some excellent talking points to help you get started.
After the fire: Regrowth
To extend the fire analogy I used above and in last month’s Thought Leader column a bit further, a wildfire accelerates the process of creating fertile ground by releasing into the ground nutrients that would normally take decades to decay. When that happens, the stage is set for regrowth.
2020 was a wildfire, but the resulting regrowth isn’t only meant for your business; it’s meant for you, too. Rekindle that can-do, go-for-it spirit and conquer tax season while resuming your forward momentum.
After all, you’re an entrepreneur. Own that identity and make great things happen again in 2021!
Happy February! Things will move fast this month since tax season will be in full swing. Below you’ll find some practical tips for maintaining your sanity during February and the months after.
Managing incoming documents: Your firm has documents coming in from clients multiple ways. Paper getting dropped off, documents arriving in the mail and digital documents being uploaded.
Tips for success:
- Assign one person to be in charge of managing the incoming documents.
- Establish a communication that reaches out to the client once documents have been received by the firm, to determine if they’ll be sending additional documents. This accomplishes two things for your firm:
- It lets the client know you received their documents.
- It allows you to determine whether that project is ready to move forward in the preparation process.
- Define where those documents go. You may not be able to make all your clients conform to a single way to get information to your firm, but you can control the central spot where all of those documents end up.
- Make sure to note when the documents are moved.
Managing missing information: The handling of missing information and the constant pick up/set down of information can be a major time suck for firms. You’ll see an efficiency gain in your tax process when you establish one point person to request missing information from clients.
Tips for success:
- Assign someone to handle all missing information requests and follow up with clients.
- Create a “Missing Information” status description in your firm’s project management solution to quickly identify projects/tasks in that stage.
- Do not keep track of missing information on paper. Instead, use notes in your firm’s project management solution to list missing items and make sure these notes are visible to everyone in the firm.
- Route the missing information back to the preparer once ALL the missing items have been received from the client.
Handling electronic signatures: 8879 signatures = The bane of our existence during tax time. More and more firms are adopting electronic signatures, especially given the emphasis on contactless interactions today..
Tips for success:
- Assign one person to manage electronic signatures.
- Establish a process to handle clients who share an email address, or who fail authentication questions.
- Create a “Waiting on Signature” status description in your firm’s project management solution to determine the stage of the signature process.
Reporting metrics: To help your team celebrate accomplishments, it’s important to gather metrics throughout tax season on the progress everyone is making. In the recent staff training webinar, “Your Tax Season Scorecard,” we highlighted some metrics to capture this tax season. Here are a few examples:
- On average, how many returns are completed per day?
- How many returns have been completed compared to the same time last year?
- How many days on average does it take to complete projects, compared to the same time last year?
Have some fun! Life is much too short to be serious all the time. Tax season is better when we laugh and have a good time. So why not pick one “weird” day per week to celebrate this month, and make it the theme of the day? Here’s a sampling of some ideas from a quick Google search:
- 2/2: Day of the Crêpe
- 2/4: Thank Your Mailman Day
- 2/9: National Pizza Day
- 2/10: Umbrella Day
- 2/16: Pancake Day
- 2/17: Random Acts of Kindness Day
- 2/24: Tortilla Chip Day
- 2/25: National Toast Day
You can find more information pertaining to the tips and tricks above in Online Learning. Search “tax process” to review helpful resources.
Since the Internet exploded in the late 90s, website domains have been considered online real estate. While your domain may not be worth millions of dollars in the marketplace, it has tremendous brand value for your firm. Here are a few things you can do to protect that investment.
Ensure you have control and access with your registrar.
Some businesses turn control of their domain to creative web design companies. When that occurs, the business runs the risk of losing credentials, or missing domain renewal notices. Maintain control in an account that is yours and allow “delegate access” to the domain for technical contacts that may need to update records.
Enable auto-renewal on your domains.
It’s very common for companies to try to get you to move your domain from places like Registrar.com or GoDaddy to their service. Often, companies try to accomplish this using the “solicitation masquerading as an invoice” trick. If you know your domain renews automatically, you’re highly unlikely to fall for this trick.
Make your registrations private.
Private registration removes your contact information from the publicly accessible WHOIS lookup information. This will prevent the solicitations described above.
Log in to your registrar account once per year and verify payment info.
Set a recurring annual calendar reminder to do this. Make sure the credentials still work, and everything looks good. Also, check your payment information to ensure a valid payment method for any upcoming renewals. The 10 minutes you take to do this will be time wisely invested for peace of mind.
Enable two-factor authentication.
Do this because—well, you should know why at this point!
Set up your systems do as much of the work as possible
Let’s face it: We’ve all got more than enough to keep up with during tax season. That’s why it’s important to be sure you’re getting the most out of your systems and platforms to lighten the load. Because accounting firms have a lot of those systems and platforms at work on the client service aspect of the business, marketing and communication platforms can tend to be overlooked—but don’t miss out on ways you can use them to save time while staying connected to your clientele during the busiest time of the year.
Most marketing automation is built around email platforms, such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp and similar platforms. While each has a different design and set of features and capabilities, there are some basic top-level considerations for how to set up automated outreach to lighten your workload and assure that messages are sent in a timely manner:
- Your message schedule—Tax season revolves around the process of sending reminders about filing deadlines and how to submit documents. Start by identifying filing deadlines for various types of clients and then backing upstream to select dates to send email reminders. Create a regular cadence of reminders, and make note of which category of client should be receiving which messages. (i.e. You shouldn’t burden every client and generate unnecessary email traffic by sending 1099 reminders or PPP info to clients who aren’t impacted by those aspects of the filing process. Speaking of which…
- Your mailing lists and segmentation—Be sure the person in charge of email communication is also capable (or working with someone capable) of exporting current email addresses from your firm’s practice management or CRM system. Determine how many different segments of your clientele need to be isolated for unique messaging and be sure you have the ability to export lists accordingly. Depending on the available integrations between your email platform and CRM system, you can also explore creating dynamic lists that automatically remove or suppress clients from future reminders after they complete their required actions and even move them to new lists that give reminders of the next required steps in the tax filing journey. This can run the course from document submission reminders to requests for signatures on completed returns and solicitation of online reviews after filing is complete.
- Always be marketing—You’ll be in direct contact with more clients than any other time of year, so use the occasion as a touchpoint to upsell additional services to them. If you use ClientView™ on the Rootworks platform, you have a real advantage here; you can see at a glance which products and services clients are using and where opportunities exist to bring it to the next level. Use list segmentation to sort clients into various messaging plans.
Setting up detailed marketing automation plans and pathways can quickly grow into a complex chunk of work. But keep in mind that putting even a rudimentary automation in place can help you focus on other important things during busy season, while providing assurance that messages will reach your clients in a timely manner. You’ll create a better experience for them—and you—during the most challenging time of year.
Our 2021 Educational Webinar schedule is published.
Check Resources > Events > Virtual Events for our schedule of educational webinars through January 2022.
The schedule includes dates for each type of session listed below. The specific topics we’ll cover in each session are always announced closer to the date of each webinar.
- Resource Update Webinars. Stay up to date on new material we’ve added to Online Learning.
- Rootworks.com Update Webinars. We’ll explain updates and enhancements to the Rootworks.com platform.
- Planning Webinars. Planning webinars are time spent working on your business. Use each session as a checkpoint throughout the year.
- Technology Update Webinars. We’ll educate participants on new software and improvements to existing software.
- Culture Webinars. Culture webinars are intended to give firm owners and staff ideas and practical guidance to improve and strengthen firm culture.
- Cybersecurity Webinars. We keep firms apprised of new threats we’re seeing and what they can be doing to help keep themselves safer.
- February 10 – Staff Training: Tax Return Delivery and Electronic Signature Process
Register in Rootworks.com under Resources > Events > Virtual Events.
CPE Certificate Note: On some of the webinars we hosted in 2020, including webinars at Inspire 2020, the Delivery Method was incorrectly listed on the CPE certificate. The issue has been corrected. The Delivery Method should read “Group Internet Based.” Note that all other information on the certificate, including the number of CPE hours earned, was correct and is unchanged. This issue only pertained to the Delivery Method listed on the CPE certificate. You can go to the My CPE page in Rootworks.com or click your profile photo in the upper right corner of Rootworks.com and choose My Settings, then CPE, to see a list of the affected webinars. You may re-download the certificate anytime if needed.