10 Jan January ’20
Back in my younger days (circa 1980), I worked in an upscale men’s retail store. Fall was my favorite time of year because it marked our busy season. With the advent of online shopping, retail has certainly changed a great deal. But, in the “old days,” autumn and the holiday season were incredibly busy times for retail.
Even during the store’s busiest times, we always took the time to get to know our customers. We would sit and visit, wrap gifts and generally make people feel a sense of joy—whether they made a purchase or not. That period of my life was one of the best I remember. I built many life-long relationships that turned out to serve me well in my accounting career.
Retail busy season and tax season are very similar in that both mark an exceptionally fast-paced time of the year for everyone. The biggest difference, of course, is our profession’s strict tax deadline and the consequences of missing it. It represents a major burden, and I believe it’s this burdensome feeling that alters the way we approach the season.
When talking to firm partners and staff, I often hear: “I don’t have time to meet with clients…enhance relationships…gather data…think about the future of my clients.” Instead of defaulting to “I don’t have time,” this year, what if you approached busy season with a shift in mindset. What if you adopted the attitude that this season will not be the grind it’s been in the past. If you can do this, consider what you can accomplish:
- The most profitable time of year—Every day will be like the retail industry’s Black Friday.
- Enhanced client relationships and the ability to present clients with a whole new value proposition.
- Valuable client data collection—Gather comprehensive and detailed data that you’ve never had before. This provides you with the information and insight needed to proactively offer clients services and products they truly need, leading to increased revenue throughout the year.
Tax season is upon us, so don’t waste the next few weeks. Take some time to plan for the best busy season ever with these tips:
- Start collecting client data now—Clearly define roles and processes with your team to make this happen. Put your office admin or front-desk person in charge of collecting data. Just imagine how proactive you can be in advising clients with this level of data on hand! Also, when talking with clients, print the Insights Report from ClientView, ask clients relevant questions and then update ClientView to reflect new information.
- Encourage clients to deliver tax documents digitally—If you can train your clients to digitize their documents, you can save significant time by eliminating scanning. Every bit of time savings matters during busy season. It’s 2020! Digital documents have been around for a long time…but you have to lead the way.
- Charge appropriately—Offering a rich client experience and leveraging data are winning strategies, but you have to make sure you are also billing appropriately. Too many of us are afraid to charge for the value we offer clients. Using the model of The Ritz Carlton, provide an awesome experience and charge accordingly to make that experience even better in the future. Additionally, make sure to add audit protection to your invoice this year.
Making this the best tax season ever starts with the right mindset. Think of this year’s busy season as an opportunity to improve in the new year. This is the year to begin moving from a reactive to a proactive firm model, so educate your clients on working with you in a new way.
All my best,
Have you heard our Better Every Day podcast yet? Subscribe on iTunes or listen from our website at rootworks.com/podcast for a deeper dive on the topics discussed in this column.
The month of January means stress and high blood pressure for many of us. Accounting practices have W-2s, 1099s and more. Tax firms have full year-end accounting for many business clients and organizers to send out to individuals. Full-service firms have all of the above. During January and February, you tend to have the most communication with your clients and also have the most impact. So, why not make 2020 the year to build connections and add value with services! Let’s be more than “the accountant,” and more than “my tax guy/lady,” by strengthening client relationships to be more meaningful than what a dot-com can provide. Below are three quick relationship-building conversations to have with clients before the craziness sets in.
- As year-end-only business clients come in, talk to them about bundling their services and going on a fixed, monthly fee to even out their cash flow. It can be as simple as taking last year’s fee, raising it 5 percent. and dividing it by 12, as a starting point. After busy season, take time to develop the packages you want to market going forward. (Check out December 2019’s Tips and Tricks on Creating Packages)
- To drive value, take the opportunity to pre-schedule one or two meetings throughout the year with business clients. Consider the following topics:
- Entity selection: Are they the proper entity for the best tax situation?
- Retirement plans
- Consider using a rewards credit card—2 percent cash back, etc.
- Accounting system setup or clean up
- As individual clients come in, or as prospects are calling for “someone to do their return,” emphasize that you do more than that. Suggest setting up a meeting during the summer months to review their tax situation and discuss plans to improve their tax liability. Consider creating 1040 tax packages based on level of complexity, and setting a higher minimum fee to deter “price shoppers.”
If you are a Rootworks member, our Online Learning resources have all that you need to help with these three areas. Take a look on your own, or schedule a call with your coach, to discuss the conversations you’d like to have during your busy season. After tax season, take time to build out material for your client meetings.
We wish you all the best in 2020!
A recent report by Trustwave identified a ransomware attack that poses as a critical Windows 10 update. The payload is delivered via an email, claiming to be from Microsoft, and uses social engineering techniques to make the recipient believe they need to click on the attachment to run the update right away.
It’s important to educate your staff on how Windows updates should be occurring on your computers, so that no user falls for this scam. All Windows patches are pushed out by Windows update services built into the Windows operating system. Microsoft will never push an update to users via email. Your IT professionals should have a process by which your systems are updated, either through Microsoft’s group policy management tools for the domain administrator, or automatically through the local PC’s settings.
Make sure your staff is aware of such social engineering tactics to prevent your firm from being the latest victim of ransomware.
For more details on this scam, with screenshots, follow the link below.
There’s more than one way to catch a fish. (Let’s use that analogy, rather than the gruesome prospect of skinning cats, shall we?) Like fishing, when it comes to marketing, there’s more than one way to fill your basket.
Fishing with a net
Most marketing discussions center around lead generation. That is, publishing online content, advertising, or email and postal mail to attract leads. Think of this like fishing with a net. You cast a wide net and capture all kinds of leads. Some will be keepers (i.e., qualified leads); the rest, you’ll shake out of your net and release. After some time and experience, you’ll begin to measure your conversion rate and be able to estimate how many prospects you’ll need to draw into your net to yield the required number of qualified leads to meet your sales goal.
Fishing with a spear
In some cases (depending on your goal and the type of new client you’re seeking), it might make more sense to identify specific prospects and market to them directly—like fishing with a spear, instead of a net. This is referred to as account-based marketing.
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a process of concentrating resources on a small set of specific target accounts within your market. It uses personalized messaging based on the particular attributes and needs of each account. ABM has been an increasingly popular approach for business-to-business marketers selling higher-value products and services. It merges marketing and sales processes together in a streamlined activity, creating efficiencies and enhancing ROI. In fact, some marketing professionals refer to ABM as “zero-waste marketing.”
One example of ABM at work is a playbook developed in our own firm, RootAdvisors. When the firm needed to offset a $200,000 revenue loss precipitated by the planned resignation of a large, ill-fitting account, the partners created an ABM strategy to bridge the gap. They specifically researched and targeted a half-dozen key accounts in the healthcare sector, one of the firm’s niches. Using a process of direct communication with key decision-makers, they successfully nurtured them along a journey to becoming new clients.
Getting started with ABM in your firm
Take these steps to explore account-based marketing for your firm.
Step 0: Set goals. Remember, all marketing begins with goals, that’s why we label it step zero.
Step 1: Identify your ideal targets. These are the key accounts that have the potential to make the most impactful contribution to your goals. You may want to start by creating a composite persona or profile of an ideal client. Then, look for real-world prospects that match that persona. (Don’t forget to consider your existing clients, too!)
Step 2: Conduct research on those accounts. Build a dossier for each one that identifies key stakeholders and decision-makers, their known or likely pain points, and their readiness to buy (i.e., their stage along the new client journey). Do your best to meet them where they are on that journey.
Step 3: Develop and deploy customized communication campaigns. Use information you learn in the research phase to develop messaging that will resonate with each target account. Choose the right channels to deliver your messaging. Everything is in play, from direct mail to seminars. Choose and plan wisely, based on a knowledge of your prospect.
Step 4: Assess feedback from your communication. After you initiate communication, assess the response and feedback you receive from your prospects—things both explicitly and implicitly stated. Look for clues that will help you produce future content that will address needs and concerns and nurture your prospects along the journey.
Step 5: Continue the nurturing process to closing. Gaining a new client often means unseating an incumbent firm and building a new relationship. That process can take time, so be ready to walk along the journey with your prospects.
Account-based marketing can open up new dimensions for your firm to seek and win new clients. Consider your goals for 2020, and have a discussion with your team on what contribution ABM can make to your success.
Rootworks Member Survey
Owners and Firm Admin staff: The 2019 Rootworks Member Survey is open. It’s just four open-ended questions, but your input means the world to us—and the other members in the Rootworks community!
You can access the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2NQPPPJ. It will only take a few minutes (maybe a little more depending on your answers). Your responses will help us understand how we can better serve our member firms in 2020.
- January 15 – Staff Training: Getting Ready for Busy Season Part 2 of 2. This class is designed to get your firm ready for another tax season. This includes understanding the recommended tax process. You can apply the tax strategies discussed in this class to your firm’s tax process. The software specifically reviewed in this class will include Practice CS and UltraTax CS. This is Part 2 of a 2-part class. This is a 90-minute class. Ensure that you have attended or watched a recording of Getting Ready for Busy Season Part 1 of 2.
- January 16 – Member-Led: Form 2848 (Power of Attorney) vs 8821 (Tax Information Authorization). This webinar will provide an overview of IRS forms 2848, 8821, 8655 and Tax Return Preparer authority. It will cover topics such as what authority is granted by each type of authority, how to authorize your employees to legally access client information, how to properly complete and submit each form, and an overview of when to use each form.
- January 22 – Vendor-hosted: E-Sign form 8879 & Electronic K-1 Distribution. Shannon Jencks of cPaperless will review how K-1s have historically been distributed and the related issues with those methods. She will cover the IRS requirements for electronic K-1 distribution and provide a brief demonstration of SafeSend Returns, the only solution offering automated electronic K-1 distribution.
- January 29 – Staff Training: Tax Return Delivery, Electronic Filing and 8879 Digital Signatures. This class will cover the recommended tax return delivery process, electronic filing process and 8879 digital signatures. The software demonstrated in this class will include UltraTax CS, Liscio, Onvio and SafeSend. This class is 90 minutes.
- February 5th – Culture Webinar: Better Mondays – 4 proven habits to make you better at your job and your job better for you. Studies show that work productivity and job satisfaction are deeply connected. In this 30 minute deep breath at the beginning of tax season, John Mitchell leads you through 4 practical habits that will provide both!
- February 12 – Staff Training: QBO – What’s New. Learn about some of the new features in QBO, including Receipts, Mileage Tracker and QBO Bill Pay. We will also cover the different subscription levels of QBO and any other new features.
And, while it is a ways away, we have another Rootworks member-led webinar on the calendar in May, so save the date:
- May 21 – Member-led: Using the DISC Assessment in Your Firm. DISC stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. DISC is a personality and behavioral assessment tool. In this member-led webinar, Joe Montgomery, III, CPA, CPBC of Montgomery & Company CPAs in Greenville, S.C. will discuss his experience with DISC. Joe will cover how he has used the DISC profile inside his own firm as well as using DISC to help consult with their clients when it comes to hiring and staffing.
Register in Rootworks.com under Membership > Events.