A new year usually means new plans. However, determining where to start can feel excitingly overwhelming if you are at the beginning of your tax & accounting firm’s advisory services journey
It’s tempting to think that the only way to find success and discover new opportunities is to get new clients or that it’s easiest to start a new product by offering it to new customers only. While some of this is true, it’s also true that you can start where you are with what you already know and have. Whether you have taken a class or researched it, you are ready to take the plunge, move beyond compliance work, and grow your business and customer base.
Think of all the information you receive from your clients during your busiest time of the year — tax season — as a treasure trove. Indeed, the chance to deepen your relationships with clients while growing your business is buried within all that information and data.
Most tax firm leaders recognized that the growth of their firms requires going beyond Form 1040-work. Tax process automation has made it much simpler to do tax preparation on a larger scale, which means that tax firms can take on more clients to do more tax work. However, this provides only seasonal profitability.
Maximizing profitability requires leveraging all your firm’s knowledge to help clients succeed in their individual businesses. Becoming a business partner to clients not only deepens the relationship, but for tax firms, it can transform their businesses into advisory service firms while allowing staff a chance to engage in new work and broaden their skills, which hopefully leads to more job satisfaction.
The art of start: Who, when & how?
Deciding to do anything new or different can be exciting and nerve-racking as one struggles to determine what roadmap to use. Tax firm leaders may be tempted to roll out the new offering of advisory services to new clients, but the best place to start is with current customers. The main reason is that you have their historical data, which allows you to identify any changes and trends quickly.
First, to make sure everyone is on the same page, firm leaders should meet with the entire staff, says Pamela Butler, a Senior Consultant in Tax & Accounting Services at Thomson Reuters. “Partners at the top are maintaining a relationship, but the staff are touching the clients’ work papers and getting the inside view of what is happening with that client’s business,” Butler explains.
Each role within the firm tends to interact with the customers’ information differently and therefore has diverse perspectives on what might constitute an opportunity for more business. In addition, clients themselves might ask different staff members different questions, which would again provide a chance to identify a potential opportunity.
Tas & accounting firms should realize that finding and assessing such potential opportunities for new business can occur at any time, but is especially prevalent as tax season approaches. As clients submit their tax documents, accounting staff can look for any information that may point to an opportunity to offer the client specific advisory services.
Further, the process for how staff captures such opportunities should be simple, as you want to encourage staff members not to feel like it is too much work during an already busy and stressful time. To encourage staff participation, creating a less cumbersome process can be the key. In fact, the process for capturing opportunities can be as simple as having each person do one of the following:
- jot down notes (clearly the least efficient, as the notes can get lost);
- utilize a shared Excel document in which each person can enter their suggestions; or
- use a document management system (most ideal) as will have all of your clients’ information in one place, making it easy to track and reference.
How are you unearthing the treasure?
So, how do you start identifying these advisory opportunities in the mountains of data and client information that you collect?
Butler provided some simple areas that might best yield business opportunities within clients’ documents. For example, if your accounting firm offers payroll services and you start seeing the last name of the business owner among other individual in the payroll, you could inquire if there are other family members working for the business, and whether perhaps some of those family members are their younger children.
“There may be strategies to implement with more favorable tax outcomes when hiring family members or children who can earn lower taxed income,” Butler says.
Moving to inform clients
Tax preparation time is not the best time to bring up your findings and enact your new advisory services, of course. Clients may be very busy during this time too. When sitting to review taxes with their clients, however, accounting firm partners should be encouraged to highlight one or two items that had been gleaned from the client’s information.
The partners can then let the client know they’ll reach out at a later time to discuss these items in much more detail. This sets the expectation that the firm will reach out after tax season to further discuss the opportunity to implement the strategy.
For enterprising tax & accounting firms, business opportunities may abound in the information that clients provide to you during your busy tax season. And once you’re past the tax deadline, you should leverage what you’ve already learned about your clients’ businesses and expand your advisory services in the direction you want to go.