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4 Tips for Turning Tax Season Lemons into Lemonade

Tax- lemonsRaise your hand if every article on the upcoming tax season has left you reconsidering your choice of profession? The messages are everywhere and are not painting a rosy picture of what tax practitioners can expect. Well, I promise not to drudge up ACA, repair regulations, foreign accounts or countless other changes - enough has been said on those. Instead, I have a few ideas that you can try the next time you spot a tax season lemon.

Whether your firm is big or small, gone completely high-tech or still doing everything manually, there are always opportunities for improving efficiency, exploring new service lines, reinforcing your value to clients and raising your fees. This lemonade recipe has four ingredients, and simply requires a notebook, a plan and a commitment to try something new.

 1.      Pick a new technology to adopt

If a process or procedure stalls or breaks down, make note of the issue and how it could have gone smoother. Maybe your client portal is not as user friendly as you had hoped, or more clients are asking for Wi-Fi while in meetings at your office. After tax season, commit to researching new portal providers or talking to your IT consultant about setting up a guest wireless network. As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

 2.      Identify a new service line

While preparing or reviewing returns, don’t ignore that little voice in your head if it says “this could be done better.” Countless times I would notice something when reviewing client documents that could be done differently. Opportunities ranged from simple process improvements, such as converting to a computerized bookkeeping system, to money-saving strategies, such as high-level tax planning opportunities. As these thoughts arise, do not push them aside or kid yourself into believing you will remember later. Keep a list throughout tax season, then get together with your team in May and compare notes. Look for items that recur on multiple lists, pick one that makes sense for your firm strengths, structure and technology, then develop a plan for rolling it out. The AICPA’s Tax Practitioner’s Toolkit offers tips and a worksheet for cross-selling additional services that can get you started.

 3.      Schedule weekly coffee meetings for the entire summer

As you complete a return for a great client, add their name to a list to schedule a summer meeting for an hour or so. The list can be managed by administrative staff, an online calendar scheduling tool or even outsourced. Challenge yourself to have one meeting every week over the summer, preferably outside of the office. These meetings will reinforce your appreciation for the client, allow you the opportunity to share about your new service lines and ask for feedback on how you can make the client experience even better.

 4.      Raise those fees

Discussing fees is never easy, especially when they are going up. The key to getting client buyoff on higher fees is by establishing that you are providing additional value and are worth the price. (Try these talking points to prepare for that conversation.) While all of the bad press about tax season and the new complexities may be discouraging, it does provide a springboard for reinforcing this value. Be transparent about the challenges and why having the right preparer is more important than ever.

These were just four ideas to get you started. Take some time now before things get busy - make these your own and tailor them to your needs. Make a plan for, and commit to, getting something positive out of this tax season, and transform frustrating obstacles into opportunities for future improvement.  

Cari Weston, CPA, Senior Technical Manager- Taxation, American Institute of CPAs.

When life gives you lemons image via Shutterstock

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