For the last few years, tax season hasn’t worked for anyone. Not for the IRS, not for our firms—and especially, not for our clients.
Of course, some of the recent dysfunction can be blamed on the pandemic. The ripple effects have left the IRS and many firms short-handed and struggling to make it through tax season. To give you an idea of how much, as I write this on February 9, tax season has barely begun—yet everyone I talk to is already dialed up to 15 on a 10-point scale. We’re all understaffed and feeling the pressure.
This is not a good look for the profession. Clients come to us for assistance with their business and/or personal finances because they know we’re trustworthy, knowledgeable, accurate, dependable and (usually) unflappable. However, if our model isn’t sustainable—and given the way so many of us are floundering right now, it’s clear that it isn’t—we’re doomed to fail our clients.
Breaking the mold
I just read an excellent article on LinkedIn by Alan Whitman, CEO of Top 20 firm Baker Tilly US. It’s called There is a better way: Breaking the mold of public accounting, and trust me, you should read it. (Go ahead, click the link; I’ll wait.)
In the article, Alan talks about the stigmas associated with a career in the accounting industry, especially our reputation for overworking people to meet tax deadlines that are no longer confined to January through April. Since today’s workers don’t view exhaustion and the obsession with hours worked as a career goal to strive for, they’re looking elsewhere. As a result, firms go wanting for good employees and risk endangering their standards of client service.
As Alan says, “The realities of the work experience have serious consequences for our profession.” He vows that to correct these issues, Baker Tilly will commit to doing what all firms should be doing right now: Creating an environment that will help employees discover their strengths and explore what’s possible by giving them the support they need and the trust they deserve.
Can it still be fixed?
For so many years, the profession’s business model has been to run as much volume through your firm as possible, pushing yourself and your team to the point of exhaustion. We’ve been heads down, only seeing what’s right around us. And because nothing changed within our narrow field of vision, there was no impetus to be aware of the changes happening in the larger world.
Then came the pain caused by the pandemic, which was uncomfortable enough that we were finally forced to raise our heads, look at everything around us, realize how the world was changing…and see that much of the accounting profession, perhaps including our own firms, hadn’t kept up.
I can’t emphasize enough that once a Top 20 firm like Baker Tilly understands the profession is not sustainable as is, it means reality is hitting the mainstream. In other words, the red flags we’ve only vaguely acknowledged in the past and thought we’d fix later have now become flashing red lights we can no longer ignore.
While the change Alan talks about is one that all firms should have made five or 10 years ago, I do believe it’s not too late to make the needed changes and set things back on course—if you take the time to reassess how you do business.
Why now is the best time
When someone asks me, “How do I know it’s time to change my business model?” I tell them that there’s no single answer. The truth is, there isn’t always a flashing red light or a sign from the universe to alert you. You just look around and have the courage to realize that things aren’t, and haven’t been, working for you, your team and your clients.
It wasn’t the way any of us would have chosen it to happen, but the pandemic is actually the single most consequential thing that allowed us to see what we could live without. Maybe we realized we could downsize our brick-and-mortar office or do away with it entirely because remote work has been running so smoothly. Or perhaps the automation software we tried after we lost team members works so well that another employee who’s ready to spread their wings can move up into that position without having to worry about doing the grunt work. Or maybe it’s the fact that everyone had to go digital even when ordering food that shows us that clients will adapt to new, more efficient ways of doing things. Win-win for you and your employee—and for your clients, who enjoy the trickle-down effects that result in better client service.
I truly believe that there’s never been a better time than now to reassess how we do business, how we live our lives and how we integrate the business with the personal. Think about it: You’re not starting a business from scratch. You’ve already done the hardest work—establishing your firm—and now you can pick and choose what works, because you’re the one in control.
It’s all about the team
As a result of the Great Resignation (which I prefer to call the Great Reassessment), everyone tends to think that employees are the only ones evaluating their business and personal lives. But as Alan’s article makes clear, it’s on businesses to take the initiative to reassess, too. Because if you don’t, you won’t get the top-notch team members your business and your clients deserve.
As an employer, how does what employees are doing affect what you should be doing?
A newer business model that takes everyone and every process into account—the right clients, buying the right products, at the right price and in the right volume, being served by the right employees doing the right jobs—is proving to be much more sustainable for firms. There’s actual peace within these businesses (something that’s been in short supply), because they have more time to spend with their clients, but not so much volume that they can’t enjoy a personal life, too.
If you’re struggling right now, I’d bet you already know what your next step should be. If you need a sign, go ahead and tell yourself this article is the flashing red light. If something is holding you back—the price of your main product, those customers who make your life miserable—I guarantee they’re also holding your team members back. And to paraphrase Alan, there are a growing number of places that are ready to welcome good people and foster their talents if you won’t.
Don’t just keep doing things because you’ve always done it. Don’t waste opportunities. Don’t waste time. Get your team involved and change things to fit what works for all of you.
If you need permission, here it is: I hereby give you permission to take a single step today. Just one. You could expand your thinking with a new podcast or book. Or you could call your team together and have a conversation on what they feel needs to change. Or…you could make a list of the things you can control. (Hint: You can’t control a pandemic, but you can sure control how you respond to it.) And then spend your time and energy on the things you can control; trying to fight the non-controllable will only exhaust and discourage you.
I believe you have the power to act and change—to fix what’s broken. The only question that remains is, do you believe it, too?
Congratulations on making it halfway through tax season! Use this moment to sit back, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.
Now, with a clearer head, let’s discuss how to leverage the second half of tax season to identify upselling opportunities by recording information in real time. Real-time tracking provides valuable insight into what is and isn’t going well, and helps alleviate the pain of trying to remember everything once the dust has settled.
The thought of “selling” often feels scary or foreign. So, let’s shift our mindset to understand why tracking upselling opportunities is important.
Upselling is the opportunity to upgrade or enhance the services clients are already receiving to fit their needs better, and to provide valuable services that allow them to work on their business.
Accounting firms are in the business of helping people. Therefore, providing better services that fit clients’ needs propels the momentum of the firm’s vision and mission of helping better the lives of clients. It truly is a win-win!
Real-time data tracking during tax season
Start by recording experiences with clients as they happen. At Rootworks, we encourage firms to implement the Tax Season Scorecard, a spreadsheet that tracks specific process information throughout tax season.
Staff should keep the document open and available during the workday to document what’s working well, what needs improvement, what takes the most time and where the process could be improved for the firm and the client.
Analyzing the data post-tax season
Though it’s possible to identify other areas of improvement—which is excellent—let’s continue focusing on how this data supports upselling efforts.
The tax season debrief combines data from each client and summarizes the takeaways from your debrief meeting. Collaborate the takeaways with the staff who worked with the client to ensure accurate data.
Use the takeaways as a springboard to set upselling goals. Make sure the goals are realistic and the clients identified are ideal. When they agree to your offerings, they form a closer relationship with the firm, so you want to be sure they’re a good fit.
Providing more services to fewer clients (instead of fewer services to more clients, which will increase workload) by increasing their touchpoints throughout the year will inevitably increase staff capacity during tax season and standardize the processes for clients throughout the year.
Tracking real-time data during tax season creates valuable upselling opportunities. The client-firm relationship is improved, the firm becomes an essential facet in giving the client valuable time back to work on their business and firm staff will find they work smarter, not harder.
Remember, allow some time in the midst of busy season to take a breath and don’t lose sight of your vision—to help people.
(Or, the story of a horse, a cart and our limited spatial abilities related to the two)
Data is foundational to the information age—even if essentially, it’s just a pile of 1s and 0s eagerly awaiting proper context and practical application. So, in this article, let’s define what we mean by website data, and discuss how a modern firm can practically apply its use.
First, we’ll unpack what we mean by website data and how we go about viewing it. For the purposes of this article, website data equals observed actions by visitors on your website, including activities such as page visits and link clicks. And visitors mean everyone who visits your website, from your firm’s team members to existing clients and prospects.
We need to use a tool/app like Google Analytics to view this data. Whatever your tool of choice, it will need to be set up and installed on your website to record all the observed actions. Then, you’ll need to wait while you amass a data set of the observed actions.
As I mentioned earlier, data eagerly seeks proper context and practical application. Making decisions and taking actions based on data piles without at least one context or application is like putting the cart in front of the horse. You’ll find yourself sitting in the cart, wondering why it’s not going anywhere, while you’re constantly telling the horse, “No, we’re not there yet, and stop asking!”
Let’s prevent that situation with some guidance to sort it all out.
A simplified approach:
Form a hypothesis—State a question related to your business.
Example: Are we gaining more new clients from a specific geographic area than we have in the past?
Define measurements—Decide on observable actions (data) related to your hypothesis and a time frame.
Examples: How many visitors came to our site from this geographic area in the last three months? What pages did they view? How many new clients did we process over this timeframe?
Assess and adjust—Modify or create a new hypothesis based on your findings…repeat
Example: We see our average number of visitors from Our City, USA over the last three months is 100. Most just came to our home page. We think this will increase if we update our meta titles/descriptions to include “Our City” and initiate a marketing campaign targeted at this city.
Traps to avoid and other things to keep in mind:
Live by the numbers, obsess over the numbers—But don’t get hung up on the numbers. Remember, data is not an answer and it’s not a goal. It’s observed actions.
Correlation does not imply causation—Avoid jumping to conclusions when reviewing your data, since there are several unknown variables when it comes to causation for these observed actions. Keep hypothesizing, assessing and adjusting before you dig your heels into causation.
Ashburn, VA!?!—Seeing this name stirs memories of the classic Old El Paso commercial where a cowboy reads where the salsa was made and exclaims, “New York City!” Ashburn, VA is the home to many data centers, and as such, a lot of traffic (often bot traffic) ends up routing through/from Ashburn. Excluding bot traffic from your Google Analytics will reduce this data noise.
Filters strain the noise—Setting up filters on your analytics account can help reduce the data noise and help you better assess and adjust. If you’re interested in how to set up filters, check out this Google Analytics article.
P.S. If you’re an active Rootworks web subscriber, your firm will already have a Google Analytics account set up. Contact email@example.com if you’d like access to set up filters for your account.
Here we are, in the thick of tax season—that time of year when you have the most interaction with your clientele.
Although the primary focus falls on tax returns, don’t let opportunities to ask for referrals and reviews pass you by. Happy clients are your best referral source, and often they’ll gladly do you the courtesy of posting an online review and/or recommending your firm to a friend or business associate.
The key is remembering to ask. Here are two easy ways to do that:
Referrals: Include a referral form with your best clients’ returns. Let them know you would enjoy working with more clients just like them, and that you appreciate their advocacy for your firm within their personal and professional circles. More than likely, your happy clients will want to recommend your firm to their friends and business associates. They just need a subtle reminder to do so.
Reviews: The same principle goes for online review requests. There’s no better time to ask for a review than in the moment of positive client contact. Google reviews are most sought after since the lion’s share of searches are conducted on Google. However, the caveat is that the reviewer will need a Google account to complete the review, so it’s a good idea to provide other destinations where your happy clients can post reviews (e.g., your business’s LinkedIn or Facebook pages).
Consider investing in an automated review software platform such as Grade.us, rather than leaving it up to your client to navigate review platforms. Grade.us allows you to easily upload client lists and schedule automated review requests to those clients on your behalf.
By implementing these two steps, you can make a big positive impact on both referrals and reviews. Here’s hoping this tax season is your best ever!
For more information on Grade.us or our Marketing Solutions products that handle the review process for you, visit: https://www.rootworks.com/marketing-solutions
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Events for Rootworks members
Check out these upcoming events exclusively for Rootworks members:
March 2 – Staff Training: Tax season status check and extension filing process
March 23 – Staff Training: Evolving your bookkeeping process with Botkeeper
March 30 – Staff Training: Post-tax season firm retreat planning
Log in to your Rootworks.com account and visit Resources > Events > Webinars to see the entire webinar schedule and register.
March 18 – Tax Season Halftime Show (open to members and non-members; for more information, see our article below or click here to learn more)
Events for everyone
Not a Rootworks member yet? We’ve got you covered with events where you can learn more about Rootworks or about the latest hot industry topics:
March 18 – Tax Season Halftime Show (open to members and non-members; for more information, see our article below or click here to learn more)
Rootworks webinars – Free live virtual events and on-demand webinars from the Rootworks team. Visit rootworks.com/webinars for a continually updated schedule of events.
The Rootworks Tax Season Halftime Show is back!
Friday, March 18
2:00 p.m. ET
We’re just about at the tax season halftime mark. Could you use a break? Then join Rootworks for a fun-filled 30-minute live webcast and shift your mindset from “over it” to “motivated” so you can tackle the last half of tax season re-energized and inspired, with:
Giveaways for firms AND staff
Pep talks from well-known industry thought leaders
Sideline reports from member firms across the country
High-energy, firmtastic videos
So close out the digital paperwork, get that foam finger ready and save a space for you and your team at the most eagerly anticipated event of tax season. We’ll step up to the line together and push through to the end zone!
It’s time to recognize the March Rootworks member anniversaries! Help us wish the following firms a Happy Rootworks Anniversary:
Alpha Bright CPA Limited
Kindlinger & Company, PC
J Larsen & Associates
ABL&Co. Tax & Accounting
Great Oak CPA
O’Donnell Professional Services, P.A.
Congratulations on your success, and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with you and your teams!
Please complete the following:
Rootworks members can now use an early access version of Insights, which delivers customer segmentation and pricing data as well as reports for your firm and clients. Connection to QuickBooks Online is required for firms and/or clients.