Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 47 seconds

Well here it is, the start of another new year. Most CPAs are already rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of another tax season, business as usual. On the contrary, many business owners have been running for their business life for more than a year and are likely struggling to find a reason to celebrate anything as they struggle with their recession hangover.

The recession hangover is fraught with fear and uncertainty, pent up anxiety, and wondering when the pain is ever going to come to an end. Is it your fault your clients are suffering? Even if you say no, you have to wonder how your clients would answer that question. They won't blame you for the recession. But they might question if you did everything you possibly could to help them weather the economic storm. Did you? Really?

Perception is reality for your clients. If they perceived you could or should have been more involved in helping them manage their cash flow, work with their bank, trim their expenses, or optimize their resources you might find some pent up anger and frustration when you meet with them this tax season. Assuming they are planning to come back to see you this year.

You can't take anything for granted right now. A client that has been satisfied with your service for many years might be taking a second look at the value they are receiving from you and your firm. Clients are more value sensitive (not price sensitive) than ever. When people are in pain they make different value judgments than they might otherwise.

Here are four things you MUST do this tax season to reinforce your commitment to helping your clients overcome any obstacle and get back on their feet again.

1) MEET WITH THEM! It is shocking to me how many practitioners have slid into a "mail in" relationship with their business clients.
2) LISTEN! Don't spend the entire visit talking tax. Conduct a mini SWOT session with them. Ask them about where they are feeling the Strongest, Weakest, as well as having them tell you about the Opportunities and Threats that may be approaching in the coming months.
3) FOLLOW-UP! Whatever comes up in the discussion memorialize it. Capture the issues they bring up and their plans for addressing those issues. And then send them a letter that goes something like this . .

See #4 below

Dear Client,

I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you today and catch up on what has been happening in the business. To make sure the issues we discussed don't get lost in the shuffle of tax season, I have captured a "to do" list for us to work on going forward.

1) We talked about your cash flow being a problem. I would like to suggest that we get together sooner rather than later to process map the flow of cash in the business and clean up any gaps or traps.

2) We talked about managing the capacity of the company to optimize utilization of all your resources. This is an area we can definitely help you measure where you are, where you want to be, and design a plan to make it happen This ties in with the discussion we had about your team. We'll want to make sure you have the right people in place to reach the goals you have in mind.

3) Succession. It seems to be staring all of us in the face but with the economy the way it is, most folks have put that discussion on hold for now. I think we could go a long way toward putting your mind at ease if we sit down and revisit the value of the company, your current retirement assets and brainstorm some new strategies for dealing with the setbacks you've experienced.

I know we touched on some other issues, but those three seem to be the most pressing. Please let me know if I missed anything in this recap. I will have my assistant call you in a couple days to set up a work session for us to address the issues captured above. In the meantime, we will work with your bookkeeper to get all the financial information up to date, and review your line of credit and covenants with the bank to see if we can attack some of the cash flow issues.

You can help make the most of our work session by gathering the following documents:

Your current 401K statements, your lease (I think we might be able to cut some of your overhead), any internal management reports you have that can give us some insights into the day to day effectiveness of your people and processes and, finally, your current organizational chart.
You've made it through the worst of the storm. We want to make sure you are positioned to take advantage of the economic growth that lies ahead.
Talk with you soon. In the meantime, if you have any questions, call me. I am here to help.

Yours truly,

______________________________________

Let's look at the key elements of this follow-up letter.
• thank them for their candor
• restate the most pressing issues with an indication of next steps
• tell them what you are going to be doing for them immediately
• ask them to do a couple of things to prepare for the next session, it lets them know you are serious about helping them
• reassure them

You can e-mail the letter with a hard copy to follow. Don't skip the hard copy; given the 2-3 day lag between the e-mail and the letter arriving by post, the hard copy will reinforce the commitment you are both making to address their issues. Why is this letter follow-up so important? It provides accountability for both you and the client. And, even if the client chooses not to follow-through with you right away, hard copies of letters don't get lost as quickly as e-mails are deleted. Likely the letter will float around their desk for weeks reminding them of your commitment to help them succeed. And should they ever come back to ask "what have you done for me lately?" you'll have the letter as proof of your effort to provide services that are more relevant to their current situation.

Finally # 4) YOU MUST FOLLOW-THROUGH! If you don't, your all talk and no action approach will set you both up to fail. If you can't follow-through, don't bother with all the advice herein. You would be better off to roll the dice on your client's loyalty than over promise and under deliver.

Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to: http://www.mentorplus.com/.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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