Client Communications: Getting Ahead Before Busy Season

Client Relationships tax professional with clients

It’s already the end of the year, extension season just ended and we’ve passed the third-quarter filing deadline. Most of us have either finished up our continuing education or are rapidly scrambling to do so before the holiday rush.

It sounds like it’s almost time to relax.

Not quite yet! Now is the time to go through your client lists and map out the upcoming tax season; a well-planned season is key to getting ahead.

I must admit that up to now, I have pretty much let my clients run my schedule at their whims, and up until these last couple of years, that strategy worked pretty well. I stand in awe of my fellow practitioners who mail out their yearly newsletters/organizers and have a vast majority, if not all, of their clients scheduled before the end of December. I always meant to do that … it sounded like the right thing to do.

However, my main excuse for not mailing out that newsletter or organizer is that a large percentage of my clients would not respond. Email is better if they initiate contact, but I am pretty sure an email newsletter would be unread if I could glance at their phone inboxes. Texting is not an option, either. Instead, I needed to find as common a medium as possible to ensure a response from my clients that took the least amount of my time as possible – all without losing the personal touch.

I started in this profession as a solo practitioner. Now, I have a firm. I must be much more organized, delegate tasks and plan ahead if I want tax season to go as smoothly as possible. I really wish I had taken the initiative earlier on in my practice to plan ahead for tax season with my clients. If communications had been started earlier before the end of the tax year rather than at the moment of their tax appointment, I feel that many of the issues I had in prior seasons would not have been issues.

My firm specializes in small business with all types of entities. I have many clients for which communications prior to the end of the tax year is paramount. I use Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online with QuickBooks® Online Accountant, which helps me considerably in my client communications. I now schedule year-end meetings to map out the timeline to close the books for the upcoming tax season. For all my S corporation clients, I need to know how much the shareholder officers paid for health insurance during the tax year. I learned that lesson this year. For my individual clients, having a forewarning of events, such as learning if they have new dependents, home purchases or job changes, is golden.

Right now is when I am not only scheduling those year-end meetings or phone calls, but also scheduling their tax appointment as well. This was my biggest mistake in prior years. To my credit, I did try to do this last season. I included a hyperlink to my scheduling app in the electronic organizer I sent out through Intuit Link. Some clients opened their email and responded, while others saved the email for a time when they were ready to deal with it. Yet, the majority didn’t even open the email. They ignored it, and of the clients who opened it, all of them missed the scheduling hyperlink.

This preseason’s game is all about using technology with the old-fashioned phone call, so all my clients will be receiving a call before Thanksgiving. They will be told to expect an electronic organizer with that scheduling link through email, with the expectation that the appointment should be booked prior to year end. The organizer will be personalized to the contents of last year’s tax return and sent through Link. Link also allows me to create the template for the cover email, add an engagement letter and create additional questions that I want all my clients to answer such as, “Do you have any foreign financial assets?” For clients who don’t respond, a follow-up phone call will be made.

I have been giving my clients plenty of notice for this process, and they have been warned that times are changing. I will continue to communicate with them during their upcoming tax appointment about how important it is to schedule and communicate ahead of time. That will make the following tax season even smoother. After all, I really hate doing amendments!

Tax year 2018 update

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the new Form 1040 mean the biggest tax law change since the Reagan administration. Clients, if they haven’t already been asking, will ask you, their trusted advisor, what these new tax cuts mean for them. Be ready for it. The new Tax Planner in ProConnect™ Tax Online has been a valuable tool that I use to help me with this particular conversation early with my clients.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nov. 17, 2017, and updated on Nov. 6, 2018, to reflect changes due to tax reform.

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