New Ways to Grow Your Skills as a Tax Professional

Practice Management Planning with team

There has never been a better time to be a tax professional. Multiple changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) for businesses and individuals, along with conformity challenges between the federal government and individual states, have ushered in a new era where we will become invaluable to the companies and individuals we serve. Those who can properly guide and advise their clients to use the tax code to help their clients advance are the ones who will attract new clients and keep the ones they have for life.

There’s no doubt you know how to work through your clients’ tax problems, but what about other skills? Here are my recommendations.

High-level communication skills are absolutely essential. Be in the public eye. Speak, write and teach people with tax-filing responsibilities to understand financial literacy – where finance, investments, business development and tax all meet.

Take charge of the client relationship. You can deliberately change the conversation by controlling the conversation. Be the one to instigate and open the dialogue well before your clients do. The reality is that your clients are overwhelmed with all of the changes occurring, with new technology, new tax laws, and of course, controversy about every issue that comes up. They are looking for leadership from someone who can properly guide, mentor, analyze, discuss and help make concrete plans to move forward. This is the ideal role for the tax professional. We can do this!

The goals are to achieve consistency in the conversation and frame it from the start. For example, tax planning is a great place to start. Think about it; when you look at tax planning, are you proactive or reactive? I find that most firms only focus on who they worked with last year, what they did for their clients and whether the firm has time for the clients this year. Tax planning isn’t yet part of the conversation.

If you’re seriously looking to move away from this reactive behavior and become more proactive, you must shift your mindset. You’ll also need to do things differently. Start with simply contacting your clients. Check in with them to see if their circumstances have changed and if they’d like to have a quick conversation around their current tax position.

Remember that the value you bring to your clients is in the conversation itself, not necessarily in the direct tax result or savings, where we tend to think the value is.

Here’s a three-step action plan to make this happen:

  1. Grab a list of your all tax clients.
  2. Work through the list and start engaging with them to initiate the conversation. Break this task down into bite-size pieces, perhaps something like four to five phone calls each week.
  3. Start now. 

Here’s a sample script:

“Hi XYZ, just checking in to see how you are doing. Have you had any changes from the previous year or since we did your 20XX tax work? Is there anything you’re concerned with, particularly around your current tax position, structure or other areas?”

If there is: “Can we can help you with that?” Make sure that you record anything of importance that the client mentioned during your conversation, and then spend a day or two thinking about how you might address it in the form of a tax planning engagement. This will help you define what the engagement will try to achieve. This is a key step since what the client actually said will help you connect with your purpose and how you will guide the engagement. And finally, the ultimate success of your relationship with your tax clients will depend on whether you, working alongside them, guide, mentor and direct their thinking in a way that helps them see that success is clearly possible and within their grasp.

If not: “Thanks and fantastic to talk with you. We will see you in ….”

In our firm, we have these conversations prior to the usual tax planning process. Yes, that’s correct, you should be thinking about this before starting any tax work. Just think about how much more your clients will love you for doing things like this.

Assess your skill level and competency. Today, we have to invest even more, much more actually, to understand, digest and become experts at the aspects of the tax law where our clients live. For example, if you service small business clients, then become the best expert at calculating qualified business income (QBI) and the impact this is going to have on your clients’ lives. Think about proposing a QBI class to your clients who you already know will be materially impacted by Sec. 199 of the TCJA.

Systemize yourself and your practice. In order to better leverage your time, expertise and value, create a series of videos to explain to your new clients what’s involved in working with your firm. Include everything from onboarding and documentation required, to accessing key documents and answering foundational, essential questions. Anything you can do to provide material that your clients can review to avoid answering the same question(s) multiple times will help you better manage your time.

Schedule regular meetings with clients. We started doing monthly huddles with our clients, where we spend time covering key aspects of the new tax law and other requested topics. We also invite questions and hold group discussions in order for our client to see that we are right there on the line with them.

Move to year-round engagements. If you adopt them faithfully, my recommendations will help you be regularly in front of and alongside your clients, so the time is right to move them to a year-round engagement. My practice uses Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online and QuickBooks® Online Accountant, but we know that, while books to tax saves time, it  doesn’t generate much in the way of value for your clients. Instead, deliver significant value by using that extra time to help, advise and speak with your clients throughout the year about what is going on with their businesses and their lives!

Remember, the more involved you are in your clients’ lives, the greater chances you have to become indispensable to them. That’s a goal we all need to keep in mind.