The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead

We had been prescheduling tax meetings for over twenty years. We thought clients wanted them. They came because we told them to, not because they wanted to.

Here’s part of an e-mail referral I received this past week. “Frank is a great CPA, and you don’t even have to meet with him.” Guess the age of the client and prospective client. If you guessed under fifty, you’re wrong. Both are well into their fifties.

Just when you conquered the night sweats from meeting new people at chamber of commerce meetings, Lucy swipes the ball away from you again, Charlie Brown. Face to face meetings are so 1990s. The tax meeting is dead.

Clients killed it. A few years ago, during a classic tax season gather up all the documents meeting, a client asked me, “Do I really have to come in next year? You have this portal thing. It’s a pain driving all the way out to Chantilly.” Believe me, it’s a pain to drive to Chantilly, even if you live in Chantilly.

We had used our cloud based practice management system for five years or so to get client documents electronically. However, we had been prescheduling tax meetings for more than twenty years. We thought clients wanted the meetings.

They did – back in the 1990s. In 2012, less than a quarter of our clients posted their documents electronically, and we mistakenly thought that was the right percentage. Clients actually were coming to prescheduled meetings because we told them to, not because they wanted to.

We missed the change in client demands. Clients no longer value the annual meeting. Sure, clients over sixty still mostly come in for annual meetings. That generation views having “my accountant” as a sign of status and affluence. Younger clients prefer having time back in their personal lives over devoting a couple hours to tax return preparation. Time is their valued commodity.

I feel your objection. “We can’t provide good personal service without meetings.” Yes we can. The required skill sets are just different. Writing ability becomes our most important communications tool.

But what about all that face to face personal interaction? Today’s clients don’t place a high value on it. They prefer choosing how they spend their time. You may find this surprising, but clients don’t enjoy talking about taxes. Shocking, I know.

Yes, they still value our expertise and want interaction and advice. They’re just choosing a communications medium that meets their needs. Here’s how I made the transition last year.

First, I stopped prescheduling meetings. I heard the internal objection that the admin staff would be overwhelmed with phone calls and e-mails to set appointments. Nope, didn’t happen. Next, I heard that everyone would want to come in the last week of March. Nope, didn’t happen.

Phone volume actually went down. Prescheduled meetings cause more phone calls than they prevent. People call to reschedule or cancel. People coming in for meetings were actually prepared. No more meeting with people with brokerage accounts in early February, because that was the only place in my completely filled tax season dance card.

After the switch, my schedule actually meant something. I didn’t have to worry about no shows. Actually, I never worried about them. I depended on them to get work done. No shows were a thirty minute window to do work.

During tax season, I now devote half days to appointments every day except, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I have no appointments on those days. I do schedule appointments on one Saturday in February each year for some older long time clients.

What about the people, who can only come in on weekends and evenings? They aren’t my clients. Their bosses are my clients. Their bosses love weekday appointments if they come in at all. Most don’t. Last year, my appointment volume went down 40% and our admin staff benefited from less phone volume. This year, I’m hoping for an even bigger reduction in appointments.

Imagine a tax season, where you’re not chasing your backside all day trying to put out fires. OK, there are still plenty of fires to put out, but you have the time to extinguish them. Imagine having time for project management and follow-up. Imagine having the time to make real tax projections for estimated taxes. Imagine having time to make proactive phone calls and meet with people, who truly need to meet.

You get the practice you create. You get the clients you deserve. Hook into what 21st century clients value and create your dream accounting or tax practice at the same time. Imagine owning a profitable business and living a somewhat sane life during tax season. You can.


Frank Stitely photographAbout the Author

Frank Stitley is a Certified Public Accountant with 26 years tax experience and a Certified Valuation analyst with 12 years’ experience in business valuation. His speaking engagement topics have included the following: Business Valuation, Buying and Selling Businesses, Preventing Fraud in Small Businesses, and Income Taxes for Small Businesses and Individuals Effective Accounting Software for Small Businesses.

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