How to Optimize Your Tax Season Appointments

How to Optimize Your Tax Season Appointments

William Hamilton

January 21, 2021

Click here to watch or listen to this post!

Tax appointments have changed logistically with the need to hold “virtual” meetings in many cases instead of the traditional in-person get-together. 

The critical question to ask is, “Have I optimized my actual appointment structure to align with the goals for my firm?”.

Depending on the size & structure of your practice you may handle the logistics of your appointments in any number of ways, but there are three specific things any firm can do to optimize its appointments this season:

  1. Control who is allowed to have an appointment.
  2. Focus the appointment time on the results of that year’s filing.
  3. Clearly explain how clients can improve or maintain their results in the next filing.

1. Control who is allowed to have an appointment

Capacity is a real issue for most firms during filing season. You only have so many days before the deadline and often have more returns than you can process.

Because of these limitations, not every client on your roster should be allowed to have an appointment. Your clients should be paying you for a result, not for the time they sit in front of you. 

Why is that true? The results you help clients achieve can be infinitely scalable, but your time is not – that will always be limited by the number of hours you choose to work. As long as clients are paying for your time, scaling your revenue and operations will be challenging. 

We get how daunting it might feel to tell some clients they won’t have access to an appointment this year, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing if you use the right approach.

Here’s a Virtual Announcement Template you can use for how to message clients that you’ll be helping them this season without an appointment.

Let’s touch on the client psychology – not having an appointment becomes a negative thing when we don’t make it clear how clients can receive the results they want outside of sitting with you during January-April. They believe that if they “just had time with you”, you may magically be able to affect their filing outcome.

Many firms don’t offer a structured and clear way to engage with clients outside of the busy season except for extended returns. When you don’t offer an engagement level that includes strategic help, you’re left with clients clinging to their tax season time with you because they “feel” like that’s the only way to improve their results. 

Once we make it clear how clients can still receive the results they want, the negative feelings around not having a tax season appointment will go away. 

That leads directly into your second optimization step.

2. Focus Your Appointment Time On the Results of the Filing

In healthcare there are objective measurements that indicate someone is “healthy” or “unhealthy” (or headed in either direction). In the tax and financial world the same is true, there are markers that objectively indicate someone’s business or personal financial health.

The majority of consumers are not tax or financial experts, so they’ve been trained to think that the results of their tax filing each year is positive or negative based on whether they received a refund or how much they owed in tax.

Paying the minimum amount of tax is every everyone’s legal right – that’s given, but for clients to be truly successful in their business or with their finances, their tax filing should be measured as either positive or negative based on how closely it aligned with their overall goals for that year. 

If someone pays $1,000,000 in tax but is achieving their overall income and financial goals – that could be a great filling result. If someone receives a $20,000 tax refund, that could be a terrible result unless somehow an interest free loan to the IRS was part of a larger strategy. 

You know this because you’re a tax professional, some clients may know this in theory, but most do not. So it’s your responsibility to educate them. 

Your tax appointments with clients should focus on diagnosing their results from the previous year and measuring if those results align with their specific goals.

If we’re really honest, most tax appointments are spent shooting the breeze with clients and gathering missing source documents the client could have easily provided some other way. 

We’re not advocating that you don’t enjoy your time with clients, but the amount of time spent during your tax appointment focused on the results of their filing, versus how much time you spend just “catching up”, should be purposeful. 

Here are some key questions you can build your appointment around to ensure your limited time during the busy season is focused on the right results:

  1. What happened to your income or expenses this year that lead to this specific filing result?
  2. What happened with your life this year compared to last that affected your results?
  3. What’s happening in your business or your industry that affected your sales, margins, profits, or earning potential that lead to these results?

You can use whatever ever specific language you feel comfortable with, but when you focus your client appointments around these questions, you accomplish two key things:

  • You identify how the amount of tax they paid (or refund they received) fit into a larger context of their financial life. This indicates how healthy or unhealthy their tax picture is compared with their goals.
  • You protect yourself from trying to cram a year’s worth of “tax planning” into one 30-90 minute meeting.

When it’s time to report to the IRS and State what happened in the last year, it’s often too late to drastically affect any outcome because the year has already passed. A tax filing is simply reporting on historical data. The only way to affect the future, is to implement strategies and tactics before the year has ended. 

Again, you know this, but many of your clients probably don’t. To see how to create a Client Guide PDF that will specifically help clients understand the difference between reporting & planning, read our previous post on this topic.

By focusing your tax appointment on the contextual results of the filing, not just how much the client owed or was refunded – you’re not trying to travel back in time and change history. Instead, you’re simply diagnosing what happened and helping the client see and understand the same historical events.

That takes us to the last step of optimizing your tax appointments.

3. Clearly explain how clients can improve or maintain their results in the next filing.

Once you and the client understand the historical events that lead to this year’s filing, it needs to be made clear how the client can achieve better results or maintain their results next year.

As we all know, the only way to do that is through proactive planning.

Only by planning and executing the necessary action steps can the client implement strategies that will help them save on taxes or achieve their desired results.

What needs to be made clear to the client regarding this planning?

  1. You’re not going to do that planning during the busy season, you’ll do that planning in May-December when you have the capacity.
  2. If the client is currently only paying for tax preparation, you may need to adjust your engagement structure to ensure you’re compensated for your knowledge & expertise.
  3. What are the next steps if the client does want additional planning to maintain or improve the results of their next filing.  

Many firms don’t provide this clarity because they think it must be a complicated conversation. With a little practice, this conversation can be simple, easy, and can happen in as little as two minutes.

 Below are two examples of what you can say to provide that clarity:

If the client had a positive result | Their filing aligned with their overall business and/or financial goals:

“[Client Name] After finishing your tax report for last year, I’m so glad you ended up where we both wanted you to be. As you know, tax laws, stimulus strategies, and the economy will continue to evolve rapidly this next year and into the foreseeable future. 

To ensure you still achieve the best possible results regardless of any upcoming changes, we need to track, analyze, & understand your key numbers. Then create a plan & execute the right action steps (in the right order) before your next filing. 

If you would like us to be involved in this process with you, I can add you to our “Early Access List” and reach out in the spring to ensure you’re in the first group that we know we’ll have time to work with…” [Book a specific time to meet again or let them know to watch for a calendar invitation via email].

If the client had a negative result | Their filing did not align with their overall business and/or financial goals:

“[Client Name] After finishing your tax report for last year, I hate that the result wasn’t what we wanted it to be and we want to do everything we can to ensure this doesn’t happen again. As you know, tax laws, stimulus strategies, and the economy will continue to evolve rapidly this next year and into the foreseeable future. 

To ensure you can achieve the best possible results regardless of any upcoming changes, we need to track, analyze, & work to improve your key numbers throughout the year. Then create a plan & execute the right action steps (in the right order) before your next filing. 

If you would like us to be involved in this process with you, I can add you to our “Early Access List” and reach out in the spring to ensure you’re in the first group that we know we’ll have time to work with…” [Book a specific time to meet again or let them know to watch for a calendar invitation via email].

When you look at these two examples, regardless of the tax filing result (positive or negative), you can make it clear to the client how to receive the help they need to improve or maintain their results moving forward.

Key Takeaways

  • You should be selective about who receives an appointment during the busy season – this will protect against wasting precious time during the period you have the least capacity.
  • If you don’t give clients an option for receiving strategic help outside of the busy season, they will continue to cling to wanting an appointment – which in the long-term limits your ability to scale.
  • You can stop trying to cram a year’s worth of planning into one appointment by focusing your appointment time on defining and diagnosing their results.
  • You can capture revenue leaking out of the practice by making it clear how clients can improve or maintain their next filing results through proactive planning.  

If you would like to optimize your appointments this season, download the following free template:

If you need any additional help, SmartPath provides powerful training, tools, and 1-on-1 support to optimize your pricing and help you be paid for the knowledge you’re giving away for free. Schedule a call to learn more.

0 Comments