Tax Preparer to Advisor: Four Places to Start

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We keep hearing that we are all supposed to be these amazing resources to our clients, advise them on all these business decisions and evolve our practices out of compliance and into advisory. I keep making the argument that we have been advisors all along! Price sensitivity has pushed many tax firms into the realm of maximizing compliance work and efficiency which has slowly leaked our talent out of the advisory conversations. So how can we reverse this process and push back into the world of valuable advisor?

Newsletters 

Okay, hear me out. If you’re sucked into the compliance-heavy arena and want to break out, you need to tell your client what you can do. Giving them free advice through a newsletter is a first-line effort to get them to engage with you on a higher level. Find content, or create it, that would resonate with your clientele. What is your niche? Has there been a tax law change, an expiring provision, or a planning idea that you have had?

Include a paragraph telling your clients to call you directly when they are making decisions that could impact their tax positions.

Take Five Minutes at the End of Calls

Reserve the last five minutes of your tax planning calls to ask a few key questions. What are your goals for next year? What can I help you with?

These are two basic questions, and they both have a big impact. When you are asking about their goals, see what you hear and provide ideas. Engage them in the vision of it all and add some color around the tax or business implications of the decisions. I have been ending every meeting for years with “What can I help you with?” or “What can I do for you?” It gives everyone I talk with a sense that they can ask me things that might not be in our traditional scope.

Write Down Planning Ideas During Compliance

We all have ideas while we are preparing returns. Things that we think the client should have known, ideas for tax mitigation strategies, or thoughts about their situation in general. Normally these ideas never get communicated back to the client, and sometimes never get communicated from team members up to the person signing the return. Start a shared notebook (I use OneNote, which is free with a Microsoft 365 subscription) to jot down planning ideas. Encourage your whole team to add in their notes and thoughts. Then, you can use them in the off season to prioritize which clients to call, email, or otherwise communicate these ideas to. This is an easy place to provide more advisor value to your clients!

Tax Strategy Webinars

There are 5 million tax strategy and planning webinars out there. Find a good one, immerse yourself in the concepts, and see where you can apply them. The exercise of pushing out of the compliance comfort zone into the strategic advisor zone can be intimidating. As such, getting the proper background and strategies from other experts could kickstart your journey into providing more value to clients. When I attend these webinars, not only am I taking notes, I am writing down client names that might benefit from the strategy. Before I approach the client, I make sure they are a good case for it, and sometimes even share the facts with the presenter to see if they think it would be a good fit. Additionally, as you decide what training to attend, think about what would apply to your client base. Our sister publication, Insightful Accountant, has an entire webinar section you can visit anytime you’re looking for some fresh ideas!

These are some ideas that are pretty easy to get started with. There are plenty of more time-consuming ways to give advisory services life in your practice. I find it is always best to start with things that feel surmountable and non-threatening and build from there.

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Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, publishes a YouTube show (The Hot Accounts), and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her husband and young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.