Keys to Growing a Successful Tax Preparation Practice
Tax preparation is a 9 billion dollar industry, employing more than 1.2 million professionals – and growing every year. It is no wonder that growth is a key part of the agenda for most CPAs. However, as demonstrated by the industry’s high burnout rate, simply adding clients does not lead to success.
Sustainable, strategic growth is the desired result, and there are five key formula components.
Tax preparation is becoming increasingly commoditized. A simple Google search will bring up dozens of CPAs in your geographic area. When one tax preparer is much like the other, how do you set yourself apart?
Strategic branding is the answer. Consider your unique value proposition: what can you (and your staff) do that other CPAs cannot?
Your natural instinct may be to dive into your professional qualifications. Resist the urge to do so! Certifications are important, and you have worked hard to earn them. Unfortunately, to those who lack your expertise those abbreviations do not mean much beyond the fact that you have studied for, and passed, an exam.
Explain your value in terms that matter to your target market. Perhaps you can speak their native language, are proficient at explaining complex concepts in an easy-to-grasp way, or specialize in serving government employees. Remember that the distinction is only valuable if it is relevant to your audience.
Marketing can be a challenge for many CPAs. They often lack training and experience in that arena. Furthermore, marketing, prospecting, and selling require active outreach and resilience.
How can you make it work?
Start with functional basics. You need a marketing plan that supports your growth goals. There is a wide variety of ways to get the word out about your service, with the cost ranging from expensive to virtually free.
Whether you choose billboard advertising, a social media campaign, or a structured referral generation program, be sure it is a good fit for your target audience. Get specific tasks on your calendar, and build in accountability for getting them done. Remember that marketing works best when approached as a year-round sprinkler, not a once-a-year flood.
Whether you are a solopreneur or have partners and staff, productive use of your time is key to practice growth.
Track how you spend your days. Identify activities that, if done with discipline and persistence, will boost the growth of your practice over the next 5 years. Then, revise your to-do list to include those activities daily.
If you observe that more than half of your time is spent on putting out fires, dealing with administrative issues, or doing research, consider outsourcing and delegating more. Guard your time, as that is your most valuable (and most limited) resource.
Set clear boundaries
Many busy season nightmare stories come from not having set and enforced clear boundaries with clients and staff.
Boundary-setting has a reputation of being rigid and off-putting. No one wants to be the bad guy. It can be easy to relax your standard in the face of a pleading client with a sob story. Remember that boundaries are there to protect you and your time, so that you can better serve your clients. They give you space in which to grow your practice.
Get clear on what you are not willing to tolerate or make exceptions for. Your list will be unique to you, but here is what boundaries some tax preparers have found to be effective.
- Not hiring clients who haggle over the quoted fee
- Not doing the work until the first installment has been paid in full
- Not accepting any new tax returns after March 15
- Not allowing client visits to the home office
Any boundary you choose is only as good as your willingness to enforce it. Be prepared to defend it, firmly and graciously, every time.
Attracting and retaining quality staff
Your staff forms the foundation for client experience and brand perception. Attract staff members that you are proud of. Focus not only on their technical qualifications, but also their ability and willingness to deliver exceptional client service, go the extra mile, and grow personally and professionally. Support them by keeping standards and job requirements clear, providing timely and actionable feedback, and compensating them fairly.
At the end of each busy season, take a hard look at your staff and ask yourself, “Would I hire this person again?” If the answer is “No,” consider having a remedial feedback conversation, or hiring a replacement.