These coronavirus times find us rearranging our schedules, working in different places at different times, and changing the way we interact with our family, our friends and our clients. Just as important and vital to the success of our business is the need to retain and improve our relevancy in this highly competitive market.
The immediate crisis aside, a recurring problem for tax professionals is the increasing choice by consumers to use Do-It-Yourself (DIY) software products to prepare their taxes. Tax professionals offer significant and valuable benefits, but if your clients do not see the value of those benefits, they will likely go elsewhere, including online services.
Before entering the world of the tax professional and recently acquiring my CTEC, I spent over 25 years as the director of marketing for an independent insurance agency. During that time, they grew to be one of the largest in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Insurance agents and tax professionals have many things in common, and many businesses choose to combine these two services to provide valuable benefits to their clients year-round.
One commonality is that both industries are threatened by online companies with appealing mascots and catchy jingles to entice their clients into thinking that they can acquire their insurance or complete their tax return on their own, without competent and experienced advice that the licensed professional provides. In my opinion, THIS is the real concern that tax professionals need to address to keep their services in demand by today’s consumer.
As a licensed insurance agent, I have witnessed the increase over time in DIY internet insurance quotes and policy purchases. This continues to have a serious impact on insurance agents, reducing their market share every year. Insurance agents call it “The GEICO® Effect.”
Tax professionals also experience that challenge. It’s called “The Turbo Tax® Effect.”
How does it happen? Advertising on all mediums convince people that they can simply click a few buttons, share their personal information in cyberspace and prepare and submit their return with accuracy…. And, what happens? As more people believe this is a better option for them, fewer and fewer clients will be seeking our professional services.
The data already shows it:
DIY Data 2019:
This graph shared from AccountingToday.com shows that even during the 2019 filing season when the complex nature of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act should have driven more clients to professional preparers, the number of returns self-prepared through DIY software rose by 4.2% over the previous year.
Graph Credit: AccountingToday.com
The information above was published May 15, 2020, by the IRS.
This should be a concern for everyone in this industry.
“You should not be as worried about working remotely but rather keeping yourself RELEVANT.”
Our task, as tax professionals, is to help our clients understand our value and appreciate the services we provide.
Have you ever thought about it? Who are your biggest competitors?
Your biggest competitors are the companies who not only sell software to tax professionals, but also sell online programs to DIY consumers. Take a look at these tax software programs and their parent companies:
Each of these companies advertise DIY software to your clients. Every year, their DIY programs begin to take center stage as the focus of their development and serve to cut you right out of the picture.
Unlike other tax software companies, Taxware Systems intentionally does not provide an online do-it-yourself program. We recognize and support the value and service you bring to our communities. We believe strongly in being loyal to the tax professional, most especially family- owned and -operated small business tax professionals.
You will likely never be able to compete with their marketing budgets. You will likely never have all the technology and tools that these companies have at their disposal.
But don’t despair! — As this crisis has proven, YOU ARE ESSENTIAL!
Now, what can you do to make sure your clients know you are essential?
The following top 5 ways are just the beginning, but a great place to start:
1. Show your Expertise
Now more than ever sharing your experience with others is both vital and relatively simple.
In times past, a professional press release created at great expense with the hopes that one news media might pick up your story, was your only option to share your knowledge. Now you have the ability to publish your own articles, opinions and expertise in short articles that can be shared in emails to your clients, in a blog on your website or on LinkedIn or Facebook. This type of content helps people get to know you and get to know the value of your knowledge and experience.
Write these articles and share them in a customer newsletter that can be emailed, but we recommend printing and mailing them at least twice per year, 3-4 times if possible.
2. Show you Empathize
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
We have all heard this before and we know it is true. Reach out to your clients at important times, whether it is a crisis or a birthday. Your clients want to know that you are invested in their well-being.
There are technologies that can help you do this on a larger scale so that you can reach many, if not all of your clients, at the same time. One example we love is Textellent. Our Wintax 1040 software is seamlessly integrated with their services to help make communication and appointment setting easy and efficient. The ability to text your clients can be a genuine communication they will appreciate as long as you do it with care and sincerity.
It is important to be authentic. Don’t let technology take over your personal voice. If it is evident that a service provider is preparing all of your content and communication, then your efforts can have the opposite effect. Don’t ever completely detach from the communication your business, and your brand, is putting out.
3. Be Evident
Be where they are. Better yet, be where they are looking.
Local community involvement - If your customers come primarily from the neighborhood surrounding your office, it is important to get out and be seen. Networking events and local chamber meetings can play a key role in gaining trust, awareness and referrals of your services.
Website - It is important to be found in local search on the internet. Having even a basic website gives you a “store front” online where your potential clients can read and learn about your services. There are many affordable resources for even the smallest offices to have an internet presence.
Social media - Engage on Facebook and other social media platforms that your customers may be involved with. Again, be authentic as you communicate and consider using media advertising as an economical way to reach your specific targeted audience.
4. Exceed Expectations
Go the extra mile, give the extra effort to exceed your client’s expectations.
There is nothing more noticeable than to add a personal touch to any interaction with your client. For example, you may want to make it part of your business process to always send a follow-up thank you note after the season. These and other personalized communications will go a long way in strengthening your relationships, improving client retention and increasing referrals.
Speaking of referrals, do you have a “Referral Thank You Program” implemented in your office? These types of programs are fun in that you can choose to reward the client directly, or based on local laws, you can determine to contribute to a specific charity on their behalf. There are so many great ways this program can be created.
Focus on the small things: An in-office visit? Yes, I am sure they will be happening again in the near future. Do the simple things, like provide water and snacks for your clients, to make them feel instantly comfortable.
And don’t forget the ever-popular birthday card and other personalized notes.
These efforts are worth their weight in gold to retain your current clients and secure referral business each year.
5. Hire an Expert
Running a business is time consuming. No one knows this more than tax pros in the heat of the season!
No, you don’t have to hire a big budget marketing firm for your local tax practice, but there are still reasonable and affordable ways to help you get your business pointed in the right direction and get the extra help you need.
I’ll tell you a little secret—26 years ago I was a licensed insurance agent with a knack for marketing that I didn’t really know I had. Back in the day, advertising was mostly done through a large yellow-page telephone directory and newspaper ads. I was expecting my first child and the agency owner saw the wisdom in allowing me to work remotely on a very part-time basis to handle the marketing and advertising. It was a blessing for both the agency and myself.
You may already know someone who has a knack for social media, good communication skills, and willing to learn more about income tax and your business. They may be very interested in a part-time gig. You can also advertise for help or look for a small marketing firm to help guide you with the personalized service that you need at a reasonable cost.
Not only in times of crises, but every day, it is those who STEP UP that stand out. Experienced tax preparers like you are essential!
Want to learn more about how to keep yourself essential? Register for Taxware’s free webinar.