This is how I earn my living. I work pretty much full time, pretty much year round. Even when I’m not doing tax returns, I’m doing representation work (helping people who are being audited or who are in IRS collections), I’m working on the business side of my small business, or I am reading. I am always reading. I’m not a “pop up” tax shop. I’m not seasonal. And this business is definitely not a hobby for me. So please treat me as you would any other professional. If you aren’t sure what that means, here are five tips on how to treat your tax professional (or any professional)…

Tip #1: If it’s work related, please call the office or e-mail my work address.

Sometimes friends become clients. Sometimes clients become friends. Sometimes we are colleagues with businesses that are similarly aligned. If your doctor was a family friend, would you call her on her personal cell to book an appointment? No? Please do the same for me. My home/work boundaries help keep me sane, not to mention being necessary for my professional liability insurance. If it’s office stuff, let’s take care of it during office hours, using office resources. When I’m out socializing, especially during tax season, I am getting some rare “outside the office” time. I do not want to be on duty (and again, my professional liability insurance also does not want me to be on duty—especially if it’s happy hour). I don’t mind giving out a business card or taking your card for a callback, but I will not discuss specifics outside the office.

Tip #2: If it’s administrative (non tax) work, please reach out to the admin assistant first.

It’s a small office and when Cat isn’t here I am the admin assistant. But that means I am working at her workstation, monitoring her e-mail accounts, and doing work that is typically hers when she is on duty. Again, if you have a doctor or an attorney do you call them with questions about office hours, booking appointments, what to bring to your appointment? Not usually. They have staff for that and during the busy part of tax season, so do I. Please respect the professional boundaries and contact the office and speak to the admin and let her do her job (including determining when a question needs my intervention).

Tip #3: I can explain it to you, I can’t understand it for you.

I want my clients to understand their tax returns and have a good big picture view of their tax situation. I work hard to explain what is going on with each tax return to each client each year. That service is part of what you pay for when you hire a #taxpro as opposed to doing your own returns. But I cannot magically transfer my years of training, education, and experience into your head. I can give you the big picture. I am typically not willing to explain anything in the level of detail that is provided in a training class for tax professionals to non tax professionals—no matter how smart you are or how much I like you and/or value your business. I’m pretty smart. Actually, I’m really smart. But I’m also smart enough to know I’m not going to learn how to design a bridge by asking an engineer to explain it to me. I’m not even going to learn how to design a bridge by asking an engineer to explain it to me in excruciating detail. Again, I want you to understand what is on your tax returns—what you are filing and paying and why. But I cannot train you to do my job at your review and signature appointment so please don’t expect me to.

Tip #4: Your mad search skillz are no substitute for my years of experience and training.

They just aren’t. I’m not saying what you Googled is incorrect. It may be correct. But it also may not be correct and knowing why it is or is not correct is a big part of what you get when you hire a professional. The tax code is huge. Huge. And it has a lot of interconnected parts. Knowing how those parts all work together is what I do. When you Google (or even sometimes when you are using DIY tax software) you often don’t know what you don’t know and you could be missing information that is critical to the big picture. Garbage in, garbage out. I’ve spent years learning how to ask the right questions and to question what on the surface may seem like the right answers. I don’t mind answering questions. I do mind when you stand in my office and challenge my answers based on your search results or what your non-taxpro friends have told you.

Tip #5: Don’t expect me to work for free.

Again, this is how I earn a living. If you are a client, don’t call with questions about your friends’ or family members’ returns. If you are a prospective client, do not call expecting to “pick my brain” on what you are supposed to do to prepare a tax return. Do not expect me to tell you which forms need to be filed or if items are reportable income or are legally deductible. Do not ask if I will review your self-prepared return—I won’t. Do not call to ask me for tips or strategies or “quick questions” if you are not a client. My clients pay for that information. If you want it, then become a client. You would be surprised at how often I have to tell casual friends at group dinners “No, I don’t answer ‘quick questions’ from non-clients when I am at social events.” You would probably be more surprised to know how many calls Cat and I field during the height of tax season from non-clients expecting free information. Imagine trying to install a dishwasher yourself and calling a plumber while you are in the process and saying “Well, I’ve got the dishwasher out and I’ve been talking to my contractor friends and watching YouTube videos and googling for tips and I just want you to kind of walk me through this to be sure I’m getting it right.” And expecting them to 1) do it and 2) do it for free. Not gonna happen with them and not gonna happen here either.

Perhaps the simplest guideline is that if you wouldn’t act this way with a doctor or an attorney, don’t act that way with me. My name is Amber. I am a tax professional.