Salt With a Side of Vinegar

The two most beautiful words I heard on #TaxTwitter this weekend were “seller’s market.” What does that mean? It means that good #taxpros are in demand. Good #taxpros. I’m seeing loads of newbies on FaceBook who have passed a test or taken a few classes and decided to open a tax practice asking for advice on everything from what to charge to who qualifies as a dependent to, wait for it, how to prepare a Schedule C.

I’ve mentioned before that “not caught is not the same as accurately filed.” By the time taxpayers get the notices on these returns these preparers have probably closed up shop for the season and are nowhere to be found. Not all of them. Some, who decided to charge really low prices to get clients in the door, will still be working filing what I hope are free amended returns to fix their mistakes. That sucking sound you hear is their profit margins going down the toilet because they charged too little to begin with and now they have the pleasure of doing the return twice. At least I hope they aren’t charging for the amended returns. I had to call a client yesterday morning and to tell her I recently became aware of some “fine print” that could result in tax savings for her and because it was something I missed on her returns I would, once I verified my mistake was really a mistake and she qualified for this benefit, be filing three years’ worth of amended returns for her, for free. Why? Because I’m a good #taxpro. And we are in demand.

You want to know how I know we are in demand? Because the first question potential clients are asking me isn’t “How much do you charge?” it’s “Are you taking new clients?” The answer is yes, but not all of them.

Last year was hard on tax professionals. Some of us aren’t convinced “last year” ever ended. People made themselves ill, people got hives from the stress, people died, some died at their desks and here we are starting what appears to be another chaotic filing season. Last year was absolutely brutal on me and I only have a small practice and not many small business clients. I was stressed, exhausted, and angry. I’ve been working continuously since last January and I’m still stressed, exhausted, and angry. I’m just handling it better. Part of the reason I got no break was that I decided that what made the 2020 extended filing season so unsustainable was the administrative work (e-mails, phone calls, etc.) associated with scheduling appointments for potential and existing clients, answering the same questions over and over, and chasing paperwork (specifically my engagement packet and annual client interview) while trying to keep up with tax law changes and preparing tax returns. Part of the reason I’m handling the stress better is that I spent most of October through December of 2020 adding software that automates the administrative parts of return processing and appointment scheduling so that Cat and I can focus on preparing complete and accurate tax returns for our clients instead of answering the same handful of questions dozens (or hundreds) of times by phone or e-mail.

So why the salt? In a word? Pushback.

I get it. Change is hard. If you think it’s hard to adjust to a new system imagine having to actually set up the new system and use it, not just once but hundreds of times. And yet, most of my clients are managing. Even the ones I thought of as “not super techy” are giving it a try and figuring it out. It’s an imperfect system and I’m learning as I go. It’s not always easy and at times everyone has been frustrated (clients, me, Cat). I am letting the frustrated clients know that I appreciate their patience and feel their pain. I also understand that it’s harder to adapt to a new system when you only use it once or twice a year. I’m cutting some slack, but I’m not cutting slack like I did in 2020 when I basically did whatever I could to help my clients even if it meant sacrificing my own well being.

After fielding a few calls from disgruntled clients, I decided yesterday that I’m simply not taking pushback on my new client management system. My office processes are reasonably flexible and always have been. I will take what I am learning this year and make refinements that make the system and my processes easier on both the client and the office side. I don’t want to frustrate my clients, but I also don’t want to be crushed under the weight of admin work that can be automated.

Consider this, when you find a doctor that is taking new patients do you tell that doctor how to run her practice? I don’t think so. Well, when you find a tax professional, especially an ethical, competent, experienced tax professional, who is taking new clients, it’s probably a good idea to work within their systems instead of telling them how you want to do things.

If you’re reading this and thinking “Well, that’s nasty, I will just take my business elsewhere” I understand. But remember…seller’s market. I’m not trying to price gouge you. I’m not trying to make your life hard. I’m trying to earn a living in a demanding job with extremely high consequences of failure without killing myself in the process. So if my office policies and procedures don’t meet your idea of the way you think things should be done, shop around and find someone with a practice that does. It may be a seller’s market, but there will always be practitioners out there at all price points, experience, and service levels.

Clients who value me will find me and clients who don’t will find a practitioner that better meets their needs. Because truthfully, when it comes to preparing your tax returns, if you can’t tell the difference between me and the person at your church who is using Turbo Tax and charging $100 per return, we are both probably better off if you choose that person, me for the long-term health of my business and you, well, until you aren’t.

#fullambo out