My Tax Office Is Not YOUR Urgent Care Center

I fired another client this morning. And I fired two more earlier this week. And I’ve got three more on a short list. And, while I don’t feel great about it, I don’t feel particularly bad either. Why? Because the situations these clients create in my office are a drain on my mental health. Mental health I need to ensure all of the other clients still in line get their returns filed accurately and on time. But clearly I am still, if not conflicted, at least concerned about the firings because here I am blogging about it. The thing is I just don’t think most clients really understand what many small or solo tax offices are like during this part of tax season and, despite my best efforts to communicate that to my clients and others, they remain blissfully ignorant. Nevertheless, I’m going to take another shot at explaining using another analogy.

Many tax clients seem to view their tax practitioner’s office as they would an emergency room or urgent care center. They expect to come in at any time and get treated. They expect to be able to walk back in and to the front of the line after they have been treated and released. They don’t always understand the triage procedures. They don’t always understand that even though they are in a huge amount of pain that there are only so many treatment areas available. What they do understand is that the facility is pretty much obligated to take all incoming patients. In other words, it’s a lot like a tax office run by one of the big tax franchises. Those tax offices are set up for walk-in traffic and while you wait service, they are prepared for last-minute filers, they want to treat a high volume of “patients.”

Some small tax offices operate using the franchise/emergency room model, but many do not. Many are more like visiting a highly recommended specialist. It’s hard to get an appointment. Sometimes the doctor isn’t taking new clients. If you do get an appointment you receive excellent care, albeit not always in the manner you think it should be provided (paperwork! follow up appointments! aftercare! fasting requirements! physical therapy!). What happens when you get a coveted spot at the specialist’s office and are put on a course of treatment? Do you miss follow up appointments? Refuse to provide lab test results? Ignore dietary restrictions and physical therapy exercises? Because that’s what’s happening in tax offices across the country right now and that’s why I’m firing clients.

I don’t know if doctors are allowed to fire patients, but I expect watching their recommendations go unheeded or their work be undone by patients who won’t follow instructions or recommendations makes them wish they could. I can. And I will. I’m good at my job and I take care with each and every one of my clients. Thing is, many clients simply don’t care about the work I do beyond getting their refund and that’s OK. But it also means that continuing to work with them is a waste of my time (and theirs, they don’t value the service I provide beyond e-filing a tax return). Other patients (er, clients) are on a waiting list for available appointments when or if I decide to start taking them again. When (or if) I do start taking new clients, I’m looking for clients who are serious about their treatment. Those who understand that working with me is not like walking into a franchise (and the franchises, like the urgent care centers, do good work, but it’s a different type of work than what I do). Those whose financial goals include pro-actively managing their income taxes even if they aren’t always focused on their taxes. In other words, I’m looking for clients who are committed to their overall financial health even if they spend the occasional week (or month) eating donuts and watching Jaws. Clients for whom financial health is a habit, not a New Year’s resolution that gets broken two weeks after it is made. Clients who do what they can as they can to maintain their financial health all the time instead of letting things go to the point where they become an emergency (like waiting until March 31st to contact their tax professional).

I have never liked that sign that says “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I still don’t. Nevertheless I think it is important that clients (mine and others’) understand that ignoring their tax professional is like ignoring their doctor. Ignore enough for long enough and you can’t be treated by your doctor in their office. You end up in urgent care—or worse, dead. Lucky for our clients, in a tax office the worst that can happen is you end up on extension and looking for a new preparer. #fullambo out