What you need to do differently on client year ends in 2017

Once again you have survived the 31 January deadline and are drawing breath for the first time in 2017! Wondering what next to focus your attention on or simply look forward to a quieter February? This is the perfect time to review how well you service your business clients and change the way you deal with year-end planning systems.

Whilst December year ends have passed, use this as a checklist to confirm you have done what you should in order to deliver best quality client service and in the process make your own life easier too. Then apply the same system to all business clients with year ends coming up during 2017.

Make contact - for all A and B grade clients you should be in contact with them monthly- even if it is to just check in and see how they are. Clients love it when their advisor calls and for once isn’t chasing information or fees. Ideally you should be specifically contacting clients 3 months before their year-end date to discuss tax planning, agreeing fees for what you will do and booking the job in. This kick starts your production work flow systems and will also help your cash flow if fees are agreed in advance and a payment plan also put in place. Offer to meet not just to review tax planning but also the owners personal and business goals for the year ahead. Ask what they need help with. An ideal opportunity to agree business advisory fees for regular business planning meetings which the client will value above basic compliance work.

Your service offering - How confident are you that every client knows exactly what you offer as a firm? What services do they use you for? Are they using other providers for services you can offer? If so, why aren’t they using you? All valid questions to review regularly with clients and creating the opportunity to agree additional fees for extra work. Remember to ask the client how happy they are with the service you are providing and how you can improve. This demonstrates how proactive you are and how you value them as a client.

Getting more from client meetings - always draft an agenda for a client meeting and send it to the client in advance. The agenda will ensure you don’t shy away from agreeing those awkward items such as fees or settlement of debtor balances or billing out of work in progress still being held. Send minutes and agreed plan of action within 48 hours of the meeting. This serves as an aide memoire to all those you need to share information with and starts the planning process. It is also a record of discussions which the client will value.

Agree fixed fees and manage both yours and the clients’ cash flow - Clients will still be ‘hurting‘after paying personal tax bills in January so ensure you work with them to help them not receive unexpected bills in the year from you. Clients like fixed fees and this is now best practice within the profession. Similarly, give them a schedule of both expected personal and projected business tax bills in the year ahead so they can budget accordingly. Very simple advice but an area which is often overlooked and one of the main reasons for clients looking to change their accountant. Don’t fall into that trap. It also provides you with an opportunity to work with a client on achieving projected profits and improving management information systems to give them that information.

Planning and client service - prior to the clients year end you should have agreed when you will do the job and book the finalisation meeting. This guarantees an efficient turnaround time, drives your own planning production process to ensure you don’t start a job until you have complete information and helps you manage your own work planner and billing targets. Check how robust your systems are for the process to follow if records aren’t as expected and in line with the fee agreed. Contact the client at the first opportunity if you need to agree additional fees for additional work. Again, these basic steps will keep your client service levels at the level they need to be.

Summary - following the above simple strategies is a timely reminder of best practice and how to really help your client in 2017. Post 31 January is a risky time whereby disgruntled clients will often seek quotes from competitor firms. Clients will be oblivious to the fact they have appalling records or hand in information late! All they will remember is being advised of a tax bill they weren’t expecting and perceive it as poor client service. You need to help them manage expectations by changing how you do things going forward. Managing your service offering will be reviewed in greater detail next month- it’s time to get ready.

January 2017 Copyright - Finola McManus, Practice Perfect

Helping accountancy firms to make their clients successful
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