Effective Client Meetings Create New Service Opportunities 

by Robert L. Nistendirk, CPA 

Effective Client MeetingsTax planning occurs year-round at Woomer, Nistendirk & Associates, PLLC, but especially during busy season.  When we review our clients’ financial statements and tax returns, we usually identify planning opportunities such as an income fluctuation that will affect them in the coming year, a deviation in their numbers (such as cost of goods sold or labor) that could impact their bottom line or potentially point to fraud, or not having a succession plan in place to sell or transition their business.  Then we schedule a future tax planning meeting to help each client address their specific situation.  We almost always uncover opportunities for tax and succession planning when meeting with our clients during busy season.

Staff Preparation and Empowerment
To prepare our staff to better advise our clients and uncover new opportunities to serve them, we make sure they are updated on significant tax changes and accounting changes through internal training.  This empowers our team members to communicate the changes to our clients and manage the variety of client situations we encounter.

We also encourage our staff to initiate client meetings when they feel there is a need to do so during an engagement or to explore new opportunities or issues the client may be facing.  They may or may not have a partner present in the meeting, but they are asked to keep the partners in the loop.  Our managers are also empowered to engage our attorneys at their own discretion to advise our clients if we cannot provide client answers internally.  A tax, employment or corporate attorney can often answer our clients’ questions faster than we can – with more insight and accuracy – and that better serves our clients.

Careful Client Meeting Preparation
The number of times we meet with our clients throughout the year varies by client, but we have implemented very effective client meeting strategies that we apply to all our clients.  When we plan to meet with a client, we ensure that we:

  • Hold a pre-meeting between the partner and staff on the engagement.  We use the pre-meeting to provide an update about the client so everyone understands the client’s current situation and then we brainstorm relevant issues affecting the client and the priority of each.
  • Prepare an agenda for the client meeting.  The agenda helps us capture all the issues that need to be addressed and allows us to be efficient in the meeting and stay on track.
  • Prepare supporting materials for the client meeting.  We create handouts that support the agenda items, such as calculations, financial statements or tax projections with projected income and expenses.  For our year-end meetings, we supply a year-end checklist to support he client in preparing the information we need to complete their tax return or perform year-end accounting procedures.
  • Schedule the appropriate team members to attend the meeting.  We encourage staff to attend meetings with the partner.  If this doesn’t happen in the pre-meeting, staff can add themselves to the meeting on our shared calendar and are welcome to participate.
  • Discuss the appropriate attire for the meeting.  This isn’t usually an issue, but there have been a few situations where team members come to the meeting underdressed or even overdressed.  For example, we have several clients in the coal and construction industries, and we want to be relatable so we typically just wear business casual attire.  However, we also have clients in professional services and the banking industry where it is appropriate to dress more formally. 

During the client meetings, we strive to know our clients better by asking questions and listening to their stories.  They know their situation better than anyone and when we engage in conversations with them, we learn more about their needs.  We ask clients how their business has been and whether they feel they are struggling with any particular issues.  In these discussions, we gain insights to potential changes in their business and identify and share ways that we can offer assistance to them.  For example, sometimes we learn that a client needs training on their software, help cleaning up their records and files, assistance implementing certain processes or help making adjustments before year-end.  We typically offer to be separately engaged to provide these services between October through December to help ensure both our client and our team are ready for the upcoming tax engagement.  Learning about our clients and their businesses and finding new ways to add value allows us to build deeper, long-lasting relationships and improve client retention.

AICPA Tools We Use
We take advantage of the resources that the AICPA offers and subscribe to many of the AICPA newsletters and publications.  One of our favorites is the Technical Issues Alerts, designed to inform CPA firms about new and proposed accounting, auditing, compilation/review and ethics standards that will affect small business clients.  We read it and forward relevant information to our staff and clients. 

We also belong to the AICPA PCPS Medium Firm Networking Group, which has been tremendously valuable, too.  Our group meets twice a year to share ideas to improve as practitioners and in our own firms.  We also frequently communicate with our networking group members through the year via email or conference calls to ask questions or bounce ideas off of each other.

As CPAs, we have a tremendous opportunity to help our clients be better and organized meetings are the key to learning about our clients’ needs.  Preparing for those meetings, empowering our staff and taking full advantage of AICPA tools enables us to uncover many new possibilities to serve our clients.

Robert L. Nistendirk, CPA is the Managing Partner at Woomer, Nistendirk & Associates, PLLC in Charleston, WV, a medium-sized 4-partner, 18-person firm. For more information about Woomer, Nistendirk & Associates, PLLC, visit www.wnacpas.com.

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