Manage Your Clients, Don’t Let Them Manage You 

by Larry Wolfe, CPA 
Published June 30, 2017

My practice is a bit unique because I specialize in handling IRS and tax controversy. I serve a diverse client base from small businesses to actors and athletes and at any given time, I will have approximately 600 cases in my office in various stages from exam to collection. Despite my niche, workload compression is still an issue I experience. My firm completes approximately 1,000 returns annually. These are primarily individual returns, and we will generally get half of them out by the mid-April deadline and complete the rest on extension. 

I firmly believe that your life should dictate your work, and not vice versa. The key to accomplishing this, even in the face of workload compression, is client management. Communicate with your clients early and often. Give them a phone call instead of sending them an email. If client information is coming in late, let them know that their return will be completed on extension. Some firms will avoid filing extensions, and will complete a large number of returns in a crunched time period which leaves these firms more vulnerable to making mistakes. Simply setting a deadline for client information, and filing an extension if that deadline is missed, can prevent basic mistakes that can come along with being rushed and save you trouble and extra work down the road.

Another service that my firm offers, that is a bit unusual, is giving clients the option to sign over power of attorney to us with the IRS. This allows us to be working offensively instead of always being on the defense. This puts extra responsibility on the firm, but it is just another step to assist with alleviating workload compression and generally managing the practice. Most notably, we are able to pull wage and income transcripts and compare those against the information that the client is giving us, which helps us identify discrepancies early and protect our clients from scams. This was the first year that we instituted this with our clients, and it was very beneficial in helping us stay ahead of the game during busy season.

Stick to What You Know
Another thing that helps me greatly in managing my practice is turning down work that is outside of my specialization. Taking on engagements that you are less familiar with or do not do well will also make your firm more vulnerable to mistakes. If a client presents an issue that I cannot handle, I refer them to another practitioner who provides the services they need. Likewise, I also am always getting new work through referrals from my peers.

As practitioners, it’s very important to start building your peer network from the moment you begin your career. Get involved with your state society, volunteer for committees and attend conferences to connect with practitioners who have other specializations. The AICPA ENGAGE conference, for example, is a great place to connect with CPAs in other areas of practice, because there are several specialized conferences happening in one single event. Put in the time and effort to develop those relationships, and your network can play a vital part in serving your clients and managing your practice.

Bill What You’re Worth
Finally, it is so important to make sure you are billing appropriately for the work that you are doing. So many times, practitioners will simply routinely increase their fees based on what they have previously charged or they will bill a fixed fee despite working more hours. Don’t be afraid of losing clients over fees. Focus on providing quality work, and bill for what your work is worth. The clients you want to serve will recognize that value and stick with you.

This past busy season went very smoothly for our firm and the majority of that boils down to client management. It is a balancing act, but it is possible to avoid having your work dictate your life.

Larry J. Wolfe Ltd. is a mid-size firm based in Skokie, Il. Larry Wolfe, CPA is the owner. 


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