Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Your Clients 

by Janet C. Hagy, CPA 
Published June 30, 2017

My firm is a smaller, local practice with a concentration in tax planning and compliance. Workload compression is an issue that we struggle with, especially with late and amended 1099s and later availability of the data we need to complete our client returns. In spite of these challenges, this past busy season went extremely well for us. This was due to having a full, experienced staff and my decision to “fire” some problem clients who had given me issues in the past.

Having a full staff this year was a tremendous asset. Last year, I brought on two new employees so this was the first busy season we’ve had with them fully trained. I have been very fortunate with staffing, in that all of my experienced staff have come from referrals from friends or current staff. I would encourage firms to use their existing network when looking for new talent, and consider incentivizing quality referrals from current staff.

When it came to firing clients, I first looked at difficult clients. I sent those clients disengagement letters by mail. Next, I looked at other clients that just did not work well with us and called personally to suggest that they may need to seek a larger firm with more resources. Finally, I looked at clients with billing problems and simply did not send engagement letters to that group. Getting rid of problem clients enabled us to have a much smoother busy season, without the added stress that those clients would bring.

Clearly Set Expectations
Another way to manage workload compression is by setting and clearly communicating deadlines for your clients to submit their data. Once you have set that deadline, stick to it. This way, clients and staff know what to expect. This can also help motivate clients who want to avoid extensions, and prompt them to provide their information in a timely manner. We have had a client submission deadline for years, and it is extremely helpful in mitigating the impact of workload compression and allowing us to meet, and sometimes exceed, client expectations. For many years, we have also had a client incentive that benefits our local Girl Scout council.  Clients who get here by the earlier "cookie" deadline, get a box of Girl Scout cookies. We gave away over 12 cases of cookies this year and all the clients who qualified left with a smile on their face.

It is also important to clearly define timelines and expectations with your staff. As a firm, we decided that this year we wanted to have all extension work completed by the Saturday before Easter. We were committed to this and, because we had full staff buy-in, able to achieve it. I have also declared a firm holiday on July 3rd this year, as additional compensation for all of the extra effort put in during busy season.

Leverage Technology and Implement Appropriately
There are tremendous opportunities in technology that can help you to streamline and speed up your processes, and enhance your client interface. I typically learn about new technologies by attending conferences, such as AICPA ENGAGE, and my IT professionals will also occasionally recommend hardware enhancements. When making adjustments to technology, I would notadopt new technologies right before or during busy season. Our best results have come from implementing in the summer, so that we are using and learning the software when we have a decent amount of work, but before the crunch of busy season.

Busy season will always have its own unique challenges each year. However, by taking control of your client list, managing the expectations of both clients and staff and leveraging the technology that is available to you it is possible to create a smooth and successful experience.

Hagy and Associates PC is a small firm based in Austin, TX. Janet C. Hagy, CPA is president.


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