Why Tax Season Debriefs are Critical for Success

I know many of you are planning a tax season debrief with your team. The outcomes are typically two-fold: 1) Let your team get some things off their chest.  2) Develop an action item list.


The session needs to be constructive and do not let the team focus on the negative.  In order to keep it positive, always ask what went well with the function and ask that your team be constructive. There are various approaches. We know some firms prefer to have an administrative debrief and a separate technical team debrief.  We also know firms that prefer to use an anonymous survey to obtain more candid feedback then have a discussion once the results are tabulated.


Here are some questions that you can ask and customize to fit your firm.  This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list and is intended to start a conversation.



What went well?

If you could wave your magic wand, what could we have done differently?


Clients & Development:

What went well as it relates to serving clients?

What suggestions to you have to improve the engagement letter process or the engagement letter itself?

What suggestions do you have to improve the use of Portals?

What suggestions do you have to improve tax appointments?

What suggestions do you have to improve the client experience?

Were there any consistent feedback you heard from clients?

What suggestions do you have to sell more work during tax season that can be performed in the Summer/Fall?

Do we have the proper tracking mechanisms in place?

What additional client opportunities do you see?


Team & Culture:

What can we do to make sure you do an awesome job?

What recognition or praise for doing good work during tax season would you like?

What opportunities did you have to learn and grow during tax season?

Were you able to achieve your personal goals for tax season?

Were you able to achieve your professional goals?

What could we do to reduce the number of hours worked?

Did you like the food we provided?  If not, what suggestions do you have to improve the food?

During tax season, were you able to do what you do best?

If not, please explain, and how would you suggest you can solve that for next year?


Technology and Workflow:

What went well from a workflow perspective?

What do we need to do differently?

Are there any new technologies you are aware of that we should consider using?

What systems need to be improved to become more efficient?

What can be improved from a review perspective?

Is there a process that needs to be streamlined?

What materials and equipment do you need to perform your job efficiently?


Pricing, Value and Budgeting:

What went well from a pricing perspective?

What could we do to create more value for clients?

What could we do to articulate the value we are creating for clients?

What needs to be improved on pricing?

What went well with the budgeting process?

What can be improved with the budgeting process?



What went well with firm communication?

Did you appreciate the format of the team meetings?

What suggestions do you have for improvement with firm communication?


*Please let us know your suggestions on how the partners/principals can be more accessible during tax season.


Wrap Up:

If not addressed above, what suggestions do you have for improvement?


After-tax season debriefs are critical to the success of your firm.  You are creating an opportunity for your staff to be heard, gain key insights to areas of improvement as well as opportunities for growth and maximized profits.  Take the time over the next couple of weeks to invest in the future of your firm!



Is Your Task List Too Big and Out of Control?

In our fast paced, multitasking world where we are constantly inundated with information and competing priorities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with things that need to be taken care of.  You cannot do it all and you certainly can’t do it all well.

There is a lot of great content and advice on how to be more productive.  I have read a lot of it and implemented in varying degrees.  As we all know it is a work in process!

One thing that sticks with me is to have a shorter To Do list.  I think it is great to pick 3-5 strategic priorities for the year. However, you must have 1 main focus/priority per quarter or month (depending on scope)!  The key here is to schedule time to work on the project.

Here are a few great reminders:

  • Pretend your Internet access is down!  Email and social media can be a distraction and we are often operating in the important and not urgent quadrant.
  • Imagine yourself at December 31 and what is the one thing you need accomplished to make it a double thumbs up year!
  • Just because you can do it does NOT mean you should!

What items on your to do list are urgent and which can wait?  We’d love to hear what methods work for you.

3 Critical Pre-Tax Season Tips

Congratulations on completing the March 17th deadline! I hope you had the opportunity to reward your team (and yourself). Here are 3 tips to think about:
1. Capacity planning: Take some time to determine which clients you are going to extend now and who you are going to complete.

2. Communicate: Develop a communication plan to let those clients know they will be extended. It is much better to let them know in early April than close to the 15th.

3. Celebrate wins: Plan an incentive/reward for April 15th including a team celebration.
Planning is critical for tax season sanity.

“When you establish a destination by defining what you want, then take physical action by making choices that move you towards that destination, the possibility for success is limitless and arrival at the destination is inevitable.”- Steve Maraboli

What not to do! Client relationship management is key.

I have a story to share from an experience with one of my non-profit projects.  One of my responsibilities is to oversee the audit committee, hire the auditors, and manage the CPA firm relationship (the Board hires the Auditors, not the Non Profit).  It is amazing to me how much tangible and intangible value the CPA firm leaves on the table by not doing a few simple things.
Here is the background:

The firm is on the 4th year of the Audit and the Senior who had been running the job left the firm to take a job in private.

People leave, we know and accept this.

Here is the amazing part; no phone call (let alone a meeting) from the partner before or after the audit to see how the new team is working out!
The CFO called a meeting last week with the Audit Committee and wanted us to fire the CPA firm because the audit went so poorly. It was a clean audit but the CFO felt the firm didn’t transition any prior year information/general knowledge and over-audited. It is fair to say the emotional equity in the relationship was close to zero.
I know switching firms MAY not be the answer.  I do know the firm could have done a few simple (and not overly time consuming) to build emotional equity and value in the relationship:
*invested in the transition with the Partner explaining the background of the job to the new Senior.
*the Partner calling the CFO a couple of times to check in.
*a lunch or face to face meeting would have been icing on the cake!
Another interesting element of the story is the non-profit recently completed a few internal projects (systems integration, hired a new payroll manager, etc.) where the CPA firm could have been involved, added value and charged for it! Instead, they are about to get a phone call from yours truly asking them if they can get their act together!  The moral of the story:  a few simple yet critical touches can solidify your relationships with your clients.  In what areas of service can you improve?  Need help finding your blind spots?  Contact us for an assessment!

Are you paying yourself first?

Hello and Happy Tax Season!

I was in a meeting with a firm yesterday and a business consultant.  The topic of A/R came up and the business consultant was talking about “benchmarking” receivables (what percentage it should be 0-30, 60-90 etc.) I thought to myself for a moment, “What an old way of thinking!”.  Benchmarking receivables would be like benchmarking write-offs.  No good!

What systems do you have in place to make sure you are getting paid before the returns/financials are filed, sent or picked up?

As a reminder, a service that is in demand has a lot higher value than a service delivered!

If we set proper expectations, price upfront and have good systems we can eradicate A/R entirely from our firms.

Now is the time!

“Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal”

Happy New Year!

The holidays are over and the calm before the storm of tax season is upon us.  There is no better time to set your intentions for 2014 and review your goals, both for your personal and business lives.

As we have moved thru the discussion of pricing, we have talked about the need to know your WHY and what you want as you define/refine your business model.

As it relates to pricing and client selection, there is another key question you need to consider:

Is it incremental change or business model change you want? If business model, when will you do this by?

It is important to consider both the short and long term in the areas of:

*Impact to you (health)

*Impact to your family





*Work performed

*Capital requirements (if any)



*What will the team look like

*What will the client base look like

As the saying goes.. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  Your plan may be one year, two year or three-whether it is price change or business model change.  The key is to have a plan that you puts you where YOU want to be and take action.

Aim at something and hit it!



How does a partner move up the value chain and spend less time on prospective clients that aren’t a fit for the firm?

A hot topic that is brought up quite frequently is “How does a partner move up the value chain and spend less time on prospective clients that aren’t a fit for the firm?”

Let’s address each matter separately.

*Moving up the Value Chain. My interpretation of this is, “How do I work with higher value/bigger clients?” It is simple. As a part of your Pareto analysis, it is imperative that you assign every client in your firm a “Client Manager.” The assignment can be based on service, industry and revenue. The Client Manager is responsible for Client Service, Communication and Profitability related to the Client. It is critically important that you send the Client a note and let them know who their Client Manager is and what role they play. This is analogous to the Loan Officer who gets promoted to Bank Manager and lets you know he/she will no longer be your first point of contact but he/she will be there for you as needed.

*Prospective Client Triage. I recommend that you have your “Director of Operations” handle the first touch so that he/she becomes proficient at directing the prospect to the right place in your firm.

Here are some sample questions your DOO could ask:

We value your time. To ensure the highest quality service, we would like to connect you with the best person to assist you in our firm. Is it okay if I ask you a few questions? Also, please note our minimum price for individuals is $500 and businesses is $1000. Have your DOO pause….i.e. if they hang up on you know they aren’t a great fit for your firm.

*How did you hear about us?
*Are you an individual or business?
*If a business: How long have you been in business?
*Who is your current CPA? If they aren’t currently using a CPA, the likely next step is not a Partner.
*Why are you contacting us today?

These simple questions, if handled appropriately, will help your firm leverage its resources more effectively!

Lastly, here is a firm in San Jose, CA that asks its prospects to complete questionnaires prior to a meeting. Please have a look.


Happy Prospecting!

Don’t let underperforming clients drain time, energy, and profits from you and your team!

Firms are focused on assessing how they are ending the year financially and how next year is going to look.  One key variable in the assessment to help determine where your firm is (and where you are going) is to perform a Pareto Analysis.  I’m surprised at how many firms DO NOT perform the analysis.

Let’s start out with a few definitions:

Underperforming clients: Clients that are below your target average hourly charge rate ($175 is a good number to target) or Gross Profit Percentage (75%).  Please note that high realization doesn’t mean profitable.  It means high realization.  Put another way, if your charge rates are low relative to the cost of your labor you could still have high realization and generate very little profit.  Many firms utilize much of their capacity servicing clients with high fees but low profitability (as measured by Average Hourly Charge Rate or Gross Profit).

Best clients: Clients where you are achieving your target average hourly charge rate/Gross Profit or higher.  The clients provide you and your team with challenging work, value what you do, they are growing and refer more business (like them) to you.

Our suggestion is you perform a Pareto Analysis (smart guy check him out on Wikipedia) to see where you are generating above average profit and where you are “just busy.” Please don’t confuse busy with profitable (many firms do).

Here’s how you do it:

Export your client list with respective Revenue, Profit, Cost and Average Hourly Charge Rate and sort away.

Shannon Vincent ReNew Group LLC

The Power of the Pareto Analysis

The premise is simple, 20% of your clients generate 80% of your profits.  Sometimes the numbers are astonishing. Two recent cases come to mind – 2% of revenue coming from 49% of clients. And, another way of looking at things in a separate firm, 2% of revenue generated by 270 clients! The problem is, the true cost of servicing those lower priced clients is almost always higher than you think. In most firms we find it’s around 30/70.  Nonetheless, still a sizeable number that has all kinds of business model implications.  Business model implications meaning clients drive costs (including driving qualified team members out of the profession).

You will find it very enlightening to view your firm in this way. It’s always eye opening to see that some clients are generating $300 per hour and others $100.  The question is why and what can you do about it?

The next step is to start looking at ways to upgrade your clients.  We personally aren’t big advocates of firing clients straight away.  We believe you should give them a chance to stay with the firm on your terms.  As an aside, we find far too many firms let their clients dictate the terms of the relationship.

Further, Partners should only be handling A and B class clients. In most cases if A class clients are being properly serviced they will realize at least $25K in fees each year. So you should limit to around 20 A class clients per partner.

Incidentally, when you are talking with potential A class clients (who may be either existing B class clients or brand new clients to the firm) partners have found it very helpful to position themselves well by indicating that ‘I only work with a small number of clients in this intensive way at any point in time and I am very particular about who I take on.’

Pareto in Action

Here are the key numbers of a Partner in a firm we work with:

500 # of Clients

118 # of Clients with a Gross Profit of greater than 70%

The result of having a number of underperforming clients is you have made a choice to have increased overhead (team members to support the clients) and working increased hours for less profit.  The opportunity cost is less time to pursue better clients, spend time with A clients or spend time on leisure activities.

As explained, the Pareto is a very powerful exercise to perform and action with your team.  The worst thing that can happen is you find out where you are making money?  Isn’t that what you should be doing as an accountant after all?


The best people to ask about your performance are your team

Stop the madness! How not to repeat last tax season

How are you making your Firm its #1 Client?

Hello.  I presented a webinar to a group of firms last week which included a polling question asking them to respond to the question about which Profit Driver they need to focus on the most.

Interestingly, 60% (Wow!)of the firms responded we need to work on Making our Firm the #1 Client, which leads me to a question for you and your firm as you think about and prepare for next tax season:

  • What practices are you employing that are Making the Firm the #1 Client?
  • What practices are you employing that are NOT Making the Firm the #1 Client?

As a reminder, the best people to ask are your team members!

Related article: Stop the madness! How NOT to repeat last tax season!

Considering if an industry speaker can enhance your business in 2014?

Already thinking about 2014?

Wondering if an industry speaker might add value to your business planning process?

Accounting industry speaker and recognized expert Shannon Vincent at work

ReNew Group delivers industry topics which are relevant and timely to CPA firms.

Often an external speaker who is a recognized industry expert can deliver information with fresh eyes and provide insights that you don’t normally have when running a firm on a day-to-day basis.

To that end, we’d appreciate if you could let us know your budgeting and planning requirements for external speakers – either short or long format presentations – in 2014?

If there is a formalized process to which we need to submit information in advance, do let us know as we’d be grateful of the opportunity to apply.  Read More…