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Attracting new clients in January

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12th Jan 2010
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Self assessment deadlines are looming and most accountants are up their eyeballs in client work, so is now a good time to take on new clients? Mark Lee reports.

Although the self assessment system has been with us for more than 12 years, the 31 January deadline still seems to result in most accountants working extra hours in at the start of the year and struggling to ensure that all clients’ income tax returns are filed on time.

Despite this, many accountants have been busy promoting their services on social media websites this month. While some may be new practitioners trying to build up a client base, many were established practices. The sorts of messages being distributed were:

  • “Time is running out for your tax return - we can still help you”
  • “Are you looking for a fixed fee tax return and accounts service?”
  • “Working from home, self-employed and not sure what you can claim for tax? Help is at hand. See my blog…”
  • “Need to get your tax return in quickly? We have time and can help - you have 23 days left!”

On the one hand it’s good to see more accountants testing out these new facilities. On the other hand it’s clear that only those who have already established a positive reputation will see any benefit from their efforts. Most of the others will give up and assume social media doesn’t work, when it’s more the message that is to blame.

With all this pressure on, why are some accountants advertising for new clients in January? Do they really want to pick up new clients in what is likely to be one of the busiest months of the year?

New year, new clients
While many may be struggling to keep up with client work ahead of the 31 January deadline, recent discussions on AccountingWEB.co.uk have shown that some accountants are well up to date. Jason Dormer recently posted that his practice gets 90% or more of its clients’ tax returns done by August.

My conversations with other accountants suggests that this is a very uncommon approach – although it’s not clear why, other than in firms where the main client contact has no involvement with their tax affairs and doesn’t therefore prioritise the collation of tax return data.

For Dormer, it’s just good common sense: “This policy ensures that come January we are not running around like headless chickens, highly stressed and prone to error due to unmanageable workloads.

“It also means that in January we are ready to serve new clients who are frantically ringing accountants to get their returns done. We can then take these clients on and do their returns on the basis that going forward timely submission is made. This has the benefit to us of work now and further work in another 3 - 5 months' time, from the same clients”, he says.

AccountingWEB member James McBrearty told me he also prefers to get clients’ returns done in advance, leaving him free to seek new clients in January. To help the process along, he insists on payment up front – not just in January but all year round. This means he spends no time chasing for payment after he has done the work.

Last January McBrearty was approached by a client who hadn’t filed a tax return for five years. He was able to bring him up to date and file the returns by 2pm on 31 January 2009. To ensure the compliance paperwork is up to date, he issues engagement letters with forms 64-8 and his invoice immediately after the initial client meeting. He also obtains copies of the clients’ passports and utility bills by taking a photo of them on his mobile phone during the initial meeting – brilliantly efficient!

The facility to email PDFs and the move to online filing has made it easier to send tax returns to clients for their approval before submission, notes another AccountingWEB.co.uk member Jon Stow. “The only problems tend to arise with the less sophisticated clients who don’t have email, and the snow won’t make such situations any easier to resolve this year”, he says.

New clients that approach accountants in January tend to be more desperate, according to Stow, making them much more appreciative of the accountants’ efforts. Offering a fast and efficient service in their time of need often encourages them to come back later in the year with more tax work, and they’ll often come back for next year’s tax return (well in advance of the deadline).

What do you do when approached by new clients in January? Do you really want to pick up new clients this month?

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor for AccountingWEB.co.uk and chairman of the Tax Advice Network.
 

Replies (3)

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By User deleted
12th Jan 2010 10:28

Getting clearance

My biggest issue would be getting the necessary clearance from the current adviser in time. If a client approaches me now I could probably get the work done by 31 January but can I get clearance and the information I might need in time. How far do people go in doing the work before they get clearance to act? More importantly how far should you go?

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By User deleted
12th Jan 2010 10:34

.

I did try this for a while, but found the same clients I picked up in Jan are the ones banging on the door in January several years later who I am now trying to get rid of.

Many of the "new" leads have already been told to sod off by their current accountants for brining their books in too late.

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By User deleted
12th Jan 2010 11:07

Sometimes a good idea

Sometimes you can pick up some good clients in January - but I think the key is to be careful which sort of clients you take on. Someone with a two hour tax return prep, and it doesn't really matter if they are late every year (though if you're working from home these tend also to turn up at night without an appointment when you're dressed in your worst clothes bathing the dogs etc.). But if someone were to turn up with a large accounts job what is the chance that they are going to be a good client? Pretty low in most cases. They might pay but in a year or two they'll be leaving and bad mouthing you for never getting their accounts and tax return in on time.

 

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