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Dealing with difficult self assessment clients

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In association with BTCSoftware, Zoe Whitman explores how firms can take advantage of self assessment and their Covid support success to start training clients now for MTD ITSA and get rid of those shoeboxes for good. 

17th Nov 2021
6 Figure Bookkeeper
Columnist
In association with
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We’ve all been there. It’s mid-January. You’re making good progress during self assessment season, and then Mr Tradesman and all of his friends turn up at the office with their shoeboxes of incomplete records. Will they ever change? Is it possible that even an event like MTD can act as a catalyst for those difficult clients? In our last piece we covered the client management challenge when preparing for self assessment season. But there's also more we can do to encourage our clients to go digital.

As an industry, we’ve been going on about cloud accounting, digitisation and MTD for ages but there are some clients who haven’t heard us. Now we’re running out of time and we have got to do something. So it’s time to think creatively. Fortunately, we’ve just been gifted an extra year to make it happen, and we’ve learnt some pretty good tricks in the past 18 months. 

As Rob Ellis, CEO of BTCSoftware, says, “Client management changed rapidly in 2020 due to the pandemic as many ‘shoebox clients’ had no choice but to adjust to remote and digital submission of their data. 

"Accountants now have an opportunity to continue to encourage the adoption of digital methods rather than revert to old-style data gathering. ”

We have to remember that people have different preferences for how they receive their information. Although you’re probably not having your first conversations with them about cloud accounting, if you haven’t communicated with your clients in a way that speaks to them, you might just be the reason they haven’t changed. Let’s be clear. Although you think you’re breaking the mould by sending a link to some MTD information in your weekly email, it’s probably not enough for these clients, so think about taking some new approaches to the challenge. 

The past 18 months have proved just how effective we can be at running our businesses online. Firms have come up with plenty of ways to keep in touch with their clients from email to portals and webinars. Now’s the time to build the best methods into our campaigns to educate and inform clients about MTD for income tax self assessment (MTD ITSA).

Accountants now have an opportunity to continue to encourage the adoption of digital methods rather than revert to old-style data gathering. 

Email - the easiest way to inform clients

Many practices send more emails to their clients at this time of year, and if you’re not regularly communicating with your clients by email already, it’s the first step you can take to show clients that we’re moving to a new, more digital time. If we’re not online, how can we expect our clients to be?

Keep it simple, but open the communication channels. Talk about what’s coming, explain how this is affecting the way you work, and invite your clients to talk to you if they want to find out more. 

Social media - another way to get your message across

Social media is another way to raise awareness of the changes that are coming, and the content of your emails can be easily reused for this purpose. Show your clients the benefits of working digitally, share the success stories of your clients, show three simple steps your clients can take to be more organised, or share a five-step process for digital transformation. 

Promote your events and webinars about MTD and raise awareness that what you do in your practice is changing. Always invite your clients to talk to you to find out more. 

Video - a great way to be more approachable

We watch more video than ever. There are 50 million* YouTube users in the UK in 2021, so some short (or more involved) videos could go a long way to communicating what’s coming with MTD to the clients who just don’t get on with email. This content could be linked to in a regular email, shared on social media, and included on team email signatures. 

It might sound like overkill - why should you go to the trouble of filming yourself explaining something HMRC is already putting guidance out about? Well, it’s important to remember that your client doesn’t want to hear from HMRC - if they did, they’d have googled what this whole MTD thing was about already. They want to hear directly from you as their friendly, more approachable translator. 

Video has an important role in helping clients get to know us and can be an effective way to help them consume the information we need them to take on board. 

Workshops and Webinars - get your clients engaged

Once you’ve piqued some interest through email, social media and video, invite your clients to engage with you. Everything you’ve tried hasn’t worked so far so it might be time they heard it from someone other than you. 

A little bit of positive peer pressure can go a long way, so you might think about organising an in-person event or a webinar where you can explain the changes with the support of some of your best clients. 

Seeing that other businesses are future-ready, and showing your clients what the future looks like for them, may encourage those who are behind to step up. 

Ellis agrees saying: “Self assessment season gives accountants the perfect chance to communicate changes to their clients alongside the usual data-gathering and administration tasks so I would encourage practices to include resources such as infographics, links to webinars and FAQ documents in their communication plans for January. ”

Be brave and get your message out there

If you don’t want clients to behave in their old ways, then you need to change your ways too. So change the way you engage with your clients and be firm that times have changed. Set boundaries, expectations and deadlines for your clients and stick to them.

If clients always expect you to bend the rules for them, you’ll never get them to change. Be online, show your clients that other clients are online, and show them how you will be bringing them along with you. 

To discover BTCSoftware's full range of software for accountants, get in touch with the Sales team to find out more, book a demo or request a trial.

If you want to speak to someone in person, BTCSoftware will be exhibiting at AccountingWEB Live Expo on 1-2 December at the Coventry Building Society Arena -  Register for your free ticket and pay a visit to stand C12. 

Register now for AccountingWEB Live Expo

Replies (6)

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
17th Nov 2021 15:47

"You’re making good progress during self assessment season, and then Mr Tradesman and all of his friends turn up at the office with their shoeboxes of incomplete records. Will they ever change?"

I am not sure Zoe, I wasn't sure this was still "a thing"?

Surely if your run your business along the lines where this is an acceptable situation you are not in control of you clients. This is very poor practice management if you are in a business where this a regular occurrence and only have yourself to blame for running such a bad business.

Your amazing suggestion of "emailing clients" again, what exactly do you think we are doing over here? Loud hailer? Carrier pigeon?

This just seems to be just another desperate advert for accounts software.

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
18th Nov 2021 16:20

Oh dear, I am sure there may be practices that still have Mr Tradesman turning up with a mates shoebox but we left that behind 15 years ago and I am pretty sure most everyone else has too.

But thanks anyway for telling us how to contact clients, we have been wondering about that!

Another pointless AW advertising article

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By eppingaccountant
19th Nov 2021 12:59

Oh Zoe, I would love to have said to you "great article" but alas, I cannot. I do find that it insults our intelligence to include four or five paragraphs in your article explaining to us how to contact our clients. If I had £1 for everybody who read it and thought "What a great idea, I shall email my clients".......I'd be broke. By all means write articles, but in future please make sure they are not just meaningless sentences included simply to use up your allotted number of words. By the way, I take no pleasure in saying this to you.

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By Andy Reeves
19th Nov 2021 16:33

Mid-January: "You found the door OK on your way in, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding your way out, so toddle off!"

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By Silver Birch Accts
24th Nov 2021 13:58

''Mr Tradesman and all of his friends''
Is this new Mr Man/woman/person book, like Miss Naughty

Clients are individuals, they all have different personalties, yet in many articles they are patronised as 'a type' ripe for for digitalisation and exploitation, by software manufacturers
Why does a bookkeeper think she is superior to an electrician, a motor mechanic or any countless hard-working, skilled trades people.

Anyway, it is now 'trades person' not tradesman, that is definitely not pc.

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By JRX
10th Dec 2021 15:16

Dealing with difficult self assessment clients!

You forgot to mention those that have signed up to a cloud based accounting system without advice or training who believe that everything is ''tickety-boo'' and turn up in mid-January expecting us to sort out the mess they created! See far more of those than the so called ''shoebox cases'' you refer too.

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