By Roger Harris | Padgett Business Services
Tax season is the most stressful time of year for preparers and payers alike. But soon after the season ends there comes the stress-inducing moments when tax professionals must decide how they will sustain business throughout the year.
Preparers of individual tax returns have witnessed a significant shift in the marketplace as programs such as Quicken and TurboTax gain popularity. More taxpayers are gaining confidence in self-preparation, and the need for independent tax preparers is starting to slip. According to IRS statistics, self-prepared tax filing has increased by at least 5 percent every year since 2010. At that rate, independent tax preparers could be obsolete in 20 years.
The future for tax professionals, though, doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. For those steeped in industry knowledge, and even for those just emerging in the field, there are solutions to improving business retention and securing longevity.
Be a Small-Business Tax Pro
Taxpayers who choose self-preparation typically share the characteristic that they are filing fairly routine tax forms. The 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ are the most commonly filed returns in the United States. Most self-preparation programs guide users step-by-step to complete even some of the more complicated sections.
For tax preparers, that means it is time to expand service offerings and start targeting the complicated returns. That means opening the doors to some new clients, specifically small-business clients.
Tax firms and professionals in the small-business market haven’t faced the same threat of decline, likely as a result of the lack of confidence business owners have in exploring self-preparation. With dozens of return options, not to mention the complications of employee tax relations, small-business tax filing is far more complex. When a small-business owner can fall back on an experienced tax preparer, and trust that the business is in good hands, the value added to that tax professional is tenfold. That long-term relationship will continue to yield positive results for years to come.
Be the Go-to Business Adviser
There are several opportunities to supplement “busy season” with other customer-based services and revenue streams. Offering advisory services is a natural progression for any small-business tax professional, and it’s a move that can assure relevance in a changing industry.
By expanding services to assist clients with payroll, overall business development and optimization, or performance and savings opportunities, tax professionals can assume an evolved role that introduces new value. No longer is the benefit of a tax service limited to a four-month process that ends on April 15; now, tax professionals can offer all-encompassing financial consulting services that enhance the overall success of a small-business client.
Plus, thanks to the advancements in tax programming (yes, the same ones risking the future of individual tax preparers), a smoother filing process frees up time for the small-business tax preparer to sharpen his or her expertise and become a key player in clients’ success.
Be an Indispensable Expert
Small-business owners don’t know the intricacies of federal tax regulations. To be honest, some tax professionals don’t know all of the details either. Without considering what’s happening with tax reform in Washington, D.C., the U.S. tax code is a complicated and convoluted system. It’s understandable that a small-business owner wouldn’t know the minutiae involved with tax planning, which is the perfect scenario for a tax professional looking to expand.
One of the best pieces of business advice is to be invaluable to clients and customers. When a professional can offer priceless service to a business owner, that professional becomes an integral part of that business. As tax and accounting professionals, our value comes from knowing as much as possible about all things tax-related.
Educational forums, expert-hosted seminars and webinars, practitioner training programs, and even social media groups all benefit tax and accounting professionals by sharpening their skills.
A business can fail for any number of reasons: it didn’t accommodate a changing market; it had poor operations and planning; its services were no longer needed; the market no longer saw its value, and so on.
It’s difficult to know exactly what the market will bear for a product or service, but strong research and development, leading to a strong business operation, can help overcome the challenges. In the tax and accounting industry, it's all about adaptability and demonstrating value to thrive in an ever-changing marketplace.
Roger Harris is president and COO of Padgett Business Services, a small-business tax payroll and compliance firm. Harris helps independent tax professionals retain and grow their businesses while improving client service and their operations. For more information about Harris, visit www.smallbizpros.com.