A popular social media meme for almost any profession is the “what I do meme.” For CPAs that meme might go something like:
- What my friends think I do—surrounded by books and calculators
- What society thinks I do—tax forms, tax forms, tax forms
- What my clients think I do—swimming Scrooge McDuck-style in vat of money
- What I think I do—leaping over tall buildings in a single bound
- What I really do—bangs head on desk surrounded by piles of unorganized receipts
The truth is, CPAs chart a difficult course with their clients of being advisors, teachers, lecturers, nags, and beggars. Most clients seek a CPA precisely because they don’t want to be bothered by—or sometimes even know about—their checkbooks, taxes, or other financial responsibilities. That’s why they hired a CPA, right? But in order for CPAs to do their best for clients, there must be a mutual partnership, good organization, and a willingness to take ownership of fiscal responsibilities.
In this blog, we’ll walk through the top five issues CPAs have with their clients and how to fix them.
- Lack of organization
- Misunderstanding the CPA role
- Unrealistic expectations
- Incomplete information
- Communication issues
Lack of organization
One of the biggest problems that CPAs face with their clients is disorganization. Clients may not have their financial documents in order or might not provide the necessary information in a timely manner, making it challenging for CPAs to accurately and efficiently complete their work.
The most important way to counteract disorganized clients is to set clear expectations from the start. Provide a welcome packet including checklists of documents and information they will need to bring and by what date. Emphasize the importance of having organized records and the negative impact that disorganization can have on the accuracy and efficiency of the accounting process.
Offer clients guidance on how to organize their records and financial information. This could include evaluating their current tools and practices and referring them to systems like Solo Hustle. The benefit of using an online tool is that you can be created as a user on their account and be able to quickly and easily access the documentation you need from them. Stress to them that the small effort of maintaining records in a solution like Solo Hustle will save significantly more time during key fiscal periods and help automate the accounting process.
Establish deadlines for when the client must provide specific documents and information. This will help keep the client on track and ensure that their records are complete and accurate. Set up automated email sequences for your business that will remind clients of upcoming important deadlines.
Finally, check in with clients on a regular basis to see how they are progressing with their record-keeping and to remind them of upcoming deadlines. Offer support and guidance as needed.
By taking these steps, a CPA can help their clients become more organized, which will in turn help them provide better service and improve the accuracy and efficiency of their work.
Misunderstanding the CPA role
Another common problem is a misunderstanding of the CPA’s role. Some clients might expect their CPAs to take care of all aspects of their business, including things outside the scope of their expertise or responsibilities. It is important for CPAs to establish clear boundaries with their clients and communicate their roles and responsibilities effectively.
Start by explaining your area of expertise and the services that you provide as a CPA. Whether this includes accounting, tax preparation, financial planning, or other areas, make it a point during your first meeting with a client to explain what you DO do, and ask them questions about what they are expecting from you.
Once basic parameters of expectations are clarified, get into the specifics. This includes what you will need from them to complete these tasks, time frames, and risk factors. For example, if you prepare their taxes and they are audited, what will your responsibilities be? If there are any limitations to your services or areas that you do not cover, make sure to communicate those clearly.
Also discuss how you will communicate with the client throughout the engagement. Will you schedule regular check-ins or provide progress reports? Will you be available for phone or email correspondence? If you introduce them to a tool like Solo Hustle, or are added as a user in their other accounting or project management tools, can you send them alerts or messages through these channels?
Provide a written engagement letter that outlines the scope of your services, deadlines, fees, and any limitations. This will help avoid misunderstandings and ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of the engagement.
Along with not understanding the role of a CPA, clients might also have unrealistic expectations of the work that the CPA will perform or the time it will take to complete a project. Managing these expectations is important for the CPA to avoid client dissatisfaction.
When a client has unrealistic expectations, it can be challenging for a CPA to maintain a positive working relationship. Try these steps to avoid or reset these issues.
- Discuss the realities of the situation. Explain any limitations or challenges that might make it difficult to meet their expectations. For example, if the client is expecting a significant tax refund, but their financial situation does not support it, explain the reasons why. Use these lessons to reinforce your communications about organization and your role.
- Provide alternative solutions that are more achievable. For example, if the client is expecting to reduce their tax liability by a large amount, but it is not feasible, suggest ways to reduce it by a smaller amount.
- Review the scope of work with the client to ensure that their expectations align with the services that you are providing. If their expectations fall outside of the scope of work, discuss additional services or modifications that may be required to meet their expectations.
- Keep the client informed of the progress and status of their work to avoid surprises or unrealistic expectations. If you identify any issues that may impact the expected outcome, communicate this information to the client as soon as possible.
- Be honest and transparent with the client about the potential outcomes and limitations. Explain the risks and limitations of certain approaches and provide realistic projections of potential outcomes.
By addressing unrealistic expectations proactively and maintaining clear communication throughout the engagement, a CPA can build trust with the client and establish a successful working relationship.
Clients may not provide complete or accurate information, which can make it difficult for CPAs to do their job properly. It’s important for CPAs to communicate the importance of accurate and complete information to their clients.
That introduction packet we mentioned earlier is your first and most important step. Provide clients with clear instructions on what information is needed and how it should be organized. This could include a list of required documents, a template for organizing financial information, or guidelines for record-keeping. Include:
- Deadlines for when clients must provide specific information or documents. This will help ensure that the client is aware of the importance of timely submission and can plan accordingly.
- Scheduled check in dates to see how they are progressing with their record-keeping and to remind them of upcoming deadlines. This will help keep the client on track and ensure that their records are complete and accurate.
- Examples to help clients understand the types of information that are required and how they should be presented. This can help ensure that the client provides the necessary information in a format that is easy to use and understand.
- Technology recommendations such as Solo Hustle for clients to use to help organize their records and simplify their financial reporting. Provide training on how to use the software and offer ongoing support as needed.
- Questions to help clarify any missing or unclear information. Be sure to explain why the information is necessary and how it will be used.
When you need to follow up with clients if information is missing or incomplete, be persistent but respectful and make sure to provide clear instructions on how to complete the missing information.
So much of the previous four issues relies on communicating appropriately and effectively. But communication issues can also arise when clients do not understand financial terms or concepts, or when they are not responsive to the CPA’s requests for information. Establishing clear lines of communication and setting expectations for responsiveness can help avoid these issues.
Ask clients their preferred communication method, whether it is phone, email, or messaging apps. This will help ensure that you are using the right channels to communicate with them. While it may be tempting to try and force clients into the channels you most prefer, working with them where they are most comfortable is likely to yield better responsiveness.
Establish clear expectations for response times for each communication channel. For example, if the client sends an email, set an expectation to respond within 24-48 hours. Be sure to communicate these expectations to the client to avoid any misunderstandings. Depending on your own workload and staff, it might also be helpful to have automated reminders and messages to stay on top of common questions during tax time and other key fiscal periods.
Be clear, concise, and avoid using jargon or technical terms that the client may not understand. Consider including a glossary of terms or other reference materials in your onboarding packet. If your clients skew towards small businesses and solo entrepreneurs, don’t assume that they are already knowledgeable about common business fiscal terms.
Schedule regular check-ins with clients to discuss their needs, expectations, and progress. This will help build a strong working relationship and provide an opportunity to address any concerns or issues.
Be transparent about any issues or delays that may arise in your work. Inform the client as soon as possible and provide updates on the status of the work. This will help build trust and maintain the client’s confidence in your work.
Provide clear contact information for clients to reach you. Include your email, phone number, and office address, as well as any other relevant contact information.
And finally, if you introduce clients to new technology such as Solo Hustle, be sure to gain access as a user on their account and check in regularly to see that they are using the tools correctly and effectively.
It’s important for CPAs to communicate effectively with their clients, set expectations, and establish clear boundaries. By addressing these common issues proactively, CPAs can ensure a successful working relationship with their clients, and get back to leaping over those buildings like the superheroes they are.