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Deborah Fox

Increase Your Practice’s Billable Hours

Compelling reasons and methods to provide additional areas of advice to your tax clients.

November 14, 2011
by Deborah Fox

From the research I have conducted, the majority of accounting firms are constantly grappling with how to convert more of their work hours into billable hours for increased profitability.  In theory, this would appear to be a relatively straightforward goal to accomplish. Two potential solutions seem obvious. Either:

  1. Add more clients to the firm or
  2. Identify existing clients that could benefit from more extensive tax consulting services.  

In practice, however, many CPAs would rather get a tooth drilled than conduct a marketing campaign to attract new clients! The second potential solution becomes an uphill battle due to the reality of the times. In this slow economy, both companies and individuals are attempting to keep professional fees they pay at a minimum, and that certainly pertains to tax planning and preparation fees. We need another approach to increase billable hours. Here are viable alternatives that many of your peers have already implemented successfully.

Suppose a client walked into your office and had not had anything to eat for a couple of days? If you had an appetizing plate of food to offer him, is he going to eat it? Unless he’s on a hunger strike against the 9-9-9 flat tax, of course he is! Here’s my point: The key to increasing billable hours is to provide advice in areas for which your clients are hungry. In other words, provide advice in the areas they want or need. That’s a big difference compared to approaching them about advice only you think they need and your clients don't feel a sense of urgency about or are of interest to them.

One advantage to this approach is that you won’t need to start a marketing campaign to try to attract new clients and revenues. Instead, you can focus on providing additional (nontax-related) services to your existing clients. It is highly likely you are already your clients’ most trusted adviser. Your clients will naturally be open to considering other suggestions you have for them. The secret is to identify and focus on the financial areas in which they would like to improve.

So how do you identify these potential areas? Begin with your client’s tax return – a virtual goldmine for you to discover these areas. With the tax return providing you with potentially dozens of clues, you are in the enviable position of being able to initiate a discussion with your clients that can uncover the planning strategies that would resonate the most with them. In return, not only will you be able to deepen the relationship you have with your clients, but also increase your billable hours. These expanded services can truly be a “win/win” situation for both you and your clients.

The current economic and investment market cycles have presented an incredible opportunity for CPAs to offer timely advice. The feelings of fear and uncertainty people are experiencing have created a huge uptick in the number of people who are open to receiving feedback or second opinions on various topics of financial advice. With the right positioning and preparation, you can easily communicate the value of additional advice you can offer easily to your clients.

You can choose a service model that fits your practice. Select the areas of advice you or your firm will personally deliver and then outsource the rest by forming professional alliances with others who are experts in their given planning area. This could include, for example, advice in investment management, retirement planning, estate planning, insurance planning or business planning. Conversely, you can adopt a model in which your firm will not provide advice in any of the above areas. Instead your firm becomes the overseer of all the other financial professionals with which your clients work. You help ensure all the pieces of financial planning/wealth management advice are being integrated beneficially to position your clients for the best possible outcomes.

Once you choose your service model, you will need a system that everyone in your firm can follow to ensure your services can be delivered efficiently and consistently. Following well-designed, documented workflows can ensure services are delivered smoothly and orderly and that your clients will feel a high level of satisfaction.

If you’re looking for a shortcut for figuring out how to provide other areas of financial advice to your clients, join me and a panel of other speakers at the pre-conference class, Implementing Personal Financial Planning Services. Here you will receive step-by-step guidance and ideas on how to succeed. I will provide you with a practical, systematized approach to delivering the client meetings. You will also have the opportunity to hear tips and best practices from a panel of your peers who have successfully added these services to their practices. I hope to see you there!

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Deborah Fox has been a practicing financial planner since 1984 and is founder of Fox Financial Planning Network. The AICPA has partnered with Deborah and her firm to offer consulting services specifically for the AICPA PFP Section members. Deborah can be reached at.

*The AICPA’s PFP Section provides information, tools, advocacy and guidance to CPAs who specialize in providing tax, retirement, estate, risk management and investment advice to individuals and their closely held entities. All members of the AICPA are eligible to join the PFP section. For CPAs who want to demonstrate their expertise in this subject matter, apply to become a PFS Credential holder.  For more topics such as this, join us at the 2012 Advanced PFP Conference on January 16-18, 2012 in Las Vegas.