Occasionally, there is that client that won’t return your phone calls until after hours and will send in their paperwork last minute—or not at all. What do you do when you’re in the thick of busy season and your client isn’t getting you the documentation you need? As a business partner, you may not always know what’s going on in your client's lives, but as their trusted advisor, it’s worthwhile finding out what’s holding them back. After all, nobody wants the IRS on their list of creditors.
Here are some tips for how to help your clients recognize the value of your working relationship.
Start the relationship with clear expectations.
Most client relationships start with onboarding, which is the strategic process of preparing clients to work with your firm. This is when engagement letters come in handy. An engagement letter can be used to outline expectations for both parties to ensure that objectives align and the chain of communication is clear. Expectations can also be discussed in an initial value conversation, written into the contract or by some other means during onboarding. This transitional period is where building that quality relationship starts with mutual trust and understanding. Transparency is key in this stage. Being authentic and available regarding your responsibility to the client is essential in order for you to call on them later when delays occur down the line.
Simplify their responsibility.
Improve your client relationship from the get-go by investing in a cloud-based accounting software like Canopy. Not only will Canopy help you keep track of client information and securely store their documents, but your clients can also access the client portal that makes collaboration even easier. Some of the client benefits of accounting practice management software include:
- Cloud security. Clients can easily upload, access, and share documents through the client portal, so if your client is crunched for time, they won’t need to print any files or stop by your office with copies if that’s what’s holding them up.
- eSign capability. Clients can easily add their signature to documents in the client portal by using Canopy’s eSign capability. They can even sign right from their mobile device, cutting out the need to print, scan, or email physical copies.
- Automated reminders. Ping your client straight from the platform by sending them automated email reminders about the tasks you are waiting for them to complete. You can also keep them up to date with any progress to their return by sending off an email straight from the platform interface.
Remind them that fines and penalties will accrue.
If it’s down to the wire, and you’re still not getting through to your client, remind them that while a filing extension is a viable option, there is no option for delaying taxes due. Unless they have a reasonable cause for not filing on time, they will be subject to a failure-to-file penalty, which is typically 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month that the return is late. The IRS also charges interest on top of this penalty, which compounds daily. So the longer your clients wait to file without an approved extension, the more money they are likely to pay in the long run.
If your client still isn’t persuaded by rising costs, it’s worthwhile to inquire about life events and check in about their worry to pay taxes due. As their trusted advisor, you can help them decide on the best payment option for their situation. Explain to them that the IRS has multiple electronic payment options these days including a direct pay option which will deduct what’s owed directly from a checking or savings account. There is always the option to fill out Form 9465, Installation Agreement Request, in order to pay taxes due in monthly increments or you can insist they apply for an online payment plan which they are instantly notified of approval after completing the application.
Offer to file an extension of time on their behalf.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to encourage your client to file an extension. Depending on the timeline of tax season, your firm’s capacity, and the complexity of your remaining work, it might be in their best interest to push for an extension. Lead with empathy when communicating to the client, highlighting the lateness of the season and the delays you’ve already endured. You and your team are due for much needed rest, and after a vital recharge, you can process their paperwork with fresh eyes.
A good working relationship includes mutual understanding and respect. That hint of personal touch to your professional approach is key in maintaining rapport with your clients. In order to best assist them as a trusted advisor and business partner, it occasionally helps to know what they’re going through at home and where they are at in their personal journey. Your clients are less likely to disregard expectations when you approach them with authenticity and transparency.