Business Strategies Archives - Think Outside the Tax Box

Business Strategies

By Matt Metras, EA

Should Your Practice Use a Client Portal?

You may know me as the “crypto guy” here at Think Outside the Tax Box. It might seem like that’s all I ever write about. But this time, I’m sneaking an article in while my editor is on vacation. Because I want to talk about using a client portal and why all tax professionals should be using one in their firms. Some firms may have dipped their toe into the digital waters out of necessity as a by-product of the pandemic. Others may have started the process long before Covid existed.

According to a completely unscientific poll I ran on Twitter, 70 percent of firms are still processing returns at least partially on paper. This can mean either receiving paper documents from a client or delivering a hard copy of the completed return to the client. As the numbers from a Twitter survey are clearly biased toward firms already comfortable with digital technology, we can safely assume more accurate numbers are significantly higher. Since TOTTB refuses to provide me with a budget to run a full, comprehensive study, we’ll just have to run with my perfunctory data as well as published data from a poll Canopy conducted in 2021.

Canopy surveyed more than a thousand small businesses and found that 63 percent admitted that their accountant did not offer any portal. More surprising, depending on whom you ask, is that more than two-thirds of respondents said they would be interested in switching to an accountant that allows them to use photos of their documents for easy sharing.

While I’m not here to debate the issues of opening a gajillion .jpg files and how that might negatively affect my practice, the impact of using technology can improve your efficiencies, communications, and improve your workflow.

To learn how, continue reading.

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Ethical Concerns in Using Tax Planning Software

Question: What are my ethical responsibilities when I use software to produce a tax plan? Answer: In the world of taxes, there are many ethical issues that can come into play. One area that involves judgment and expertise is when it comes to interpreting tax codes for various purposes such as taking deductions or understanding how ambiguous language might apply in certain situations – all while trying not to make any mistakes. To learn more about your ethical obligations, continue reading.

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Just Good Business – Review Your Office Security

Office security. It’s for you and your small business clients. Sometimes small business clients who have relatively low-tech operations don’t think they need to think much about office security. That’s just not true. Almost every small business has some level of liability exposure for theft of client information or their own information (banking, credit cards, account passwords, etc.)—even businesses that don’t consider themselves “web based” or “high tech” may have client or company proprietary information they want to keep secure and private. Often business owners focus on cyber security (and with good reason). But a good, comprehensive security plan creates a safety triangle around important information and the property that holds it. The three sides of this triangle are cyber security, physical security, and (at the base of it all) operations security. Keep reading to secure your future!

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How to Avoid the Top 4 Mistakes in Selling Tax Planning to Current Clients

After two years of “The Tax Season That Never Ends,” tax pros everywhere are looking for ways to leverage their services and improve profit margins in their firms. But many are missing out on their biggest opportunity to dramatically increase profits: selling tax planning to existing clients. As technology has advanced and firms have adopted more automation, tax pros can do much more work in less time. This is a problem when you are in the business of selling billable hours. Additionally, as the Tax Code has grown in complexity, we often find that taxpayers don’t fully understand the value of our expertise and knowledge – they simply see the same prepared form year after year. This makes it difficult to continue increasing prices beyond the market rate for tax prep. As a result, many tax preparers have embraced value pricing for tax planning services. The market demand for strategic planning has increased and as small business owners embrace do-it-yourself accounting software, it is easy to offer this missing expert advice needed to assist the business owner in reducing tax expense. Accountants have found success in breaking through pricing barriers and reducing the risk of scope creep in their experiments with value pricing. Yet most are fearful of bringing this offer to existing clients and start offering higher priced planning only to new customers. Many judge that existing clients will be upset the pros haven’t offered this work in the past, assuming taxpayers will be unhappy missing out on value they could have created long ago. Still others worry merely raising rates will mean losing customers. Despite discovering that new customers really like price certainty and value the strategic work, tax pros are still reluctant to upsell existing relationships, thereby, offering different processes to lists of “new” and “old.” Yet considering it costs five times more to gain a new client than to approach an existing client, many accountants are leaving profits on the table. According to research by Bain and Company, increasing your client retention rate increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent. And statistics show that keeping and selling more services to a current client is less expensive compared to securing a new client. Still, fear blocks many from making this transition, creating more loyal, profitable, and happy clients. Here are the four biggest mistakes I see tax professionals make by not offering advisory services to clients.

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How to Slash Your Property Taxes

Question: You talk a lot about reducing federal taxes, but what about other taxes? It seems like we get taxed on everything multiple times! Is this even legal? Answer: Isn’t it the truth! You may feel that your income, purchases, and belongings get taxed double, triple, and even more times. The saying goes, “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” And even when you die the same property and earnings may be taxed again. The Supreme Court even answered the question in 2015 about whether taxing the same income more than once is constitutional. In the case of Maryland v. Wynne, the 5-4 decision indicates that two states do not have the right to tax the same income. While many of the strategies discussed in Think Outside the Tax Box reduce federal taxes, most of them will reduce your state income taxes as well, depending on whether or not the state in which you pay taxes conforms to federal tax law. In addition, there are many state tax reduction strategies worth learning and implementing. However, did you know there are also tax reduction strategies for other types of taxes like property taxes? One of the oldest taxes and primary sources of revenue for states, counties, cities, schools, and fire departments comes from taxing the value of property owned within a jurisdiction. In some locations, this can include personal property as well as real estate. Like most good tax laws, property tax laws include loopholes you can use to pay less. To learn more, continue reading here.

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Just Good Business – Curate Your Subscriptions

Do you ever feel like your inbox is out of control? Perhaps you even have more than one out of control inbox. Do you find yourself getting vapor-locked from information overload? Do you consider the phrase “inbox zero” and feel like it’s as achievable as driving to the moon? It’s time to work on that. An uncurated collection isn’t a collection it’s a hoard, and an uncurated information library isn’t a library it’s a digital fire hazard. Digital clutter can be as detrimental to your professional life as physical clutter is to your personal life. Before you start curating, however, I recommend giving some thought to how you want to go about it. For example, I have a work e-mail that is for clients to reach me that I only access when I am at my desk working. In general, my work e-mail is not the e-mail to which my subscriptions are sent—not even the tax-related subscriptions. My work e-mail is for clients only (and a few colleagues). That way, if I want to read tax news when I’m not working, I’m not distracted by e-mails from clients. At the same time, my tax news goes to a different inbox. My shopping ads go somewhere else as well. While I don’t recommend having one e-mail address for each type of communications, having a few different e-mail addresses (one for “work work”, one for work reading and networking, one for personal use and shopping) can help to create boundaries that will keep you from being distracted by work when you are trying to shop and vice versa. Once you have your various inboxes set up (or not), it’s time to take a cold hard look at all of that digital clutter. Let’s face it, most of us don’t read the consumer disclosures when we sign up for something or use a business’ website. Whenever you provide your e-mail address to a business or use their website your e-mail address is captured. Unfortunately, not only does the business with which you are transacting use that as consent to e-mail you, often the use disclosure includes authorization for the business to sell your data (either anonomized or not) to other businesses. That’s why when you order custom business swag from one company you are not only inundated with additional e-mail from that company but you start getting e-mail solicitations from businesses selling similar or complementary products and/or services. The same thing happens when you register for continuing education classes, enter a drawing at an expo using your business card, or join a professional organization. You start getting e-mail solicitations from that company, but if, or when, that company monetizes their e-mail list, your e-mail address is included. Yay! (Can you sense my sarcasm?) I read once that it takes an average of nine “touches” to convince a consumer to make a purchase. Unfortunately because e-mail is relatively inexpensive and easily automated, many retail businesses use it to make all of those touches. Between regular shopping, gift shopping, professional organizations, professional news, regular news, it’s really easy for the amount of e-mail into your various inboxes to get completely overwhelming in a short period of time. That’s why it’s just good business to spend some time once or twice a year curating your subscriptions! If the thought of trimming down your subscriptions gives you FOMO, keep reading for some tips and tactics to make sure you still get important notifications while eliminating the excess.

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US V Harry Stonehill – America’s Jarndyce v Jarndyce

1962. It was the only year in which JFK was president for the whole entire year. World events impinged on my family. My older brother served onboard an aircraft carrier chasing Soviet submarines and when not recovering Mercury astronauts, had his four-year enlistment extended to five. Somehow the bright fourth grader that I was, I missed the story of the dramatic raid by the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation on March 3, 1962. According to reporter, Amando Doronila, who covered the raid, 200 agents seized 35 truckloads of documents from 27 offices and corporations controlled by American expatriate Harry Stonehill. Why should we care? Believe it or not, the implications of that March 3, 1962, raid are still being litigated in the United States. Read on to learn more!

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TAX PLANNING FOR CLERGY

“The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax” – Albert Einstein You may have spoken to clergy members about many things, but I’ll bet you never spoke with them about their tax issues. Did you ever wonder whether and how clergy are taxed and how they pay taxes? Clergy taxation has some surprising twists and turns. Are they employees or self-employed? Is their income taxable or exempt from income tax? Can they deduct their business expenses? If these were multiple-choice questions, you might need an “all of the above” option. Or, as is often the case with tax-related questions, an “it depends” option. Tax compliance pitfalls and tax planning opportunities abound. Read on for more.

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Just Good Business – Review Your Insurance Policies

Regular readers of this column may know that I came involuntarily to the tax business. I inherited it from my mother in 2010. Less well known is that the tax business was Mom’s side hustle. Mom’s main business was as an independent insurance agent. The insurance side of the business closed in 2017, but during the time I was administering that side of the business (I was never a licensed agent), I learned a lot about insurance. One of the most important lessons I learned was that the longer you hold a policy, the more the rates increase and that it pays to make the effort to review (and shop) your various insurance policies regularly. Another important lesson was that all coverage is not equal and, just as when looking for a tax professional, price should be a consideration but not the consideration. The third important lesson was to know your coverage before you need the insurance. Many times we had to remind a customer they had refused uninsured motorist coverage to save a few dollars after an uninsured motorist totaled the client’s vehicle or to explain the limits of flood coverage after a building flooded. Regularly reviewing your insurance policies for coverage and value provides peace of mind and is just good business. Click here to learn the ins and outs of getting a great deal.

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