With tax season now in full-swing, most accounting firms are fielding calls and scheduling appointments with individual clients at a pace that won’t be matched until early next year. While it may seem like an overwhelming time as you balance the needs of your business clients with your personal tax practice, it’s critical that you take a moment to step back and ensure you are making the most of your interactions with personal clients this tax season.

If your firm is like most, now is the only time of year you’ll have an opportunity to interact directly with the majority of your personal clients. This all-too-familiar scenario is quite frankly one that sets your firm up for failure. It goes without saying that tax season should not be the only time you meet with clients. You should be in contact with them all year long —and here’s three ways to make sure that happens.

A tax preparer advising a client
Bloomberg News

1. Plan proactively for 2017.

Once you’ve completed, reviewed, and delivered a client’s tax return to their portal, capitalize on the opportunity to help your clients plan for the coming year — perhaps even during your debrief with the client over the return. After shifting to electronic return delivery, some firms may cease such debrief meetings, but there’s no saying you can’t do both given the virtual meeting tools of today, namely because such debrief meetings provide an ideal opportunity to establish plans for the coming year and help uncover opportunities for new or expanded engagements.

With a new president and administration, this year is especially important to keep in tune with tax changes that could impact your clients. Let them know that you’re monitoring possible changes and will be there to guide them as the year unfolds.

2. Set expectations for communication during the year.

Seize the opportunity of your virtual meetings by laying out the various ways your firm keeps in contact with clients during the year (i.e., newsletters, videos, e-mails, portals, etc.). While you have them, ask about their communication preferences and take note — you may find that clients prefer communication methods they didn’t realize you offered until you take this opportunity to tell them. Keep in mind that a greater portion of your clients than ever before may desire meeting with you via web conferencing technology like Skype, Join.me, GoToMeeting or others, for the convenience it provides.

It’s also critical to emphasize the importance of two-way communication, making sure they keep you informed on decisions that may impact their tax position during the year so that you can help them achieve the best possible tax outcome. Whether they are getting married, having a baby, planning for college expenses, or opening a business, keeping you informed in real-time is key to maximizing their tax position. Many of your clients today may instinctively ignore your communications simply because they don’t recognize the value of interacting with your firm when there is no imminent filing deadline, so make sure you clearly establish the value of timely guidance, perhaps by relaying some examples of the tax consequences of acting without it.

3. Commit to a check-in before 2017 ends.

While you have a “captive audience”, commit to a check-in long before the year ends. Based on their communication preference, it could be a face-to-face meeting (virtual or otherwise), phone call, or e-mail. If communication is lost during the calendar year, it will be too late (in many cases) to take advantage of your advice when next tax season rolls around.

In the end, taking full advantage of your interactions with clients during tax season sets the stage for deeper relationships and new opportunities to serve them this year and in years ahead. And that’s a win-win.

Jon Baron
Jon Baron

is managing director of the professional segment of the tax and accounting business of Thomson Reuters, which he joined in 1992.