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SYNERGY for Accounting Firms

Why Q4 2020 should be accounting firms’ season for strategic outreach

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

If you’re like most of us, 2021 can’t come soon enough. However, the last quarter of 2020 presents a unique opportunity for accounting firms to engage in preliminary strategic conversations with clients and help them assess the impact of the pandemic and the economic downturn, identify challenges, and lay out goals ahead of 2021.

As you connect with clients in closing out the year, you should take the opportunity to broaden your conversation and gather information that will inform and enrich your firm’s advisory services in the year ahead.

Most firms focus on strategic planning after April 15 — as they should. At the end of the year, however, a convergence occurs that creates a unique opportunity for discovery and intelligence gathering. In Q4, tax and accounting firms’ various service lines — from preparing 1040s to payroll to audits are focused on the year-end reporting date. There is no other time of the year when such an alignment occurs; and this year, more than any other, you should seek to capitalize on these high-touch months to identify strategic opportunities that could help you better serve your clients going forward.

After the challenges of 2020, many business clients are open to a deeper discussion addressing their strategic objectives and how those objectives may have changed. While many high-growth tax and accounting firms have already moved into advisory services, this year presents a huge opportunity for others accounting firms that have not yet done so. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the strategic advisory trend for firms, so it’s time to engage with clients and nurture a more strategic role. Here’s how.

Set the stage for advisory services

In Q4 2020, take every communication opportunity with your clients to set and reinforce a strategic tone. Ask them about their 2020 experience and tee up some recommendations to get the conversations started ahead of 2021. And while clients may have initially put off implementing new software, procedures, or billing processes as the pandemic struck, they are now recognizing the stronger need for these innovations, especially as remote work in some form is likely to continue beyond the current crisis. Remember, the information you gather now from these clients will help inform your messaging next year.

Planting this seed in Q4 will get your clients used to interacting with your firm in a different way. Change the perception that you’re simply the financial statement or tax people, and instead, set the stage to become a trusted business planner and strategist.

Remind clients that you can help them pull the right financial levers to meet their business and personal goals. And if you don’t know what their goals are, now is the time to ask. If you have had this conversation before, ask again. The past year may have changed their challenges and priorities. What do they want to achieve over the next year? What are the hurdles? What keeps them up at night? These kinds of questions give you the information you need to position your firm as a trusted advisor in the years ahead.

Plot your path internally

Over the next two months, you also should think about what your firm can do change the way you track information about your clients, their businesses, and their goals. Find ways to align your services with different client conversations; and track how the nature of those conversations with clients shift to the services you offer. How do these conversations align to your scope agreements? How are you going to engage in these conversations with clients going forward?

While this journey looks different for each firm, many high-growth accounting firms are on the path to delivering advisory services. Depending on your level of progression, you can choose to test certain foundational messaging during the Q4 season and see what bears fruit post-tax season.

After tax season, your firm may come out with a broad statement to business clients whom you’ve evaluated in 2020 and want to partner with in a new way. If you planted the seed in November or December of this year, your clients will relate to the sentiment, and the shift to your new approach will make sense to them.

From a staffing perspective, consider using these Q4 client conversations to engage your own staff. Younger staff members are typically spurred by a steady investment in learning and growth. This doesn’t necessarily mean job titles change, but simply giving younger staff members opportunities to be part of new developments and understand the connection of these to their daily work. Consider involving them in these conversations by having them listen in at first — this promotes professional development, staff retention, and, ultimately, better client service.

Be intentional and use your time wisely

This initiative is not meant to be a deep-dive into business planning with your clients during the busy days prior to year-end. Your goal should be simple: hold a conversation or two, and file away what you’ve learned to build upon next year. To conserve time, you could even schedule an hour here and there with a select group of clients to gauge their priorities and use their feedback to later develop a roadmap. The idea is that Q4 is a time when all service lines are laser-focused on year-end and engaged with clients — so take advantage of that and connect more holistically across services.

The challenges of 2020 offer a unique opportunity to begin strategic conversations with your clients — without taking up too much of their time or yours. Let them know you are looking at new ways to help them meet their goals, be intentional, and use the time wisely. You are warming them up for deeper conversations in April and May.

So, while 2021 can’t come soon enough, make the most of what’s left of 2020. Short but meaningful conversations with clients now can truly position your firm for success in the years ahead.


Do you need more fresh ideas to jumpstart your firm’s strategic plan? Hear crucial insights into tax and accounting during SYNERGY2020. During the virtual conference, you’ll have the opportunity to share expertise, attend educational sessions, and learn from industry experts.

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