From headless chickens to a masterclass in training clients

Quick read: The 31st of January – each and every year this is the date that fills accountants with nerve-jangling dread.  

This case study is a story of client training change that has led from annual tax return purgatory, to the 31st of January being just like any other day (despite a year on year rise in client numbers). 


Business Vision – In a nutshell 

Business Vision is an accountancy firm that focuses exclusively on owner-managed companies. They work with entrepreneurs who want to build better businesses, pitching themselves as tax experts. But there’s a problem with that, or at least there was, until owner Marc Lawson set about shaking up his firm’s approach to client tax returns. 


Rewind eight years – to the January blues of 2010 

Businesses of all sizes are notorious for leaving their tax returns right down to the wire. This situation seems to be worsening year after year, with 2017 being record-breaking for last-minute filers (almost 11m submitted on January 31st – 33,000 of which were in the final hour). 

For accountants, this represents quite the problem, as a flood of paperwork lands on desks and in inboxes, with the same number of the team expected to cope with a huge surge in demand. 

Before taking action on this issue, Business Vision was feeling the strain of an impossible situation…  


We tended not to do an awful lot during the year, then a trickle of paperwork during late summer, and running around like headless chickens in December and January. 

One year, the last filing day was a Saturday, and although we had all of the taxes done, we had to send them via post. The printer broke at the most inopportune moment possible. The admin team had already gone home, and I spent a tense Saturday fax-copying returns.  

There was a few hairy moments for sure”. 


Something had to be done. So Marc set about implementing multiple lines of attack to transform from a last-minute January rush, to paperwork arriving all year through. Here’s an overview of the tactics that Marc put in place… 


  1. Fluctuating fee levels – from incentive to penalty 

Business Vision now provides different fee levels throughout the year, based on when the client has provided their paperwork… 


April/May/June/July/August – Extra early – £20 discount 

September/October – Early – 20%/30% more 

December/January – Late – substantial penalty of 100% in fees 


  1. Request schedules are sent in March 

“We tended to wait until the last minute to chase. 

 Now we chase religiously all year through”. 


Business Vision now send out their request schedules in March, and keep copies to check with accounts, chasing up where needs be. They don’t wait until the deadline, and where once certain clients’ paperwork arrived in December, they’re now chasing them in May. 


Their clients are more than happy to work in this way. In Marc’s words…  


“It’s about communicating the pain and the gain of providing paperwork either late or early. It’s made our lives easier, but it also allows our clients to know the taxes they owe in good time – making their tax planning easier”. 


  1. Letters have been overhauled  

The letters and materials that the Business Vision team send to clients have also changed. Case and point made by one that angled it as a request for help to get their tax returns done – in effect doing the Business Vision team a favour. This particular letter was accompanied with an illustration… 


“A sweaty overworked cartoon accountant, asking them for help”. 


  1. Face-to-face conversations for perpetually late paperwork  

At meetings, the Business Vision team address those who continually send their paperwork late, emphasising how most of their clients are happy to work this way, and stressing that promptness is an expectation.  


We don’t have big backlogs. Due to the tiered system, clients arrive at different times with their paperwork. We don’t have many that are hanging around for months the system works”. 


Week by week targets 

These four pointers work together to train, motivate and remind their clients. The Business Vision team have targets for completing 3 returns a week. Should they not hit this target, they know immediately if they’ve fallen behind. 


So, how are Januarys now? 

“We process around 280 returns in total. Last January we received 12 lots of client paperwork. 3 of which were new clients”. 


For Marc and the Business Vision team, Januarys are now no more notable than any other time of the year.  


“We do the work we normally do – there’s very little work to be done, other than phone calls from clients asking how much tax they pay and who they pay it to.  

It’s just normal tax work, computation work, and preparing the systems for the upcoming year”. 


The relentless switch-up in the way Business Vision do business has handed them something invaluable – time. Time to focus on business growth; time to keep the client experience consistent and time to provide a guarantee to their clients that they’ll NEVER file late (and if they do, they’d pay them £250, plus all late-filing fines). 


Want to make better choices about the role you play, the hours you work, the income you make or the difference you make? Or perhaps, like Marc, you want to make the end-of-year tax rush a thing of the past. 


Want to discover where you should be focussing to improve your practice? 


Generate quick wins for the effort and time you put in, and the profit you get out, by using our free online Practice Diagnostic tool. Click here: