Calling sole practitioners who want free PR

Sole practitioners have a unique opportunity to secure unprecedented publicity and kudos this year. If you’re keen to grow your practice you won’t want to miss out, especially as it need not cost you very much if you do everything yourself.

I’m referring to the prospect of being crowned sole practitioner of the year at this year’s AccountancyAge awards. This will be the first time that such an award has been presented.

For a number of years I was on the judging panel for what are now the Taxation annual awards.  When they first started the relative number of entries was quite low. Of course this did not detract from the profile and benefits that flowed from being a winner.

Years later I’m sure that the number of entries for each award has increased such that it is quite an achievement to even be short listed as the ‘Best tax whatever’.

The implication, whether you win or are shortlisted is  that you have beaten all other such tax people/teams around the UK. In practice, with notable exceptions, you simply have to beat those who have entered the awards.

The same is true of most of the Accountancy Age awards. Indeed it’s true of almost any such awards which depend upon a judging panel to decide winners (rather than votes from the public for instance).

The key lesson I learned is that it’s easier to win in the first year when the relative number of entries will be lower than it will be in the future. So I would encourage you to check out the entry criteria for this award and give it a go this year. The deadline for entries isn’t until July so you have a few weeks to put your entry together.

If you do decide to enter, the biggest tip I can offer is to focus on the stated judging criteria and make sure that your entry does 3 things:

  1. Addresses all key points
  2. Makes it easy for the judges to see that you have addressed all key points
  3. Includes current testimonials from clients to back up your assertions.

Let me know how you get on or if you’d like some help.

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Managing client expectations re tax avoidance

One thing that most accountants have to face is a desire on the part of most of their clients to pay less tax. In this context it can be helpful to ensure that clients appreciate what is and what is NOT possible/achievable.

For example is it legal to legitimately minimise your tax liabilities. This includes:
•    Claiming all available allowances and reliefs
•    Claiming tax relief for expenditure incurred “wholly and exclusively” for business purposes
•    Planning your affairs to keep your tax liabilities as low as possible within the law

On the other hand it is ILLEGAL to deliberately/dishonestly evade tax. This includes:

  • Claiming tax relief for non-business expenses;
  • Telling untruths on your tax return or in the way you describe transactions;
  • Failing to include all of your taxable income in your accounts;
  • Withdrawing money for personal use from an incorporated business (company) and not making any attempt to make sure it is treated correctly for tax purposes;
  • Failing to declare all of your taxable income and gains on your tax returns;
  • Failing to ask for or to complete tax returns to report your taxable income and gains.

The consequences of illegal activity include: Revenue investigations, back taxes, interest on late paid tax and penalties (up to 100% of tax), time, hassle, professional fees, and if you’re very unlucky, ill-advised or stupid – prosecution and prison.

Clients also need to understand that if they get involved in structured tax avoidance schemes they are also highly likely to suffer a tax investigation – even though the scheme may be legal and fully disclosed.

I almost admire one promoter who told me his approach. Apparently he explains that clients who would be worried sick by the inevitable Revenue enquiry, the letters, the demands, the time it takes to resolve and the inconvenience should NOT get involved in his schemes – even though he claims they are legal, have full Counsel’s opinion and are fully disclosed to HMRC.

He manages clients’ expectations and makes clear that the enquiries often last 3 – 7 years; and even though he claims they are usually resolved in favour of the taxpayer, he admits there are no guarantees.

I always mention this issue in my talks on ‘How to avoid professional negligence claims and worse‘. If clients have been forwarned as to what you can and can’t do there is less chance of them subsequently complaining.  In this context though I would refer you to an earlier post on this blog >>> “I told him. Once. 12 months ago. How dare he forget)”. It contains a salutary warning.

What do you do to manage your clients’ expectations? Please add your comments to this blog post.

I have also written a 10,000 word ebook drawn from my talk on How to avoid professional negligence claims, containing tips and risk management advice for accountants in practice. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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7 ways to ensure your pitch is not a waste of time

Chatting with the managing partner of a top 30 firm recently I was impressed to learn about one of the processes he insists on in his office.  It concerns formal pitches that follow on from the submission of written tender documents. The teams involved in such pitches are required to rehearse in front of the managing partner.  The objective is to ensure that the teams are adequately prepared before they face the prospective client. This is a CRUCIAL stage in any pitch process.

It seems that I last addressed this point in a blog post over two years ago: Preparing tenders when pitching for work. Although I have also written over 40 subsequent posts containing advice on the pitching process.

Anyway, here is an update on my 7 tips:

1 – Remember that the written tender is like a CV. Its job is to get you to the next stage. Too long or detailed and it won’t be read.

2 – Try to ascertain with whom you are competing. Even if you don’t know for certain, you can guess – local competitors, bigger firms, smaller firms, a niche practice, a more general practice. Identify your relative strengths and be ready to refute any perceived weaknesses – from the prospective client’s perspective;

3 – Be consistent when you attend the formal pitch. If what you say you will do is different to what you promised in the written tender you will lose credibility;

4 – If you claim to be a team, be a team. If you’re not already a team admit it. Otherwise when it becomes apparent (and it will) you will lose credibility;

5 – Do not assume that everyone on the selection panel has read your written proposal – some of them may have just scanned it; Some may have been drafted in to add weight to the panel at the last minute. Even if you ask have they all had a chance to read it, be aware that few people will want to publicly admit that they haven’t given it the attention you think it deserved.

6 – Beware that at least one person will challenge something in the written proposal – be prepared;

7 – Plan for the face to face meeting. Anticipate the questions you’ll be asked. Ensure the team will give consistent replies;

It was in the context of this final point that I had an idea last week – when I drafted this blog post. It’s all very well insisting that the team rehearse their pitch and take questions from the managing partner but that won’t always be convenient. Also in a close knit team there may be too much familiarity and a lack of spontaneity. Maybe there’s a role for an independent to attend such rehearsals. I’m not saying I have a lot of time to provide such a service but I’m sure it would be very valuable were I to do so. What are the other options and how effective are they?

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