Confessions of a tax avoidance scheme promoter

At last week’s annual Taxation Awards event I found myself chatting with someone who used to promote tax avoidance schemes. What he had to say was well worth sharing with readers of my blog.

First though let me offer some background. I want to provide enough details to justify why what Mr X had to say is so important. But I am respecting his preference not to be identified here especially as I made no notes at the time so I do not want to specifically attribute his comments.

I have known Mr X for 15 years or so. When I was in practice I attended many meetings with him and was always struck by his honesty and integrity. Although I was never a fan of tax schemes, when Mr X promoted a tax scheme I knew HE had always researched it thoroughly himself and understood exactly how it worked. He was in favour of making full disclosure on tax returns and was very choosy about the schemes he promoted – even before the DOTAS regime was introduced ten years ago.

Mr X has been a top private client lawyer and tax adviser for years. He belongs to a number of professional bodies; his expertise and independence are highly regarded and he frequently writes cogent and hard hitting articles for the professional press.

Our conversation started by referencing the latest media reports about the icebreaker tax scheme and Gary Barlow and Take That. See: Why weren’t all accountants promoting those tax schemes? This is a post I wrote when the same story first became news almost 2 years ago in 2012:  (It has since become apparent that the scheme dates back to 2004 – rather than only to 2010 as I suggested in that post)

When we talked I learned that Mr X has found that the market for tax schemes has dried up in recent years.

In his experienced and credible view NO professional accountant in their right mind spends time promoting tax schemes to clients any more. There is NO point in accountants spending time trying to get their heads around new schemes, as an independent conclusion will always be that the scheme will not survive attack by HMRC.

Mr X told me that in his view the only people still actively promoting tax schemes to clients are the naive and those whose independent view has been compromised by their need to earn a living. Oh, and the liars who know that their assurances are unreliable.

There will always be greedy people who will want to believe that they can reduce or remove a large tax bill by doing what they think the rich and famous do. And there will always be slick salespeople who can exploit that desire for a profit.

Mr X still advises on tax but confessed that he no longer promotes ANY tax schemes. He does however get involved in helping extricate people from schemes that have been found not to work or where this is now anticipated to be the likely outcome.

Supplemental point

When I was at Accountex last week I noted that two well known membership groups for accountants are encouraging their members to use the services of their preferred tax scheme promoters.  I tend to think there is a combination of naivety and greed involved in such arrangements.

Having said that, maybe this is the right approach for that handful of clients who want to know what their options are. Especially as they will only want to pay a fee if someone is going to help them pay less tax.

I must admit though that I wonder how often well advised clients actually choose to go ahead with tax avoidance schemes these days. I have noted previously that barely one in ten clients proceed once they understand what is really involved.

As Mr X confirmed when we spoke, the outcome of any remaining tax avoidance schemes must be in some doubt. Because of the inevitable prevarication and argument the final outcome will typically only become clear over the next 5-10 years.

Much better, in my view, to simply seek the advice of a suitable experienced tax expert to help ensure that a client’s transactions etc are being arranged in the most tax efficient and non-controversial manner.  Mr X does this. And the Tax Advice Network provides a simple way to secure such input from independent tax experts around the country.

Related post: Why weren’t all accountants promoting those tax schemes?

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Effective use of new tech in accountancy offices

This was the main topic for discussion at yesterday’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants. I have summarised below some of the key issues members addressed.

We met at The Eight Club in Moorgate, London and Members again benefited from the sharing of knowledge and insights around the table. Inevitably we strayed onto related topics as will be seen from the summary below:

– Likes and dislikes about key practice software
– Software that members had tried but given up on
– Different approaches to CRM using software solutions
– Synchronisation issues and solutions
– Managing multiple client and prospect databases
– Workflow management tools
– Managing online marketing campaigns
– Pricing formulas and fee quoting software

One of our members is among, what he believes to be, less than 300 UK accountancy firms to have invested in a branded ‘app’. His views will evidently impact other members’ response to the heavy marketing push around this topic.

Half of the members present had been at Accountex last week and provided their feedback as to whether a visit is worthwhile and how to gain maximum value when you do go.

At the end of the meeting I invited members to share what were for them the key learning points and takeaways. I have since shared these with all members of The Inner Circle along with related links to save them time trying to locate them. I will also share a fuller note of the issues discussed and shared at the meeting in due course together with additional relevant ideas. In accordance with our Membership Principles all such notes will comply with the Chatham House rule.

The Inner Circle is a facilitated group of like-minded accountants in practice who share similar challenges – and are willing to help each other by sharing practical solutions.

Check it out and follow the link to watch the intro video and then get in touch so that we can discuss whether joining would be good for you and for your practice

 

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You need to avoid STANDING OUT for the wrong reasons

This list started as a quick note of ways in which you might STAND OUT to people who meet you, but for the wrong reasons.  In each case I suggest that the issue is one which will probably undermine your credibility even if you are remembered. There is little benefit in being remembered for the wrong reasons as you will not then win the referrals and recommendations you seek.

As I started thinking further about this the list has grown longer. If you can think of anything else please add your comments below. And equally if you disagree with anything below please share your reasons:

  • A limp loose handshake
  • Errors on your business card
  • Amateurish logo design
  • Inability to look people in the eye when talking to them
  • Broken links on your website
  • Talking too much when you meet people
  • Having an info@ style email address
  • Branded vistaprint or moo ‘business’ cards
  • Breaching client confidences
  • Being rude, unpleasant or miserable
  • Looking a mess
  • Claiming to have a USP that is clearly not Unique
  • Excessive non-business related tweets (on twitter)
  • Failing to look people in the eye when listening or talking with them
  • Being dirty or smelly or both
  • Unprofessional looking marketing materials or website
  • Inconsistent claims as to your expertise online
  • Highlighting irrelevant features of your service offering
  • Tiny font on your business card
  • Inability to talk about anything other than accounting and tax
  • Being arrogant (unless you are a litigator when it MAY be a less unattractive quality)
  • Adopting copycat or other tactics that do not appear credible or congruent
  • Lack of clarity as to your ideal new client
  • Appearing to be lethargic and lacking energy and enthusiasm
  • Extensive irrelevant or boring conversation
  • Use of inappropriate language online or face to face
  • Failing to keep your promise as to how and when you will follow up

During my talks on ‘How to STAND OUT’ I explain that my focus is on the perceptions that we create when we meet people for the first time. Most accountants would prefer to encourage a positive perception. There are few people who would form such a view if faced with any of the above. First impressions count so we all want to avoid STANDING OUT for the wrong reasons.

Do you agree, disagree or have suggestions of other things accountants could do that might constitute STANDING OUT but for the wrong reasons?

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15 factors that can influence the success of your event

Over the years I have been invited to attend many events that have had to be cancelled due to low bookings. I’m thinking of receptions, seminars, conferences and networking events. Sometimes it’s possible to reschedule the occasion. Other times the organisers give up and blame one or other of the factors that might or might not have been the cause of the low bookings.
There are at least 15 factors to consider and any one of them could be the cause of the low booking numbers if not properly researched beforehand:
  1. Date – You’ll want to avoid clashes with competing events, popular cultural, tv and sporting occasions. Some days of the week may also attract smaller numbers than others (eg: Monday mornings and Friday afternoons). On the day you can but hope there are no widespread problems with local traffic and transport arrangements.
  2. Timing – Early morning is not so good for those with child minding/school obligations, early evening impacts social and family life, daytime is dependent on work obligations. Attendees may also be disinclined to travel or drive during the rush hour.
  3. Length – Is it long enough to warrant making the effort to attend? Is it too long such that it requires potential attendees to give up too much time?
  4. Venue – Does it have any form of reputation – good or bad? How easy is it to get to from wherever the attendees are starting out? How easy is it for attendees to get to where ever they will be going afterwards? Make sure all these points are clearly spelled out on the invitation and promotional material
  5. Parking – Might anyone want to come by car? It helps to make clear the parking options up front
  6. Advance notice – It’s important to give enough notice when you issue the first invites (a few weeks is better than a few days). You also need to issue reminders both to those who have yet to book and to see if any of those who have booked are no longer able to attend.
  7. Structure – Is there, for example, time for networking before, during and/or afterwards and will this appeal to prospective attendees.
  8. Food and drink – Is the extent to which refreshments will be provided clear? Will those with restricted diets or tastes feel catered for?
  9. Content – Are the topics perceived as relevant, topical and appealing? Can you sense check these beforehand with prospective attendees?
  10. Speaker(s) – Do they have a positive reputation? Do they engage the audience? Are they easy and stimulating to hear? Are they sufficiently well known to your target audience? Have you highlighted their credibility to talk on the chosen subjects? Are you keeping their name(s) a secret? if so, why? If only confirmed after initial promotions have started, remember to update the promotions.
  11. Ticket price – Is this perceived to be good value? Charging a fee, even a low one, can result in fewer drop-outs than when you run a free event. BUT even low cost tickets can discourage those who need to get authority for the expense
  12. Payment methods – How easy are you making it for people to pay? Consider online booking facilities that include credit card and paypal options.
  13. Changes – If any element of the event has to change, what impact does this have on potential attendees? It might make them more or less likely to book or to attend. Some changes have to be notified beforehand. Others can be shared at the start of the event, only to those who are there.
  14. Promotion – How will you get the event into the minds of those you seek to attract? Will they see and respond to a single email or is a more sustained campaign required? Will social media help? Which channels? Can the speaker(s) assist here?
  15. Your list of invitees – Do you have one? How relevant and uptodate is it? Can you get one? Are you reliant on marketing to (relative) strangers? Can you get help or collaborate with someone else who has a suitable list? Can the speaker(s) help here?

On those last two points, when I am booked to speak at events I often promote them to my connections and contacts. My ability to advise on social media and to reach an extensive audience are sometimes factors that lead to me being invited to speak. My focus is typically on twitter and linkedin, sometimes via facebook and sometimes in my weekly newsletters that go to many thousands of accountants in the UK. What else do you think has affected bookings and the number of people who turn up for your events or those you have attended?

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How to short-cut the Networking process

Networking is not for everyone. Whilst some accountants enjoy attending regular networking events, I regularly hear tales of woe from those who find it a frustrating waste of time.  There are also plenty of accountants who do not like the idea of chatting with strangers very appealing.

You will rarely meet someone at a networking event who is there to find a new accountant. So the process of moving from attending such events to winning new clients can be both time consuming and involved. How can you short-cut the process?

In this blog post I share an idea that could be a far more productive use of your time and less daunting too. It’s quite different to the tips and advice I have shared previously as to how you can get more value from the time you spend networking.

Objectives

The primary reason most accountants attend networking events is typically to win new clients. A secondary objective might be to build relationships with influencers who then refer you on to their clients and contacts. This latter rationale is more likely to be successful in the short-term. Few new clients will choose to appoint a new accountant until they have built a degree of trust – certainly more than comes from a casual chat at a networking event.

The best client introductions

If you’ve been in practice a while you should know how you came to service your best clients. I’ll bet that most didn’t come through adverts, they didn’t come from people searching on the web and they didn’t come from social networking.  Sure, all of these activities might generate some work but your ‘best’ clients?  There will always be exceptions but most accountants typically say that their best clients were introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients.

The second best source tends to be other advisers who know, like and trust the accountant.  Often, but not always, these relationships were built up as a result of random meetings at networking events. But that’s not the only way to instigate them.

An alternative approach 

If you don’t like Networking with strangers you are not alone. Instead why not ask your favourite clients to introduce you to their other advisers?

Which lawyers and financial advisers do they trust? These are then the people whom you can contact and meet for a coffee. You want to get to know them better so that you can recommend other clients to them as and when this seems appropriate. After all if one good client has recommended them, then others may value their advice too.

During your conversations with these advisers you will also get the chance to talk about your practice. And you will also reference the clients you have helped besides the one you have in common with the adviser you are with.

In effect this approach enables you to short-cut the networking process. You don’t have to chat with random strangers at networking events; you aren’t reliant on stumbling across people who might know someone who might need a new accountant; and you don’t have to arrange a series of follow up meetings with strangers who may or may not be valuable additions to  your business circle.

Try it, you might like it.

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