Okay, so the title is a little misleading given that we’ve been around since 2005.  But this post is supposed to be a look back on our first “retail office” tax season.  As posted earlier, we had a pretty eventful time getting the office set up once we decided we were going to launch it this season.  We outlined some goals for ourselves, plotted the course of action and set off on our journey.  So what happened?

While the season still technically has a few days left (returns aren’t due until April 17th) we think we have a pretty good read on the past three months.  While we didn’t hit our target numbers on a few fronts, we didn’t do too shabby given that we were essentially starting this location with zero brand recognition and it was its first year of existence.  In the end we engaged roughly 55 clients, processed 65+  individual and business returns (not including accompanying state returns), secured two recurring accounting clients and performed a host of accompanying services.

What Went Well

Delivering exemplary customer service.  Without having a major brand name on your office, you’ve got to figure out a way to differentiate yourself from all the other tax shops.  While CPAs prepare and review the returns that come through our doors, for most customers this isn’t that much of a selling point.  But what we did find out is that if we upped the service level by doing a few simple tasks (e.g. explain the return to the customer line-by-line, display a genuine interest in their situation, promptly answer any post filing questions), the customer felt that they got more from us than their past preparer.  Result?  A happy customer that tells us they’ll be coming back!

Leveraging our networks.  We all know someone.  “You need your car fixed?  We’ve got a guy for that!” The most successful marketing for a financial services firm is word-of-mouth; preferably from satisfied customers.  When you’re looking for services from professionals such as accountants, doctors, etc. you tend to ask the people you know who they’d recommend.  Thus, we continually engaged our network to let them know this was our first season with the new office.  We also asked them to mention us to their friends if they liked us, thought we were competent, liked our work, etc.  Remember, it’s not always what you know but who you know.

Sourcing alternate work from Craigslist.  Craigslist has a reputation of being a mythical land where everyone is a scammer looking to take your money.  While there is some truth to this, in reality there are plenty of people who are just looking for a deal and someone who can provide it for them.  We didn’t get any tax work from Craigslist ads, but we did get some quick bookkeeping, business plan and other types of one time work.  We’re not talking thousands of dollars here, but the income did help keep the cash flowing into the bank account between tax clients.

Being persistent.  This is pretty simple.  You’re new, you need revenue and you’d better not give up.  Sales don’t just fall from the sky, they take time and cultivation.  This is particularly true if you are a new business and customers don’t know who you are.  Someone might want to come into our office because they are dissatisfied with their current provider.  However, they might have some concerns as this is the first year they’ve seen our office.  For us this may mean a few phone calls, a face to face and ultimately a follow up visit where the client finally engages us.  Point is it often takes multiple contacts to seal any deal.  Be persistent and professionally pursue all potential clients until you either 1) win their business or 2) they decide you’re not a good fit for their needs.  Reaching either of these two outcomes is the ONLY acceptable option.

 What We’ll Change

Marketing efforts.  For the 5000 door hangers we distributed in the neighborhood, only one client was generated.  In general, we started our marketing late in the season (i.e. January), probably didn’t do enough “multiple contacts” with community marketing and didn’t spend enough to generate a meaningful ROI.  With that said, we’ll start our community efforts around September in 2012, but will also do more “year-round” marketing (e.g. newsletters, client recognition, etc) as well as increase our marketing spend.

Independent sales force.  One thing we employ in our company are independent sales reps.  These fine people generate leads and get a commission for doing so.  While we had good results with this program, we fell a little short of expectations.  The main reason for this was we didn’t recruit a big enough sales force nor did we do it early enough.  Come mid 2012, we’ll change this which should help us hit our marks next year.

Hours of operation.  If the theme of the previous two points was we didn’t start early enough, then this one would be we didn’t stay late enough.  Due to the transition from Corporate America to Main Street America, the office hours designed maybe weren’t as good as they could have been.  While the office was open until 6:30PM during the week and 5PM on both weekend days, it could have been later.  This would have allowed us to potentially capture more of the “after work” crowd who just couldn’t get to us before we closed shop.  We’ll probably move to later hours in 2013.

So what does 2013 hold?  Well, we’ve already executed our lease renewal option for the remainder of 2012.  This means the office WILL be back in 2013!  Hopefully some of those potential clients who wanted to visit us but thought that we were “fly-by-night” will see we’re here for the long haul and stop in next season.  Through making the changes outlined above, we’ll attempt to double in size and continue what we hope will be a pretty sustainable growth trend.  Lastly, we plan to make our client engagement even more frequent, more personal and more value additive.  Will 2013 be more successful that our 1st season?  Only time will tell but we’re thinking so.

Until next time.