Swimming with Sharks

I spent the first two days of this week in gloomy Southern California for the 2015 Certified Tax Coach Tax Planning Summit and Reunion. It was a genuine high point of the year, being surrounded by 70 or so enthusiastic TaxCoach members and Certified Tax Coaches. I’ve said before that our Wednesday afternoon call-ins are my favorite appointments of the week — well, TaxCoach and CTC live meetings are my favorite events of the year. Dominique Molina and her team put together a great event, and I’m pleased to congratulate them here.

This year’s reunion featured plenty of actionable ideas that attendees could take back to their office and implement immediately. In fact, some didn’t even wait that long. Amit Chandal learned about one planning strategy during a Tuesday afternoon session, texted it to a prospective client, and picked up a $15,000 engagement before that session was even over. That’s the kind of success we like to see — and it’s really not as uncommon as it sounds. It turns out that all of us have prospects and clients who want to pay less tax. And putting yourself in situations where you can learn new strategies enables you to see opportunities to help your clients and grow your business by presenting them.

Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a1/Male_whale_shark_at_Georgia_Aquarium.jpgOne of the highlights of CTC’s Tax Planning Summit is a workshop called “Tax Shark Tank.” CTC recruited six local business owners to provide their actual tax returns and sit for a panel discussion. The attendees broke up into groups and analyzed those tax returns, then pitched the business owners on their tax-planning services. It was a unique opportunity to practice some real-world skills: analyzing live tax returns to spot mistakes and missed opportunities, evaluating savings opportunities, structuring sales presentations, and actually delivering those presentations. The feedback we got from the sharks was invaluable — I’ve been pitching tax plans for over a decade and even I left the meeting with ideas for more effective presentations.

(Nobody goes into the presentation expecting to pick up actual business. But one of the sharks approached Aric Schreiner after his pitch, introduced herself, and handed him her card. I won’t be surprised if he prepares an amended return or two for her and her husband, if not a full-blown plan! In fact, most of last year’s sharks actually went to work with Certified Tax Coaches on plans over $5,000.)

Several attendees wished we could have an entire day of nothing but shark tank presentations. Too bad it’s so difficult to find and recruit such valuable sharks! But it occurs to me, as I sit in my office, that there is a way you can recreate that experience for yourself.

There’s probably someone in your life who simply can’t do “regular” business with you. Maybe they have a longstanding relationship they aren’t willing to disrupt, or maybe you’ve just known them long enough you would be intimidated to be responsible for their work. You can still put the relationship to work to gain some valuable experience for yourself in exchange for valuable planning ideas for them.

Just pick up the phone (assuming you still have one of those on your desk, it’s the black plastic thing that makes an annoying ringing sound when you’re trying to get something accomplished), and call them. Then make them an offer they can’t refuse: “I’m focusing my business on tax planning, and I’m looking for opportunities to work with ‘live’ returns. I’m not asking to take over your business, but I think I’ve got some ideas that can save you money.”

Who’s going to say “no” to that?

You’re basically asking someone to be a guinea pig here. But you’re assuring them up front that you won’t be pressuring them to move their business or make any other difficult decisions. And you’re offering potentially valuable tax savings to justify the time (and loss of privacy) involved in meeting with you and sharing their tax return.

If someone does say “no,” fine. They said “no.” You’ve heard “no” before, and it never killed you. It’s their loss anyway; they’re the one wasting money on extra taxes they shouldn’t be paying.

At the end of the meeting, go ahead and present your ideas. You may think this contradicts our usual advice to “quit giving it away.” (For more, see TCU 101 and TCU 103 in the “TaxCoach University” section of TaxCoach.) But you’re not giving anything away for free here — you’re fulfilling a promise to trade valuable ideas for an equally valuable opportunity to “go operational” with a live tax return.

Once you’ve presented your ideas, ask two more questions:

  1. “How much do you think I should be charging clients for this sort of advice?” This will help establish value for your new service, and help your “shark” see the value in the time you’ve just spent with them. Which opens the door to the next question…
  2. “Who else do you know who would be interested in these sorts of savings?” Yes, ask for some referrals! (Those of you who have read these Briefs for long enough knew that was coming!)

Finally, don’t be surprised if you end up with some new business you didn’t expect!

Summer is almost here, and that means shark season for beaches up and down both coasts. But swimming with the sharks is fun and profitable if you’re just willing to jump in the water.