Trying to decide if it is time to hire a tax representative is a difficult decision and if made incorrectly, can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars plus add significant amounts of stress and reputational damage to you and / or your business.
With so many people and organizations on the Internet promising to do so much for you, how do you know who to trust and more importantly, how can you tell if the specific tax matter you have is something they have experience (and success) handling?
Well, I’m going to give you some tips, so feel free to share them, about how I would go about finding a tax expert for my situation and what important questions you need answered before you hand over your hard-earned money, Social Insurance Number (SIN) and / or Business Number (BN).
The first thing that you must be comfortable doing is asking questions and if you do not understand the answer or if it seems like the response you get is part of a sales pitch, then think twice and get another quote. It’s okay. Anyone offering these services will either expect that you have spoken to more than one person, or will be confident that their expertise is what you need and know that you will come back.
Do they offer a free consultation? It’s helpful if you do not know exactly how much trouble you are in, if at all, and having a few minutes to ask will put your mind at ease and help build a relationship for the future if it’s necessary.
During a 15-minute free consultation I usually do not know how many other tax representatives they have spoken to, if any. As a result, I have to be clear, honest and set the price based on the amount of work involved, only. It works for me, and it works for my clients.
Once I begin working with clients I get to hear what others promised, or wanted to charge, and often times I am surprised both by the recommended course of actions and the price quoted / charged.I thought it might be a good idea to expand on this topic and provide the 13 IMPORTANT considerations to look for before hiring tax representation:
13) Knowledge – Does this person or organization have significant knowledge in the area you need?
12) Experience – Knowledge is great to help you understand more, however, is their knowledge based on books they studied in school, or was it gained through hands-on experience? If you are lucky, you can get both.
11) Fit – Can you work with them? Are they able to explain in a manner that you actually understand what happened, and what the next steps are.
10) Advertising – Odds are good that if they are spending a lot of money on advertising, they are going to have to charge you more in order to re-coup the costs. A lot of advertising doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best, it just means they value advertising, or need clients..
9) Social Media Presence – Taking into consideration that people do NOT advertise they have a tax problem online, it can be difficult to see if your prospective tax representation is worth your hard-earned dollars. A good way to check up on a prospective hire is to have a look at their followers and who they follow. It may seem great that a firm will have 5000 followers, however, followers can be bought, so a Canadian firm with 3000 followers from, say, Turkey might be a tip-off that something is not right. Also look at their posts and comments via mainstream media. Are they commenting on articles to educate or does everything they publish and promote look like it has been written by a marketing firm aimed at trying to get you to hire them.
8) Flexibility – Are they flexible in their pricing, or are they so set in their fees that they will not, or can not, recommend someone else or reduce their fees to assist.
7) Promises – Do they promise to save you money through reviews of your tax filings or do they take the easy way out and recommend bankruptcy, or a proposal?
6) Fear Mongers – If you notice that the tone of everything coming from a prospective firm / representative seems like they are trying to scare you, they are, and that’s a good sign to proceed with caution. If they tell stories of the CRA hiding in your bushes, reading your emails or coming to arrest you, you should think twice.
5) What is their catch? – You know what you need, but what do they want, or what do they want from you? There might be additional things relating to your tax issues that you did not know about and would benefit you, but if it’s not necessary and they won’t back away from it – like a financial analysis – then be concerned that they just want to put you though a cookie-cutter program instead of working towards solving your problem(s).
4) Do they play nice with others? – Blog posts aside, are they active in community networking groups (like on Linked In) and are they contributing to the discussions or do they have their own agenda and are just posting articles aimed at the wrong crowd – ie/ pitching their services to individuals in a group full of tax lawyers.
3) Sticks and Stones – How do they refer to the Canada Revenue Agency? Do they call the CRA the “Taxman”? Do they have other negative nicknames? I can tell you with the experience that 10-plus years of working for the CRA has afforded me that the CRA HATES that and do you really want your representation to start your negotiations off on the wrong foot?
2) Which Way is Up – Does their projected course of action come with terms, such as; “I think, this will work” or “I can try this…” or does the word “maybe” come up a lot? The good part of that language is that it is a sign that they want to try a course of action and they expect the outcome to be positive or they have no clue what to do and after they run you through their cookie-cutter service, they hope you will be in a better situation.
1) You are Smarter – If you finish your conversation and get the feeling that once all is said and done you will be in a much better place both mentally and financially and you are armed with enough information and understanding of what got you there in the first place and that you can and are able to identify and address all future issues, then you might just be in the right place!
The elevator pitch, otherwise known as your ability to tell someone what you do for a living in 15-20 seconds without leaving out any critical details.
Wikipedia calls it this; “An elevator pitch, elevator speech, or elevator statement is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.”
The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride of around 30 seconds.
The term originates from a scenario of an accidental meeting with someone important in the elevator where after the brief pitch, the other party is interested in learning more. thus continuing the conversation after the elevator ride or through en exchange of a business card or smart phone details.
As a tax consultant, I thought I had the perfect elevator pitch that went something like this; “I help people who have problems with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). I worked in the CRA for over 10-years – pretty much out of university – and worked my way up through the collections division until leaving for the private sector.”
I found it to be too long, and open for interruption so much that I would add details, such as that I completed 3-years of my accounting (CGA) designation and a 3-year MBA before leaving, or that I spent a significant part of my time at the CRA training the staff, handling the most complex accounts in the office and helping improve processes.
Then it became an elevator pitch for a 65-story building ride… To the top and all the way back down to the bottom.
Then I found an article in Forbes magazine which provided 6 alternatives to the elevator pitch so I tried them out to see if they worked better for me. The list is below:
1. The One-word pitch – for me, it is “TAX”. Then I watch their eyes gloss over.
2. The Question pitch – “Have you ever had (or have clients who had) problems with the Canada Revenue Agency (or Revenu Quebec, or the IRS, or WSIB, or the CRTC?)
3. The Rhyming pitch – Could not even try this.
4. The Subject line pitch – like sending an email to someone – mine would read something like “Former CRA collections officer helping people with CRA problems.”
5. The Story form pitch – I have thousands of stories… Literally. I usually break into one of these after my introduction.
6. The Twitter or 140 character or less pitch #WhatIAmAllAbout. I like this because it’s like using Twitter except that you really cannot tell someone that you “hashtag” Help People. But it does give you the opportunity to state your case in a brief number of words.
So practice your pitch – no matter which method you choose – and practice them out on people to see if it gets across the message you want it to. If not, maybe you would benefit from a different pitch or by adding or removing information to your existing pitch.
As for me… “I’m a former CRA officer who knows the CRA collections process, policy and procedures better than they do. I help people with a variety of tax issues including but not limited to negotiation, payment arrangements, liens, RTP’s assessments, and getting them current and out of debt. If there is a CRA issue, I have already seen it, and I know how to fix the problem.”
Others make promises. I fix problems.
If the conversation continues I explain my services are for individuals, businesses, and professional organizations who cannot proceed further with a client due to their tax issues – ie/ getting a bank loan, renewing a mortgage, confirmation of actual amounts owing before filing for bankruptcy, wage garnishments on employees, or cleaning up past tax issues for separation agreements or divorce.