Most of my new clients come from referrals. Which is good for me because the new clients come in predisposed to trust me and listen to what I have to say. And most “how to pick a tax pro” list suggest you talk to friends and family about recommendations. But there are some disadvantages to referrals.
First, what is the recommendation? Why do they suggest me? I’ve had taxpayers come in telling me that Joe recommended me because I got him a big refund. It’s implied that I will get the new client a big refund also. Sometimes that’s not possible. Everyone’s situation is different. The same goes for price and other services. When I can’t meet the new client’s expectations, they are disappointed and less likely to be a repeat client. It doesn’t help that I can’t explain specifically why their friend got a better refund or price because of confidentiality. All I can do is offer generalizations.
To be honest, taxpayers shopping for price and refund size may not be a client I want. I want their priority to be an accurate return. The best price and least tax are important but they shouldn’t be the only reason to choose me or any tax pro even when a friend makes a recommendation.
On the other side of referrals are the bad recommendations. A taxpayer asks a friend about me and their friend goes on about how awful I am. I understand that. I can’t please everyone. They don’t like their refund, my price or that I wouldn’t do what they wanted me to do. Or they post a review on one of the many online sites like Yelp or Merchant Circle. I can generally respond to an online review if I see it but again I’m limited to generalizations. I can’t breach confidentiality.
A few weeks ago, a client was all upset with their child’s other parent who claimed the child as a dependent. The client was madder at the return’s preparer than at the other parent. They wanted me to say that the other preparer was wrong in filing the return that way. I couldn’t because I don’t know what that preparer was told. Clients lie sometimes and there is nothing a preparer can do about it. I told this client that but I don’t think it will stop them from bad mouthing the other preparer. So, as you ask about a tax preparer, listen to what is being said between the lines.
Referrals can be a double edge sword. They can help a taxpayer find a new tax pro but the taxpayer needs to listen to what they are being told and ask questions. Don’t assume that what the tax pro did for your friend will work for you. Read between the lines of what you’re being told. It might be a good idea to visit with the recommended preparer before you trust a return to them.