Gearing Up
8 min read

How to manage accounting client expectations using visuals

By Leigh Doyle

Before Megan Justice started Crayon Advisory, LLC, she worked in-house at accounting firms that wanted her to pay close attention to managing client expectations. 

Setting up client expectations was something she was told to do in her career for years, but was never really given the tools or permissions to effectively do so, she says in the episode. 😖

Now, at Crayon Advisory, she’s developed a creative and unique way to keep clients on track while ensuring they know exactly what to expect from her services. Those services include tax planning and preparation, account software and system design (or repair 🪚) and accounting tours for business owners who are new to managing the money side of a business. 💰

Using visuals to help clients understand the tax preparation process 

Advisors know it can take two to three weeks to complete a tax return — once you have all of a client’s information. So if a client takes weeks to send in all of their documents, a tax return won’t be ready for weeks after. But many clients don’t realize these timelines, says Megan, and if that’s not communicated clearly it creates a bad experience for everyone involved. 

To address this, Megan uses Canva, an online graphic design tool, to create infographics that outline the steps and timelines involved in her services. Every client receives the relevant infographics when onboarded to ensure there are no surprises on when documents are due and tasks are completed. 

Watch the full episode to learn: 

🤝 Why Megan started her own firm and who she serves 

🛠 Her robust tech stack 

💕 Why Megan loves Relay

👩‍🎨 How she created the visuals she sends to clients

Learn more about Megan at CrayonAdvisory.com.

Gearing Up is dedicated to amplifying the creative and smart ways accountants and bookkeepers overcome the day-to-day challenges of running a successful firm.

If you’d like to share your knowledge on an upcoming episode of Gearing Up, submit your challenge + solution using the form.

How do successful firms solve day-to-day challenges?

Find out in Gearing Up — our bi-weekly video series. Blake Oliver talks to practicing accountants and bookkeepers about what tools and strategies they use to thrive.

Subscribe

Gearing Up episode transcript:

Blake: I may need to borrow that term that you just taught me, the firm-i-ness of firms. Hello, Blake Oliver here, and this is "Gearing Up," a series by Relay. Relay is business banking designed for accountants and their clients. Just like me, they're obsessed with making firms more effective and efficient. So in each episode, I talk to real accountants and bookkeepers about one challenge they faced in their firm and how to solve it. Today, we have Megan Justice of Crayon Advisory on the show. Thank you so much for joining me, Megan.

Megan: Thanks for having me Blake.

Blake: So tell us a little bit about you and your firm.

Megan: So my firm, I stepped out on my own because I really wanted to not deal with the firm-i-ness of firms. I wanted to just work with clients and be able to interact with them and help and support them through their accounting and tax needs and concerns. So I stepped out on my own and really wanted to bring a level of support and help and acknowledgement to these people as well as being able to meet them wherever they're currently at, whether they're highly sophisticated and have quality accounting systems or they're just graduating from scratching some things on paper into maybe thinking about a spreadsheet, but no we're gonna put 'em into some accounting software.

Blake: I may need to borrow that term that you just taught me, the firm-i-ness of firms. So you're out on your own. What kind of technology tools are you using in your practice?

Megan: I use Ultratax for my tax planning and preparation, through their virtual office. It works out really well. And then all of the other things are completely independent and don't talk directly together. So I rely on Zapier a lot to make those connections for me and to bring information from one place to another. I use ClickUp for my project management. I use Google Workspace as kind of my home base. I use Superhuman for my email. I actually get to inbox Xero more often than not with...

Blake: Wow.

Megan: And it's absolutely amazing. It's a great feeling. I use TechSplay's a lot and I really lean on TechSplay. It's part of what really helped solve some problems that I was having this last fall and making things happen easier.

I rely on Proposify for all my engagement letters and proposals. They look pretty, they're easy to access and it puts everything all in one spot for me, which is really lovely.

I use Suralink and Onvio as my portals.

I lean on FreshBooks as my primary accounting system. That's what I use within my firm. My clients are mostly on either FreshBooks or Xero.

I use Relay a ton and I try and get as many clients into Relay as absolutely possible. Yes, because it is amazing bank software. It's an amazing bank. It's super easy to work with. I can go in and I see all of my clients right there. If there's ever a problem, which with Relay, I've never had a problem, but if there's ever a problem, I know I'm going to have a human to connect with somehow very, very quickly. And it's because Relay is constantly sending me information. My account manager reaches out to me on a regular basis in a non-annoying fashion. Like I know that they're there for me. Everyone is there. There's the network. There's the support.

Blake: What is the one challenge that you have had in your firm and how can you tell us to solve it?

Megan: So I end up working with a lot of brand new clients who have never used a tax preparer before. They've never used an accountant before. A lot of them are pandemic sole proprietors that they either lost their job or decided not to go back to their job during the pandemic, and now they're out there doing the solo thing but they've never thought about this before and never been in business. And they don't actually know even the processes. We all know that it takes two to three weeks to turn a tax tax return around if not longer, depending upon all the other things that are happening. That just because a client has sent 90% of the information, that last 10% is crucial for the tax return or the project, whatever it is and it absolutely has to happen.

And then on top of that, when you send that information in later and the client sends that information in later, everything gets back logged and it takes longer. They send it back in the next couple of days, it's usually pretty easy to pick it right back up. The client doesn't send it in for two to three weeks later, you're not picking that return up for another two to three weeks after the client has sent it in. It creates a bad customer experience.

So I started relying more and more on infographics and I built up some infographics that communicate all of this in one little card, one little spot, and just kind of walk the client through what happens and including those with an email as I onboard these clients, as to what to expect is really about setting up client expectations which is something that I was told in my career for years but then not actually given the tools or the per permissions to really set up those expectations.

But this is really the 1040 estimated delivery windows that this is when we expect to be able to deliver tax returns, whatever time period it is, when you actually need to send information, what it is that's happening behind the scenes. So I'm reviewing the information that's been received, hopefully with one within one to five days receipt but sometimes a little bit longer, right? I'm not even starting tax return preparation until I have everything and it's not getting started until three to 10 days from receipt of information, and that's pretty normal.

And then finalizing and deliver the tax return and invoice. It's again, another three to 10 days from receipt of any additional information, so that last 10%, it's not getting done until here. So I've also done it for businesses. It's the same infographic with different dates and different colors. There's really not a very big difference.

And I used Canva to do all of this, Canva normalized the space between all of these things for me. I set up guides inside of there to drop this down and I can pull Canva up as well.

Blake: Oh yeah, that'd be great. Yeah, I've used cam myself, super easy to create graphics without having to be a designer.

Megan: And it's really, non-designer friendly. Other thing that I did to really communicate with clients was I built out this season's graphic. This is another one. And I pull up this one...

There you go because it's gonna show you kind of the iterations of what I've done. It's the same kind of thing. The months of the year are all kind of normalized by Canva itself. Even though we're in this grab bag period, if we're talking to a new client in July about tax planning and then they send their information in the middle of August, I've moved on to extension season in here. And that's kind of what my focus is. And I'm not really gonna be able to pick up tax planning again until October, November. So I built this out to really try and show that activity to my clients.

Did this for advisory clients as well for accounting and bookkeeping and that sort of thing. I need information by a certain time in order to deliver things that if you want your stuff on the 15th, I've gotta get it in the door. I can't turn it around in a day. It's just not possible.

A lot of people don't realize that and they don't they don't like it. But when they start to understand that there's already things booked into my calendar to work on, even if I have a standing date of I work on your project or on your your activity on the fifth of every month, if I don't have that information already in, I can't work on it when it's scheduled to be worked on.

Blake: Well, Megan, this is really interesting. Thank you for sharing this. I love the idea of using visuals to communicate information that people might not read in an email. We all know that people get way too much email and visuals give you a much better shot at communicating the information. And then it's a resource they can go back to and look at or maybe copy to their desktop, whatever they like to do. Are you looking to connect with anyone online? What are your social media handles?

Megan: I'm out there on Twitter, meganajustice. I sometimes am on Instagram. It's the same thing. I think there's some dots in there, Megan.a.justice. I also exist as Crayon Advisory on Facebook and Instagram. And I exist as myself on Facebook as well.

Blake: Megan, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your knowledge. We really appreciate it.

Megan: Absolutely.