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Membership Has Its Privileges

Here at TMN, we’ve shouted ourselves hoarse preaching why you need to be different. If you do things same as everyone else, you’ll get the same results as everyone else. If you want to get out of the commodity “numbers in boxes” business – and stay one step ahead of the robots that are chasing that business – you need to add higher-value planning and advisory work.

Clients have a picture in mind of what it means to be a client. That picture includes all sorts of expectations about services, fees, and the shape of the overall relationship. They brought that picture with them when they started working with you, and they’ll take it with them if they ever move on to someone else. It’s a “commodity” picture – they bring the mold and they expect you to conform to their mold.

But you can break that mold by repositioning their relationship with you as a member, not a client. All it takes is a little vision on your part, and one big change in how you do business. That big step involves swapping out any form of hourly/transactional/per-form billing, and swapping in a single monthly membership fee that covers all of your core services and value.

That membership fee should be fixed for each client. It can certainly be different for different clients, and it can certainly move up or down over time. But the core concept is one fixed fee that pays for all of your services, all of your value, and ultimately, all of your relationship.

Plenty of accountants charge monthly fees for, say, payroll or bookkeeping work. But then they charge a la carte fees for tax prep and other core services they could easily roll into a single package. Some clients may prefer that at first in the name of transparency. But I’m telling you from 15 years of experience that those clients will never be as valuable to you as the ones who will happily swallow one single “set it and forget it” monthly fee that they don’t ever have to think about again.

Billing clients creates work and friction. Someone has to create the invoice and send it to the client. Someone has to run the credit card or deposit the check. And every time your client sees your bill, it prompts them to evaluate it. Every time. Your job is to create and communicate enough value that the client always concludes you’re worth it. By why introduce that constant friction into the relationship in the first place when you can automate monthly payments and convert your customers into members (whether you call them members or not)?

Tax Master Network’s Automated Tax Operating System® is designed to do exactly that – convert your business into a membership model. You can do this with everyone, even your $300/year little-old-lady 1040 clients. Divide Grandma’s tax-prep fee into $25/month and she’ll never complain about it again. If she does, there’s always someone younger and hungrier who’s willing to work with her. In the meantime, you can focus your time and attention on the high-value clients that create the business you really want.

Nobody likes getting nickel-and-dimed on fees. And if you’re like most tax professionals, fear of nickel-and-diming your clients is keeping you from charging what you know you’re really worth. So ditch the transaction-billing paradigm entirely for a membership model. Everyone will be happier, including you!

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Decades ago, the credit card industry was young and full of promise. There was Mastercard, there was Visa, and there was American Express. Green cards were for the petit bourgeoisie, and the all-impressive gold card was the aspirational mark of a real high-roller. You probably remember the slogan they used, too: “membership has its privileges.”

Now, today American Express is just another credit card. I carry two of them, one that earns me Delta Skymiles and enhanced status (which I hope to use some day when we can all fly again) and the other that earns me Marriot Bonvoy points (which I hope to use some day when we can all stay at hotels again). I also have a Mastercard that earns AA AAdvantage miles, that I picked up for the 60,000 bonus miles I got when I opened the account. And I keep an eye out for similar offers – I’m at north of half a million miles/points from those loyalty programs alone.

But back then, Amex was something special. Something aspirational. Something everyone wanted, but not everyone could get. And Amex presented it as a membership.

Why did Amex do that? Well, ask yourself, which sounds better: “customer” or “member”? I’d rather be a member than a customer. I bet you would, too. (That’s why TMN has members.) More important, so would your customers. You call them “clients” now – but so does everyone else in your business. So why not see what happens when you convert them to members?

The Briefs is a weekly column on marketing and business planning for tax professionals and financial advisors looking to better serve clients and grow their business. 

Edward Lyon

Edward Lyon

Edward A. Lyon is CEO of the Tax Master Network, where he's coached tax professionals to add planning and financial services to their business since 2005. Go here to join the network. Go here to upgrade your membership or discuss opportunities in financial services.
Edward Lyon

Edward Lyon

Edward A. Lyon is CEO of the Tax Master Network, where he's coached tax professionals to add planning and financial services to their business since 2005. Go here to join the network. Go here to upgrade your membership or discuss opportunities in financial services.

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