Video executive summaries are a great tool for closing the loop on each client’s tax return and for refreshing your memory when it’s time for their mid-year review.
In my previous column, I described how useful they can be when time is limited for both you and your clients during a busy tax season. Even better, you don’t need expensive equipment or a video production crew to shoot summary videos. I’ll share some recording tips in just a minute. But, before hitting the “Record” button, ask yourself, “What is the goal of my executive summary video?”
Keep it simple. The purpose of your video is simply to communicate to each client what’s been done, what the tax-saving opportunities are, and what actions your client (or you) need to take. The video shouldn’t be more than a few minutes long. Most of the time, you’ll nail it on the first take.
Most clients don’t like looking at their tax returns. They just want to put the past year behind them. CPAs don’t do their clients any favors when they send clients a completed return with the words: “Let me know if we need to make any changes.” How is the client supposed to know what changes they need to make? They’re trusting you to advise them. It would be like receiving a CT scan of your brain from your doctor with the message: “Great. I’ll plan to start cutting on Tuesday. Let me know if you want me to look at anything else while I’m in there.”
Crazy, right? Well a short video is a great way to summarize a complex document that is largely misunderstood and disliked by clients.
Again, the video only has to be a few minutes long. Give clients a little color. Explain what the most important boxes are. Explain which tax rates they should be paying attention to. Briefly explain the steps needed to keep moving forward. A video makes the process more convenient and more valuable for each client. And it will certainly cement your position as the client’s most trusted advisor.
As a CPA, it’s your job to alert clients to things that need to be discussed in their financial life. Video is the perfect format for doing that. They can see your smiling face, but they don’t have to travel all the way to your office to meet with you. Even if there are no planning items to discuss or issues to address, reassure clients that everything looks good and there are no action items to take. Don’t assume clients know they’re OK. Close the loop on the tax return with a concise and personal video executive summary.
As CPAs we tend to overthink things sometimes. Let me help you from personal experience. You only need two things to get started shooting video: hardware and software.
Hardware is composed of two things: audio and video:
1. Audio: You need a decent USB microphone that plugs straight into your computer. While it’s tempting to focus on your video quality, bad audio is incredibly distracting. Don’t skimp on audio quality.
Personally, I like the Yeti Blue tabletop microphone (approximately $130), but there are plenty of other good options. Yeti is very simple to set up and use. You can also use the mic for Zoom calls, conference calls and dictating notes. It’s a very versatile mic and makes you look (and sound) like a pro. (Disclaimer: The author has no financial interest or promotional ties to any of the products and services mentioned in this article.)
2. Video: You just need a simple mini-camera that attaches to your computer. I’ve had good results with the Logitech Brio (approximately $200), but there are many other options on the market. Brio is simple, easy to use and produces high-quality video at an affordable price.
You need a tool for recording on your screen. One option that’s worked well for me is Loom. There’s a free option to get you started, but I recommend the pro version for about $15 per month. The pro version of Loom allows you to include your firm’s branding with the videos. Plus, it has an automatic transcription service and allows viewers to leave real-time comments on the video.
After you’ve recorded the video, the software will generate a brief link that you can send to clients. This allows them to access the video without having to download software or apps.
Video best practices
1. Make sure the other windows on your computer desktop are closed: You don’t want clients to see your online shopping cart or vacation itinerary while discussing their tax return.
2. Background: This isn’t Hollywood. Shoot from your desk. Just make sure there is sufficient light to see your smiling face, but not so bright that you get washed out. Keep an eye on the sunlight shining through your windows and make sure you don’t have plants, lamps or other distracting objects jutting out directly behind your head.
3. Personal appearance: Business casual is OK — just no T-shirts or tank tops. Your on-screen demeanor should be natural and low-key, as though you’re meeting with your client face-to-face in your office.
4. After shooting, don’t just send clients a lengthy URL of the video: They may find a long link cumbersome or suspicious. Instead, tell them in your email: “Here is a link to a video summary of your return” with the words “video summary” linked to the actual video.
5. Create a template for your video email message: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every video executive summary. Perfect the template once and replicate it. Make sure the template informs clients about the following:
a. Here are a few of my observations;
b. Here are some things to think about for the future; and
c. Here are the next steps for us to start working on together.
6. Sign off: Conclude your video with, “Of course I’m here if you need anything.” Make sure your clients understand the video is not to replace regular forms of communication with you — it’s to facilitate better communication. I’d say 80 percent of the time the video is going to cover whatever they need. Sometimes it’s going to spur good client conversations that you never would have had under normal circumstances.
Most clients will love the video summary and it will save you time by answering many of their basic follow-up questions. When you talk about making yourself referable to prospective clients, what could be better than having clients share your executive summary video with close friends and colleagues who need a CPA?
You can’t buy an endorsement like that.