Two years out of school, I went to work as a CPA in my father’s accounting firm. Eighteen years later, I became the sole owner and practitioner while my father went on the payroll as a part-time CPA who worked tax seasons only.
Until then, my father had always managed the firm. As sole owner, managing the practice became my job. I soon discovered that running a CPA practice has its own issues. While some CPA firms had personnel problems, that was not the case for us. The only problem employee in our practice was me—I couldn’t get a grip on managing my time.
Since I was the top professional in the office, I had to review a lot of the work. That made me the built-in bottleneck in the firm. As a result, I was overloaded. I couldn’t delegate because I had no one trained enough to delegate to. My father retained the bigger clients so this situation was not yet affecting our revenues. But I knew that when my father retired, I would inherit his workload on top of mine.
Tax seasons were late hours, looming deadlines and too many last-minute calls to clients for the necessary information to complete their work. During one tax season, I arrived home late and went to check on my two children who were asleep. Standing there, I realized I had not seen them awake for five days straight. I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years of my life working 12-hour days for six months out of every year and miss seeing my kids grow up. That was the driving force behind my decision to get management help for the practice.
I had received a mailing from Sterling and contacted them for more information. I watched their management seminar on DVD and received a consultation. A Sterling rep filled me in on their program and I signed on as a client in August 2010.
I did my management training at Sterling’s offices and met with my consultant. One of the first issues she and I tackled was collections. Our client billing and statements were erratic—we would go two to three months without cleaning out the work in progress. Now we send out invoices and statements every one to two weeks. Collections immediately increased, which was the first benefit of the Sterling program, one that continues to this day.
Learning how to manage by statistics was an eye-opener. With my consultant, I was able to implement statistics for every employee which measured their productivity. Then we devised a bonus plan based on performance and collections goals. My staff became so engaged in the practice, they began bugging me to complete my reviews so they could get the jobs billed and collected. I welcomed that.
I learned how to delegate more. On some jobs, I gave the work to the staff and told them to figure it out. I would just pull the trigger and say “go!” Those clients became their clients and when problems arose, they would have to solve them. It worked.
For other jobs, my consultant and I implemented staff training to bring them up to the level where they could take on most of the work. I realized if I didn’t take the time to train the staff, I would never be free of 12-hour workdays. My schedule is a vast improvement over what it used to be. We are more organized and the staff carry more of the load which enables me to work fewer hours and spend more time with the family.
I attended Sterling’s regional workshops and continue to do so. As a client, I can attend as many workshops as I like with my staff at no charge. I find the workshops keep me excited about my practice. I learn more about the Sterling management tools, get a good kick in the pants and interact with other CPAs who tell me about the challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them.
The Sterling program brought into focus the things we have to do as a practice. If we don’t do them, we are hamsters on a wheel, turning and turning. The program has given me a 5-mile-high perspective of mapping everything out and recognizing that I have daily and weekly executive responsibilities. If I don’t carry them out, we end up managing by emergency.
We’ve been Sterling clients for two years now. By the end of this year, our billings will have increased by 16% and our collections by 29%. We’ve accomplished this, and much more, without adding to the number of staff.
As a CPA, I was a professional technician but I lacked the tools to be a manager. Now I have them. I worried about missing my kids growing up. There was no hope and no prize at the end of my tunnel. Now there is, thanks to the Sterling program.
Paul Crabtree, CPA