Tax season used to be unreasonably burdensome and crazy. As a technical person, I was always being pulled away from my work to handle administrative and staff issues. This tested my sanity and sometimes caused me physical anxiety.
I’d be working to ensure that my clients’ financial statements were completed in a timely manner, that their corporate and individual tax returns were filed or extended, that their personal property returns were done on time, all while I was trying to make decisions, deal with the landlord, handle copier people, computer problems and software updates, make sure that the firm’s accounting, billing, and collections were on track, deal with unscreened incoming phone calls and inter-office communications, while also handling employee benefits, mailing newsletters, and juggling what seemed to be a hundred other unavoidable duties all at once.
With all that hectic activity, in a never-ending run from one thing to the next, my wife and I were stressed to find time to research the complex technical issues for our clients, let alone handle our administrative issues—the same issues we advised clients to handle for their businesses. Our worry became: “How can I stop a row of dominoes from falling if the first one begins to go?”
I was frustrated. The technical work was not the issue. I knew what I wanted from my staff. I knew how to get things done the way they needed to be done. The question was how to have a healthy office environment, one that operates smoothly and encourages production with less stress for my employees, my wife, and me. How could we have a viable and productive accounting firm with exceptionally responsible and professional employees? My wife and I needed to do something if we were going to move forward.
In the fall of 2003, while our firm was growing and I was consumed with technical issues, we had a staff issue that was affecting my other staff and beginning to damage client service. Although this staff person was technically sound, communicative and likable, he had a work ethic that was affecting the entire group. I was “too busy” to confront it. And my wife Diane (MBA, CPA), was trying to juggle the responsibilities of being the office manager with staying abreast of the growing needs of our clients. Any expansion goals I had, and even other dreams, were being defeated by the daily struggle of administrative functions. I couldn’t figure it out. How could I keep the administrative side of the office running smoothly and have enough attention left over to do my own billable work? I needed help, a coach, a mentor…something.
Over the years, I’d received flyers from Sterling Management, a consulting company with a tested program that worked with CPAs. I found Sterling’s website and decided to call and check it out. The Senior Consultant interviewed my wife and me about our practice. It was as if he’d handed us a flashlight to look down the long dark tunnel we found ourselves in. As we talked it became clear that in all my professional training, and in all my professional reading, I’d never been trained in how to effectively manage a practice. Management was my problem, not accounting.
My wife and I completed a number of Sterling’s basic courses in effective practice management. As we progressed through the material, I could see that implementing the management technology Sterling provided could help me put on an executive hat. This would take a lot of the administrative functions off my shoulders and free me up to produce more billable hours. It worked out just that way.
An organizational chart on our wall now delineates who is responsible for what area of the practice and who to go to if someone has a problem. Now, when things get hectic, everything doesn’t have to land on Diane or me. When it’s known who is handling an area, we don’t need to worry about it. If somebody else is handling collections, for instance, it’s off my plate unless there’s a real problem. Things tend to get done once people understand what their jobs are.
We have another chart with workable formulas that help us handle business and production trends so we can keep our statistics on an uptrend. We have a third chart listing chronic emotional states, how they relate to each other, and how they can be used to improve client relations and sales.
Some of our tax season stress was relieved by the way we’ve organized ourselves, but the biggest positive change came after our Sterling consultant helped us find and hire and train our full-time office manager, who has taken our hectic operation and made it calm. Even when we’re assembling tax returns, filing extensions, and trying to get things out the door, and people are finding additional deductions and changing numbers, it just doesn’t get anywhere near as stressful as it was. As a well-trained office manager, she understands how to be the senior executive person over the office. She competently runs the office, leaving me free to be the owner and senior technical person. With my office manager handling phone communications and greeting clients and guests, she has bought me the time to focus on technical issues and billable work.
We are a small firm with five professionals focusing on increasing the profitability and wealth of our clients. Both our billings and collections have improved every year we’ve worked with Sterling; our billing revenues are more than double when we started. What is most remarkable is a 150 percent increase in collections per staff accounts for this growth; we haven’t added a lot of overhead.
Our whole office is accessible from anywhere in the world via the internet. Sterling technology and our office manager have bought my wife and me the time we wanted, time so necessary to create new ideas for developing our firm.
David Reumont CPA