Pamela Rones and David Dickey are a husband and wife team with a CPA practice in Ukiah, California, a town of about 20,000, two hours north of San Francisco. Pamela is the CPA and David is the office manager. In this article, they share their experiences since starting the Sterling program in January of 1998.
“The reason we went with Sterling was stagnation in our office. I also felt like I was overworked. We hadn’t really changed things in years, and I wanted to do something to change things.
“My husband and I did the Sterling executive training together in the beginning and then he did some additional training without me.
“We both felt the course work in Glendale was valuable when we were doing it, and it generated a lot of things to talk about and look at – how to do things differently in the future.
“When we got back, we put in a weekly staff meeting right away. During the tax season, this was really helpful to have everybody focus on what needed to get done and get it done.
“We went through the process of creating an organizing board for our office with our consultant. Now we do things the way it is set up on our organizing board. What helped was originally going over it and basically having my husband see how many things he could take on that would lead me to billable work. I’m the only CPA in our firm. Now I am doing more of what I’m supposed to be doing because David has taken away several of the things I shouldn’t have been doing and he does them. My time is more productive, spent more on billable hours. To me, that was the best thing that came out of the Sterling program. I’m actually able to do more CPA work now.
“We both talk with our Sterling consultant. Consulting has been very valuable. For us, the Sterling program was a worthwhile thing to do, we got a lot out of it, and we’d do it again.
“Turning my husband into the office manager made the biggest impact. Before he was just sort of here, doing some things, but he wasn’t really responsible for doing anything specific. He did things, but he didn’t own the practice before. I think Sterling made him turn into an owner rather than being here and not wanting to be here. Our office is running much smoother as a result.”
“We went to Sterling because we were trying to correct communication in the office. I had little or no interest in the practice and almost no authority. I was the ‘owner’s husband.’ Half the clients didn’t know me. Both our employees might ask me what to do – if Pamela wasn’t available. If it was a computer question I was the authority – other than that they were always bugging Pam.
“Even when I would give our employees something to do, Pam would sometimes tell them something else to do (not knowing that I’d given them something of priority) and they would immediately drop mine and do hers. A lot of that was my fault; I had set myself up that way. Some of it was just Pam wanting to be in control of everything.
“I didn’t like coming to work. I didn’t get along with anybody here. I felt I had no authority. My wife would do a poor job of some things she didn’t like to do, like collections, and marketing, and customer relations, and I would just sit back and complain about it. But at the same time, if I tried to do something in those areas, she’d undermine me.
“So I was coming in late and leaving early and not really caring about what happened to the practice. She was working day and night, not coming home, working weekends, and our marriage wasn’t doing well. So, we knew something had to change – communication had to improve.
“Part of the executive training was Sterling instilling in us not only the knowledge but the desire and the confidence to do the program.
“I came back from Sterling with the idea that I had full authority. I’m the Executive Director, the Office Manager. Everything goes through me. Pam is a technician. We came back with an organizing board all filled out, on which I’m the Executive Director, she’s the Chief Operating Officer. Basically she ended up being the most important person in the office. Technically, everything that we do is geared toward letting her bill time. So, if it is something someone else in the office can do, they do it. If we catch her paying bills, washing a dish or something, we chew her out and get her back in her office.
“The difference has been unbelievable! I’ve been able to go from never answering the phone to handling all the incoming phone calls. I’m hiring a receptionist but right now I’m playing receptionist because we don’t have one. I’ve been able to handle 90% of the phone calls without either the bookkeeper or Pam being needed. In those cases where they are needed, I’m able to take a 15-minute conversation, boil it down to two sentences, get the answers from Pam and call the person back, in effect saving Pam anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half-hour of billable time because I handled the problem and she didn’t have to.
“The number one thing is that I have a really solid interest in the firm and in the firm doing well and in it growing. That’s what I personally have right now. Secondly, I’ve really instituted the fact that Pam doesn’t do all the little nit-picky stuff that she used to do.
“Her production has increased dramatically. For this time of the year, it has doubled. We’ve had two months now where we’ve been in affluence compared against last year. We have this huge upward graph in tax season, then it comes dramatically down, but it is significantly higher this month this year than it was last year.
“The quality of the finished product we give our clients has always been the top priority. Pam has always been a stickler that what goes out of this office is top quality. But our service has improved in the relationship area, letting the clients know what we are giving them, getting feedback from them about what they are not happy with. Thank-you letters for referrals. New client letters when they first come in letting them know what to expect, what they should demand from us, what we have available, those kinds of things, rather than these unreadable engagement letters that the CPA Society makes you have everybody sign. We do those, too, but we have a cover letter that says, ‘We’re happy that you’re with us.’ Part of the Sterling setup is that you get all of those letters.
“My wife is a little hesitant about getting in a receptionist now because she likes the way I handle the clients. I’ve been able to build a really good rapport with them. But that will work out – I’ll still be the first person they go through after the receptionist. We’ve been able to branch out a little, too: I’ve got a couple of new computer consulting clients.
“Before Sterling, our bookkeeper was not really excited about anything. A lot of that was my energy kind of rubbing off on her. Now she’s happy when she bills a lot. And she’s billing a lot more because I’ve taken a lot off her – phone calls and so on that she would have taken before. The office is running dramatically smoother now.
“The consulting we’re getting from Sterling is great. We’ve been doing so much right that we’re not changing a lot. Our consultant keeps us on track. We’ve already done a lot of the things that we set out to do when we were getting our training. Our consultant keeps us excited about what we are doing and lets us know what we are doing right.
“An interesting thing is that in these last two months of affluence, Pam took 46 hours of continuing education and still we were in affluence. Last month, we took over two weeks off to go to Alaska and do a bunch of things with our kids. We took almost half the month off and still worked twice last year’s figures. That keeps the stress down! Stress is much lower now than last year.
“I was a big stress point before, and now I’m not. Even though Pam is the CPA and the CEO of the company, we agreed that I should take over the business and do most of the training. That was a mutual understanding we worked out between Pam and I and our consultant. So that has all helped, that combination of things.
“On a personal note, one of the biggest wins I had was that I like working here now. Before, I literally hated coming to work. Now I enjoy it!
“I think Hubbard management technology is great. I have a lot of experience in management. I was a plant manager, a production manager and a production engineer for Frito Lay. I was part of a team with unlimited spending abilities to go in and secure a plant around and turn it from one of the worst in the company to one of the top five. So when I was doing the Sterling courses, looking at the formulas, I could see from personal experience that whenever I had had successes in the past, when I compared them against Hubbard’s formulas they were right on!
“The Ups and Downs Course helped me a lot in my relationships with the bookkeeper, my wife, and other people, too. Things are going better in our marriage.
“But the Integrity Course really helped me with some things that I had struggled with from Vietnam and things in the Army that I knew I did that were right but were against Army policy. Going through that course was really helpful on a personal basis. It was the first and only ethical philosophy and explanation that has ever made sense. I really got a lot out of that course.
“The Sterling program has gone much better than I had thought it would. We finished the training program on the 20th of June. In July we committed to some outrageous numbers for goals. We easily hit them! It will probably only take us about four months total to make back everything we’ve spent on Sterling.
“The big tool we’ve implemented is the organizing board. I’m now in charge. Period. That tool has been the major one we’ve used. Now I’m gradually throwing in other tools. There’s tons of stuff left to do!
“I am extremely conservative. My experience with Sterling has been wonderful to this point. If my business continues on the trend that it is now, then I am going to be totally ecstatic! I’ll be down at Sterling taking more courses. I’ll sign up for more consulting time. I was very skeptical about doing the Sterling program. Just the fact that CPAs have to have so much continuing education means that we go to a lot of seminars. We’ve heard a lot of good stuff, but it seems like you never really apply it. You apply a little bit, it disappears, or you never apply it at all. So I was very skeptical. I’ve just spent too much money on stuff that never panned out. Although we started with Sterling in January, it’s only been two months since I finished the bulk of my training. For me it has been great. Talk to me in a year and if it is still great, I’m going to absolutely tell you you’re an idiot for not doing Sterling!”
Pamela Rones and David Dickey