For the past 24 years, I have done accounting in Hastings, a city of 5000 in southwestern Michigan. In 1981, I joined John L. Walker in his practice, became his partner in Walker, Fluke and Sheldon, PLC. In addition to my partner, Kathy Sheldon, and myself, we have eleven staff, five of them accountants. We focus primarily on providing small retail, restaurant and health care businesses with audits, tax returns, and monthly write-ups.
In October 2004, Kathy and I bought out a local accountant who was looking to retire. This added about fifteen percent to our billings overnight, and we turned to Sterling to streamline the processes in our expanded practice. We started by having a Sterling consultant come out to our offices to train our staff on the new processes and procedures we were putting in place. In addition, the consultant got to see each individual and their personalities, and that helped as we put our organization chart together.
Later, Kathy and I went out to Sterling’s offices to do further management training. Taking those courses helped both of us become better managers by focusing more on managing the business and less on pushing pencils.
The biggest change is that everybody now has a job title with clearly defined duties. We have an up-to-date employee handbook with full job descriptions for each person. Everyone has goals and targets they set each month. We also put a bonus structure in place and employees have earned bonuses for five out of the twelve months.
Kathy and I both tend to have fewer interruptions from the employees now that they better understand their own jobs. If they have questions, it is not always the owners that they need to see. Sometimes it is their manager or one of their peers. Since there were fewer interruptions, and everyone was more focused on getting work done, the tax season went smoothly despite having a key accountant take ill in mid-March. We still managed to get the work done in a timely manner. In fact, since there was better workflow, we managed to complete more returns than usual by April 15 and so had to file fewer extensions.
Having the office running smoother enables Kathy and me to focus more on expanding the business, and it has done just that. Without counting the new acquisition, we still grew about ten percent this year, which is a good rate for a thirty-year-old firm.
Doing the Sterling program helps an individual to focus more on their business and to do what they should do—manage the business instead of letting the business run them. The benefits don’t just accrue to the owners. The staff are happier, more focused on their work and not bringing their personal problems into the office. With both the owners and the staff doing better on their jobs, this leads to a smoother running, expanding and more profitable practice.
Chris Fluke, CPA