After six years of working as a CPA at a trucking company, I decided to reevaluate my goals and priorities. I wanted to return to the kind of work I liked best, public accounting. I left the trucking company and in 1990, bought two existing CPA practices which I merged into one. During my first year in business, I had two locations.
The practice grew quicker than I expected. Since I was reluctant to delegate, I became “over-involved” in the work in the office. I prepared the company’s payroll myself and personally transmitted the tax returns.
Heavy Tax Seasons
As my schedule filled up, we hired another tax preparer but we had a tough time getting clients to use her. Most people preferred to stay with the same preparer year after year. Unable to resolve this, I could not pass some of my own clients to the new preparer. My workload kept growing. Tax seasons were over 100 hours per week. I was the first to leave the house in the morning and usually returned home after my family was in bed. We thought we were very productive during tax seasons; it forced us to focus and get the work done on time. It was the off-season where we struggled the most. Without deadlines and pressure, we were not efficient. We were open five days a week, not getting much work done, nor making much money.
Sterling Practice Management Comes to the Rescue
In 2001, I received a mailer from Sterling and requested a copy of their management DVD. Several points on the DVD hit the nail on the head for me, such as staff performing the wrong functions or the overworked owner trying to do it all himself. After receiving an introductory consultation, I signed up for the Sterling program.
Sterling came to our practice for five days to implement the basics of their program. They reorganized the office, reassigning functions so I could shed some of the “hats” I had no business wearing. They wrote up job descriptions and trained the staff on their duties. A streamlined communications system was instituted which cut down on confusion and wasted time. The Sterling program included a system of metrics for monitoring how much work each staff member was getting done. Production immediately increased; my work hours immediately decreased. Tax season hours decreased by 30% while non-tax season dropped from 40 hours a week to 21 hours a week and billings went up significantly. The non-tax season continues to improve with billings up 37% in 2012 over 2011, and we still are open only three days a week.
Sterling Taught Me to Be a Leader
I took several of Sterling’s management courses. I learned what I should be doing as the CEO of my practice, how to be a leader, how to delegate, how to measure productivity and improve any condition in the business. To help lighten my load and make the practice more efficient, Sterling recommended I make my wife, Candi, the office manager. I took their advice and sent Candi for management training, too. This put us both on the same page.
Sterling introduced us to their hiring techniques and personnel testing. With their help, we were able to identify and hire more competent staff. A job interview and resume are not enough to distinguish the good applicants from the rest. With a higher quality of staff, we were able to delegate more. Our consultant also helped us schedule more intelligently so we could get more clients in with the tax preparers but still run smoothly. She also showed us ways to get more referrals.
Working With Our Sterling Consultant
We continued to work with our consultant via regular phone consultations and still do. Whenever a problem comes up, we review it with her. It helps to have an unbiased viewpoint from someone who is experienced in my industry yet not embroiled in the day-to-day operations of the business. The consultations also force us to keep track of our progress and get our homework done on time.
Although we reduced our off-season office hours from five days a week to three, we got more work done and made more money. I also reduced my schedule during tax seasons but still got as much work done. Thanks to the Sterling program, I no longer have to be at my practice for it to operate correctly and grow. I have significantly more free time to spend at home and to travel.
Despite shorter work hours, our billings and collections have doubled since starting with Sterling. I used to work longer and harder than was necessary because I lacked the right management tools. Now I have them, and an enjoyable, thriving practice, thanks to the Sterling program.
Tim Starner, CPA