I started my own CPA firm in my home in 1992, doing tax returns at my kitchen table. By 1997, I had moved the practice into its own office space. By 2002, I was exhausted and burned out.
Tax seasons were mass chaos. Seeing clients in the daytime and doing everything else after hours, I worked 15 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. I was afraid to delegate because I didn’t trust my staff to do the work correctly. Every problem that arose landed on my plate for handling. To top it all off, my net revenues were going down.
Although I could do a first-rate tax return, I was clueless about running a practice. When I hired my first CPA, I didn’t even check her references first. There were times I walked into her office and found her with her head on her desk. She told me she had been up late with her son the night before. Having kids of my own, I believed her. Shortly thereafter, I found out she was a drug addict and let her go.
I refused to invest in hiring an office manager. During tax season, I hired a young person to answer the phones. The rest of the year, the other staff and I squabbled about who would have to answer the phones, do the billing, and so on.
One day, I received a flier in the mail from Sterling. It was as if the flier had been written specifically for me. It talked about long hours, being in a rut and the practice controlling the owner instead of the owner controlling the practice. I contacted Sterling, watched their management seminar DVD and got a free consultation. I saw there were a lot of issues Sterling could help me with. The program made sense and was a good fit; I became a Sterling client.
I did my training and started my consulting at Sterling. It was very different than what I expected. I thought I would be in a classroom environment with a teacher lecturing to students. I did study in a classroom but the training was much more one-on-one and individualized. When I first became a Sterling client, I had signed up for a smaller version of their full management program. Once I started the training, and especially after going to lunch with other practices owners and hearing what they were getting from it, I upgraded to the full Sterling program.
While at Sterling, I also worked with my consultant and we started applying the principles and techniques I was learning to the issues in my practice. She did a detailed analysis of my practice and then wrote a customized, step-by-step plan for me to follow when I returned home. She then followed through by calling me regularly to continue to work with me on implementation.
One of the first measures my consultant insisted on was that I hire an office manager. I was afraid to spend the money, that it wouldn’t be worth it. Two weeks later, I knew it was the best thing I had ever done. My consultant and I had made a wish list of all the things we didn’t want the technical staff to be burdened with. The office manager took over those duties. As a result, the technical staff were freed up to do much more technical work. We had far more capacity than I thought. Our revenues went up quickly.
Sterling organized the practice, wrote job descriptions, trained the staff, streamlined the workflow and communications in the office. They showed me how to manage personnel in a way that would make them more productive. As for hiring, with the exception of file clerks and temps, everyone goes through Sterling’s hiring process and testing. Now, I have an incredible staff.
It’s nice having my own consultant, someone who is on my team and goes to bat for me. She understands my business and the industry. She sticks with me to help me address new challenges and ensure my continued success. Sterling has great people; they would do anything for me.
I’ve been a Sterling client for 10 years. In that time, my revenues have quadrupled and my profitability has doubled. Every cent I have invested in the Sterling program has been quickly earned back. I’ve made far more than I ever spent.
These days, I have a no-overtime office. During tax season, I work 50 hours a week. I have the time and finances to take family vacations. In fact, I just returned from a two-week vacation; my staff kept the practice going strong while I was gone. One tax season, I had to take off 3 days unexpectedly for a medical procedure. The staff kept on pumping out the work in my absence. That’s my goal, to have the business run itself, and we are well on the way to reaching that goal. Then when I am ready, I will retire and have the means to enjoy it.
Greg Stewart, CPA