Hollywood loves runaways. In 1913 it released the movie The Runaway Freight and followed that up with The Runaway Balloon, The Runaway Taxi, The Runaway Train, The Runaway Bus and The Runaway Express. This year John Grisham’s The Runaway Jury joins the crowd.
Well, I had something more frightening than anything a screenwriter could dream up. I had a runaway accounting practice. It was barreling along full-speed, straight down the mountainside toward the cliff, and it was taking me right with it. Fortunately, like in the movies, the hero arrived just in time to save the day.
I have been a CPA for 27 years, the last 23 of those here in Yuma, Arizona. Five years ago I bought out another practice, and then two years ago I bought another. But it wasn’t working out the way I had planned. Buying a firm twice the size of your own is not for the faint of heart. It was chaotic. I had 15 employees but I was trying to do everything. I was trying to service my clients and run the firm and keep the computers running and pay all the bills. It was not just totally ineffective—it was driving me nuts.
When I arrived at work in the morning, people would already be lined up at my door with problems; cash flow problems, personnel problems, and computer
problems. Some of the highest-paid employees were totally ineffective and were dragging the rest of the staff down. The potentially effective ones needed training and direction. I was putting in 12 to 14 hour days and going home feeling like I had accomplished nothing. And I’m not just talking about during tax season. It was a year-round problem.
It also wasn’t working out financially. It was a constant effort just trying to keep the office going. I had a loan at the bank and a number of high-limit credit cards and I had maxed out everything. I was also draining my personal finances in order to fund the business. It was the only way to keep the business going.
It finally hit the point where I knew my business was going to be in serious trouble. My health was also beginning to suffer. Something had to be done. But, as I said, help arrived just in the nick of time. I had been receiving mailings from Sterling for several years and decided to give them a call. After speaking with a couple of other accountants who were Sterling clients, I saw how their program could help me. I went out to their offices in January 2002.
Now, I have done a lot of other seminars and courses before Sterling, but those would just deal with one aspect of the practice or one’s personal life. Sterling is the first I’ve seen that addresses both. It helped me get my life in order and gave me some excellent tools to manage my business. This approach was more complete and more effective than anything else I have done.
At that point, I realized that my office manager also needed to know this stuff so I sent her out the next month. That was the best thing I’ve done in my professional career. It’s made all the difference in the world. Before we had people who were called office managers, but no one knew what
their jobs were. Now we have a truly effective office manager. She takes care of the billings, the collections, the payroll, and the computers—all the administrative things I used to have to do.
I also now have an effective way to manage the bookkeepers and their time, something I didn’t have before. As a result, instead of wasting time in unnecessary meetings they get the job done efficiently.
Now, when I come into the office I can sit down and do my job instead of being barraged by a steady stream of problems. Most of them went away through better organization and the rest are now being handled with an effective office manager, leaving me free to service my clients, which is the kind of practice I always wanted.
We are much more efficient and the office is peaceful and less stressful. Even the clients notice a difference. They wondered why April 15 was such a calm day for us; it felt more like April 16. All the returns were already done or on an extension, and because we were more efficient, we had filed one-third fewer extensions than the previous year.
The finances are now moving in the right direction. We finished the tax season with a 33% improvement in current assets over current liabilities and paid off a substantial amount of long-term debt. And this was accomplished while working 15 hours less per week. We increased our revenues by 18% while reducing our payroll costs by 10% this tax season. We all had fewer hours and much less stress. Our bottom line profit more than doubled.
There are lots of different programs out there being promoted to CPAs. I’ve tried many of them. One offers to improve your collections, another to boost the number of new clients. The Sterling program is the only one I have found which has all the pieces needed to turn a practice around and steer it in the right direction. It has definitely worked for me. I no longer dread coming into the office in the morning. Now the only time I have trouble coming in is when spring fever strikes and I feel like going fishing.
Robert Steffen, CPA