Our practice has always been very profitable, but a couple of years ago, we had reached the end of the line. Bob (Bob Scott, partner) and I were each working 3,000 hours a year, a high number of these hours being billable. We weren’t getting the kind of support we needed from our accounting staff.
We were going through another rough tax season. There was so much stress from clients and not having the right staff that Bob came into my office one day and said, “Dave, I don’t want to do this anymore. You can have the practice. I don’t want any part of it anymore. I can’t deal with it.”
We were both at that point. We were letting our staff push work up to us that they should have been handling and our best clients weren’t getting the full attention they deserved because Bob and I were bogged down doing nitty-gritty, day-to-day work that we shouldn’t have been doing.
About a month later, with the end of tax season, came Sterling’s newsletter. It was perfect timing. It provided us with the hope that there was a solution. Bob read that newsletter, highlighted certain things in it and left it on my desk with a note, “it sounds like they wrote this about us.”
We started with Sterling in the fall of 2002. Bob and I made the trip to California in September and October and then had a consultant come out in December. We found out that a lot of what we were trying to get implemented here were the right actions, but we didn’t have the tools necessary to handle the staff resistance to change and to get our plans implemented. With what we learned, we were able to read people better and understand what their motivations were, where they were coming from, why they act or don’t act in certain ways.
One thing we did was implement a collections policy so payments arrive in a timely manner. We started assessing finance charges for customers who do not pay when they should. We knew that we would lose some clients in doing this, but this would free us up to provide better service to the rest. When we explained the changes to our clients, the best ones were thrilled. They wanted us to provide them more service and they wanted to refer us business, but they felt they couldn’t do either of those things because we were so stressed out with the work that we already had. We did lose some clients, the ones who were troublesome and slow to pay, but this freed us up to provide more service to our “A” clients and they started to refer us other “A” clients.
Eliminating a lot of the confusion and double work in the office has enabled everyone here to cut down on their hours and has made the company a better place to work. It has also improved incomes. Collections have increased ten percent each year and we are controlling our costs better. Staff can see the rewards in being efficient and productive since they can get a bigger piece of the bonus pot. Previously we would look at professional staff to generate 3 to 3-½ times their salary, now they are at 4 to 4 ½ times their salary.
From the point of view of managing work better, my partner and I are working fewer hours, and the hours we are working are much less stressful. During tax season, I even worked from home some Saturdays so my wife could do things she had to do. I wouldn’t have done that previously. I used to work seven days a week, sometimes till 1, 2 or 3 a.m. I didn’t work a single Sunday this year, nor did I work past nine.
I can leave work behind at the end of the day, which has had a positive impact on my relationship with my wife and kids. I not only spend more time with them but spend better time with them. On a personal level, the management tech has helped me to be more focused and to complete jobs that I have started. This doesn’t just affect work, but also home life. For example, if I start a load of laundry I will now put away the clothes, instead of leaving the job for my wife to finish. Boy does that help the relationship! The biggest thing the program did for me is that it gave me my life back. The office was draining everything I had. My perceived need to be at the office kept me away from the family and from doing volunteer things I wanted to do. Now I can spend more time with family and it is better time. The practice is growing. It is more efficient. It is more profitable, and it is fun to be an accountant again.
Three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought this was possible, but with Sterling’s help, it was. Everyone we have worked with at Sterling has been great. They are upbeat and great to talk to. They truly care about our success. They saved our practice at the point when we were ready to walk away.
David Stackrow, CPA