I have owned my own practice since ‘92. While, like most practices we do some tax work, our main emphasis is on providing audits, financial statements, payroll services and consulting for our business clientele which is largely made up of financial institutions. It has grown to the point where I now have seven full-time employees and three part-time and will add some temporary help during tax season.
I started as a Sterling client in November of 1997. At that point, the practice was doing okay but I knew it could be doing better. When you go to college, they never teach you what you really need to know to run your business effectively. As a CPA you think that you should be able to run it, but the curriculum didn’t include the basics of how to set it up and manage it. Sure, you know how to prepare your own balance sheet. But what about hiring and managing personnel, how to organize your time so you can work without interruption or how to structure the business so it runs smoothly? These are a few of the things that I have learned from Sterling.
When I started with Sterling I was working too many hours and not making enough money. The practice at that point consisted of myself, one other accountant and a receptionist/office manager. Our billings and collections were running about $100,000 per year. My first son had just been born and I knew that I had to take this practice seriously and start producing some good numbers. Sterling made me realize that if I work hard I should make good money. With Sterling, I found that I can be nice and still make a good living.
Rather than going out to Sterling’s offices at that time, I had a consultant come out here for a week to help organize the office. She straightened some things out in the office so that people were doing their own jobs instead of leaving everything up to me. With this change, I was no longer constantly being interrupted and so could do my job more efficiently. As a result, our billings and collections went up 58% in 1998 and the billings grew another 66% in 1999.
At the end of that year, I decided to get a consultant out again to train the new staff I had hired in the past two years and to implement some more aspects of the Hubbard Management System so that we could continue to grow. I also needed some help in the collections area, since that area was starting to lag behind the billings. So in 2000, the collections caught up with the billings, which continued a nice rise.
Then in 2001, the growth was starting to slow down a bit. Although most people would be thrilled with the 15% growth rate I had that year, it was less than I wanted so I brought a consultant out again. In 2002 we were up to a 46% growth rate on billings and hit $525,000 in collections, quite a boost from the $100,000 we were at five years earlier. This year I am already looking at another 30% growth rate and if I keep that up for one more year I will have a million-dollar practice.
My long term goal has been to have a million-dollar practice and I am now more than half-way there. I think the hard part is over. So, at a Sterling workshop recently, I took a look at some of my broader goals in life and realized I now want to cut down on the hours I am working. I have three children now —five, three and a half, and a one-year-old—and want to spend more time with them.
No, this doesn’t mean that I am cutting back on my business goals. I still expect the business to grow rapidly. But I now know that you don’t have to choose between financial success and having a good family life. It is just a matter of knowing the right actions to take and doing those. Sterling has helped me organize and grow my business and really taught me how to do those things that the executive or business owner needs to do. If you do these you will be successful. If you neglect them you don’t have growth. Instead, you have long hours, stress and disorder.
Six years ago I had a choice to make, whether to become a Sterling client or try to make it on my own. I’m glad I made the right choice.
Alan Popa, CPA