Most of my practice is individual taxation, some financial planning, and business for which we do monthly accounting. We also do some consulting with clients to help them improve their financial pictures: retirement planning, succession planning, and tax work for them. I have an office manager, one other CPA working for me and a part-time tax preparer.
I’ve been a Sterling client since January of 1998. I had some bad starts with the people that I hired until I really started using Sterling. They helped me to get my team up to snuff by working on my interviewing skills and used some of their testing resources to help me screen my applicants. Essentially this gives you information about the applicant’s work ethic. That really helped. I also developed my own basic tests in-house as far as bookkeeping and accounting and tax. The caliber of people I hired was much better. I hired people in the fall of 1998 who are still on board.
I took my office manager to a Sterling seminar in Chicago last December. It was very worthwhile. We had a weather delay coming out of the Chicago airport so we sat in the airport for several hours and did an incredible amount of work; we mapped out how we wanted to handle things in the office. It gave us a tremendous amount of momentum when we returned.
When we came back we really worked hard to get as much of the technology in place as we could before tax season got underway. Thanks to that layover in Chicago and the impetus we had from the seminar, we were able to make a lot of changes.
We maybe got 25% of the technology in place before tax season hit. We put in the communication center and the organizing board, and it made a lot of difference around here. We put a little more in through the tax season. We’ve stayed busy all year. I keep thinking, “I’m doing so well and I’m seeing so much difference in a matter of only six months.”
Conservatively, we’ve seen about a 30% increase in billings this year over last year. Last year was very difficult; I was working seven days a week from February through April and even into May because I had a lot more clean-up work to do. This year, it was much more relaxed during tax season; we didn’t put in nearly the hours we did last year. My office manager has at least twelve years of public accounting experience; she said this was her best tax season ever. We didn’t put in any Sundays and only worked part-time on Saturdays. The stress was much reduced. It was amazingly organized.
I talk to my consultant every two to three weeks. Recently we’ve been going over collection issues. I had some old deadbeat accounts prior to Sterling, and we’ve talked about how to deal with that situation and how not to get into that again. We’ve instituted policies and procedures so that we don’t go there again. I’m trying to clean up the old stuff, and she’s advised me how to deal with these people. For example, in one situation I was negotiating with a former client and she discussed with me that client’s level of exchange with me. It helped me resolve it.
From my end, I have realized that clients were bringing me their problems and dropping them in my lap. And I was just taking it. They would procrastinate until the deadline, they didn’t have their act together, didn’t have their paperwork and so on. In trying to help them I felt I should try to take this on. What happened was I was getting a lot of the anxiety and upset, and these people were walking away very happy. Now I am making them do it the right way. So I have learned a tremendous amount.
I have an MBA, but the Sterling program is a whole different way of looking at my business and the people who revolve around my business.
I’ve taken courses in managing accounting practices before, but I’ve never walked out with anything practical. And with Sterling’s program, I earned the money back within six months of completing the training. While I was there, they made me very comfortable and I enjoyed being there. I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend a week or more just thinking about my business. That was a luxury, not doing that in the office with a million interruptions where I couldn’t focus. To me, it was pure pleasure to not only take the courses out there but to have time to reflect on their impact on my business.
They showed me a lot of things I wasn’t doing: how I wasn’t being an executive. The Executive Basics course really showed me that. I realized that I had been spending a lot of energy trying to hit home with my clients about keeping numbers and the importance of statistics, but I wasn’t really keeping them now! At that time, I felt like the cobbler whose kid goes shoeless.
During my training, I would stay up late at night writing up things: thoughts, things I needed to do, frameworks for policies. I was on fire to get this stuff done. I came back with a folder full of things for my office manager to type up and proof and review. Things that I wanted to discuss with her about workflow and so on. Before I left California I knew this was going to apply to my office and was going to be very practical. When I got back to my office, there were people who thought I’d lost my ever-loving mind! Immediately I ordered communication boxes, immediately I put things up, and immediately we started assembling a policy manual. I issued procedures: ‘This is how you ask for a day off…” I sent around memos about completing staff work, about developed traffic and so on. Every time I got developed traffic, I stamped it with a stamp I had made up, ‘Dev-T,’* and sent it back so they could complete the work before sending it to me. I went around like a crazy woman trying to get as much in as I could before the tax season.
My staff were very nice about it and looked at me rather indulgently. I guess they figured, “Oh well, we’ll do this for a couple of weeks and then she’ll go back to her old ways.” I haven’t done that! The Hubbard management technology itself is phenomenal. My viewpoint is: “Teach me more!” The more I learn, the more of it I want to know. I’ve now been to two workshops. They teach us things and refer us to Hubbard’s materials. I bought some of Hubbard’s books and I refer directly to them.
I tell other CPAs that the Sterling program is not for everyone – it depends on what your issues are. I talked to one CPA who was looking for his clone. That’s all he really wanted – someone to replace him in his business. I told him that he needed to talk to Sterling because they would be honest and tell him that they might not be able to help him, but if they could help him, they would.
I do recommend the Sterling program for CPAs, and the earlier the better. But you have to go into it with the intention that you are going to make the changes they suggest. If you just agree with everything they say and come back and let it slide, you are going to be dissatisfied. A big chunk of the cost of this program is related to consulting, which means that your consultant is going to keep you on the straight and narrow. You don’t want this to be like the other courses you have taken where you come back with a little bit of fire and then it dies out.
My consulting is excellent. In the beginning, my consultant was telling me things to do and handholding a lot more. Now she just says, “Do this, try that” and I am off and running. I am much more of a self-starter now, whereas before I needed a lot more handholding. Over time, I think you need less consulting but you get much more out of it because you are already trained in the technology and its underlying principles. She will always send me back to the books if there’s something she wants me to read. From there I can make changes on my own, without any intervention.
I think the world of Sterling and I am really impressed with their ethics. I know that when they promise me something, they deliver. Their courses are excellent.
Bette Demarest, CPA