3 things that hold you back from growing your practice

Doug and I have just returned from exhibiting at the AICPA Advanced Personal Financial Planning conference in Las Vegas. Some of the conversations we had with fellow exhibitors and attendees were simply too good to leave them in Vegas. Over and over, we were asked: “How do you grow your practice in the midst of the busy season?” Continue reading

Multitasking, and other lies about productivity

As the holidays recede in the rear-view mirror, many CPAs begin to observe a worrisome trend. The stack of paperwork on the corner of the desk, the number of e-mails in the inbox, and the items on the to-do list begin to expand as if by magic. It is a sign that the busy season is upon us, yet again.

There is another early sign of the busy season, and that is a resurgence of productivity myths. They tend to raise their ugly head (or five) right around this time, preying on unsuspecting CPAs who just want to do better for their clients and families. Here are the five heads of the dragon, slayed one by one.   Continue reading

The 10 habits of happy CPAs

In my many incarnations as a Big Four auditor, a controller, a consultant, and a coach, I have met and worked with hundreds of CPAs. I can report that there are all kinds of CPAs out there: some tired, bored, flustered, bossy, loud, and some – why, yes – happy! My amazing discovery is not only that happy CPAs exist (which by itself is a pretty big deal), but that they are not singularly defined by industry, job title, age or gender. Rather, what sets them apart from the rest of the grouchy crowd is what they do differently.

Here, in no particular order, are the ten things that I have consistently observed happy CPAs do. Continue reading

The curse of the home office

Home office is the work reality for many CPA consultants and tax preparers. It beckons with the promise of an easy commute, and the comfort of working in your pajamas. It provides the flexibility of working when you want to. It can also save thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on rent. What’s not to love? Well, as tax preparer Joyce Linzy has learned the hard way, a home office can also be a liability. Continue reading

“You’re fired!” (and other choice things you want to say to your clients)

This has been an intense few weeks. The sheer joy of about to be done is probably washing over you in a welcome cool wave of relief. However, before this busy season fades from your mind to join all previous busy seasons, I encourage you to reflect on what just happened. Specifically, think about your clients, because they contributed significantly to making your busy season what it was, in all its glory and misery. My question for you is: which three clients are you going to fire? Continue reading

Final push to the deadline: Get more done!

May I ask you a personal question? Do you feel like your job description is “last-minute issue tackler”? You are not alone. As the filing deadline is fast approaching, more and more tax preparers feel that there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. Throw in the interruptions – a phone call from a client, a question from a staff member, a jammed photocopier– and you’ve got an already busy day spinning out of control. Continue reading

Busy season CPAs: 5 steps to recovery

By Natalia Autenrieth

Busy season… Say it to a room full of CPAs and you get a round of all-knowing nods in return. “Busy season” is like a secret code: to those in-the-know, it stands for long hours at the office, mad dash to the deadline, poor team morale, and missed family gatherings. Many CPAs have resigned themself to trudging through 5 months out of the year, and feel there is not a lot they can do to change their predicament. After all, the common agreement seems to be that you have surrendered quality of life at the door in exchange for that CPA license to hang on your office wall. Continue reading

Just train

Ten years is a great equalizer.

I find that students who are new to training in kung fu (read: people who are approaching something new and are unfamiliar with its process) are often caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are excited to learn and grow in this new activity. On another hand, they quickly discover that it is harder than it looks in one way or another and are unsure if they’ll be able to “get it.”  What they don’t realize is that everyone who has gotten anywhere in a challenging pursuit has faced this concern.  Discovering difficulty on the way to distinction is as common as discovering sand on the earth. Whether one looks in a desert or at the bottom of the sea, this is one sandy planet.  On the other hand, it’s a fairly lush planet overall, too.

Advancement in kung fu (translation: developing any skill that comes from consistent hard work) comes not overnight, but rather over the course of months, weeks, and years. In fact a short term view in martial arts is a rather inadequate means of measuring time.  Now and then, a new student or someone visiting the school will ask the question, “How long does it take to make it to Black Belt?” The answer is always the same. “That depends on how much you’re willing to work.”  The first small changes seem to appear after a hundred days; the first significant changes after a thousand.

Some students start with more aptitude than others; some with less. Some have more patience; some less. Some have more flexibility; some less.  Some are stronger. Some are larger. Some have a longer reach. Some have a lower center of gravity.  Some have a compelling desire or a great need to learn to defend themselves while some have no idea why their parents have placed them in the class or why they are training in the first place.  But this only seems to matter most at the beginning.  Over time, these apparent differences become less problematic and more opportunistic.

Impatience can pay off as a beginner’s tool that drives a student to learn and look for more – and the rough edges will be worn off over time. The stiff body type will gain some flexibility and has the potential to become practically immoveable once it has developed true strength and not just inflexible muscle.  The so-called weaker or smaller individual will, by necessity, develop greater speed, attention to detail, and more accurate technique than his or her stronger and larger training partners.  And, the ones who seemed to struggle the most when learning something new also seem to be the ones who tend to keep what they learn because they value it so highly.  After a decade of training, they will all find that their own unique strengths and talents have been honed to much higher degrees than they originally thought possible and their weaker areas have been strengthened significantly.  They only need to wait and see.

Decades will show greater changes than years and far more than mere months of training.  It may be best to consider that time is most accurately measured in kung fu over the course of lifetimes.  Just train.

Have a plan and work your plan

“Have a plan and work your plan.” I first heard those words from a manager at Merrill Lynch in 1996. Following that advice, I stayed in the investment services game for three years, beating the statistic that there is an 80% failure rate in the first two years. Continuing to follow that advice, I moved out of the financial services game after three years to pursue my life’s work as an executive coach and kung fu teacher. “My plan” was never to spend my life in the investment services industry, but it was a great place to learn, grow, and develop for a few years.

I’ve learned over time that there are many ways to plan for the use of our time and many ways to go about working the plan. Time blocking has always worked best for me. I block time for a category of activities like handling admin or making sales calls and then, during that time block, I only do those activities. At least that’s the plan.

But, how much time do I put in each block?  The answer: It depends. It depends on the overall needs of my business and, to a certain extent, on what I feel particularly inspired to do. There has to be an element of discipline involved or it’s just impulse power driving the ship. Putting at least a small chunk of time into the activities I’m not inspired to deal with keeps me moving in the right direction and connected to those projects I’d rather avoid completely.

Today’s time blocking model: I have my concept of an ideal day and I’m cycling through those blocks in 20 minute chunks. Here’s the list: Early Training, Writing, Garage/Clutter Clearing, Language (studying Mandarin), Admin, Coaching, Midday Training, Lunch/Nap, Sales Follow Up, Reading, Marketing, Teaching Kung Fu, and Family Time. That’s a lot of activities in the course of the day, but that’s what I need to stay in balance RIGHT NOW. It’s not a perfect 20-minute-per-activity cycle, but most of it can work pretty well on that plan. I could just as easily give an hour to this, 20 minutes to that, and two hours to another thing, but I just didn’t feel like being that crafty with the plan of the day today.

The important thing is to be in motion, knocking down high reward activities throughout the day rather than chasing down barking dogs. Barking dogs are what I call all the time stealers like constant email conversations, excessive video games, and surfing to the end of the internet and back. Have you noticed how many time thieves are disguised as technological advancements today? I’ll admit that I love them all. I just try to manage how much and how often I partake of the bits and bytes of techno-fun on my way to handling substantial activities in the world.

That’s it for this blog entry… My 20 minutes of writing time just expired. Go forth and do great things!

Injury

It is occurring to me that I’m handling the injury to my ankle (skydiving accident 1/16/2011) really well. No animosity or anger of any substance in response to the injury. Not a huge amount of fear about the outcome. I know it will heal and I know what to expect from surgery. Having been this way before on my hand (first surgery and very scary) and again on my knee, twice (also scary, but provided huge relief and a second chance at mobility) is fueling a positive outlook.  It is helpful for me to “know” what these things are like.

The thing that is also occurring to me is that there is much of life that we can only go through once or that we go through so seldom that we don’t generate enough tangible experience to have the sense that we “know” it will turn out to be ok in the long run.  Can I replace that sense of “not knowing” that results from having never been this way before (the entirety of this lifetime) with the sense of knowing it will turn out to be just fine? Can I live in the logic that as it is in the micro, so it is in the macro? If I can know that other injuries have turned out to yield great rewards, can I apply that feeling to a life that is often frustrating and disappointing in order to know that all of it will turn out perfectly well?

I think that’s possible. More training. Let’s give this a try.