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FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early
There are only a few good reasons to work. They are good reasons, of course, but can quickly overrun your personal life, destroying the original goal of working in the first place. The two good reasons I can think of to works are:
- Saving for retirement, and
- Love of the work.
In the beginning it is hard to tell if you love your work because you have to work. That is why we preach early retirement here; not to bow out of life as soon as possible, but to live the life you want. Once you have amassed a large enough nest egg you are retired even if you chose to continue working your job. FIRE allows you that freedom.
Once you have moved beyond the need to work a job many people continue to do so. Self-employed people are the worst. I know, I’m living it! Just because you can quit doing what you do to earn income does not mean you should. If you enjoy the work environment, co-workers, clients, and the work itself, why would you quit? There is no shame in doing what you love as you work toward financial independence and even afterwards.
No matter how much you love the work, however, there are always days. My office is living a series of “one of those days”. I want to share how I plan on working through the situation. First, some background on why we are feeling the pressure.
The Building of a Disaster
Every catastrophe starts with a great idea. In this case I had a plan to partner with Mr. Money Mustache on an idea. It went better than planned. The guy is awesome and instead of giving me a minor plug, he gave me a full article. When millions of people see the work I do they want to join the fun. Unfortunately, I have a small accounting office.
It was a challenge at first, but I was on a mission. We accepted about 1 in 120 requests from people/businesses to be a client. This low acceptance rate still increased our client base and workload over 50%. As a good business owner I hired additional staff to handle added tax work. Then the best laid plan started to burn.
We still had to field thousands of emails (sometimes 200 or more a day) just to tell people “no”. My time was stretched, but people understood. The perfect storm was brewing. Then the phone calls came. The people we accepted as clients wanted more personal time than I had to offer. My workload was getting further and further behind. I was no longer keeping promises, never acceptable business practice.
A CPA I hired with 9 years experience proved incompetent. I refused to allow work to go out wrong. Worse, he could barely manage a tax return a day. I let him go. My number one tax preparer contracted a respiratory infection that affected her all tax season; she missed over three weeks during the heart of tax season. Another preparer is attending college and only worked three days a week. The great news is I never get sick. But the work kept piling up as people demanded my attention instead of allowing me to complete work.
Darkest Before the Dawn
By the tax due date I was further behind than at any time in my career. It was overwhelming and clients did not care. The non-stop calls and emails only made it worse. We actually prepared fewer tax returns by the due date than the previous year even with additional staff. Most new clients and many regular clients were suffering my misfortune.
Let me introduce you the two most awesome women I have had the honor to work with: Karen and Natasha. Karen is my office manager and prides herself on quality work. She takes her work personally. Natasha is my front desk and administrative assistant. As the tax season wore on, Natasha never complained, but I could see her efficiency decline. She was worn out by the phone calls and complaints of slow work. The workload was too much, as well. Natasha is like Karen in that she prides herself in doing high quality work. This only made Natasha feel worse.
Karen is another story. By sitting in a chair so many hours she acquired back pain. She started wearing a brace so she could handle the extended work hours sitting.
Keith’s Rule # 11: Never work yourself to injury.
The brace was only a short-term solution, if you can even call it that. My entire team collapsed under the weight of excessive demands. Pain drained Karen even faster. Yesterday it ended in an argument over workflow. Last night she came into my office and nearly broke into tears. Listen to what she said, “I can’t take anymore. We are not serving our clients the way they should. I have never done such poor work. Our clients deserve better.” She didn’t say those words exactly, but it is what the conversation was about.
How do you handle an overwhelming situation? What can a business owner do when he finds himself with more work than it is possible to get done?
I love the work I do, but in the accounting/tax industry there is always a due date looming. This means stress can interfere with a balanced lifestyle. Clients are sometime miffed when I take an afternoon walk or jog in the park during tax season or in cases like now when we are so far behind. I still do it.
Keith’s Rule # 12: Health is more important than work.
For Karen and Natasha, they have lost balance in their lives. My job, as business owner, is to bring the balance back so they can serve the clients right. After tax season ended I gave my team a paid day off in addition to their normal vacation days. I required the extra day off. It was a grueling tax season. But one day is not enough.
Karen and Natasha suffered the most because they fielded all the phone calls, complaints, and emails. Each phone call pushed them a little lower and less efficient. It was beginning to feed on itself.
This morning I woke up around five (normal for me) and rolled over to snuggle Mrs. Accountant. We talked a while about the challenges in the office, both worn out employees and clients who need work completed. It was then that I hatched my plan to get my office back.
I am forcing Karen and Natasha to have a one-hour massage on company time and company expense today. I know they will complain they do not have time; I have a solution for that, too. Karen and Natasha both will receive four hours of uninterrupted time each day: no emails, no phone calls (I will take their phone away). Karen will have a DO NOT DISTURB sign on her door during her four hours. If she needs a coffee, it will be brought to her; she can have her cigarette break (yeah, I have an office of smokers, except me) outside a door from her office. I do not want her to accidentally run into a client that starts the whole process of interruption all over again. In four hours she will get more done than she has been in a week. Once she gets momentum and her sanity back she will start feeling better about herself and how she is treating clients.
Natasha is a bit different. It is hard to get away at the front desk. No problem. I am bringing in a temp to answer calls for her 4 hours a day. She can see clients, but can also focus on getting her work done. By getting a break from the non-stop phone calls she will be able to help the clients by getting work recorded and to the clients faster. By reducing the stress level she should feel better as she accomplishes her goals each day.
Well, if clients don’t get the hand-holding, will they be pissed? Sure, a few will. A small number of clients are the ones applying all the pressure and stalling all work efforts. They will be mad until the work gets done. If they persist I will have one less client. There are 12,000 itching to fill the slot.
My team is more important than just beating work out of them. It sure feels that way this tax season. I hate it and it will stop now. Karen fought me yesterday on some of these ideas, but this is coming from exhaustion. I will regain my office after a fantastic surge in new business. By taking actions that treat my employees fair and with respect, we will serve clients better. New clients always take more work as we learn to understand their situation. It was my fault I accepted too many. I will honor my commitment to my clients (even if on the slow side at first) and treat my team with respect. I learned a lot this year. I will use the added knowledge to improve the work we produce in the future.
I know my attitude will make my team healthier and happier than ever while showing respect for their personal life and well being.
* I am not the only one experiencing these types of challenges. Feel free to share your situation and solution in the comments.