Today I want to think out loud within earshot of readers. The benefit to readers is they get a better understanding of how I think about business, investments and life/work balance. It also allows me to crowdsource my thoughts where readers can provide advice I can use to make a better decision. And, of course, readers have skin in the game as will soon become apparent.
Before we begin we need to know how we got where we are before we can move forward.
How We Got Here
This blog is very important to me and I want to continue growing and improving the venue. I also own a tax practice since 1982 part-time and from 1989 full-time. There is a lot of history and memories.
When this blog started a piece of my childhood was still with me. Growing up on a farm in the boondocks of Wisconsin is like no other childhood. While running my practice I enjoyed raising beef and chickens. . . until a few years ago.
My first writing started in high school, but it took until the early 1980s for anyone to bother publishing what I wrote. Publication was rare, yet enough to encourage me to keep honing my craft.
Before The Wealthy Accountant (TWA) I wrote in a variety on genres. The last gig was flash fiction. The contract required 4 flash fiction stories per day, seven days a week. It sounds like a lot, but flash fiction is a few hundred words at best so it wasn’t a heavy load. And no research was ever required.
Once this blog started it was time to phase out the flash fiction work.
TWA was more demanding than any prior writing. Much more response from readers kept the workload heavy. Things that I loved doing had to go to keep up. With heavy heart I bid my boys (the steers) goodbye. The price was heavy for this country boy.
Still, I wanted a successful writing career along with my tax practice. Writing in my preferred field was a huge bonus. Unfortunately, the demands are more than most of my kind readers understand. Reaching a decision to stop farming illustrates the seriousness of my commitment.
While TWA enjoys a modest readership, a massive percentage of those readers need more than a short post. They have unmet tax and financial needs. So I accepted more clients; too many, in fact. To help those I couldn’t take on as clients I consulted with. And still I was only serving a tiny fraction of those crying out for help.
Tax season no longer ends on April 15th for me. Extensions stretch well into summer with clients not always understanding the toll this was taking. In between I consulted and wrote more blog posts. The goal was always to elevate my work higher and higher so readers enjoyed the greatest value.
And then life stepped in.
As the weight started taking its toll I adjusted as best I could. First the other blogs were cancelled. Then my farm was sacrificed. The weight of my choices extracted a serious penalty.
I have always been healthy. I did have a heart operation in junior high, but outside that I’m like a machine. I enjoy life and take the largest bite I can chew. If life is worth living it is worth living to the max.
It was easy to brush off the first warning signs. Yes, I was working long hours, but I enjoyed the work so why not.
To compensate for fatigue I started devising ways to increase my productivity. Two years ago I started building daily goals, especially when I worked weekends and holidays, to complete a certain amount of work.
Visualizing my goal allowed me to increase my production a fair amount. But every action has a opposite, yet equal, reaction.
Last summer I never snapped back from the prior tax season. The growing workload even from current client’s expanding (blog clients do that a lot) real estate holdings, investments and businesses gave me no time to rest.
Spin down had begun and there was nothing left to give up.
When the last returns were filed last year I tried to take time to relax. It didn’t matter. My system couldn’t recover. And then another tax season arrived.
My entire office reached burnout trying to keep my pace and eventually left. I picked up the slack because I gave my word to my clients. I couldn’t let them down.
Even without accepting new clients (and a few clients leaving) the workload increased. Clients from the blog always had significant issues. I never anticipated that accepting a 4-hour tax return client might end up taking 40 or more hours, as sometimes happens.
The new tax law (TCJA) added to the tax season workload. It was my goal to speak with every client so they knew how the changes affected them. I was exhausted, but motivated and excited to serve clients.
Then the inevitable happened. Around the middle of February a nasty cough returned and refused to relent. Within a few weeks I could barely speak. Working with clients expended more energy than ever due to my health.
By the end of tax season the well was dry. My voice completely collapsed. Employees were concerned I might die I looked so bad. Nothing seemed to help. There were no options left to force more out of this country boy.
I blamed it on the long and cold winter followed by a cold spring. When the weather improved so did my health. . . temporarily.
Many tax extensions are still on my desk and it seemed every return I touched I couldn’t finish it. It was mentally draining. Something always came up. Information was missing and/or extra work required. Without any reserves I struggled to have any productivity.
The 4th of July holiday was a chance to catch up some without interruption. It was the final straw. An all-nighter is not what my body would allow anymore.
The cough which never really went away reinforced and worse than ever. My voice collapsed again and this time it really hurt (as if it didn’t the first time around).
The extra hours were for naught. Monday I left the office at noon barely able to drive home. The level of burn out I was experiencing caused a high fever. Tuesday I left early and again today.
After tax season I went to the doctor to see if there was anything for the cough. There was nothing physically wrong with me.
I was pushing past burn out toward a nervous breakdown; the doctor made that clear and warned me I needed to slow down. I was working at an unsustainable level and had been doing so for so long there was a real risk of permanent damage.
With a desk still piled with extension I am back in the pit.
No matter what it takes I will finish the work I promised. But one thing is certain; I will never survive another tax season business as usual. Changes must be made or it will all crumble to dust.
And this is where you come in, kind readers.
New World Order
I know my body will not allow another year or tax season the way I’ve been doing things. At the same time this blog is something special, helping countless people.
Once again something has to go. The blog is more important because it helps more people than working one-on-one in the tax practice.
But I can’t let go of my baby. I have run my practice for so long it is like a body part. This is what I am. Letting go is as impossible as cutting off my right arm with a dull butter knife. It just can’t be done.
And if I push one more time I may not live long enough to see the long days of next summer.
My options have narrowed. The current breakdown after the 4th of July weekend scared even me. My throat swelled so much from the cough I had a hard time breathing. I might be slow, but I eventually get the message.
This is an existential threat to the tax practice and employees would like for me to change while I still can.
The office started throwing around ideas to deal with my health. Everything was on the table. And I mean everything.
You, kind readers, need to help us with this. Consider it crowdsourcing TWA’s tax practice. You actually get to help decide the future of the practice and this blog.
My practice is unique in many ways due to this blog. Over half the clients have multiple state returns. Almost all returns are complex requiring research. This isn’t the easy way to run a firm, for sure.
Now I will run down the ideas we had in the office with the pros and cons. Please add new ideas we haven’t thought of in the comments and give your opinion on the ideas we did have.
Remember, everything is on the table.
My first reaction was to just throw in the towel and quit. With over 30 years in the field and my 55th birthday only a few weeks history, it might be time to finally do what the FIRE community always recommends: retire.
It is not something I want to do. To walk away completely is alien to me. Once I recover from the stress I know where I will want to return and it will be gone. So much has been sacrificed already. Not this, too.
Pros: The biggest benefit is it would be over. I could return to health reasonable fast if the damage isn’t permanent.
Cons: Do you kill the patient to kill the disease? What about my clients? Employees? Community? These people count on me. People don’t hire a tax pro 3,000 miles away because there is an equal choice two blocks away. My work is not done! Walking away would be such a waste after all the progress made.
I checked around my community and found it will be hard to sell my practice. My clients require special accountants and if they were available locally I would have hired them by now. I also placed an ad on Indeed with a starting wage for a tax preparer of $26 – $32 per hour, plus benefits. So far not a single candidate. (A few accountants working A/P or A/R applied, but they didn’t read the listing requiring letters after their name and at least 5 years tax experience. My clients are not for the faint of heart.)
There is the possibility another firm may want to buy or merge with mine. However, most tax offices are working long hours already and don’t need an influx of extraordinarily difficult tax returns.
That leaves the option of a partial sale where I either sell part of the practice, keeping maybe 125 clients for myself, or just letting all but 125 clients go if a partial sale isn’t possible.
Pros: This half measure brings the headcount low enough where I still can enjoy plenty of tax work, still write this blog and have a life. (Oh, and remain healthy.) I would also keep two write-up (bookkeeping and payroll) clients, too. Consulting and the blog added to these 125 returns and two write-up clients would give me a very good income. I am seriously considering this option.
Cons: The biggest drawback is the office will be a very lonely place. Most clients live far away so very few will walk through the door. Every day I’d work alone in silence. Summer will be eerie, indeed. I will miss the tax office I once had and might end up with more solitude than I’m able to bear.
And how do I let go of so many clients? It would break my heart.
Hire Remote Employees
This is an appealing idea to me. It works like this:
I would hire people from various Facebook accounting and tax groups I belong to. I’ve noticed many tax professionals willing to work remotely in these private groups. Most have experience and I can vet them by just watching how they ask and answer questions within the group.
There will still be work finding qualified employees, of course, but the gene pool will be much larger and I’m casting were the fish are swimming.
The best part is I can hire more tax professionals than I ever could locally. Some semi-retired, very experienced, tax pro might want to take on maybe 25 returns a year. Another might want to handle 80; another maybe 50. No one employee will do so many that if one gets sick or quits the house of cards collapses.
Pros: Hiring tax professionals from around the country allows me to send tax returns local to the remote employee. Office space in not an issue. Many can be hired so there are plenty of skilled tax people on the team. This is my favorite idea to date and will be pursued regardless just to understand how it will work. It is also the best solution allowing all my clients to stay and get better service going forward and even add new clients.
My office is set up for remote employees already. I work from home often and it’s just like sitting at my desk. New remote employees will work the same with full security, like having their own desk in my office.
Cons: Herding employees around the country (they must all live within the US) could be like herding cats. Only time will tell. Secure remote setup costs money. Adding 10 or 15 new remote users could get expensive. Not prohibitive, however.
Another risk is taking on too many client because I think I have people to handle the work. Future growth must be controlled to avoid a repeat of what I’m going through now.
One of my accountants came up with this idea. It would work similar to beauty salons where the owner leases out a workstation to people owning their own hair care business.
I have never seen this done in a tax office before. There will be some technical hurdles. Each room would need new doors with security locks as each tax professional is their own business. They could piggyback my EFIN with some updates and modification on my part with the IRS.
The front desk could be a shared expense. I could keep my 125 clients as listed above under Partial Sale and shift remaining clients to employees now running their own practice. Clients will have the exact same environment they are used to with the same support structure. No client would be let go under this plan!
One current accountant and a CPA employed by me years ago might be interested if the terms can be worked out. (I will make the terms work out for them.)
Pros: I like this idea as it cleans my desk and allows me the freedom to explore other business ideas while serving all my clients in a respectful manner. My income goes down, but it’s like selling my business and renting my office without selling my business. Each tax pro can work with others in the building, helping each other (at their regular rate) wherever needed.
I don’t want to do bookkeeping or payroll so I can keep some clients that require such services by hiring another tax business in my building to handle that facet.
My current employees will earn more and own their own business so they should be happier.
Cons: The building will need some remodeling and updating. The parking lot is too small and will need to be expanded. Upgrade costs will top $50,000 easily. I have the benefit of the partial sale as listed above with a steady stream of rent income. However, income will be less than managing it all myself.
The same issues exist as with remote employees. The entire office can rent usage of my server and the software. Printers can be shared. Real effort will be needed to structure this properly and there may be regulatory issues.
TWA World Headquarters
The choices listed above are what I have. If you have a better idea I’m all ears.
If I sell 100% of my practice I will keep the office building and use it as TWA World Headquarters. Classes, training and other activities will be offered to the community.
If I decide on a partial sale the building will still be re-purposed as TWA world headquarters.
There are advantages to focusing on the blog. Financially, focus should allow the blog to equal and exceed what the blog and practice combined produce now within a year or two.
If the tax practice fills the whole building I may decide to restructure the businesses. The tax practice would not have a sign out front anymore as TWA takes a more public image. Local clients will understand the name change.
The future is this blog. Still, I always want to spend time in the trenches so I continue growing experience in tax application as well as theory.
I will share with you, kind readers, as this evolves.
As you may have guessed, Camp Accountant is on hold until my health improves. Sorry.
Realistically I need to make a decision on my practice before the extension deadline (October 15th). I will explore each idea to see what might work as some ideas might not be what I expect.
The unique nature of my firm makes it hard to sell or merge. Someone willing to manage my firm would allow me to expand (another option). Unfortunately, I can’t do it all.
What my experience shows is that there is a massive need for good tax professionals around the country.
I don’t want it to end here. Before I do something I regret for the remainder of my life, I need to make good decisions for the future.
In our brave new world we can crowdsource ideas like never before. I don’t have to solve every problem. One of you readers might actually have the solution to my problem.
Don’t be afraid to share your ideas in the comments. The future of this entire dreams depends on you.
Update: A lot of you are commenting. I am reading all the comments, but lack the energy to thank and answer each comment separately. Thank you, everyone. You have no idea how much you motivate me. You are the best.
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