The extended 4th of July holiday here in the states was a do or die situation in The Wealthy Accountant offices this year. Illness had plagued me for some time and became acute just as tax season got underway. The pain was exquisite and unrelenting. It was time to decide if I can continue doing the things I most love.
In July I published a late post letting readers and clients know where things stand. You can read the prior post if you wants details from the trenches.
Things have changed a lot in the last three months. Clients and readers should be pleased my health has improved enough that I no longer consider health issues an existential crisis.
The second part of this post is an update on Camp Accountant.
Check-in or Check Out?
My writing process requires time. Usually I have a good idea what I will write about days in advance. As I think about the topic I gather materials and scribble notes. This post is no different.
Where this post is different is the material covered. I always want to tell a story that engages, drawing the reader in. Repeating what I already published seemed redundant to me and since this post is really an extension of the post linked above I will pick up where I left off.
Thinking about the nature of my illness caused ideas to keep flooding my mind. For the first time in my adult life I seriously had to consider retirement and an old nemesis returned: depression. I prefer discussions of solutions over complaining about the inequalities of life.
Earlier this summer, I had to face the real possibility of life without purpose. What would I do if I no longer could do what I was good at?
I visualized a life of leisure with stacks of books and nothing to do all day long. As much as I love reading and books I knew a life of accumulating knowledge I would never use or share was still meaningless. And longtime readers of this blog know my disdain for travel.
That is when this little verse popped into my head:
Don’t check out and travel the world;
Check-in and change the world.
I don’t know what you can do with that. It sums up my philosophy on life. Hopefully these words give you the motivation to do great things.
When health declines strange thoughts enter the brain. My journey is not done. There are many things I must do; things that could change the world at least for one person. I now know this blog is only practice for a much larger stage. I also know, from this blog, that I do not handle the large stage well so I need plenty of practice.
When the purpose is important enough you will find a way. Somehow God, life, something, just comes together to make important things come to life. Our worst moments of life eventually become the most important events of life. True value is impossible without these moments of crisis.
All I know is that I am not ready to check out. This blog and my accounting career have more room the run; things that must be done.
But there is one more thing I must do. Something so important (in my egotistical mind) it will change the world for the better for at least a few people. I wish I could flesh it out here and now, but you would not understand without the full context. All I can say for now is that it will start with a TEDx talk, a book and a larger public presentation. It will be the hardest thing I have ever done; the hardest thing I will ever do. And I have to stand in the light on a stage. And travel.
You see, I had to get well enough (and experienced enough) to complete these tasks.
Before you think I flipped my rocker, let me say that my purpose will change the world for at least a small number of people. Not at the level of Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. No, my earth shattering world change may only make a difference in the life of only one. But for that one person it will mean everything. And the odds are good more than one will be served. Too much is at stake to be diverted over a simple illness.
What was Wrong with TWA
The short version of my illness is I had a sinus and lung infection that required several rounds of antibiotics to resolve. Recovery is still in progress.
The cause of the infection probably came from a serious issue with acid reflux. Several years ago I noticed reflux issues but thought little of it. Acid reflux is such a minor issue (in my mind) that it didn’t need attention.
Jogging would cause coughing bouts. Even flying was an issue. (Maybe that is why I hate traveling so much?) As the reflux worsened I reduced my workouts to adjust and my diet declined. Weight went on and round and round we go down the drain.
The doctor said the acid reflux did not cause the infections (in her opinion). The infection just made the reflux more noticeable. I disagree. I would wake up at night choking. It was painful. It felt like it got in my lungs.
Regardless if the chicken preceded the egg, I ended up with a serious infection coupled with serious acid reflux. I was unable to talk and breathing was difficult. And I was in constant pain.
The infection is gone; the acid reflux is more of a constant friend. Diet and exercise improved after the infection was removed. (I gained nearly 40 pounds!) I can talk again to the chagrin of family and employees. I can even sing in church on Sunday morning, though I would not sit too close. I’ve been know to etch glass with my voice. Now we will see if my voice survives the upcoming tax season.
Where do We Go from Here?
There is no doubt I took the additional time allotted me while I healed to reflect on what life means to me.
I enjoy my work and always have. There is more work than any one man or business can handle. That is a hard lesson for me; the ability to say “No” when it is the right thing to say.
Just because you can do something does not mean you should!
The tax practice lives on. Current clients stay. I will not say I will never add another new client. What I am saying is that any new client will probably be local. I can’t be everything to everyone, taking the most complex tax returns from around the country. (Refer to the point before this paragraph.)
This blog also stays. The once per week publishing schedule works nice and if I want to pound out a few other ideas I’ve been working on I can always have an extra post now and again.
To compensate for fewer clients (some old clients leave and fewer replace them) I will focus on helping the largest number of people with a course on taxes tips. (News coming soon!) The same questions keep coming up again and again. With a course I can say it once and help thousands instead of one-on-one. A few other courses are also planned.
Consulting is still on. My consulting this year is way down due to that nasty loss of voice. If you contacted me on a consulting session you may hear from me soon. While consulting is still a go, understand I can’t consult with every request I get. There are just too many and I really do not want a relapse of the first half of this year.
And then we come to Camp Accountant.
Yes, Camp Accountant is now a real thing! Use the link for details and sign up.
Several false starts have finally ended in a real Camp. Changes were important. In the past I was pushed to do a Camp by someone else’s rules and it kept falling apart. I finally decided to have the Camp right where I want it: a short walk from my tax office. (Sorry Colorado fans. The Upper Midwest also needs some love too.)
I also decided I would run it my way. These things are a lot of work and I was expecting somebody else to do all the lifting. My contribution would be showing up. That wasn’t working.
Instead of the traditional FI and FIRE camps around the country, I settled on a one-day event. I brought in two speakers and all attendees get a Wealthy Accountant t-shirt. We also will tour my office so the proletariat can see how the bourgeoisie works in his natural habitat. Warning! You might be underwhelmed.
The morning will be presentations with guest speakers. I will share thoughts on the topic as well. After a nature walk to my office and lunch I will give a presentation followed by a Q&A. (Think of the Q&A as a consulting session without the cost.) If no one has any questions (that would be a first) I have an additional topic to cover.
Camp Accountant should be fun and informative. It is for everyone looking to build wealth, reach financial independence and make a difference. CPAs, enrolled agents and attorneys get CPE, but this doesn’t mean only these people will benefit. We are offering the CPE so these professionals can get a tax deduction as they satisfy their continuing education requirements.
I hope no one was too worried about my health. People were asking so I thought it best to publish an update. Camp Accountant is something people have asked for as well. I am very happy this is happening.
Now I am working to keep balance so I don’t relapse. I am grateful for the best clients and readers anywhere. This is important to me because I know it helps you. So I repeat:
Don’t check out and travel the world;
Check-in and change the world.
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There is an interesting stream of questions hitting my mailbox. My recent suggestion to cut back and retire early has led to one interesting question. I recommended cutting back to a part-time seasonal job and enjoying all the free time. I used tax preparation as a business idea perfect to live the relaxed lifestyle. CPA’s and other tax professionals came out of the woodwork with the same question: How do you get clients?
Getting clients has always been the easy part for me; finding qualified people to help me with the abundance of clients is a different story. What I am sharing today is something I charge a minimum of $3,000 for a personalized plan to increase your clientele. For free I’ll share my business growth story and few example businesses to help you create your own growth plan.
In the Beginning
Starting a business is always the riskiest time. All the start-up costs strain working capital while you have the least community recognition and the fewest clients or customers. Advertising can be a budget killer which leads us to:
Keith’s Rule # 7: If somebody is selling you on a great advertising idea it rarely works and costs plenty, while your own cheap promotional ideas frequently work.
There are plenty of salespeople and companies willing to tell you how to promote your business. They are all expensive with no real thought on how it will drive business in your door. If I had a dime for every time I was told I’d be out of business if I did not advertise with their company I’d have, well, about thirty seven and a half bucks by now. It is still a lot of predictions of my demise and after 30 years of hearing it I am coming to the conclusion they don’t know what they are talking about.
We will start with my tax practice as an example of how to do it right. In all the examples I will assume a small to medium sized city for business location; the rules could change a bit for businesses in major city centers. If you understand my thought process I am certain you can duplicate the results anywhere.
My original intention was to retire before I started working. (More in a future post.) Tax preparation appealed to me due to the seasonal nature of the work. I prepared taxes for a few people part-time for years before going full-time so I understood the business in the way only a greenhorn can be confident in his expertise. I also worked for a year at the church where my wife went and where we got married. After a year of doing the Lord’s work I gave my tender for January 31st. Here it was, February 1st and I was in business as a real tax preparer.
My plan was simple, everybody needs their taxes prepared and I have experience so if I hung a sign outside my house and put an ad in the paper so I was good to go. As I would explain to business clients decades later, “Everybody has to eat, but not at your restaurant,” I learned a valuable lesson. Here it was, April 15th, and all was quiet. I had a total of 48 clients, mostly simple, low-fee, tax returns. I stared out my bay window on April 15th and thought, Oh sh . . .
Let me share how bad it was. My revenue was $3,000. Sure, it was 1989, but $3,000? I had money packed away and was not in fear of starving. Still, I needed more income or I would eventually run out or my spending would stay permanently low. It was in this moment I learned a skill that has served me well. I learned failure is the best teacher in the world and desperation a hell of a motivator.
Expensive advertising was too much of a risk and hit working capital too hard. I decided I would spend the summer building a client base and even considered working during the summer doing bookkeeping, payroll or other accounting work. Several low cost ideas helped (business cards with my puss on it, business card magnets) brought in a few clients the following tax season and a few late filers over the summer. There was one more thing I did. I created a flyer on my own computer and printed out 2,000 copies. The local newspaper I noticed delivered the paper in these neat plastic baggies. The newspaper was willing to sell me a box of 10,000 for about $50. Over the New Year’s holiday I stuffed 2,000 flyers into the baggies and over the next week Mrs. Accountant and I walked the street hanging the flyers on the 2,000 closest doors.
The efforts paid off. The next tax season saw a tripling of business to a few more than 150 clients. The average prep fee increased too. My revenue approached $12,000. Better, but not enough. I rolled up my sleeves and decided I needed a new approach. I owned a few rental properties at the time (how do you think I was living?) and joined the local apartment association. Each month the association brought in a guest speaker. Well, I had the perfect presentation for my fellow landlords. It was then I learned a massive number of organizations are hungry for speakers, the perfect venues to ply my trade.
For some strange reason apartment association members did not flock to my door when I sat with them in the audience. A few were clients, perhaps five. I researched and rehearsed my presentation for over a month in advance. I must have practiced that first speech 100 hours. It paid off. In less than an hour I had the audience eating out of my hand. I fielded question after question and answered like a pro or offered to find the answer after the meeting. That night I went home with over thirty new clients and they all owned rental properties, a higher fee tax return.
Speaking in front of a group does not bother me in the slightest because I think I have something important to share. Some people get the jitters when faced with public speaking, not me. The trick to speaking to a group is to treat it like you are talking with a group of friends that need your help. After that it is a piece of cake.
I searched out more speaking engagements the remainder of that year. The following tax season ended with over 500 tax returns and I had to hire Mrs. Accountant to help out. I hired a tax preparer for the following tax season and have been a job creator ever since. By my fifth full-time tax season I was knocking out over 1,000 returns and was forced to move to a commercial building I bought near my home. A few years later I pushed past 2,000 tax returns, and payroll, bookkeeping and consulting took over my life. Business was too big. By the year 2000 I started pruning the client list to keep my sanity and now enjoy a 900 return practice. The returns are usually much bigger and include a full line of business services.
There are a lot of ways to promote your business with a small investment. Speaking engagements are the cheapest and best. Sometimes you even get paid to talk about your business. Sweet! When I speak to a group I focus on an area of tax law that affects the group. Taxes are boring until is puts a bigger refund in your pocket. It is rare to speak and leave. More often I am surrounded by an eager group of people looking for answers. My business card is always handy and I encourage them to call my office and set an appointment.
But how do you use the speaking idea if you are a car mechanic? Or a restaurant? I would recommend talking to groups around town about better gas mileage or increasing the value of your car for resale. A restaurant can give a presentation about healthy eating or organic food. Never talk about you. Don’t treat it like a sales call. Talk about them! Give them value! When you do that they will ask to be your client. Talk about the ultimate soft sell.
If someone is happy with their accountant I tell them, “Why change?” If they are unhappy with their accountant I am more than happy to welcome them into the company. There is no need for a hard selling style when you use my method. My way is easier, fun and people and businesses ask to be my client; much better than putting on a full-court press to snag one.
A Few More Ideas
Every business is unique in how it must be presented. Speaking works for most businesses, especially service businesses. I helped a small restaurant triple sales in less than three months with one simple idea: coupons. Not any old coupon, mind you. I had him get 250 flyers printed at a local print shop for under $100 and hand them out to the closest businesses to his restaurant. Each flyer had a coupon for a free cup of gourmet coffee and a simple $1 off a lunch item. The employees of the nearby businesses started to come in for the free cup of coffee. I told the restaurant owner to keep breakfast sandwiches on hand and breakfast sweets. When people got their coffee they bought a sweet roll, cinnamon role or egg croissant sandwich with it. The best part was his restaurant could not handle all the business, but since so many were carry-out it did not matter.
Then came lunch. Think about this for a while. Employees are always looking for something good to eat for lunch. A dollar off a pizza or a sandwich is all you need to draw people in. Employees need something fast so they can get back to work. The restaurant was not only full for lunch, but take-out orders were massive. People don’t just buy lunch for themselves when they have a flyer with $1 off, or some other special, they buy for the whole office. Think of it. Here is a small, struggling restaurant with an average ticket sale of $10 and he now has people ordering over the phone with tickets sometimes over $200. Another bit of advice: Don’t take the coupon. Give the customer the discount and encourage them to reuse the coupon. People love it!
Do It with Passion
One final thought. Business is hard, we all know that. If you start a business I’m going to assume you love what you do or you are playing our Chump’s Game. And if you love what you do, do it with passion. Act like your clients are long lost friends. Have an up-beat attitude; share stories; make your clients feel welcome. When people think you care you will have more clients or customers than you can serve. And really care. No faking it. Remember:
Keith’s Rule #8: Too many customers is a good problem to have.