51dnv9taxjlI received an ARC from Jason Navallo, author of American Dream: Interviews with Industry-Leading Professionals. As I suspect with most personal financial bloggers, I get an above average number of requests to review books in advance. Most get put to the side for a later reading, if I get to them at all. American Dream caught my eye because Navello asked politely if I would review the book and he provided a small amount of background in the initial email.

What intrigued me from the beginning is the interview format with six very successful professionals from a variety of unrelated fields. I am a sucker for success stories so I made time to read the book. It blew my mind! American Dream is not a long book which is a good thing because I could not put it down. Navallo used a simple format with each professional. He started by asking each professional interviewed to providing some background on their early life and how they came to lead in the industry they are in. Depending on the path the interview took, he would explore unique characteristics to each professional’s path to success. He ended each interview by asking about their belief in the Power of Attraction, favorite quotes, favorite books, best lesson in life, the key to success, and if they believed the American Dream was dead. The answers surprised me.

Meet the Professionals

Six professionals were interviewed: four men, two women. The interviews begin with Peter Mallouk, the president and chief investment officer of Creative Planning, a firm that manages over $20 billion. Part of this interview branched into investment advice. Readers of this blog will find Mallouk’s interview a great way to start American Dream as it applies to all our personal lives. And, of course, investment planning and personal finance largely overlap.

The next interviewee is Ben Caballero. I know a lot of you people around here love owning real estate. Want to get excited? Caballero sold 2,491 homes worth over $1 billion in 2015 alone! I refuse to break my calculator out and figure how much that is each day; it is too awesome to get my arms around. To top it off, Caballero has over 20,000 lifetime sales worth in excess of $6 billion! Caballero shares his story of how he became such a massive producer. I bet you will be as glued as I was to his story.

Then we turn to B.J. Armstrong. To say Armstrong enjoys basketball is like saying I might like an ice cream. Yes, I like ice cream! Armstrong’s interview is unique in the group. The entire interview is like a pep talk from one of the greatest coaches of all time. He is a passionate and powerful motivator. His style of speaking is also unique. He uses repetition in a way that drills the message into your brain. An intelligent and hard working man you want to read.

Shelly Sun is the first of two women interviewed. Sun is the CEO of Bright Star Care ®. Of all the interviews this one has the lowest tone as you would expect from the leader of a healthcare staffing company. After the first three interviews it was nice to know you could reach massive levels of success without being so high-strung.

I was surprised to see Scott Gerber on the list. From my tax practice I know how profitable bars can be, but this guy takes it to a level I never saw before. All the perceptions of what bar ownership means goes out the window. Gerber runs Gerber Group like a business, the way it should be. Gerber Group currently has 14 venues with somewhere around $50 million in annual sales. How is your tavern doing? You might want to read what Gerber has to say.

Finally, we end with Liz Elting. Elting is in the communications business and the co-founder of TransPerfect. She started her business in 1992 and now revenues exceed half a billion dollars annually! Her business translates languages for legal firms and corporate customers. Her path to an uber-successful, world leading firm is different from most. She is well traveled and saw large parts of the world at a young age.

Different Paths to the Same Endgame

Predicting the path taken to achieve success is impossible as the six successful business leaders listed above attest. Their backgrounds are varied. None inherited a massive nest egg or already viable business; they did it all on their own.

Even their answers to what they considered success varied. Armstrong said he doesn’t need goals while Elting said she is “incredibly goal-oriented”, keeping both long and short-term goals in written form. Some focused on the numbers while Shelly Sun talked a lot about relationships with people they care for.

The one thing throughout the book is how motivational it was. I wanted to get up and get something done with the turn of each page. Everyone interviewed is hyper-productive; they get a lot done in a short period of time and use the extra time to take it to the next level. These professionals filled me with excitement.

41n165ofh7l-_sy346_The American Dream

At a time when we hear how America has lost its touch or businesses can’t grow or pay their employees more, we see six people who are doing it in a massive way. Business is hard on a good day. These people do it on a scale we reserve for a select few household names like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffett. For every Elon Musk making the news, a hundred more unsung heroes are doing that and more, building a better American and a greater future. It is about people and these six professionals make that point clear.

Each offered different quotes to live by, and books they would recommend you read. The path to success was different for each and both men and women made the list. Hard work and long hours were a common thread with each one, but all also noted they cut their hours after the initial start-up phase of their company and now have a more balanced life with family, friends, and community.

The most humbling part of this book is the answer each gave to the question: Is the American Dream dead? They all answered no, without a doubt. And I agree. Our best days are in front of us. We have only begun to do great things.

This is why I heartily recommend you purchase and read American Dream: Interviews with Industry-Leading Professionals by: Jason Navallo. The book just came out on Amazon as an e-book. It currently lists at $.99 and free on Kindle Unlimited, affordable for everyone and worth a thousand times more. I assume the price will increase in the near future, but should still be an awesome value. I hope you gain as much value as I did from the wise words of the leading professionals in this book.

My previous post on delegation had a comment from John McCarthy with the following request for advice:

I would be interested in some of the behind the scenes (nitty-gritty) detail of the things you are now delegating. Like you, I am running a tax preparation firm. For the past 15 years it has been a side business, but now I am putting my full effort into marketing and expanding it. I spent a year building a financial planning practice at XYPN but decided I could do more good in the world by helping other financial advisors as a tax consultant and a safe place for them to send their financial planning clients to for tax preparation. I am really enjoying working with financial advisors to provide proactive service to their clients.

If you were advising a new business owner of a tax practice, what would be your top three pieces of advice? Would love to hear your perspective!

I felt my answer would serve more readers than just business owners and the answer in rather long so I decided to make it a special post. (Two posts in one day! Wow Mr. Accountant, are you on something? Why, yes. Yes, I am.)

First, let me address how I structure delegation in my office. Delegation is more than just taking stuff on my desk and throwing it on somebody else’s. If you want work done right you need to delegate to the proper people. The best delegation keeps projects from your desk in the first place.

I will use tax returns as an example. When clients bring in their tax return the front desk scans all the paperwork and puts the return in one of three drawers marked: A, B, and C. “A” tax returns are easy and any preparer can do them. A limited review of these returns is conducted before distribution to the client. Advanced preparers (that means me and any high-paid employee) never touch these returns. “B” tax returns make up 60% of the work load. Advanced tax professionals handle these returns with review, except for me. Novice preparers (do I have any of these?) can data enter these returns, but an advanced preparer finishes the return. The “C” drawer contains the most complex tax returns and comprises 25-30% of clients. Anyone can data enter the material, but an advanced preparer finishes the return with a review by me. If I prepare the “C” type tax return, my work is also reviewed.

Bookkeeping and payroll never enter my office; I have a massive allergic reaction to that kind of tedious work. The truth is I can hire bookkeepers and payroll clerks all day long. So I keep control of my time by never accepting recurring work on my desk. A steady flow of bookkeeping or payroll will tie me to my desk with low margin workload. I will do the “real” retirement thing if I am ever forced to handle such work.

Karen, my office manager, and Ashley, my administrative assistant have authority to make decisions. Every phone call does not have to reach my office. By granting authority I create a shield between me and nuisance sales calls.

Phone calls can destroy your life. My cell phone is usually off unless I expect a call. Sorry. At the office, notes in my mail box pile up. I handle phone calls in blocks so I spend the least amount of time on the phone.

Another thing my office started doing to save time is screening new clients. Below I will show you how to get lots of news clients. These new clients will wear you out if you don’t control the flow. Karen and Ashley contact most new clients and pre-approve them. Most of the time they can handle all the setup work the client has, eliminating any need for me to be involved. Consulting appointments are set up on my scheduler so I can plan and control the time involved with each client I must work with.

My clients rarely face a tax audit because we audit proof every tax return (I guess I have another post to write). However, we take audits from off the street and from other accounting firms. When you are in over your head and every accounting firm in town sent you away and law firms say it is hopeless then we are your guys. In other words we take the worst of the worst audits. Our success rate is pretty good considering the type of audits we handle.

Three Pieces of Advice for Business Owners

There are a lot of moving parts to a small business. I’ll try to stuff as much as I can into three nuggets of advice while keeping this post reasonably short.

  • Get more clients than you want and then fire the ones who don’t fit in. Sounds brutal! It is. Clients leave for a variety of reasons. Having a few too many clients allows you to pick the easiest clients to work with (and the most profitable) and firing the rest. Be gentle when you fire. I usually send a letter stating I have too much on my plate to handle their account in the manner it deserves. Sometimes I find another accounting firm who will take the client and provide an introduction. My competitors know I am not out to harm them; I am a source of new clients. Clients from hell never get a referral. To date I have never had a client complain about being let go or beg to stay. Also, don’t take every client who walks in the door. If something feels wrong, walk.
  • Focus on the type of client you want. If you want business clients give presentations to the local Chamber of Commerce, Optimist Club, et cetera. Go where your client is. You don’t talk about taxes if you want golfers as clients; you only attract other tax people. (Witness this blog.) You can’t be a master of the entire tax code. (Only I am that good!) A great demographic to chase outside business owners is landlords. These taxpayers need a good tax professional considering all the new cost segregation and tangible property rules. Lots of good speaking material there to acquire new clients. Focus on certain taxpayers and get good at that area of tax code, including reading regulations and tax court rulings.
  • Learn to say no. This is really hard. You want to help and you know how to help, but you are only one person. Over-extending only means all your clients suffer; a lesson I had to recently relearn. This past tax season I had close to a thousand ex-pats contact me to prepare their return. I said no to all of them. I can do the returns and know how. My problem is time. I want a life outside of work and have a family. Ex-pat returns do not fit nicely into my office structure. My focus is on small business, landlords, and investors. That is a full plate for a small accounting firm.
  • Under promise and over deliver. As an accountant I sometimes have willful math difficulties. I promised three pieces of advice and here we are on four. It is not always possible to over deliver, but I always try. When it doesn’t happen I review my office workflow processes and modify until I keep my promises and give a little something extra.

There many are more tips on how to run a successful business that one small blog post cannot cover. Each business is different. Always keep your eyes open for new ideas to improve your practice. Read. Read a lot. The library, and even investing in a few books, is a great investment. Your time is valuable. Control it. If you lose control of your time doom will follow. Good luck. (Luck has nothing to do with it.)

It’s hard to believe The Wealthy Accountant blog has six months under its belt. A year ago I started the process of creating this blog due to demand from followers of Mr. Money Mustache and speaking engagements I did involving Mustachians who knew I prepared Pete’s taxes. I knew I would get an initial kick in traffic when Pete, the man behind Mr. Money Mustache, mentioned The Wealthy Accountant.

I was unprepared for the response. Over 12,000 requests for information or help swamped my office. In the end I accepted only 200 new clients. We are still digging out. The Wealthy Accountant also received a nice traffic boost. Then it was up to me to keep it going. There are three stages to building a successful blog. I have written extensively online over the years, including several blogs. I currently write two flash fiction blogs and The Wealthy Accountant. The other two blogs have been around for a few years and get slightly more than 4 million page views per year. Not bad for fantasy flash fiction.

The three stages in building a successful are as follows:

  • First create content,
  • Then drive traffic,
  • Then monetize.

Any other order and it does not work. Traffic will not come if there is not enough content and regular updates. Without traffic any monetization efforts are a waste.

It takes about six months to create a nice basket of content for readers when efforts to drive traffic should begin. After six months of pushing traffic it is time to turn the blog profitable. Well, we are at the six month mark now. Pete mentioned this blog on February 10th. Traffic spiked and then settled into a lower traffic pattern because I had a small inventory of content. Tax season (and lots of new clients) kept me from working on The Wealthy Account the way it should have been. Now I am publishing 4-6 times a week and it shows. (New employees at the office are now trained to handle the larger workload giving me a break so I can have a life and time to write.)

Several people have asked about my stats. Happy to oblige. The stats lack excitement at this stage of the game. Still, I understand why people might be interested. So, I have gathered several stats starting with February and moving forward.

February 2016

Page views: 34,639 Thanks, Pete!

Users: 6,657

Google Adsense Revenue: $32.70

Amazon Revenue: $21.49

New Posts: 8, I also published 3 in January.

 

March 2016

Page views: 12,732

Users: 2,117

Google Adsense Revenue: $14.34

Amazon Revenue: $17.05

New Posts: 9

 

51EGUs+q7BL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_April 2016

Page views: 9,560

Users: 1,901

Google Adsense Revenue: $8.46

Amazon Revenue: $8.42

New Posts: 8

 

May 2016

Page views: 8,905

Users: 1,619

Google Adsense Revenue: $9.98

Amazon Revenue: $6.53

New Posts: 9, I slowed my publishing during Camp Mustache III over Memorial Day weekend in the States.

 

June 2016

Page views: 9,712

Users: 1,711

Google Adsense Revenue: $11.83

Amazon Revenue: $25.08

New Posts: 12

 

July 2016

Page views: 13,992

Users: 2,152

Google Adsense Revenue: $25.20

Amazon Revenue: $44.14

New Posts: 20

As you can see, there is a price to providing limited content. Publishing fewer than 10 posts a month caused users to drop to 1,619 in May. Ramping up the publishing schedule after the Independence Day holiday in the States has increased traffic and users to the highest level since Pete gave me liftoff; users and traffic are still climbing. As my content continues to grow and is published on a regular basis I expect traffic, users, and revenue to accelerate. The end of July saw a clear uptrend in traffic and revenue due to increased publishing. Bloggers looking to make their mark would be well advised to follow one simple rule: publish daily. Readers need to get into the habit of visiting your blog. Of course there are a lot of other rules to. My goals are for The Wealthy Accountant to exceed my other blogs in traffic, users, and revenue which means over 4 million page views a year and $18,000 in revenue. Fiction blogs do not make much so I have high hopes here.

Over the next months I will share stories of what is working. Many readers here have their own blog and piggy-backing my test runs are an easy shortcut to a successful blog. What works building a fiction blog will not work here (but I will try anyway). My research indicates a certain set of actions should yield effective results. Consistent publishing coupled with effort to drive traffic should make for an exciting adventure.

I’ll check back with a new update at the end of the year. Any surprises I will share as they happen.

IMG_20160721_081232When it comes to passive income, real estate is king. A small investment can be leveraged into a massive cash cow. This is the second in a series of posts on lessons learned. Some lessons in life come from clients or from watching clients deal with issues. With investment properties I pull from personal experience. Over the years I have owned over 100 single family homes, numerous duplexes, a few multi-unit buildings, a storage facility, commercial property, and farm land. The lessons I have learned buying, selling, and leasing real estate over the last 28 years should provide a few nuggets of wisdom you have not read before. This added wisdom hopefully flows to your bottom line.

Residential Real Estate

We will start with residential investment properties because I have more experience in this arena and most readers own/manage the same; I will address commercial property in a future post.  The issues I raise are only a sampling of the issues I find most relevant; a full review of investment property issues is beyond the scope of one blog post. The best approach is to start from the beginning and move through the lifecycle of an investment property, from purchase, to renting, to eventual sale.

Buy Right: The first step is the most important. Buying the right property at the right price will determine the profitability of your investment property. This is a good time to research rent rates in the neighborhood. Many landlords use the 1% rule to determine if a property is worth buying; I use a different method.

The 1% rent rule simply states rents should be 1% per month of the purchase price/value of the property. This is a good starting point. Low interest rates today turn more properties cash flow positive under this rule.

My rule is a bit more involved, but provides more assurance you have a good property. First, I only use the current rents of the building. Sellers always point out the ability to raise rents. If rents should be higher the seller should have raised them. I also check rents in the area to affirm the current rent rate is sustainable. Once I feel comfortable with the rental income situation I look at expenses. I always assume a no-money-down deal even if I pay cash for the property. By assuming the property is leveraged to the hilt I can determine if the rent minus expenses supports the property’s value. My calculations always include a 3% miscellaneous expense to cover deferred expenses such as a roof, furnace, siding, flooring, or improvements unless a higher percentage is warranted due to the condition of the property. The formula looks something like this:

  • Annual rent income, minus
    • Mortgage payment as if 100% leverage used,
    • Landlord paid utilities,
    • Insurance,
    • Taxes,
    • Management fees, if any,
    • 3% miscellaneous deferred maintenance
    • Other known expenses

Once all known expenses are deducted from the annual expected rent you get a number that must be positive. A negative number is a money loser before you even start. If the number is above water you have a decision to make. It is enough? Remember, a breakeven number means your cash investment portion is earning what a mortgage would earn. That is why I assume 100% leverage. If I pay 100% cash I expect my money should earn at least what the bank charges in interest. Of course a cash deal will cash flow if you do not consider your cash investment as worth anything?

The real trick here is determining any special events. Road construction or other city improvements can cause cash flow problems down the road. Research before you sign.

This VA repo made the partnership a generous return.

This VA repo made the partnership a generous return.

Finding the Right Property: Many communities have properties where the rent does not justify the property’s value. Still, deals can crop up here and there even in tight markets. Buying right takes time. It is easy to lower your standards when ideal properties are scarce. Bad idea! I would rather miss a deal than buy the wrong property. Remember, there will come a day when you want to sell. Issues when you buy frequently stick around and bite you when you sell.

Here are a few ways I found a large quantity of prime properties. My first rental property was a two-unit townhouse on 833 E. North Street in Appleton, Wisconsin. The owner was a man in his young 30s. He died of an aneurism. The family did not want the property so the bank got it back. I made the bank whole by paying $50,000. The rent was $485 per unit. I made money on the deal. Two years later I sold for exactly $75,000. I think we can agree I had a wonderful introduction to the investment real estate world.

I found the above deal because I introduced myself to half the bankers in town. I tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to numbers. I talked with bankers every day. The North Street property turned a $10,000 down payment into a $25,000 capital gain and over $400 of positive cash flow per month. Nice. The only reason I got the sweetheart deal instead of someone else is because I was in the right place at the right time. I was in the banker’s office when the property came in.

My biggest source of reasonably priced properties was Veteran’s Affairs. Back in those days landlords could only get adjustable mortgages on rental properties and interest rates were close to 10%.  The VA offered 7% fixed with only a small down payment. The buildings were also priced to move. The best news was I could buy the properties even though I was not a veteran. It was normal for us to buy 3-5 properties per month from the VA.

The only way to get the VA properties was through a real estate agent. My agent, in his infinite wisdom, bragged to the VA office in Milwaukee about my large profits. Within a few months the rules were changed. Now more money is needed down and only veterans need apply. The rules have probably changed again since those days, but it outlines how a great property source can be screwed away by an idiot.

There are many ways to find awesome properties. Always do the math. My own rule is: Never chase a property. It’s a rental; they will make more. No one property is worth chasing.

Saying No to Bad Deals: Pressure will be applied to convince you to buy. Real estate agents get paid when you open your wallet, not before. Sellers have a long line of BS to move their property. Learn to say no. Take your time in reviewing the property. A bad investment gets worse the longer you own it. A negative cash flow only increases your original investment in the inappropriate property. “No” is the most powerful work in the English language when it comes to investing in real estate. It is normal to review multiple properties before buying. As good as the VA repo deal was, we did not buy every property dangled before our eyes.

Sellers say a lot of things when it is not in writing. Get it in writing! And a property inspection is a must unless you are qualified to do the inspection yourself.

Determining Rent Rates:  Before purchase you should have a good idea of the range of rents in the neighborhood and how they match the target property. Craigslist, newspapers, “You’re Renting” and similar magazines are a good place to start your review of local rents. The real estate agent is also a resource with one caveat: the agent may pump you full of it to make a sale. You have to determine if the agent is honest; most are.

The rents for my buildings were always on my mind. A good tenant may face fewer and smaller rent increases. Tenants that pay on time and keep the place well maintained are a bonus for landlords. Bad tenants did not face larger rent increases; instead, I refused to renew their lease.

Multi-unit buildings have greater profit potential, but more risks (and costs) associated with them.

Multi-unit buildings have greater profit potential, but more risks (and costs) associated with them.

Finding the Right Tenants: I was picky when I rented my properties. I did a background check and verified income. Compared to the banks before the financial crisis in 2008, I was a tough nut. The alternative is more damages, unpaid rent, evictions, and court costs. My time was worth too much. An investment in time now paid off later a hundred fold.

Evictions: Late rent is never tolerated. Follow the laws of your state/city when involved in an eviction. Whatever the law allowed I used. The longer a bad tenant stays in your property the greater the damage. In some cases you may need an attorney. When you owned as many investment properties as I have there are eviction stories to tell. I will leave them for another day.

Regulations: Local governments have rules regarding landlords. Smoke alarms and lead paint in older building are all considerations. Your local apartment association is a great resource into the rules in your market.

Property Managers: Property managers should handle the regulation issues. Verify your manager is screening prospective tenants adequately without discriminating. Owning properties in outside markets requires a local manager. Income properties are considered passive income for tax purposes, but any landlord can tell you the work involved is anything but passive.

Hiring a property manager eliminates most time issues with your property. The manager should screen prospective tenants, collect rent, evict when necessary, pay the mortgage and other bills, and submit the remainder to you monthly. There are times when you will need to cover a major expense like a roof or furnace out of pocket.

I used several managers at a time. When you own over 100 properties across a metropolitan area you will need help. I screened and reviewed my managers on a regular basis. Most were good, but a few were not. Investing time up-front before you hire a manager cannot be understated. Property mangers usually have contracts locking you in for a period of time. It is a relationship. Make sure you want to be in the relationship before you make a commitment.

Maintenance: Money is saved when you handle maintenance on your own. To actually save money you need to know your limitations. Roofing was my favorite work; flooring was a disaster. I installed carpet once and realized it would be easier, faster and cheaper to hire a professional. I am okay at drywall and painting. A large portfolio of real estate will require an army of contractors. I spent as much time checking prospective contractors as I did researching a property prior to purchase. Every job was in writing.

Major maintenance issues are reduced when handled before they become large. A roof replaced when shingles were thin beat waiting a few more years and then replacing roof boards, too. Regular painting keeps properties looking nice and rents where they belong. My properties were always improved. Buyers of my properties received nicer looking buildings than what I originally bought. I also had better rents, better tenants, and a better sale price. Maintenance does pay for itself.

Selling Right: Selling is buying in reverse. Before listing or offering a property for sale you need to research your market. Pricing a property for maximum gain without a long duration on the market takes legwork prior to listing. Review other properties in the neighborhood. A real estate agent can help. Today, online resources are numerous. Realtor.com, MLS, Zillow, Homefinder, and Trulia are good research tools in determining a good selling price. These are the same tools used in your property purchase search.

A realtor is a valuable asset in selling your property; they also have a fee, normally a percentage of the sale price. Selling on your own is more work, but you save the fee. The choice is personal.

Debt Issues: Debt was a tool when I owned a pile of real estate. I rarely came to a purchase closing with money. The bank covered the entire amount, using equity in other properties, so closing went faster. Then we paid down the mortgages fast, building equity. I understand investors want to juice their percentage return with leverage, but leverage also brings risks. Investment property should have at least 20% equity from day one. Once you own the property for a few years equity should be larger than debt. Also, debt-free rentals really cash flow. A cushion shields you from unforeseen market forces and vacancies. Real estate is a great source of passive income as long as you are not mortgaged to the hilt non-stop. High debt is an accident waiting to happen. The winners of the housing crisis a decade ago were the people with cash ready to buy when opportunities presented.

Partnerships: Yikes! I owned income property in a partnership with my dad and brother. I knew going in I would do 99% of the work. The partnership worked, but that is the exception to the rule. Most partnerships are woefully lopsided. The one doing all the work get grumpy when the other partners want an equal share without doing the work. Partnerships can work, but remember you are married to your partners and divorce is messy.

Entity Selection: Real estate should never be held inside an S-corporation; only rarely inside a regular corporation. Liability protection, tax advantages, and ease of transfer are available with a LLC. Due to local laws and regulations a real estate attorney should be engaged. Real estate held in an LLC does not require preparation of an additional tax return; a box is checked in the tax software informing the IRS the property is held in a single-member LLC as a disregarded entity. In the future I will address entity issues in greater detail as they pertain to real estate.

Training Courses: The Wealthy Accountant is a lucky guy. He gets to see all the crazy stuff floating around. Expensive investment real estate courses are all the rage. Many of these programs sucker you, ahem, cost $25,000 or more to teach you how to make a killing flipping real estate. All I can say is “don’t.” There might be a good program out there, but the ones I have seen are junk. Worse, they turn you tax work into a nightmare. I’m busy enough. No more free seminars offering a free meal, guys. They cost too much.

Clean Up Crew: I did my best to stay brief, but investment properties have too many issues. I will break down the issues into small, more easily digestible bites, in future posts. Commercial property, farm land, and land held for development are different creatures from residential investment property. Most readers here are interested in residential property so I stayed on point.

Real estate investing has great opportunities for wealth creation and steady passive income if proper planning takes place prior to investment.

20160516_095451Balancing family life, personal, and business present challenges when your interests are catholic (little c, not big C). Family is always a priority while business always demands more of your time; personal time is needed for mental well-being and health. Business owners are in the toughest situation. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk changed the world with their work. The best learn quickly to avoid keeping busy. Even small business owners suffer the same demands on their time as captains of industry.

Some leaders are better at managing their time and personal lives than others. Steve Jobs was noted for his intensity. Elon Musk gave us PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX. Their skills in creating value are legendary, but Jobs managed to find time to meditate and stay married, while Musk has had three wives in the last decade. A burning intensity to perform does not preclude a healthy home life. Bill Gates got married and stayed married. (Bill and Melinda make a cute couple.)

If Elon Musk can run several multi-billion dollar corporations, it is possible for you to do great things while retaining balance in your life. Few of us will ever experience the demands of a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffett. It boils down to managing workflow. By creating systems to manage all the demands on your time you can create a happier, healthier, and more productive life.

Work Life

No matter where you work, there will be demands on time. I will approach this from a business owner’s viewpoint because that is my worldview and experience.

Recent events challenged the system I used for many years in my office. Additional new clients with greater needs than most of my current clients coupled with Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment) tested my skills. I am still digging out.

Here are some considerations for managing workflow at work:

  • Outline expectations with clients, co-workers, and the boss. Since everyone has different needs and expectations it can be like dancing on the edge of a razor. People will constantly try to push you off balance, not out of malice, but to gain advantage to satisfy their own needs.
  • Build a system that works and is flexible. In my tax office we have to be prepared for everything. Our best laid plans can crumble if we create a rigid workflow. A critical issue can take precedence over regular work.
  • Allow your team to shine. I refuse to dictate most workflow matters. My team is in a better position to determine the best course of action to maximize their productivity. I provide guidance when necessary. When issues arise I provide input and allow each employee to then determine the best way to manage work at their station.
  • Consider categories. We are in the process of switching our tax workflow procedures. We will list each tax return that comes in A, B, or C. Tax returns in the A category anyone can prepare with only minor review. These are the easiest returns. The B tax returns can be data entered by anyone, but will require a review. All C tax returns must be prepared by me or reviewed by me. The C returns are the most difficult or contain issues where my experience will result in significantly lower taxes.
  • Each work environment is different. Using my office as an example again, I set priorities on workload. Certain phone calls must be made today. Due dates frequently dictate work order in a tax office.
  • Record every step. We use multiple organization tools to manage workflow in my office. Every piece of work is entered on a worksheet at the front desk. We have a redundant system to reduce errors. Tax returns are reviewed. Even my work is checked. For example: When a tax return is finished and signed by the client it goes in a slot. I take these e-files and process them. When the IRS accepts the return I mark it ACK and return it to another slot. Natasha, at my front desk, checks each e-file to make sure it was really e-filed. We don’t want a return unfiled because a page stuck together.
  • Use time management tools. Each member of my team uses different methods to process their workload. I tend to be a paper and pencil guy. I have handwritten notes everywhere (and only I can read them due to my awesome handwriting skills, though I have it on good authority Natasha is able to grasp every seventh word). Many employees use Post-It notes, the digital kind, and keep them on their screen. Outlook is a great management tool. The tax software I use has several time/workload manage tools built into the program.
  • Always keep an open mind. Test ideas to improve your workflow. Team members are a great source of ideas to better manage time and workload.

51AL-nTCBzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_There are many more ways to manage workflow in your professional life. Each situation is unique, as are you. What works for me may not work for you. I prefer to manage by fiat. My employees tell me they love how I grant them the latitude to determine their own work space. I refuse to spend my day hunched over the backs of my team. I hire good people and give them the authority to do the job in the most efficient way for them.

Family Life

Family is more important than work. Work life frequently requires us to spend more time with people other than family so it is imperative we prioritize family life. Since I have been married for 28 years (to the same woman, you smart ass) and have two daughters who managed to stay off drugs and not get pregnant, I assume I did something right. I make no claim to being the perfect father or husband. All I can do is share what I do that led to the current results.

  • Tell them you love them every day. This is the most important part of any relationship. Tell them you care. First thing every morning, I give all my girls a kiss, a hug, and tell them I love them. It is also the last thing I do before retiring each evening. Regardless the situation, I tell my wife and daughters I love them. If I am upset about something they still get a hug and kiss. I make it clear I am upset about the action, or lack thereof, and not with them.
  • Never go to bed angry. This is Mrs. Accountant’s rule. A good one, too. There will be times when you are not happy with a situation. No matter, we still make peace before we sleep. The next day we usually deal with the situation better anyway.
  • Praise often. It is too easy to admonish when a family member does something against your liking. Be sure to praise even faster. A child with poor grades needs a pat on the back when they ace a test. If you are married for 28 years there will be things that irritated you over the years. You can whine and complain or ask gently for some changes. When your significant other does something you like, let them know. Maybe someone needs to lose weight. Instead of harping on their eating habits and flab, comment on their choice of quality food or skipping desert. Reinforce the positive rather than focus on the negative. Once you conquer this skill there will be few disagreements in your household. Mrs. Accountant and I have not had an argument/fight in 25 years. The first three years were a different story. I had to learn some skills and I was determined to have a good marriage.
  • Give each other space. To the best of my ability I do not crowd my family. Everybody needs down time alone. I am comfortable allowing my daughters and Mrs. Accountant their free time without me. Girl time is important. So is guy time. Sometimes life events require alone time to process an event. When ready, they will seek your comfort.
  • Love unconditionally. My wife and daughters are individuals. I have no desire to mold them into what I want. I prefer family members who are their own person. When you love unconditionally your family is unlikely to leave you. Where could they possibly go where it is better? The best they could hope for is a draw.
  • Fix yourself. It is impossible to fix someone else. It is a fool’s errand. I worry about my behavior and encourage my family in theirs. I take care of my health and encourage my girls to do the same. Then it is up to them. No harping. I am not perfect and do not expect anyone else to be either.
  • Make your family special. I spend very little money on myself or family. Mrs. Accountant and I have not exchanged Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gifts in decades. Our relationship is not predicated upon stuff. Instead, we spend quality time together sharing stories, ideas, loves, concerns, and feelings. Our gift is ourselves.
  • Learn to push buttons. People together a long time know each other’s buttons. Always avoid pushing buttons to control or harm. Instead, learn which buttons make your family members happier. Too many people push the wrong buttons on their significant other for a variety of crazy reasons. Stop! You have no idea how fun and fulfilling your relationship can be until you start pushing the buttons that turn him/her on.

It takes commitment and work to have a solid marriage or relationship. Do not get lost in work, school, kids, life obligations, or anything else for that matter. Make your significant other number one in your life. Encourage your children toward excellence. Love them unconditionally. Remain faithful. (It is easy remaining faithful when your relationship is anchored on the deepest of bedrock.)

Personal Life

People get so caught up in work and family that they forget to take care of themselves. Family is more important than work; you are more important than family. Think of it this way: why do airlines tell you, in the event of an emergency, to put on your oxygen mask first, then the kids? Because you can’t help the kids if you are unconscious or injured. You must put “you” first. This is not self-centered arrogance. To provide for your family you need to mange yourself; before you outperform at work you need a healthy home life. It all makes sense.

Here are some tips to maintain a healthy personal life, including mind, body, and soul:

  • Quiet time. To maintain good mental health you need time alone to separate your thoughts.
  • Mental health is increased by running alternative lives. You soon realize how lucky you are when you visualize alternatives. It is natural to think of other people in ways you would not in real life. It creates balance, showing your mind the high quality life you actually have.
  • Clear the mind for a few moments minimum every day. Pray if you are religious.
  • Who cares who is watching? Read what trips your trigger.
  • If you are walked in on, don’t stop singing. Instead, start dancing with the new arrival. Who cares if the police serving a search warrant think you are nuts? It’s a happy nuts.
  • Quiet the mind and then listen to all the sounds around you. There is a whole new world you have been missing and it is an awesome world, indeed!
  • Eat right. Garbage in, garbage out. Feed your body good fuel and it will serve you well for a century.
  • Lift things, walk, run, jump. Life is too short to sit on your ass all day.
  • Make friends of everyone. We all have a few close friends. Having many acquaintances can provide a fulfilling addition to life. Be a friend to all you meet and share ideas and stories. It makes life all worthwhile.
  • Give thanks. Express gratitude to yourself and others. It is okay to feel smug after completing a good job.

I am sure you can add to my lists. Please do so in the comments below. Remember, it is an awesome day to be alive.