“Start a side hustle or small business” is a common refrain when working to reduce debt or retirement planning is involved. It all sounds easy on paper until you realize most businesses fail within a year or so.
The problems with starting a business are myriad. Most businesses fail because they either have too little or too much business and the problems begin with the price or fee charged the customer.
Yes, some businesses fail over financing and other financial issues, but price frequently is the destroyer of small businesses. Charge too little and you end up with too much work and no profits to show for the effort; charge too much and nobody will even waste their time kicking the tires to see how good you really are.
The type of business also plays a role in pricing. A cheap attorney or doctor (or accountant!) is never a good idea. Even if it is a good deal you are unlikely to trust a cheap attorney. But what if you have a side hustle dog sitting? Is cheaper better then?
Then we get the loss leaders. Using our dog sitting example, do you offer a free trial to get clients in the door? It might work, but it costs the business owner money and time to promote in such a fashion. Research also indicates it is a poor way to promote your business.
Too Good a Deal
When I started my practice in the 1980s I subscribed to the “cheap is better” promotional school of thought. I was the first guy in town offering free e-filing for federal and was the only guy who could offer state e-filing the first year it was available because Wisconsin wanted to test their program with firms that offered the service for free and had no fraud cases. I fit the bill and the rest is history.
The free e-filing is a good example of giving something for free to grow your business. I still was paid for preparation services; only the e-filing was free. The benefit cost me nothing and saved time. My software provider only charged me a dollar and I saved that in toner and paper not printing copies to send to the government. This also saved time so I was a net winner. The best deal around town outside my office was $25 for e-filing. By the time other firms caught on it was too late. I was well established and well known for my progressive business ideas.
There was still one small problem. I prepared tax returns for a low fee. The goal was to grow the business fast and large. This is a massive problem when the service provided frequently required I personally work on or review most tax returns. I was providing value added service but not charging for it. That led to long hours and lower profits. Something had to change.
By the time my practice reached 2,000 returns I was exhausted. Sure, anyone in the office can prepare a return. So can any other tax office. But not many can reduce a clients tax liability legally the way I can. That takes experience, skill, research, and most of all, time.
Around the year 2000 I was preparing about 1,600 individual returns with another 400 business returns, amended returns and returns from prior tax years. Many clients walked in the door when I was giving my services away and I wasn’t bringing their fee to a reasonable level fast enough to regain my sanity. That, and attempts to increase prices brought loud complaints. It was exhausting. People wanted more and more without paying for it. Worse, clients didn’t take my advice seriously! What was it worth anyway? I gave the consulting away for fee and clients treated it as worth exactly that much.
The first year I decided to make a draconian cut. The tax software I use allows me to pull reports based on time spent preparing the return and the fee charged. I ran a report showing the least profitable to most profitable clients. To my surprise I had almost 400 clients that were money losing accounts! (I know, I know. I’m not proud of it either.) Those 400 clients were send a letter kindly asking them to leave.
That was the best tax season in years. Prices were not increased much, but the money losing accounts were out so I had time to breath and profits actually climbed because expenses dropped faster than revenue.
The next year I raised fees significantly. My real clients stayed. Fewer people left than I anticipated. Something else also started to happen. Clients, especially business clients, started saying it was about time I raised my fees so people would start respecting my work. Clients saw what I was blind to! People actually wanted to pay me more because they saw value and all the bottom feeders were sucking me dry, hurting the serious clients. In hindsight, I’m feel great gratitude these clients were willing to wait until I regained my sanity.
Perceptions of Value
How much do you value the endless supply of news online? Do you trust it? What if you pay for a newspaper? If you are like most people, paying for something causes you to value it more. It may have something to do with the sunk-cost fallacy businesses fall prey too. Regardless, we understand “free” does not bring out the best. A free report is valued lower than a report you pay for and for good reason. When a payment is made/received all parties expect a certain level of value to be provided.
But free works so well! But not really. In my line of work I see plenty of businesses. I know what does and does not work. The “free” thing has been done to death. The philosophy has destroyed more businesses than any other policy I know of. Free meals mean nothing to a restaurant if the food is no good. All free does is sink your boat faster.
Back to our dog sitting example. Giving away a free day when you have no way of creating more time is a rabbit hole you do not want to fall down. Instead, a free doggie treat might be a better way to promote the business. You still charge your regular fee, but you give something extra of value. The perception of value remains intact. The people who would turn their pet over to a free service are not the kinds of clients (and dogs) you want.
Finding the Right Price
Over the years I tried many methods of pricing my services. Checking the competition and pricing comparatively is the most common method of pricing I see and used it myself in the early days. It’s also the worst, except for the free or super cheap thing we talked about above.
Setting your prices/fees similar to or a nickle below competitors means you get paid nothing for any added value you provide. Here we are again at the trough of free stuff. If you charge what the other guys charge what is the incentive to use your product or service? If you provide greater value there is a reason to patronize your business, but you don’t get paid for the superior product if your only pricing method is to undercut competitors.
All these pricing issues lead to two problems: 1.) you are either too busy (or people don’t trust you’ll do a good job) due to your under-priced goods and services which leads to poorer quality as you are run raged, or 2.) your fee becomes over-priced compared to what competitors are selling due to market changes before you differentiate your product.
You can’t win if you do not differentiate your product or service. The differentiation is where the value is created and where clients are happy to pay your fee even if it is high.
There is a better way and I learned this trick from two men I highly admire: Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss. Seth Godin is well known from his numerous best-selling books; Tim Ferriss from his books and podcast.
Recently Tim invited Seth to join him on his podcast. It may have been the most important podcast I ever listened to.
Seth shared his method for setting prices for his speaking engagements. He said he only has two prices: free and full price. If Godin really wants to do the gig and if it is for a good cause he will sometimes do it for free. Otherwise his fee is full price, no discounts.
Wonderful! But how does Seth Godin find his price? Simple. He started by setting his price so a few people would hire him. Once someone—anyone—offered him more that was his new price. As simple as that.
However, this is simple theory, difficult in practice. Godin admits it’s tempting to take a gig when your calendar is empty. It takes time to learn the skill of saying “no” when you have lots of white space on your calendar. But if you don’t stick to your principles you dive head first down the aforementioned rabbit hole. And it is going to hurt really bad.
Higher is Better for Everyone
It may sound crazy, but a higher price is frequently better for the business and the customer! People will pay for quality and those who will not are not the kinds of people you want to serve. Remember, you’re a business, not a slave! You solve problems, fill a need. And do it well! You should get paid for that and paid well. If you don’t it is only a matter of time before you either quit or sacrifice your ethics and provide cut-rate products and services.
The fear business owners have when raising fees is the worry clients will leave. Well, I hope so!
Not everyone wants or needs the higher level of service and quality. Your choice is to produce crap and sell a manure spreader load full of it or to sell a respectable amount you can comfortably provide at the highest quality money can buy. Either way is fine. But, crap gets old fast while quality instills pride and that carries you a lifetime and makes you feel proud of the work you do.*
Last year my small tax firm prepared around 550 tax returns in total. This is a long fall from the heady days of 2,000+ returns annually. It was the best tax season in years as I worked hard to adjust to my new worldview of a tax office with national exposure. This is easily the most difficult transition I ever went through. There were times I didn’t know if the firm would survive.
Here it is mid-January and I’m nervous. One of my preparers thinks I committed to around 650 returns for this tax season. (Was it that may?) If it’s true I have a real problem. I spent heavily on increased automation and productivity enhancements. However, the clients I serve now are of a different caliber than of the past. These are large returns with serious issues and I’m one guy. (Yes, my team does most of the heavy lifting, but I need to be in the final review process for virtually all returns so clients get maximum value.)
Fees have steadily climbed. As fees climbed some clients left. Revenue still climbs because fewer people leave than the fee increases. The higher fee allows me to add more value to each return. This means lower taxes for clients so my fee is really free after tax savings are included. But, Dawn, my ace tax preparer, and I will sit with every client this year. The last few years we allowed other team members to handle this. I hated it because I need to know my client better and the new system will allow for it as long as I don’t grow the business too large. (Clients living further away will have more phone time with us.)
The goal is to always provide a better experience for the client. Quality is important as long as the client feels respected. Doing the best work and ignoring the client is still bad form.
And don’t worry about losing all your clients. I’ve experienced that emotion all too often. Let me sooth your nerves with a story: This blog has produced an excessive flow of consulting clients. I love the work and with rare exception the client walks away from the consulting session with thousands or even tens of thousands in tax savings. There is a reason for the high demand.
I consult with new clients from June to December on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The max, I discovered, is two consulting sessions a day. Any more and the research and face time exhausts me too much. (Regular clients can have consulting sessions any time of year, even tax season.)
The past year I charged $275 an hour. When the new consulting season starts in June the fee is $350 per hour. Still a good value when thousands in taxes are saved.
You would think the fee increase would slow things down. It didn’t. June is already filling up six month in advance! Kind readers, please understand. People are hungry for top-quality service and products! They are sick and tired of junk. The more I raise my fee the more people know I’m focusing on increasing the value even more. And they want this even higher value product more!
Let me make one thing clear as we wrap this up. This is not about bilking the client. This is about serving the client at the highest level possible and pushing higher from there. You are good today; you’ll be even better tomorrow as you learn and accumulate more experience. People want that!
The increased consulting fee means I will work slightly fewer hours and, of course, will make more. But cutting the hours just a bit allows me to learn and grow more as I have the time to research ideas and strategies. This makes every hour of my time purchased worth significantly more.
Tax preparation fees are the same. Cheap is NOT better. Cheap means a shortcut was taken. You can’t do it profitably any other way. What you save in accounting fees is lost to your least favorite uncle in Washington. I’m not close to the cheapest. I played that game before. I’m embarrassed to say it because that means my clients were screwed by my lack of experience in those days. If I’d have raised priced I might have done a better job earlier in my career.
As for the dog sitting side hustle: People love their pets and want the best for them. Charge more and include a doggie massage and doggie treats. The dog and the human will thank you for such kind consideration.
As a bonus, you’ll have a profitable and successful business you enjoy running ever day. No retirement for you; you’re already living the dream.
* If you work at a job and hate it there is a good chance you work for a company peddling as much crap as they can flush out the door. People who work for companies that provide high quality products or services are almost always a pleasure to work for also.
More Wealth Building Resources
Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.
Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?
Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.
Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.
PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.
QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.
A cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.
Reaching the lofty goal of financial independence comes with some secret advantages. Early retirement and success coupled with wealth allows you a freedom few can even imagine until it is reality.
What is this secret advantage no one is talking about, not even personal finance bloggers? Freedom to spend what you want and when you want, PLUS, you never have to get paid ever again for any work you do or from investments you have!
Just think of it. You work hard and save until you have 25 times your spending in liquid investments. Under the 4% rule you are ready to cash in your ticket. Since you have money you can turn on the spigot and splurge because you deserve it.
Even better, you can undertake all the things you enjoy while hearing people tell you you shouldn’t be paid for your services now because you not only enjoy the work but already have enough money.
The same rules apply to investing. Stocks you own can keep the dividend. Your renters should get a pass this month because they needed to buy a new boat more than you need the rent payment.
Ah, yes! Financial independence is awesome. No worries and a carefree life. Nothing stupid to mess up your day like getting paid for your side gig.
Or maybe not.
Pay The Writer
Harlan Ellison has a great rant about paying the writer. And he is right! If Harlan thinks writers get shafted for the work they do he should step into my world and see how fast people think successful people shouldn’t get paid.
Recently I made a mistake. I knew what I was doing and what would happen, but did it anyway. I was originally under the delusion Rockstar Finance added you to their list once they discovered you had a blog in the genre. Stupid me.
Once the fog lifted and the mental illness evaporated I submitted your favorite blog for inclusion on the list. One question asked was about net worth. Curious, I decided it was time to look up all the stuff I own and add it up. I plugged the number and hit send.
Rockstar Finance listed me within a few hours but didn’t add the net worth figure. Not one to waste any movement I decided to write a post on my net worth.
My net worth is the highest listed on RF. I knew this going in. Later J Money added the net worth figure when he realized I wasn’t some schmuck gaming the system. Now people noticed and what I knew would hit full force did.
I’m not the wealthiest guy in the demographic by a long shot. Some bloggers on the list that don’t list their net worth have one higher than mine. My guess is they don’t list their net worth for the same reason I’m going to now outline.
How much would you pay to have lunch with the poorest guy in town? Would you even sit at the same table with the guy for any amount of money?
What about your favorite accountant? How much would you pay to break bread over an hour-long dinner? Would you pick up the tab? Pay $300? $100?
Now how much would you pay to sit for lunch with Warren Buffett? Earlier this year someone paid $2,679,001 to dine with Warren Buffett. All proceeds going to charity.
This brings up a good point. The wealthier you are the more you deserve to get paid for your work!
I can hear the screams. Please sit down and let me explain.
Now with word out my net worth jumped into the eight figure category (it has since edged into the lucky $13 million arena thanks to the stock market and my Tesla holdings) some people have a different attitude about me.
A week or so ago I published a list of programs I planned for this blog. The final sentence asked if people would be willing to pay for the advanced material.
All the comments were insightful and polite. One comment stood out. The comment asked why I would charge anything since I already have enough money.
After all these years I still stop writing in stunned silence as I wrap my brain around the comment.
Once again, the higher you rise, the more you get paid! My fees have gone up, not down since this blog started. And it’s not because I am a dick either.
Imagine paying a doctor with the worst track record more than the doctor who practically performs miracles. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
Warren Buffett uses his wealth and fame to raise a lot of money for charity and all he trades is one lunch. (Not even a nice sit down dinner!) Warren is a nice guy so let’s say he opened the doors and allowed anyone who wanted to sign up for lunch with him for $1,000. Madness would ensure. Warren is one guy and can only afford to sit for so many lunches!
Some of my clients over the years figured out my net worth is getting up there. The way I talk and act sometimes gives away my financial success (luck). Most clients want to pick my mind when they come to this realization. Makes sense to me.
Periodically a client will insinuate I shouldn’t be paid because they are broke and I have too much. My response: Then why should I even bother to work.
As long as we are willing to this far, how about another step? If I (you, too) shouldn’t be paid for work I enjoy doing because I like the work and have plenty of money, should investments receive the same treatment? When Coca-Cola discovers Buffett is rich they can easily withhold paying the quarterly dividend to him.
For you folks in the landlord business reading, once you grow your nest egg to a certain predefined value determined by the people who need to pay you, you should no longer collect rent on your properties. You have enough! Stop being so friggin greedy! It’s revolting.
Okay. How about this? As an incentive to work hard, save and invest you receive the grand prize of not getting paid once you get, say, a million dollars. Talk about an incentive to keep producing!
As long as we are at it, I really have had my eye on those new all-electric cars from Tesla. They look like a sweet ride! Elon Musk (Tesla’s CEO) is a billionaire so I expect a shiny new Tesla S to show up in my driveway free and clear right soon. I’m going to pour myself a cup of coffee and sit on the front porch waiting.
The Rewards of Success
Having money doesn’t automatically turn you into a prick. I give plenty of my net worth and income to charity. I have had weak moments and handled accounts pro bono. Hardship cases of people screwed over by the system have a chance of being added to my client list.
Success is not an opportunity for everyone else to punish you. If you are so good you must keep working, harder than ever, to serve anyone who might need your services or products and for no pay, what’s the incentive! No wonder so many people decide to remain broke. Sure beats the alternative.
Time to put the obnoxious joking aside.
There is a real reason why successful people charge more. First, they are worth it and they have proven their value.
Second, and this is the real reason wealthy people charge more, there isn’t enough time to do everything and even if there was I (and other wealthy people) have earned the right to respite. Money is only the scorecard.
Fees and my income increase because I continue creating greater and greater value. Higher fees create a sort of firewall or filter. People who produce are inundated with people who want to kick the tires. If you allow, they will consume every second of your day. This is unreasonable and untenable.
I love helping people. Mr. Money Mustache sent this blog rocketing higher. My continued efforts here have kept the ball rolling. It took a while, but I finally have reached a good balance with my fees. What I charged when I only served a local market is different now that I earned the right to a national market. By increasing fees to a level where I can get work done in a reasonable time without hiring staff to tell people “no” all day is fair to me and to you, especially those paying me to do the work.
It gets better. Kevin Clack, has been working on this blog for a while redesigning it. The new design will have a tab called “Working with the Wealthy Accountant” where I will share the kind of work I will take on and my fees. Demand will have some bearing on the fee. I am accepting new clients again, but say this reluctantly so I don’t get swamped. My goal is quality service and advice at a reasonable cost. (Yes, you may request a consult. I may open more hours to new clients and consulting as new automation frees my time for important work helping you.)
Winning is not a crime! You should not be sanctioned or punished for success. So you reached financial independence and retired early. So what if you travelled the planet for a few years and now yearn for a side gig, business or even returning to the traditional workforce full or part-time.
No matter which path you choose you still get paid.
Imagine you had a time machine. You could go back in time and change anything you wanted. A past mistake could be erased, a missed opportunity taken, a relationship saved. If I had such a time machine I would change nothing. I would leave everything exactly as it happened, including all the regrets.
A popular attitude suggests many people would go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler before he committed his crimes against humanity. I wouldn’t. I would let the approximately 60 million people died; I would allow the gas chambers to continue.
Why would I pass a chance to save all those people? Am I really that cold? No, I am not that cold, but I do know everything happens for a reason. If Hitler didn’t do what he did more than a billion people could have died and the human race sent back to the Stone Age.
Imagine a time machine existed allowing anyone to go back and kill Hitler before the nightmare began. Imagine someone bumped off little Adolf when he was a wee tyke. How would human history have evolved differently.
Well, for one, scientists would not have been motivated to split the atom quite so soon. But make no mistake, scientists were getting close to discovering the mystery of splitting the atom. The atomic bomb wasn’t concocted out of thin air when the desire for a big BOOM was needed. No, human knowledge was getting close.
Without Hitler, Germany might have kept her scientists. Germany might have invented the bomb in the 1950s or 1960s without the impetus of war. The United States and other nations would have soon followed.
Like World War II, such delicate programs would have been conducted in secret. Many nations may have built a nuclear arsenal unbeknownst to anyone else. The itch to use such a massive weapon to gain geopolitical advantage would have been immense.
One small conflagration could have started a limited nuclear exchange. Consequences would have been somewhat unknown. All politicians would have known is that an entire city or army could be crushed in an instant. Nuclear fallout and secondary damage would have been speculation and curiosity only.
A geopolitical event leading to a limited nuclear exchange would easily turn into a full-fledged nuclear exchange. Approximately 2.3 billion people lived on the planet in 1940; more by the time a nuclear event would have been likely.
A billion or more people would die in such a scenario. And it all is a likely possibility if Hitler didn’t do what he did.
Say You’re Sorry
There is a difference between going back and changing something you regret in life and wishing you hadn’t done it. Except for psychopaths, we all have things we wish we had not done. Wishing we had not done something is the result of learning a valuable lesson.
Like Hitler, there would be negative consequences if you went back in time and changed a negative event in your life. Negative events teach far more than positive events. Failure, and all the accompanying pain, motivates learning better than any other thing. Take away the failure and you lose all the motivation to learn and change.
This is a personal finance blog so we will consider money. As a reader you may start to believe personal finance bloggers have it made. They learned to save and invest properly at an early ago to achieve serious financial goals.
Where do you think personal finance bloggers get these ideas? I can assure you it comes from mistakes; big, fat, juicy financial bloodletting mistakes. We put our pants on one leg at a time. No special sauce gave us an advantage. We learned from reading, research and experience. There are no shortcuts.
But what about the really big mistakes? A marriage destroyed in a moment of lustful passion or an intoxicated decision to sit behind the wheel leads to a lost life. The consequences will be life changing for you regardless, and the legal or criminal justice system will not be the only ones meting out the pain.
Since it is easier to be sorry for doing something than traveling back in time, you had better get used to accepting where you are in life. The bad decisions can take a toll.
Changing time is not possible. All you or I have is the ability to feel sorry for our actions and make amends if possible. Even with amends it doesn’t change what happened; amends only allow all parties to live with the reality of what happened.
The Stoics understood this all too well. Epictetus says there are only four things you have complete control over: how you interpret what happens to you, how you respond, moving toward something (attraction) and moving away from something (aversion). Of the four things you have complete control of all take place between the ears. Attraction and aversion are not physical acts; they are mental. Your response to events is a mental act. You control completely your mental response. Your response in the physical world is limited by many factors.
Regret is normal; shame is normal; fear is normal. The emotional response to stupid things done is normal. You did what you did because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Maybe you talked yourself into an affair feeling it would remain a secret and harm no one. Maybe driving impaired didn’t seem so bad. What are the odds of an accident? I’m not that drunk.
And then you start wishing. Wishing you could go back in time and change things; undo what you have done. Once again, it is easier to be sorry, learn a lesson and face consequences than travel back in time. So all we have are the time worn words of Epictetus, a slave who won his freedom.
Making a Difference
The natural evolution of this blog is to provide intense programs to help people meet their goals. A current, in progress, redesign of this blog will incorporate some of these abilities so rolling out a program will be easy when I am ready.
The first program is already outlined and ready for production. But hold onto your hats, folks; the program is for convicted criminals! That’s right. I have outlined a twelve week program on how to reach financial goals for the toughest crowd imaginable.
The decision was easy for me. Wisconsin currently spends north of a billion dollars per year on prisons and a large number of these people are there for weed and alcohol. Most are not bad people, but their life is really messed up due to a bad choice.
My program will not help incorrigibles. Good people who just did stupid things—is anyone excluded—need a way to get their life back. A society is not better when you take away all hope for a large fraction of the population.
Over twelve weeks my hope is these people will learn how to hold their head high and stop wanting to change time, accepting life as it is. I don’t care if they killed someone in an auto accident while intoxicated. They can be sorry for their prior actions, but life is as it is. This program isn’t about wishing.
The outline is fleshed out and may be expanded to sixteen or twenty weeks in the future. I submitted the proposal to the proper authorities to move forward. As of yet no word.
There is a reason to expect no response. If my work reduces recidivism, the people in charge lose job security. A successful program means there is less need for jail and prison guards, fewer prosecutors and judges, fewer taxes required for a smaller police force. The criminal justice system lives on failure. Doing the job right, successfully, harms their job security. We’ll see how enlightened they are soon enough.
I can hear you already. “It’s not fair! Why do criminals get this powerful program, but not me?” Glad you asked.
Part of my proposal insists the program be recorded to teach others in Corrections to learn to do what I do and to publish each session online (YouTube, et cetera). Recordings also allow me to review my performance to improve my skills and update properly.
Still, the first program is designed for criminals willing to integrate back into society.
The second phase will be directed toward victims. Victims deserve a chance too! The original program will need some modifications to work for victims. Victims have different needs and have different challenges than offenders.
Phase three includes the general public. You, kind reader, are not forgotten. All three phases can take place simultaneously. Once I flesh out some of the issues with the offender’s program I will be ready to start building the general program for the masses. Victims will have their own program shortly after the initial phase.
The offender and victim programs are relatively easy to do. I prepare the program and present each week until the program concludes. A government official will record the program for future use and publication.
The program planned for you, kind readers, is much more intense. Your training program will cover closer to twenty weeks. Reading and videos will be part of the program, including assignments that push you toward financial independence quickly.
The program will show you how to start and maintain a successful business and how to build a large net worth fast. The best part for many is reaching financial independence in as little as five years. Each situation is different. Most can get there in five or so years, even if they are at zero. Others deep in debt or with physical limitations will take longer to achieve their goals.
This blog’s redesign will incorporate the ability to disseminate this type of program. The cost of producing the program will be steep so it will be a premium product (my fancy way of saying I’ll probably charge for the program).
My guess is this will take about a year to get this into your hands. Patience, kind readers, it is a virtue.
I am excited about this program. I hope the local government takes me up on the offer. It would be a great starting point to iron out any issues while serving the community. If not, the program for the general public will still move forward.
Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world? —Steve Jobs to John Scully, then President of Pepsi.
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. —Steve Jobs
Many accountants will not work with doctors. Doctors as a group can be difficult in the best of times, demanding an instant response to their every whim. I disagree completely.
My firm has serviced accounts for doctors nearly from day one. The value doctors provide society is vital and I have always felt they deserve extra latitude. The stress level doctors face daily supersedes anything I deal with. If I make a mistake, money is at risk; when a doctor makes a decision, lives are at risk.
My personality meshed well with the mindset doctors have. As a result, I have been a value added service to my doctor clients. Many hair-raising situations were resolved successfully because I understood the doctor’s situation and was able to integrate their issue into the problem solving formulas of my firm. It also allowed my doctor clients to get very rich.
Getting It Done
One of my first doctor clients has stayed with me all these years. When we first met he was reluctant to hire a small firm with a young owner. He needed someone responsive. After a short talk he decided I was worth the risk.
The situation of our good doctor included two jobs. He worked at two clinics at once because working 80 hours a week offers a young man way too much free time to dilly dally. Income was generous for our doctor. But our story is not about money today, at least not all of it.
Working at two clinics should have filled every available minute of time. Unfortunately there is this really stupid thing called vacation time and weekends. With a few spare second at hand, our good doctor found excitement in researching a medication already on the market. Within a few years he was the expert on the therapy, even more so than the company that produced the medication!
Research requires quiet time. Our doctor built an awesome office in his home to continue his research. The pharmaceutical company by now hired him as a consultant. As our doctor suspected, there were several additional beneficial uses to the said medication. My firm, by providing back office support, was an integral part of bringing these additional indications to market. I was part of the team making the world a better place. My head swelled a quarter of an inch.
Three full time jobs was the breaking point for our doctor. One clinic job was eliminated; at the other hours were curtailed. Research was getting intense and it was consuming all available time. My office invoiced the pharmaceutical company for the time the doctor put into researching and testing their medication for multiple additional indications. Soon I was also knowledgeable on the medication involved.
Working Beyond Home
Working from home is the greatest thing. Unfortunately too many distractions can occur. The wife and kids can pop in any time they want and no matter how hard you try you can still hear some of the activity going on around the house. It can be hard to concentrate.
It was time to move the business out of the home. The clinic jobs were now history. Our doctor now consulted for several firms, including the clinics he previously worked for. He also filled in when the need was pressing for a while.
An office building wasn’t the best choice. He didn’t have clients the way most businesses have clients. His clients were few and scattered around the planet. He was on the road endlessly, traveling to Europe and Washington D.C. frequently. He also worked with firms in Asia and traveled there several times.
It was a unique business that needed a unique accountant advising him. In the end he did move the business out of the home. He bought a beautiful home in Neenah, Wisconsin with some acreage. Our doctor now had the quiet time he needed to do his job better than ever before.
When research got intense he could sleep there overnight. When he needed to recharge his mind he could spend time walking among the apple trees on his land. Good health requires exercise so our good doctor did some work around the place from time to time as a form of therapy.
It worked well and always has. The doctor used the office until recently until he moved to a better location. He has since reached full retirement age and promises he will slow down soon, but he keeps getting requests for help from pharmaceutical firms. He has since helped bring several medications to market and increased the number of indications for use.
You and I Have Some Doctor in Us
Retirement is a misnomer. Just when you think you have it made life throws so many interesting opportunities your way you can’t possible get them all done. Full retirement leads to a side gig; the side gig starts earning some coin; then the side gig takes over, earning more than you did when you were working; then the side gig fills a large part of your time and you need a quiet place to study and think.
The earlier you start at retirement the worse it is. I went straight to retirement, if you will, by starting my own seasonal part-time job from day one. Then life screwed it up. You don’t run a sideline tax prep service without massive additional opportunities dropping in your lap.
Like our doctor, I had an office in the home when I first prepared tax returns. The first year I remodeled an unused bedroom. It took one tax season to outgrow that.
For the next year I remodeled the entire basement except for a small portion for the laundry area and utilities. I laid a new sidewalk around the side of the house to a back entrance. This worked fine for about four years.
By the time I had five years in my client list had grown to around 800 and I had employees. April 15th had cars lined up and down both sides of the street around my home for two blocks. The city politely recommended I get an office outside the home. (They were polite, but clear I was pushing the limits of the city code for running a business out of my home.)
I hated moving out of the house. If I couldn’t sleep I could always go downstairs for a few hours and knock out a few returns. In the middle of the day when it got slow I could go upstairs and take a nap. It was a great arrangement. Unfortunately, my success removed that option.
I bought the office building I am currently in the same year and moved my practice. The good news about owning an office building on a main highway meant many more clients. My client list exploded to over 2,000 in a few years. I was busy, but it was seasonal, so I lived with it.
It is no secret I love writing. I also love research. The doctor and I had something in common.
Over the years my firm maintained a fairly large client list and a good number of employees. My firm expanded services to include bookkeeping and payroll, something I only did in a minor way prior. Consulting, public speaking and writing assignments played a larger role, too.
Several years ago I had this great idea for a blog. I didn’t know a thing about building a blog but was determined to give it a shot. I secured the url and hooked up with Bluehost. And there it sat; a great idea with nowhere to go.
I was still publishing on multiple other platforms and writing for other firm and publications. There is something about pushing nouns up against verbs in a variety of ways that is addicting. And still the dream of a “real” blog, a “real” website written and run by yours truly was intoxicating. It was an itch I had to scratch.
A few years ago I met Pete, the venerable Mr. Money Mustache. The blog had to start now! I broke rank and paid to get it done.
Like any new business it can occupy a serious percentage of waking hours. If you love doing it you tend to do it a lot.
I have an office in the home. It has been overrun by some of the animals who roam my house. I call them the wife and kids.
I read and write wherever I can find a spot. Distractions limit the value of any personal brainstorming session or reading time, however.
At my “real” office I always promise myself some quiet time to read and study. It never works. The phone rings, a client comes in and sees my car parked outside, or an employee has a “quick question”. After the 904th interruption I may as well set the book down and open my door.
Reading and studying are a major part of what I do. I am good at what I do not only because I have done a lot of it for a long time, but because I compulsively researched and read on the subject matter. And quiet time is required to increase those skills.
I’m just going to come out and say it. I quit! No, no, no. Sorry, my fantasy barged in.
No, I am now considering the same step the doctor did. I started looking for a home to buy near my office where I can go a day or two a week and just read, study, learn, research, write.
The good news is that real estate is fairly cheap yet in NE Wisconsin. There are several very nice homes for under $100,000 within walking distance of my main office. I am considering it, doing what the doctor did.
Sometimes you need to get out of the house and into a different environment where you can let the creative juices flow uninterrupted. It is a magical place. I will keep the location a secret. If life intrudes into this sanctuary it loses all value.
Sometimes it is healthy to get out of the house and go to the office.
You did everything right: maxed out your retirement accounts, invested in index funds, paid off all debt, saved half your gross income, and did every home project and car repair yourself to save money. If you are like me this describes you to a T. I save a massive amount of my income in tax advantaged retirement plans and stuff non-qualified accounts, too. Very few jobs are off-limits to me. The roof is bad; I go up there and spank on another set of shingles after tearing off the old ones. A bad light switch is an easy fix after a short visit to the hardware store. I clip my own lawn at home and the office; I grow most of the food I consume; I bike to work even though it is a 30 miles round-trip; change the oil in the car; and I have no problem with a paint brush.
Once per month Mrs. Accountant makes a major grocery run. Once per week she picks up milk and a few perishable staples. There are times we make our own bread, but milk needs constant resupply with kiddos in the house. Most items we consume at home or at the office are ordered online. Most of the time the price is cheaper, even with shipping costs added. When you consider the value of time and the cost of driving around town shopping, most online purchases delivered are a bargain.
Several months ago I overheard Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, say he was toying with the idea of having his groceries delivered. His argument was his time was worth more than the few dollars in savings running around town doing it himself. My first thought was, How un-Mustachian of the ‘ol boy. Here is a guy who does all his own projects. He bikes around town and consumes only 25 gallons (95 liters) of gas a year. Now the bum wants to have his groceries delivered? Really!
But he has a good point. My time (and his) is worth a lot. My billing rate at the office ranges from $120 and up. There are projects I get paid $2,200 an hour to do. How much is grocery shopping worth now? My time is valuable and so is yours. Even in retirement your time is a valuable asset. You have the same amount of time in a day as the richest man on the planet and the poorest bum. The rich/wealthy have no time advantage. What you do with that time is up to you. Spent wisely you have a cherished life of happiness and wealth; squandered, and you have increasing regrets as time takes its toll.
There is an advantage I have over most people. Pete is my tax client and I get to speak with him as much as I want. My worldview is beneficial, but guys like Pete see the world in a way that is not always obvious to me. There are times the guy says things that blow my mind away. Who the hell is the one working with clients every day for the last thirty years? You would think my experience working with people from all walks of life and business owners would put me front and center. For some reason Pete sees the world differently. It should be obvious, but it eludes us mere mortals.
The Next Step
There are things I insist on doing and justify the actions by saying it saves me money. For example: I clip the lawn at my office. If I hired the work done professionally it would cost under a thousand dollars per year. Knock another 30% off the cost for taxes. Now I saved maybe $600. Was it worth my time? Hmm.
Karen is my office manager. Her husband, Chris, is in the military. When he is home he loves working on buildings. He spends most of his time helping a landlord with a large number of properties. I had a project in the office to repair some water damage around the sump pump exit. I dragged my feet forever until I finally asked Chris to do the job. He did. I bought the parts needed and he billed me $150 for his day of labor, including the running around to pick up parts. I am certain my gas and tools required to do the job would have been more than $150. Doing it myself would have been more expensive and Chris did a better job than I would have and faster!
There are only so many days we get to live. We need to choose wisely what we do with them. People like me want to experience everything life has to offer, but it is impractical. Sometimes it is best to defer to the professionals. I discovered years ago installing flooring was not a good project for me to undertake. I decided to install carpet in one of my first rentals and quickly learned it was a skill I would probably never master. I don’t want to talk about how the job looked when I was finished. If you ever meet me and I tell you I have installed carpeting, just smile and humor an old man. I can still remember the address of that property, how we found the property, and what we paid for it. That was twenty-five years ago. Some scars run deep.
There are no hard and fast rules for valuing your time. A starting point might be to put a price tag of at least $40 per hour on the time it will take you to complete the job and compare it to what it will cost a professional to do it instead. Your level of experience and competence with the project involved will weigh heavy in the decision-making process of who does the work.
Readers of Mr. Money Mustache and The Wealth Accountant sometimes feel they have to do everything in life exactly like us. That is crazy! What Pete or I do is irrelevant to what you do. I installed carpet to save money, but hated the job; I’m not much of a remodeler. It was no surprise it turned out the way it did. Tax preparation may be the same with you. The odds are high I will prepare your taxes faster, better and cheaper than you can do it yourself. If you over pay your taxes because you don’t understand all the tax advantages available, your higher tax bill is what replaced your tax preparation bill. Bet I am starting to look cheap. Okay, I am not always faster; I am busy as hell.
Your time is worth something. Maybe not $120 per hour or even $40, but it is worth something. Certain jobs should be handled by an experienced professional. Your furnace or air conditioner is best left to a pro unless you happen to be a HVAC professional. That said you can educate yourself on any subject you want. I recommend educating yourself on a project before hiring a pro. It is not necessary to possess the skills of a star quarterback to be an outstanding quarterback coach; the two jobs are not synonymous. I enjoy certain roofing jobs and will happily join in when a roof needs repair. I am not afraid of hard work or long hours, but, as Clint Eastwood said, “A man has to know his limitations.”
Picking the Right Projects to Do Yourself
The hard part is deciding what to do on your own and when to bring in the cavalry. Money is not the only deciding factor. Life is about happiness. Money can bring freedom to choose and, if handled properly, accentuate happiness. Money allows you the ability to choose which projects bring you the greatest pleasure doing yourself.
Clipping the lawn at the office is a bit of exercise at the end of the day I enjoy so I will not hire out the work at this time. If it becomes a chore I have the financial resources to hire the work done. At home I love working around the farm. My place is not immaculate by any means; I like the old, used look more. I don’t care what the neighbors think. In my neighborhood the neighbors pretty much live like I do. I hired the best contractor in town when I installed a mound system; the project was well out of my league. Other landscaping and gardening projects only exist because Mrs. Accountant and I like doing them. Once they stop being fun the projects end.
If a DIY project does not trip your trigger consider hiring it out. Life is too short wasting time on things that do not bring you pleasure. This is not selfish pleasure I am talking about either. What I am talking about is jobs that bring a level of satisfaction when doing them. It is not about money then, it is about doing something you like doing. Once you understand what a project entails from your research, you can decide if it will bring you happiness performing the tasks of the project. If it makes you happy then you can decide if it is a wise financial move to DIY. Now you are able to make the right decision.
Or, you can do what I did installing carpet over on Roosevelt Street. It was a work of art. As memory serves I sold the damn place shortly thereafter. Nightmares.