Good fences make good neighbors … a friend told me that one time and I am not sure I really bought into it. In fact, before I moved into my current house, I spent almost 20 years living without a fence. We opened up to the golf course in Brookhaven and why would I want to look at a fence instead of the fountain in the middle of the water hazard? After that we moved onto a creek lot, again the choice was flowing water or an 8-foot-tall privacy fence. I liked that flowing water view.
The crazy thing about it was that lack of a fence though, it’s why we moved off the golf course lot. We didn’t have a good neighbor, and a lot of the things that made for it not being a good neighbor situation would have gone unnoticed if we had just had a fence. I loved that house, that location and the work we did there. In fact, we moved back into the neighborhood two years ago but this time we skipped the golf course thing for an 8-foot-tall privacy fence. The view is not as nice, but we have great neighbors, as far as we know.
Make Good Neighbors
I had another bad neighbor in my fenceless life. This one would show up completely uninvited during dinner with a quick question or something he needed help on. He wouldn’t knock, he just kind of showed up while we were eating. He would apologize, ask if he was interrupting and when I replied that I was eating dinner, he would apologize and let me know it would be quick. He would then laugh as if that was all funny.
Later that evening, I would be watching a show or a game on TV and he would show back up again, stuck on my last answer and wanting to know if I could show him what to do. Again, no knock on the door and when he showed up it was obvious I was relaxing, watching a game but it was always something that was really important. He could make me feel so bad because he had to get this project done by tomorrow and his deadline problem became my deadline problem.
He also started showing up when I was doing stuff with my wife and family, during dinner, at the movies, going for a walk. I wasn’t home but it was like he knew my every move, he was a real live stalker and he made my life unbearable. If I just had a better fence, maybe he wouldn’t have asked that first time, or seen me in the back yard and felt comfortable asking for help. That fence would be really nice.
Living Life, Interrupted
I am sure a lot of you are reading this and thinking that I should have called the police when he started following me around but the problem was that I brought him along, so I couldn’t really blame him. You see, he was my job and I gave him this instant fenceless access to me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through my smart phone. He could call me during dinner or shoot me a text and ask me to look at something he just sent by email. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, as long as I brought that phone along, I was living life, interrupted.
I am good at what I do, my time is in demand but I also need money to pay the bills and the fact that my job was paying me, made me felt obliged to answer, I couldn’t say no because what if he decided to quit paying me?
I figured something else out, I actually owned my business, and we all own our careers. I didn’t have to run it like that, I didn’t have to invite all my clients into my home via my phone. I also realized something else, that smart phone made for my personal life being a bad neighbor for my work life. My personal life showed up at work with group texts about a ride this weekend, it showed up as a really funny Facebook post that I just had to comment on, a game I could play, things that had nothing to do with work barging into the office.
The Good Old Days
In the old days my work life and my personal life were neighbors on my daily calendar, separated by a fence called my daily commute. Nobody knew my home number, therefore that commute was a really good fence. The thing is that now I don’t even have a home phone, so work follows me around all weekend on my cell phone and my personal life follows me to work and I became less effective at both of them.
So I did something about it, it was pretty simple, I just got a second phone and moved my personal stuff to it. I installed Facebook on that, and my games and all my cycling stuff. I put my personal email on there, but not my work email. Then I took my old phone and uninstalled all my social networking apps, my personal email, games, etc. I just had work email, texts and phone, that was it.
Let Smart Phones be Smart
I also did something else, my smart phone is actually pretty smart, it has something called sleep mode and I set that phone to take a break from 6:00 PM to 8:00 AM, automatically. It turns itself off and on when it is supposed to, every time, no exceptions. The accounting world can be on fire, real Armageddon type stuff with both hail and brimstone and my time at home is not affected because the truth is, there aren’t end of the world scenarios that happen on a Saturday evening involving accounting. The book of Revelation is completely devoid of an end time event that centers around everyone’s QuickBooks file being out of balance. The four horseman were not from the IRS brandishing their 10-keys and imposing penalties on all my clients. What someone is panicking about on a Saturday is something they likely had all week and just didn’t get it sent over. I want to help them out, I really do, I just want to do it on Monday.
What happened is that I didn’t have to think about it and when I came home, I set it on the counter face down and didn’t look at it during dinner. I do the same thing with my personal phone, I set my wife as VIP so if she calls or texts, it makes a noise but it doesn’t buzz, chirp or beep if anyone else does anything other than call. There are end of the world events that can happen with my family, and I need to be able to be reached, we all do, but if it is the end of the world, they aren’t texting, they are calling, so if my wife calls, I answer. If it’s really important, they will call. I also know this, if it isn’t my wife and it’s a friend that calls, if it is really important they will try me at the office, so I just need enough will power to not answer that phone. I encourage my friends to call me on my work number during the day if they need me and most of them do, when it is actually important, but they don’t want to bug me at work when it’s not. Hey guess what, without personal stuff happening at work, I am a better accountant. I am not getting paid to be on Facebook, so I shouldn’t do it while someone is paying me, it’s really that simple.
Ironic = This
If your smart phone is the problem, getting another smart phone doesn’t seem to be a likely solution. If you have a drinking problem, nobody ever suggests that maybe you should drink more but with smart phones, it seems like it is working. That second smart phone has become a really good fence because it only does what you tell it to do and if you tell it not to bother you, it won’t. If you give it exceptions, it will make them all the time. It really is smart that way and it’s pretty smart in a way that we are pretty dumb.
Excuses Excuses Excuses
I know a lot of you are reading this and saying, that must be nice to have your own business, my boss doesn’t work that way, if he calls, I have to answer. What I would tell you is this, get a different boss. Then when you get hired, set that rule in stone, give him something in exchange, I won’t be on my personal phone at work unless it’s my wife or kids during the day if you won’t be on my personal phone at night. I will be more effective here and more effective at home, I will be a better employee and a happier human being. However, if you come into my personal time then I will be less effective there and I will end up having to take care of things here, I will be less effective here, because I am less effective here, you will need an answer from me sometime while I am at home and the vicious circle continues.
That solution is the only win-win solution because without it you won’t be happy and he won’t be happy. If the potential boss can’t live with that, he is just another boss, not a different boss.
Another excuse is cost; I can’t afford another phone. Well my extra line is $20 a month, a cheap used smart phone is $100, so for less than $400 you can have a great fence during the first year, after that the cost of the fence goes down to $250 a year. A good fence in your backyard could cost 50 times more than that and we all would put it up in a second if our job was our real live neighbor, because we wouldn’t want him barging in all the time. We spend that much just in case we have a bad neighbor, because our privacy is worth it. Also, it was just a couple of years ago that we all had home phones and a smart phone, I guarantee your home phone bill was more than $20 a month. I can also tell you this, I never use my work phone. I have a desk and an assistant and a fancy voice over IP phone system that has a headset right in my ear, I can type and talk at the same time. I can look at your tax return and compare it to the prior year while I talk to you. I can’t do that on my smart phone. I can’t look at your return or do anything with it. In fact, when I am at the office, I set that smart phone to forward to my office phone, so if you call me there, it rings on the phone I can work with. Pretty much the only thing I do with that phone is turn off forwarding and charge it up and it is the best $20 a month that I can spend.
I realize the reader of this post very well could be a potential client and that client is thinking “I would never hire someone I couldn’t reach whenever I needed to” and I would ask why? Does that make you happy? Is your home life thriving because you need to text the CPA on a Saturday for a problem you have had since Wednesday? Wouldn’t you rather work with a CPA that thinks ahead and plans, that helps you do the things he does well so you don’t have to work on Saturdays to catch up some work that you don’t know how to do because you never planned enough to do it? Isn’t a CPA that thrives with time off the exact kind of CPA you want? If that answer is still no, I need 24 hour a day access, then return to your Google search and go after that next hit, we are not for you.
So That’s BaCo
So that’s what we try to be at BaCo Group, a different boss. We understand that we can be an annoying neighbor if you let us, so we insist on a good fence, here and at home. The staff here are not required to print their cell phones on their business cards, they don’t set them up to get work email if they don’t want to, I don’t text them, I don’t call them at home. I send them a note at their work email to see me in the morning about a situation.
If a client has somehow tracked me down outside the office, I tell them to take it easy, we will work on it in the morning. I will get a call in and we will get it answered then. We are intentional about it, we used to be Baker & Company, that’s what BaCo stands for, it’s what we called ourselves, internally. Now it is our brand, the only identifiable word in our name is Group. We, the group, are here to take care of our clients, we work as a team, a group, there is not a name there with less qualified accountants known as & Company. We are all part of that Group.
As members of the group, we are interchangeable and we do interchange so when we go on vacation, that good fence on our calendar is strong enough to last a week or two, sometimes a month. We can actually leave for a month and not be bothered by work. Otherwise, Joe couldn’t take his Dad on a Safari in Africa uninterrupted or I couldn’t ride my Tour de Pac 12 on a bike ride from Canada to Mexico, uninterrupted.
If you are a CPA and are looking for a different boss, if you are good at what you do and you are willing to make a good fence a two-way street, we might be a good fit for you. We aren’t for everybody, just the ones that believe you should take some time away from work and live life, uninterrupted. Visit our careers page for more and an online application.
Several years ago I looked into a key man life insurance policy for myself, in the event of my passing, insurance seemed like a good way to help take care of my spouse and effect an orderly transition of my firm to some of my senior tax advisors. I had been in practice for 25 years and thought I had built a nice little firm but when I looked into the cost of life insurance I discovered two things 1) I was in horrible shape, morbidly obese and dealing with high blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol and 2) I was working in a life threatening profession. The first thing was not that surprising to me but the second surprised me and when I challenged my life insurance agent on the idea that being a CPA was hardly life threatening he said he was surprised as well but CPAs have a higher mortality rate than other perceived risky professions like skydivers and window washers. That kind of hit me because I have always had a thing about heights, I am very sure I couldn’t hang off a building and clean the windows and the idea of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, for fun, was absolutely foreign to me. Yet my job, working on spreadsheets and tax returns sitting at my desk was more life threatening than both of those.
The truth is both of those jobs have some built in safety features, to protect the folks using parachutes there is rigorous testing, the product is made more durable and in the event something goes wrong there are backup parachutes and safety harnesses so that they can jump out of an airplane with someone that has never jumped out of a plane before and get them both to the ground, safely. They have a plan and they follow the plan, their lives depend on it. Additionally, they were outside, doing something and burning some calories. If they had a cheeseburger at lunch, they burned off far more of those calories and bad decisions cleaning a window than I did trying to figure out why retained earnings wouldn’t roll on the 1120S that “should be easy.” They realized they were in a risky profession and they needed to plan to offset that risk and then they followed that plan, kind of a revolutionary concept in our business.
There is so much work, it is so complicated, everybody has the same deadline and something always comes up, I just never felt it was something I could plan for and therefore I never did.
A combination of a lot of things, including that assessment by the underwriters of my very expensive life insurance policy, taught me something, if a skydiver armed with a high school diploma could follow a plan, why couldn’t I? I graduated from college, I passed the CPA exam, I built a business, but I can’t plan to keep myself healthy? Why couldn’t I exercise during tax season? Why couldn’t we, as a team, plan for success and include a contingency for when something goes wrong, we could have our own backup parachute?
That idea actually worked
We did something, I worked with the folks on my team and we came up with a plan, it started back in 2013 when I started exercising and losing weight and protecting my time. I couldn’t protect my team by working my staff harder, I am just not wired that way but I could use their skills to help me plan, stick to the plan and create rewards for everyone.
Rather than get into the details of the plan and how we implemented it maybe I could just point to what it looks like now, in 2015 we achieved a milestone, every client would be done before the deadline and everyone that owed would know they owed at least a week before the deadline. We have met that goal every April 15th and every October 15th since that date and we have got better, we actually finished every return a week before the deadline and we rewarded ourselves for a job well done with a long weekend before October 16th, the deadline this year was on Monday the 16th since the 15th was on the weekend.
Thanks to a solid plan, that gets better every year, a backup for when something goes wrong and armed with the power to say “no” when projects jeopardized would apparently surpass our contingencies backup we finished every return a week before the deadline. Not only did we finish the return, but we had them back, they were signed and they were electronically filed a week before the deadline and that final weekend that used to be completely ruined by surprised and that deadline looked like this:
The owner, Ford Baker, went on an annual weekend trip he called Father Son Football Weekend with his son. On the morning of October 12, he boarded a plane for San Francisco with his son and for the 14th year in a row, he hung out and watched football games, on Friday the 13th he was in Berkeley watching Cal upset 8th ranked Washington State, on the 14th he was in Palo Alto watching Oregon take on Stanford and on the 15th he was in Oakland, sitting in the Black Hole watching the Raiders play San Diego before they left town for Las Vegas. They rode bikes around San Francisco and Berkeley, they saw some football and they relaxed and connected. How many families get a weekend where they can connect with their fully grown siblings or kids? This dad did.
Well Joe Vincent’s brother did as well, who is Joe Vincent? He is the other CPA in the office that took off on the 13th to go on a camping trip, he went hunting with his bird dog and his brother-in-law in Arkansas, completely cut off from any cellular contact with the rest of the world.
The folks that covered the phones and the office on Friday the 13th, Brennan Courtwright and Julia Ford also got a long weekend by … taking off on the deadline. Both Brennan and Julia have young kids, so Brennan flew his girls to Florida to see their grandparents and Julia got a stress free day at home with her kids, on the deadline.
Kind of crazy when you think about the fact that 3 out of 4 of the folks mentioned above went out of town, purchased plane fare, planned and other people in their lives also planned on it by requesting vacation time.
So what does all that mean?
Well, let me ask a couple of questions about what you are looking for from a CPA firm
- If you are a business owner that is looking for a CPA that will plan ahead, follow a plan and let you know your numbers prior to the very last second, and, most importantly, if you want to do your part by participating in that plan, we may be the group for you.
- If you are looking for a CPA that has a plan to back you up when something disrupts your plan, we might be the group for you. Might because if the disruption is a one time thing, we have an extra parachute for you, it’s our contingency plan. However, if it is a recurring theme in your business and that year you need our backup parachute because you don’t want to follow our plan, or plan for the contingency, well we aren’t the group for you and we will probably tell you before you tell us.
- If you need 24 x 7 access to us through our cell phones and email, so you can have a conference call on a Sunday afternoon to deal with something that became urgent on Friday afternoon, we absolutely are not the team for you. We sell time for a living, but not all of our time is for sale.
We don’t have to do every tax return out there, we just have to do the ones that like the idea of answering and living question 1) with an enthusiastic yes. We can’t do 2) and 3) all the time without impacting the folks that want 1) so we don’t. We work with a specific group of businesses and their owners, we shoot for 100% satisfaction so therefore, we create an expectation and let folks know what we won’t do. If you have to have the things and time that aren’t for sale, we simply don’t engage because you won’t be satisfied.
If you are looking at this article and thinking, I wish my firm did this, then why can’t it? If the answer is because my firm would never (fill in the blank) then maybe your firm needs a fresh face, ours. We are always looking because there are a lot of folks that like and want option 1) and we would love to add some people to the mix so we can say yes to a few more of them. We are different, we aren’t typical, but if your life is just as important as your paycheck then check out what we have to offer, fill out an application and come by the office. Maybe your firm will be our firm and your wish will come true.
Published on Oct 27 @ 3:26 PM CDT
February 21, 2017 13:31
Good fences make good neighbors … a friend told me that one time and I am not sure I really bought into it. Here is a post from Ford, on how he implemented that idea at The BaCo Group as one of the fundamental principles that drive our firm.