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.