2 Lessons Clients Taught Me

Older businesswoman pondering, seated by windowWhat our clients can teach us.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

Let's discuss Lean Six Sigma as it applies to CPA firms. Let's discuss lean processes and error tracking.

MORE: CPAs Can’t Help You | The Value-Pricing Con Job | No Consultant Can Solve Your Biggest Problem | The Agile Accountant | The 21st-Century CPA Firm | The Great Marketing Hoax | The Cure for Commoditization | Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management | What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong | Four Amusing Millennial Myths | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

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You’ve probably heard of Lean Six Sigma. Our manufacturing clients implemented it back in the 1990s.

I’m betting this is the first time you’ve heard of its application to the CPA world.

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CPAs Can’t Help You

Young Asian entrepreneur reading magazineLook outside the CPA world for practice management answers.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

There are no easy answers. The people who are selling “Firm of the Future” once sold "elder care" as the future. Did you make a killing off elder care? That was one rotting corpse of an idea.

MORE: The Value-Pricing Con Job | No Consultant Can Solve Your Biggest Problem | The Great Marketing Hoax | What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

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Do you want advice from someone who found consulting to CPAs more profitable than being a CPA?

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The Value-Pricing Con Job

Versus the Law of Tax Preparer Time Management.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

Let’s tackle my biggest gripe with the value pricing people. “Time sheets suck! Toss your time sheets!”

Who doesn’t hate filling out a time sheet for the entire week at 5 p.m. on a Friday? How could that ever be accurate? It cuts into my beer-drinking time!

MORE: No Consultant Can Solve Your Biggest Problem | The Agile Accountant | The Cure for Commoditization | Four Amusing Millennial Myths | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

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Do time sheets even exist anymore? They haven’t existed since about 1990 at the latest. Some genius invented the memory resident, background timer that lets us track and record time as we go. Our first time-tracking software was Timeslips back around 1990. It had a timer that fed timeslips into billing and reports on a real-time basis – back in 1990.

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No Consultant Can Solve Your Biggest Problem

Woman driving a sports carThe tough love only you can apply to your practice.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

I know … you became a CPA because that sounded like an adult job that would give you the financial resources to buy that Lamborghini and winter in the south of France. Have that Lamborghini yet? Me neither. Clearly, people lied to us – #fakecareers. I’m not really into $2,000 oil changes anyway.

MORE: The Agile Accountant | The 21st-Century CPA Firm | The Great Marketing Hoax | The Cure for Commoditization | Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management | What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong | Four Amusing Millennial Myths | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

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So, let’s shift the focus from you to your firm. What will your firm be when it grows up? What do you want it to be? How do you transform your firm to make it the best it can be?

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The Agile Accountant

Scrum line art illustrationLearning a lesson from software programmers.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

Agile project management conjures up the image of scruffy software programmers surrounded by empty pizza boxes at 3 a.m. hacking away at producing the next Google.

MORE: The Cure for Commoditization | Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management | What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong | Four Amusing Millennial Myths | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

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What could Agile possibly bring to accounting and income tax preparation?

Actually a lot, and it could transform your workflow and provide a quantum leap in the efficiency of your project management.

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The 21st-Century CPA Firm

Young businesswoman using a tabletLearning how to learn.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

Our profession is woefully behind state-of-the-art management.

MORE: The Cure for Commoditization | Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management | What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong | Four Amusing Millennial Myths | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

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Have you read anything about agile project management in CPA firms? No? Well then, lean in a little.

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The Great Marketing Hoax

Dump "differentiation." Embrace profitability.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

There are only two ways to succeed in a commodity market: 1. differentiate or 2. get really efficient.

MORE: The Cure for Commoditization | Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It.
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If you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid from industry consultants who have never worked in CPA firms, you’ll likely choose differentiation. When you differentiate, you get paid what you’re worth – at least according to these experts.

But let's take a closer look.

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The Cure for Commoditization

Managing for profits beats price-cutting.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

In the beginning, the IRS created the 1040 and saw that it was good. Shortly thereafter, the first CPA crawled out of the primordial muck and asked, “How can I make money preparing tax returns?”

More Stitely: What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong | Four Amusing Millennial Myths | The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions | Where WorkFlow Management Runs Off the Rails | Three Ways Your Office Tech Is Ruining Your Firm | When Value Pricing Works | The 4 Dark Clouds Hovering Over Cloud Accounting Software | Value Billing on the 19th Hole | The IRS and Big Data Gone Bad | Will Zero Data Entry End Your Tax Practice? | Three Trends That Will Transform Your Tax Practice or Eliminate It | Value, Billem & Dunn: A Value Billing Case Study | How to Make an Extra $72,000 by Working Smarter

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The green eyeshade-wearing Neanderthal CPAs eventually evolved into CPAs experienced in electronic data management, but today, we are still trying to answer that first question.

Effective project management isn’t the entire answer, but it’s an essential building block.

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Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management

Work smarter, not harder.

By Frank Stitely
The Relentless CPA

For years, I’ve written angry-man blogs flogging CPAs and tax preparers for not treating their practices like businesses.

More Stitely: What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong  |  Four Amusing Millennial Myths  |  The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It.   |  3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions  |  Where Workflow Management Runs Off the Rails  |  Three Ways Your Office Tech Is Ruining Your Firm  |  When Value Pricing Works  |  The 4 Dark Clouds Hovering Over Cloud Accounting Software  |  Value Billing on the 19th Hole  |  The IRS and Big Data Gone Bad  |  Will Zero Data Entry End Your Tax Practice?  |  Three Trends That Will Transform Your Tax Practice or Eliminate It  |  Value, Billem & Dunn: A Value Billing Case Study  |  How to Make an Extra $72,000 by Working Smarter  |

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I coined the term “ruthlessly efficient workflow management” to promote the marriage of project management and delegation.

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What the Value-Pricers Get Wrong

And 5 ways to fix it.

By Frank Stitely

Beeeeeep.  Briiinnnnggg.  Boooooop.  You reach over to turn off the alarm.

But it’s not your alarm, and it’s not 6 a.m. yet.  It’s the coffee maker.  Or is it the dishwasher?  Or the washing machine?  It turns out to be a text message.  You glance down at your smartphone, and you see 14 app notifications, 27 e-mails, and three texts.  Your smartwatch yells at you for not meeting your “fitness” goal yesterday.

By 6 a.m., half of humanity competes for your attention.  Every computer programmer on the planet believes his notifications rock your world.  When everything beeps, do any of the beeps really matter?  The rock group, Chicago, wrote, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”  Yes, it’s time for another notification.

We don’t suffer alone.  Our clients share our pain.

The value pricing people tell us that we aren’t selling time.  But we are.  We aren’t selling our time.  We are selling our clients’ time – back to them.  21st-century clients want perfect compliance, fast service, and a competitive price – as a start.  Most importantly, they want us to save them time.

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Four Amusing Millennial Myths

Three young people working in an officeAre you sure they're so different?

By Frank Stitely

No workplace topic triggers more useless diatribes and spewed nonsense than the dreaded millennial.

MORE from Frank Stitely: The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. | 3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions
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Know why millennials can't afford houses? Avocado toast is expensive. When millennials play Monopoly, they never buy any properties. They just circle the board and pay rent. A millennial, a Gen Xer and a Baby Boomer drive to a bar. Well, you know that story can't be true. The millennial takes Lyft. Tweet any word from a dictionary, and you'll offend a millennial somewhere.
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The Annual Tax Meeting is Dead. Clients Killed It. 

Four ways we're better off without pre-scheduled client meetings.

By Frank Stitely
Clarity 

We had been scheduling tax meetings for over twenty years. We thought clients wanted them. They came because we told them to, not because they wanted to.

Here’s part of an e-mail referral I received this past week. “Frank is a great CPA, and you don’t even have to meet with him.” Guess the age of the client and prospective client. If you guessed under fifty, you’re wrong. Both are well into their fifties.

Just when you conquered the night sweats from meeting new people at chamber of commerce meetings, Lucy swipes the ball away from you again, Charlie Brown. Face to face meetings are so 1990s. The tax meeting is dead.

Clients killed it. A few years ago, during a classic tax season gather up all the documents meeting, a client asked me, “Do I really have to come in next year? You have this portal thing. It’s a pain driving all the way out to Chantilly.” Believe me, it’s a pain to drive to Chantilly, Va., even if you live in Chantilly, Va.

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3 Rules for Asking Great Tax-Return Questions

Question marks

Preserve your sanity, amaze your clients.

Frank Stitely, CPA, CVA
Clarity Practice Management

Asking clients great questions is central to Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow Management (R.E.W.). Great client questions can save hundreds of hours of time during tax season and prevent projects from falling behind schedule. Here’s an example of questions done badly.

We sponsored a table at a local group’s presentation. The group’s event coordinator asked me this question. “What are the names of the people, who will be sitting at your table?” I responded with the names, and the next day, he replied, “What are the company names as well?”

So why in the hell didn’t he ask me for that with his first question? Now we’ve had two e-mail exchanges when only one was necessary. I’ve been inconvenienced, and since I’m the most important person in the word (to me), I’m not happy. He’s a banker by profession. So we can’t expect much, but he looks like an idiot to a referral source – me.

CPA, accounting, and tax firms frustrate clients this way all the time. There are three rules for asking clients great questions.

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