Category Archives: General Ramblings

Our 2nd Tax Season

So last year was our first season with the new office.  Based upon what we learned, we planned to make 2013 even better and we’d have to admit that it was.  While we can’t share specifics around all our numbers, here are some of the things we can volunteer:

  • We engaged roughly 112 clients and processed 130+ individual and business returns (not including state returns)
  • Experienced revenue  growth in excess of 150%
  • Processed returns in 10 new states
  • Completed our CTEC certification so that we can now prepare California tax returns (we processed 2 for this season)
  • Placed more returns on extension that in years past; largely due to not being able to service demand in the last 3 days of the season (from clients like the one pictured below)

No, we can’t finish your return before the 15th!

What went well

Delivering excellent customer service.  One of the ways in which we try to different ourselves from our competitors is by focusing on our relationships with our clients.  We have always sought to treat our customers like they were members of our family and make it a point to deliver excellent customer service.  We think that this must be working pretty well as we received 30% of our client growth from existing client referrals.

Leveraging free advertising.  Our company uses social media, posts ads in places like Craigslist, has profiles on platforms such as Yelp, Bing, Google etc.  What’s common about all of the above is that is cost us nothing more than a few minutes of time to set up and maintain.  Yet each one of these platforms more than pays for itself in that it brings us at least one new client per season.  With that being said, we think we’ll continue to make sure our presence is felt out there in the internet ethos.

Deepening our partnerships.  In 2012 we had a few independent sales reps who helped promote our brand.  In 2013 we increased that number to around 6.  Each one of these individuals helped us significantly expand our presence and was responsible for a fair amount of growth.  Likewise, we forged another partnership in early 2013 with a 3rd party that drove significant business to us this year.  We look forward to continuing all these relationships next year.

What we’ll adjust 

Marketing that isn’t working.  Each year we test out some things to see if we can get an edge on our competitors.  Some of it works and some of it doesn’t produce much of anything.  The key is to be able to track what a marketing piece is doing so you can know what should be retained and what needs to be scrapped.  With that being said, we’ll probably shift some of our dollars out of print, organizational and media advertising.   We have some ideas of what we want to test next; such as Jared Rogers’ mug on a bus bench or big billboard on the side of the highway so stay tuned!

Aspects of our client relations program.  Existing clients are how we generate a lot of our new business.  Thus, it’s pretty important that we engage them on a regular basis.  But when certain things don’t yield the engagement or interaction you would like, then maybe it’s time to shake things up.  On this front we’ll probably modify our newsletter program and reduce the frequency of it.  In its place we plan to increase some of the other ways we “touch” our clients such as birthday cards, holiday correspondence, biannual client calls and increased classes/workshops.

Our commitment to working smarter.  One of the epiphanies we had this season was how much more lucrative it was to work with our corporate clients on a revenue per hour basis.  Jared has a pretty good background working with Partnerships and S-Corps, which in turn sometimes have problems because they weren’t set up correctly.  To that end, the firm may make a switch to more actively seeking these clients as opposed to individuals.  While this doesn’t mean we’ll abandon taking on individual tax clients, it does mean that we will place some marketing efforts towards attracting more corporate clients.  Hey, if you can make 3 times as much revenue in the same amount of time, doesn’t it make sense to work a little smarter?

2014 will mark our 3rd season with the retail office and we are truly hoping that it is more successful than our wildest dreams.  To that end, keep your eyes peeled as we’ll be making many of those adjustments noted above in the coming months.  How knows, maybe next year we can exceed the growth we achieved in 2013.  If that happens, we think we’ll need to start hiring some more folks before Jared collapses from exhaustion!

Until next time…

Our Revised 2013 Referral Program

As many of you know, last year was our first year with our retail office.  Things went well for the most part and we grew our client base pretty substantially from the days of when were just a “part time” virtual practice.  But where did all that growth come from?  Most of it was from our network of friends, family and clients graciously referring their colleagues to us.

While we had a pretty decent referral program in the past, this year we’ve decided to up the ante so to speak.  This year we’re offering a program where the referrer can earn up to $200 an unlimited number of times.  This is open to existing clients, new clients, friends and family of the practice – essentially anyone who respects us enough to send business our way.

So why are we doing this?  Well, all of the details are outlined here, but the short answer is to reward those who think highly of us.  If you’re willing put your reputation on the line by recommending our services, we’re willing to earn it, in more ways than one!  But seriously, we want to give a little something back to those who continue to help us grow and move this practice forward.  Besides, who couldn’t use more cash these days?  Oh yeah, the Capital One baby…

Why I Will be A Failure

Someone once asked me if I wanted to be great.  My response was no, I wanted to be mediocre.  I have no desire to be “great” in life; that takes too much time, effort and energy.  I’d rather be a failure routinely and satisfactory on my best days.  Matter of fact, when it comes time for me to reflect upon my life and what it has meant, I know I will deem myself a failure.  Why?  Because of these seven reasons:

I think there is a pre-established role for my life.  My psychiatrist told me the reason I had problems with change was because of something called “agency.”  Essentially, all of us humans like to believe that there is a reason or purpose for everything.  So, we think, what if there’s a reason we are what we are — what if celestial agency has determined it so?  Should we be messing with that?  I think not.  Who am I to recognize that the role of my life has only one true agent – myself?

Someone told me what I would be.  I was told when I was younger that I would never amount to nothin’ in life.  I mean, someone convinced me that I was what I was and I’d better just live with it because, well, that’s what I’ll always be.  Too bad I never thought – really?  Says who?  Show me the chapter on predetermined stations in the cosmic rule book, please.

I don’t believe.  I remember in the movie Star Wars the following conversation:

   “Luke: I can’t believe it.

                Yoda: That is why you fail.”

 

And this is a large reason why I fail – I don’t believe I can be great so why even try?  I mean, we all know that positive things happen when we 1) believe, 2) act, 3) obtain positive/negative confirmation, 4) adjust and 5) repeat until success.  I’ll just stop this equation at step one if I may.

I’m established in my career and that’s okay right?  At this stage in my life things are good.  But is established what I really want out of life?  I mean, if “established” means I can’t reach beyond certain imposed parameters to achieve anything else that I truly want, then maybe it isn’t so useful after all.  But since this is a personal choice, I’m going to say that I like the idea of “establishing” myself out of greater achievements.

I’m afraid of losing what I’ve built.  True, I know that I can lose everything I’ve built through no fault of my own.  Heck, there were people who lost everything they “built” via the financial meltdown of 2008 or Super Storm Sandy though no action of their own.  However, I want to let the fear of losing everything stop me from reaching out for what I really want in life.

I don’t want to be a disrupter.  The notion of disrupting anything – or being the water that breaks the rock – is scary to me.  Disruption means that consistency, stability and certainty might get jettisoned for a time, and that puts my hard-wired internal defense system on high alert.  Sometimes, though, you have to override the alarms and move ahead anyway.  If you never do, you’ll never know what could happen.  Unfortunately, I am okay with not knowing.

I have no idea where to go next.  Even if I do want successes in life, I have no idea where to start.  I mean, I’m too hardwired in my life to let things kind of just “flow” and figure themselves out.  Maybe this has to do with my desire to deal with what is certain or known and dealing with “faith” is just a little too much for me.  Never mind the fact that most of what is thrown at me in life is out of my control.  I’ll just attempt to stay safe in my little cocoon rather than venture into the unknown with just a rough plan and a lot of “conviction.”

So, for the reasons above I am doomed to be a failure in life.  However, don’t cry any tears for me as this is perfectly fine.  I never really wanted to be a success – I’m personally more afraid of what my life would be like if I succeeded versus if I just fail like I am supposed to!

Sincerely,

The Failure


Author’s Note:  The above is written in jest as the author (and it is presumed you the reader) would never intentionally strive to be a failure in life.  However, if you prefer to not seek success in your life, you may print the above letter out and replace your name at the bottom.  That way you can give/send it to anyone who asks why you don’t want to be great in life!

The Power of Thought

Well, today there is a lot of controversy swirling in the media over some comments that presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made at a fundraising event.  In short, Mr. Romney said the following about those voters whom polls indicate will instead vote for President Barack Obama:

“There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

He then goes on to state that his role “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Now, we will not get into the details of politics in this post as that is personal opinion and everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint.  However, there is one thing that is clear in the last statement, the belief that you can influence change in your life.

At some time or another, each of us fall susceptible to the thinking that there is nothing we can do regarding a particular situation.  “I’ll never be smarter. I’ll never be a climber. I’ll never lose weight. I’ll never finish college. I’ll never be any good.”  Statements like the foregoing are views that we have of ourselves, however, they are not fact until we make them so.  Thus, here is the question at hand; how powerful is thought and can you think yourself into another situation?

Outlined below are six steps that we believe allow one to go from thought to change over the course of time.

Changed Thinking Transforms Your Beliefs.  Beliefs are nothing more than the perception one has of something based on past or historical experiences/information.  For most Americans, we believed that a fellow named Santa Claus brought us presents and cookies on Christmas for some time of our lives.  Then one day that changed.  Why?  Did the facts of receiving presents and cookies change? Nope, your thinking surrounding how they got there did.  This changed thinking then caused you to alter your beliefs and you no longer believed in Santa Claus.  With that said, thinking can yield changes in all your beliefs.  Being creative is when you think about your thinking, being innovative is when you begin to act on your ideas.

Altered Beliefs Modify Your Expectations.  What you believe in guides what you expect in life.  For the most part, all of us can take a look at a task or challenge and know whether or not we can succeed at it.  Thus, in belief lies power; the power to give us clear vision, outline our opportunities and make our visions reality.  In essence, our beliefs control just about everything we do in life.  If we believe we will fail, we often don’t begin the journey of attempting a feat and thus the result of failing materializes.  However, if we believe we can, while it is true that we may ultimately fail, we also move that much closer to ultimately succeeding.

Modified Expectations Give Way to A New Attitude.  “Blessed is the one who expects nothing, for he shall receive it” – Benjamin Franklin.  We’ll finish our analysis by looking at the story of a minister named Frank W. Gunsaulus who lived in the late 1800’s.  While going through college he observed many defects in the educational system, defects which he believed could be corrected if he were the head of a college.  He didn’t have the large sum of money necessary to start a school and could not make any real progress in attaining it for almost two years.  However, he set his mind on attempting to make a difference which impacted his belief and attitude that he would eventually find a way to open a college.

A New Attitude Transforms Your Behavior. One day while in his room thinking of ways to raise the money to carry out his plans, it dawned on Mr. Gunsaulus that he had done nothing but think. He finally resolved that the time had come to take action.  He still didn’t have a clear plan on just how he would raise the money, but he did do one thing, he called a newspaper and announced he would preach a sermon the following morning, entitled “What I would do if I had a million dollars.”  Had it not been for his “new” attitude, Mr. Gunsaulus probably would have forever been locked in thought.  William James was right when he said, “That which holds our attention determines our action.”

Transformed Behavior Revises Your Performance.  By spurring himself to action, Mr. Gunsaulus preached a sermon to a well attended church with all the heart and soul that he could muster.  He shared what he would do with a million dollars.  He described his plans for organizing a great educational institution where young people would learn to do practical things, and at the same time develop their minds.  Mr. Gunsaulus could have never gotten on that pulpit; many of us would rather stay in a routine than make changes.  Even when we know that the changes are going to be better for us, we often don’t make them because we feel uncomfortable or awkward about making that kind of a change.  However, Mr. Gunsaulus did give that sermon and the results were quite astounding.

Revised Performance Changes Your Life.  When Gunsaulus finished and sat down, a man arose from his seat and made his way toward the pulpit. He approached Mr. Gunsaulus with an extended hand and said, “Reverend, I liked your sermon. I believe you can do everything you said you would, if you had a million dollars. My name is Phillip D. Armour.”  Gunsaulus would eventually get the money he sought and became the first president of the Armour Institute of Technology (now IIT).  The performance that Gunsaulus exhibited in the end changed his reality, yet it all began with his thinking and beliefs.

While thinking yourself to a different place in life is not easy, instantaneous or at times even pleasurable, it is something that can be done.  The reality is that change makes a person feel alone, even if others are going through it. Yet it is easier to turn a failure into success than an excuse into a possibility.   A person can fail and turn around and understand their failure and then make it a success.  However, a person who makes excuses for everything may never truly succeed.  With that said, if you are thinking of doing something different in life, take the first step and think your way to a new place.  We’re confident you’ll be happy with the results!

Our 1st Tax Season

Okay, so the title is a little misleading given that we’ve been around since 2005.  But this post is supposed to be a look back on our first “retail office” tax season.  As posted earlier, we had a pretty eventful time getting the office set up once we decided we were going to launch it this season.  We outlined some goals for ourselves, plotted the course of action and set off on our journey.  So what happened?

While the season still technically has a few days left (returns aren’t due until April 17th) we think we have a pretty good read on the past three months.  While we didn’t hit our target numbers on a few fronts, we didn’t do too shabby given that we were essentially starting this location with zero brand recognition and it was its first year of existence.  In the end we engaged roughly 55 clients, processed 65+  individual and business returns (not including accompanying state returns), secured two recurring accounting clients and performed a host of accompanying services.

What Went Well

Delivering exemplary customer service.  Without having a major brand name on your office, you’ve got to figure out a way to differentiate yourself from all the other tax shops.  While CPAs prepare and review the returns that come through our doors, for most customers this isn’t that much of a selling point.  But what we did find out is that if we upped the service level by doing a few simple tasks (e.g. explain the return to the customer line-by-line, display a genuine interest in their situation, promptly answer any post filing questions), the customer felt that they got more from us than their past preparer.  Result?  A happy customer that tells us they’ll be coming back!

Leveraging our networks.  We all know someone.  “You need your car fixed?  We’ve got a guy for that!” The most successful marketing for a financial services firm is word-of-mouth; preferably from satisfied customers.  When you’re looking for services from professionals such as accountants, doctors, etc. you tend to ask the people you know who they’d recommend.  Thus, we continually engaged our network to let them know this was our first season with the new office.  We also asked them to mention us to their friends if they liked us, thought we were competent, liked our work, etc.  Remember, it’s not always what you know but who you know.

Sourcing alternate work from Craigslist.  Craigslist has a reputation of being a mythical land where everyone is a scammer looking to take your money.  While there is some truth to this, in reality there are plenty of people who are just looking for a deal and someone who can provide it for them.  We didn’t get any tax work from Craigslist ads, but we did get some quick bookkeeping, business plan and other types of one time work.  We’re not talking thousands of dollars here, but the income did help keep the cash flowing into the bank account between tax clients.

Being persistent.  This is pretty simple.  You’re new, you need revenue and you’d better not give up.  Sales don’t just fall from the sky, they take time and cultivation.  This is particularly true if you are a new business and customers don’t know who you are.  Someone might want to come into our office because they are dissatisfied with their current provider.  However, they might have some concerns as this is the first year they’ve seen our office.  For us this may mean a few phone calls, a face to face and ultimately a follow up visit where the client finally engages us.  Point is it often takes multiple contacts to seal any deal.  Be persistent and professionally pursue all potential clients until you either 1) win their business or 2) they decide you’re not a good fit for their needs.  Reaching either of these two outcomes is the ONLY acceptable option.

 What We’ll Change

Marketing efforts.  For the 5000 door hangers we distributed in the neighborhood, only one client was generated.  In general, we started our marketing late in the season (i.e. January), probably didn’t do enough “multiple contacts” with community marketing and didn’t spend enough to generate a meaningful ROI.  With that said, we’ll start our community efforts around September in 2012, but will also do more “year-round” marketing (e.g. newsletters, client recognition, etc) as well as increase our marketing spend.

Independent sales force.  One thing we employ in our company are independent sales reps.  These fine people generate leads and get a commission for doing so.  While we had good results with this program, we fell a little short of expectations.  The main reason for this was we didn’t recruit a big enough sales force nor did we do it early enough.  Come mid 2012, we’ll change this which should help us hit our marks next year.

Hours of operation.  If the theme of the previous two points was we didn’t start early enough, then this one would be we didn’t stay late enough.  Due to the transition from Corporate America to Main Street America, the office hours designed maybe weren’t as good as they could have been.  While the office was open until 6:30PM during the week and 5PM on both weekend days, it could have been later.  This would have allowed us to potentially capture more of the “after work” crowd who just couldn’t get to us before we closed shop.  We’ll probably move to later hours in 2013.

So what does 2013 hold?  Well, we’ve already executed our lease renewal option for the remainder of 2012.  This means the office WILL be back in 2013!  Hopefully some of those potential clients who wanted to visit us but thought that we were “fly-by-night” will see we’re here for the long haul and stop in next season.  Through making the changes outlined above, we’ll attempt to double in size and continue what we hope will be a pretty sustainable growth trend.  Lastly, we plan to make our client engagement even more frequent, more personal and more value additive.  Will 2013 be more successful that our 1st season?  Only time will tell but we’re thinking so.

Until next time.

The Gauntlet

Well, back on December 1st we were meeting with the leasing company inking all the paperwork for our new retail location.  No sooner than the ink dried, we then realized that we had just about 30 days to get the space ready.  This would be no problem for a company with deep pockets, or one that had a development team for that matter.  Our reality, on the other hand, was that we had limited resources; no matter what the item, we were limited in it.  So with that said, we began our quest to outfit our office!

We already had a budget outlined and knew just about everything that needed to be purchased.  So during the first two weeks, it was simply a matter of scouring the internet for the items and driving around to tons of places.  The good thing is that there were plenty of people offering items, so we didn’t have a problem finding what we wanted (and at good prices too).  The disheartening thing is that many of the items were from businesses that were folding.  The bright spot for us is that we knew we would be putting the items to good use in our office, so they would get to serve their intended purpose.

Then there was the phone installation.  This went relatively smoothly and thus set us up for all of our technology installations.  Yet, that’s when we had two minor setbacks.

The first issue was with the security system.  Now, we didn’t have a problem with the actual install.  However, when we budgeted for the service, we failed to budget for the equipment charge.  Whoops!  Looks like we need to cut some items from our budget if we’re going to stay on track.  So here is lesson number one for anyone starting a business – make sure your budget and figures are double and triple checked (preferably by someone other than the person who prepared it).

The second issue was more of a technicality that we forgot about, but it could have pushed back our computer set up.  You see, when you electronically file returns with the IRS, you have to have an EFIN. Check.  For each location. Dang it!  So the fix is to go to the E Services site and fill out a new application. Check. But your account hasn’t been used in a while so it’s inactive. Drats! No worries, you just need to reactivate it. Check. But then you need to confirm it with a code that the IRS will send in the mail between 1-28 business days. Come on!

Well, needless to say, we got everything squared away with the IRS and got a new EFIN so that we could transmit returns from the new office.  We still needed to get some things updated with our software providers accounting department, but that was minor in comparison to the above.  So lesson number two for anyone starting a business, build a little cushion into the start up timeline.  There will always be something unexpected that comes up; luckily for us it just cost us time, but for some it actually costs them money.

So after a month of hard work, this is what we have to show for it:

 

The office will have weekend hours between now and January 15th, but moves to a full time schedule starting Monday January 16th.  We’re sure there will be other “set up” items that will come up during the tax season, but we’re happy this chapter of our existence is now squarely behind us.  Next?  Day-To-Day Operations!  Until next time.

Welcome To The Neighborhood!

The traditional adage for retailers is that success depends on three factors: location, location, location.  The less obvious adage is that an unfavorable lease can kill a fledgling business faster than almost any other decision.  But the right location is more than its geography.  For service businesses, population plus image may be crucial.  However, for a manufacturer, cost of land, availability of labor and proximity to freeways and railroads may be important.

When we decided we wanted to open our retail office, there were many things on our short list.  Decent square footage, visibility on a major thoroughfare, nice neighborhood, sizable population e-filing their tax returns, etc.  But just like a person trying to find their dream home, it took a lot of searching to find what we were looking for.

Well after two months of visiting many neighborhoods, attending numerous showings, picking one spot and going through the process of lease negotiations, we are happy to announce that we finally have new digs for 2012!  As you can see from the pics below, there is a lot of work to be done this month to get ready for our January opening:

But we’re pretty confident that we’ll be ready to hit the gound running when the IRS flips the switch the second week of January.  Now we just need to focus on getting the electric transferred to us, the internet installed, picking out some furniture, getting our new business license for the location…

So just where is our new office?  2055 W. 95th Street in the lovely Beverly Hills (Beverly) area.  Why did we locate here?  This location met all of our criteria above not to mention it’s pretty accessible from both Chicago and the suburbs serviced by I-294.  So no matter where you are traveling from, you can get to our office pretty easily.  Plus, how can one resist an accountant who has a Beverly Hills address?

Brave New World

Welcome to our little space on the net.  Just like when you move into a new neighborhood or house, we’re still setting up shop and getting our bearings.  But we’re happy that you’ve found us and we hope that you’ll come back and visit us often.

So just why did we set this thing up?  If you ask anyone from the outside looking in, it might seem a little odd.  Why would a financial services company want to blog?  Additionally, if you know the man behind the voice of AAA, it would seem even more odd considering he’s not necessarily on the leading edge of trends (seriously, this is his FIRST attempt at a blog and they’ve been around how long now).

Well, the short story is we’re doing this to give us a way to share good tidbits of info with you that we just don’t always have time for in our day to day dealings.  Many people have financial questions that they are dying to ask us.  When we answer one, it tends to spark another and another…well, you get the jist of it.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time in the day for us to answer everyone’s questions individually, so why not do it en-mass?

Besides answering financial questions, this will also be the place where we can keep you up to date on all that is constantly changing in the tax world.  We strongly believe that many people often receive misinformation when it comes to taxes.  Our hope is that we can be one source (of many) to get accurate and up to date information.  Even if you are not a customer of ours, you deserve to have accurate information that you can take in hand to those who provide services to you (even if it is just yourself).

Well, that is it for now.  We’re currently working at a fever pitch to get everything squared away with the office we’ll be opening for the tax season.  So make sure you check back over the next few months – we’re sure that we’ll have lots to say about our journey into our brave new world.