One Sunday, as I was leaving home to work at my CPA firm, my 12-year-old daughter plastered herself against the backdoor and begged me not to go. That was a light bulb moment for me. I had been putting in 14-hour days at the office, 7 days a week during tax season and 70 hours per week in the off season. My wife, who also had a full-time job, was having to do more than her fair share to help out. I felt if I kept on at that pace, my kids would grow up and I would miss out on some of the really great moments that I wanted to be a part of; I needed to be a bigger part of my family’s lives.
I had started my own practice after resigning from another CPA firm where I had been working. I was the firm’s highest producer but another accountant—a much lower producer but better golfer, with the money to buy into the practice—had been offered a partnership instead of me. Tired of the firm’s politics, I left.
Now, as the leader of my own practice, I felt I had to do everything myself. Even though I was creating a bottleneck, I personally reviewed every financial statement and every document, and I prepared every tax return before it went out the door. I wanted to make sure it was done exactly right. Since my staff weren’t as good or experienced as I was, it was faster to do the work myself and use them as support staff instead. I could have trained them but there was no time during tax season and I wasn’t sure where to start.
Despite my long hours, the practice was only marginally profitable. I paid the bills, made payroll and my family never went without, but that was it; there were no extras. Cranky and unhappy, I wanted to be with my wife and children, take vacations with them and really get to spend time just being together, but I felt I was spending all of my time working or thinking about work. Every Sunday I’d go into the office to tackle a 15-foot high stack of tax returns piled against the wall. I’d start from one end and work all day but by the next Sunday, the stack would be just as high again.
Because I was maxed out, our growth was limited. I didn’t look for more business or try to expand, I knew I couldn’t handle any more.
I thought there had to be an easier way to run the office and I began to look for a practice management firm. I found out about Sterling’s program and talked to other CPAs who had worked with them. In the end, I signed up.
Sterling helped me realize I couldn’t get over the hump until I quit trying to do it all myself. I had to train the staff and delegate. It might take more time initially but eventually I would be freed up. With my consultant’s help, I promoted our front desk worker to be the office manager. I even had her travel with me to Sterling’s office to get one-on-one training so we could work better as a team. I made sure she was trained and delegated duties to her. I put all of my trust into her and didn’t undermine her authority. When the staff came to me with questions or issues related to their job, I sent them to her. Even today, my youngest daughter who now works for the firm reports directly to the office manager.
I also figured out my staff had been blackmailing me. Before Sterling, I didn’t think I could get by without them so I’d let them dump their undone work on my desk and stayed at night to finish it while they got to leave at a reasonable hour. I quit allowing them to pass off their unfinished work, which helped me to be able to go home for dinner with my family. One day, my lead accountant, who wasn’t very competent, came to me and threatened to quit if I didn’t make the changes he wanted. I showed him the door instead. Knowing that I was on the right path, I realized I didn’t need that type of person working for me. Using Sterling’s hiring methods, I was able to replace the low quality staff with good people who could do their jobs in an efficient manner.
Sterling didn’t just give me advice, they actually helped me get their program done. Since there had been no standard procedures in the practice, everyone had their own way of doing things. One employee might take two hours to complete a job while another did it in half the time. This was inefficient and caused billing discrepancies, which meant we were less profitable. Sterling helped us standardize our processes and trained the staff on them. Being on the same page, we became more productive and efficient.
Within 18 months of starting the program, my family and I took our first vacation in years, a cruise to the Caribbean islands. I had let my two daughters pick our vacation spot and did so for the next several years. When we got back from our cruise, the practice was still functioning as if I had never been away; this would have been inconceivable before Sterling. At this point, I was able to start taking two weeks off per year to spend time with my family.
Nowadays, I typically work just 40 hours per week during tax season and less than 30 hours per week in the off season. I take off six weeks every year to travel with my wife, spend time with my now grown daughters and putter around the house—all without worrying about my practice. I know my staff can handle any fire or client issue that arises while I’m away. I have full confidence in their abilities.
My youngest daughter tells me we were lucky to have found Sterling before she and her older sister were fully raised; I agree. When I started their program, I thought I was satisfied with the level of income I had been making; all I wanted was to be able to spend more time with my wife and kids. But I ended up making more money, too. When the firm’s profitability doubled, I realized the program principles which had helped me regain my family life had also helped me build a thriving practice along the way.