In my early 30s, I decided to leave my job as restaurant manager due to its demanding nights and weekends schedule. As a single mom with three daughters at home, I needed a daytime profession. I accepted my mom’s offer to join her tax preparation firm, despite my expectations of endless paperwork. I soon discovered tax work wasn’t just about crunching numbers, it was about helping people—and I absolutely loved it.
When my mom fell ill several years later, I bought the business from her. As the new owner, I also took on the role of managing the practice. Our client base grew and despite having four staff, I was overwhelmed with work. Luckily, my three daughters were fully grown by then because I was working until midnight seven days a week.
My staff complained they had too much work and cried they couldn’t get it done. They dumped their work in my inbox and expected me to do it, which I did. They could have figured out a solution, but they were more concerned with collecting their paychecks than doing their jobs.
They also made costly errors. For example, I had a payroll processing employee who was responsible for making online tax payments for clients. After submitting a payment, she would receive an email indicating the payment had been accepted or rejected. For one particular client, though, she had mistyped the email address. As a result, she failed to receive the notifications that the client’s payments were rejected. The kicker was the payments were rejected because she was using the wrong PIN. It was five months before we discovered the mistake. This double-whammy cost me $8,000 out of pocket in late fees and penalties, and I had to suffer through explaining it to the client.
Because I worried about my incompetent staff whose work I didn’t have time to check, I turned down additional payroll and bookkeeping jobs. I felt it was wiser to forgo the fees than hurt my reputation, but I wondered if I was shooting myself in the foot.
I didn’t know exactly what was wrong with my practice, I only knew it wasn’t getting better. While I was in my office digging my hole as fast as possible, my staff were out of my sight, partying. Still, I thought I was the problem. Desperate for help, I watched webinars, read manuals and took courses, but they did little good. One day I received a letter from a Sterling client. He was a CPA who had the same issues as I did and hired Sterling to resolve them. After watching their practice management DVD, I did the same.
Sterling opened my eyes to what was going on in my practice. Staff dumped their work on me because I allowed them to. When they made mistakes, I fixed them. When they didn’t finish their work on time, I finished it for them. In other words, I failed to hold them accountable.
Using Sterling’s management by statistics system, I immediately saw what people were spending time on. The bookkeepers who complained of too much work were actually producing just 1.5 billable hours per day and I didn’t even know it.
I had to correct my own behavior before I could correct the staff’s. Sterling had me take management courses in their academy which showed me how to be an executive. My consultant guided me through the changes I needed to make in the office, and helped me implement them. When I returned to the practice after my Sterling training, I called an office meeting. I notified the staff they needed to make enough billable hours to pay for their salaries; if I was paying them eight hours a day, they needed to produce six billable hours a day.
Before Sterling, if the staff made mistakes or were late for a deadline, their attitude was “Shelly will take care of it.” Sterling showed me how to pass the buck right back to them. Now if someone turns in incomplete work, I say “This is incomplete, fix it and here is your deadline.” I do the same thing with any mistakes. Rather than accepting the staff’s problems, I force them to solve them. And now I only hire applicants who make it through Sterling’s testing and hiring process. The staff are productive and as a result, happy. Sterling also helped me implement a bonus plan so they have something more to reach for.
These changes weeded out the bad staff and boosted productivity. After two months, the results were already showing up in our revenues. We had started with Sterling in November 2013. By the end of that year, rather than our usual 3 to 5% income increase, we enjoyed a 10% increase. By the end of 2014, revenues increased another 17% and by the end of 2015, spiked another 18%.
Better yet, my bottom line improved, too. I was shooting for a 15% increase in profitability in 2014 and exceeded that. For 2015, I set a goal for another 15% increase and exceeded that as well. With extra money in my pocket, I can spend more time with my family and care for my health. I can also offer more incentives to my staff to help improve their lives.
I’ve acquired the tools to live a more balanced life while still reaching my goals. I was once so exhausted and overwhelmed with work, I put the brakes on how much work my firm would accept. Thanks to Sterling, the possibilities are now limitless.