8 Best Practices for Setting Reasonable Compensation for Small Business Owners

5828106859_0738200fd4_nSmall businesses that are operating as “flow-through entities” are becoming increasingly common. We see a lot of compensation issues arising from these types of businesses. When such a company comes to you for accounting services, what best practices can you keep in mind?

8 Best Practices for Setting Reasonable Compensation

It’s important to remember that “reasonable compensation” is left open to interpretation. Therefore, no single factor is likely to ever be determinative. However, based on recently litigated cases, these eight best practices have arisen:

  1. Use the fair market value. In other words, charge what the service is worth based on the current market value of the service being provided to the small business.
  2. Always put it in writing. A written agreement should always be in place. It should clearly document the services to be provided.
  3. Consult an objective opinion. It’s dangerous to enter into an agreement drafted solely by the service provider and receiver. Include a non-interested third party when establishing the criteria of the agreement and the service value.
  4. Document payment. The business should make payments based on the terms and conditions of the agreement. If an adjustment is made when accepting, delaying, or changing a payment, document the reasons and why or how compensation was changed.
  5. Avoid discounting qualifications. Compensation should always reflect actual qualifications. In other words, someone with many years of industry experience should receive higher compensation than someone who has just entered the job market.
  6. Properly assessing business conditions. Compensation should match the owner’s or employee’s worked hours, duties, responsibility scope, expectations, and the complexity of the business and conditions. All of this should be established at the time the agreement is reached.
  7. Measure compensation over time. As time passes and the business grows, compensation should be tracked, measured, and evaluated. How much has it increased as the company has grown larger, accomplished its goals, and increased profits? If it hasn’t, this might alert the IRS to a compensation issue.
  8. Compare against other metrics. It’s a good idea to compare owner/employee compensation to other metrics within the company, such as gross and net income, shareholder distributions and non-owner employee compensation.
  9. Compare against other businesses in the industry. You can consult annual studies on your own, or hire an expert to assist. The idea is to gauge company profits versus compensation. For example, if profits are high and compensation low, you may have an issue that will raise a red flag at the IRS.

Explaining reasonable compensation to small business owners can prove to be a challenge. However, if you stand by these eight best practices, you will be promoting a service that safeguards the small business by avoiding an IRS issue with reasonable compensation.

For more practice managements tips, check out the book Accounting Firm Owners: The 7 Secrets You Know To Increase Profits in 2014.  

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/newsusa/5828106859/

 

4 Strategies For Your Firm So You Get Paid What You’re Worth

1058204843_32496fe28c_mOne of the most difficult aspects of business for any professional is getting paid what they’re worth. All too often, we see clients and potential customers who expect to get something for nothing, especially when it comes to the services we offer.

It can seem downright impossible to get paid what you’re worth in the accounting industry. Derek Halpern from Social Triggers ran a survey in which he asked professionals if they felt they were paid less than their worth- 100% answered, “Yes!”

Practices to Avoid

During the survey, Halpern went on to ask the same people why they felt they were getting paid less. The responses triggered the creation of a list we’re calling, “Three Practices to Avoid:”

  1. Don’t lower your price simply because a person won’t pay it. If your price is reasonable and matches industry value, then you’ve either run across a person who wants something for nothing or they don’t understand the value of your service.
  2. Don’t charge less than your competitors just to attract customers. Your competitors charge less than you. So what? Do they offer the exact same service as you with just as much value and benefit?
  3. Don’t think you can’t charge more. If you feel you’re being undersold, it’s time to take a good hard look at what you’re selling and for how much.

Practices to Institute

Most accounting and other business professionals that struggle with the feeling that they don’t get paid their worth fight with the three practices they should avoid. Let’s take a look at the three practices you should live by:

  1. Become hard to replace. By niching down your practice and creating a specialized service, you will be an integral part of your customers business. They won’t easily be able to replace you a new firm that’s going to charge half the price. For step-by-step instructions on how to do this, check out our ebook, Accounting Firm Owners: The 7 Secrets You Know To Increase Profits in 2014.
  2. Display your worth. If a potential customer says, “I won’t pay that price,” then it’s time to show them exactly what they’re getting for that price. Show them the benefits and value of the investment, and be clear about why you’re different from the competition.
  3. Compare yourself to the competition. If a person says, “But so-and-so charges less,” it’s time to give them a quick comparison. Show them why the competition is cheap, and be sure to follow up by displaying your worth.
  4. Charge what you’re worth and be confident. The biggest mistake you can make is underselling yourself because it’s hard to up your prices once you’ve set them too low. Research the market to ensure you’re in the average ballpark, but don’t shy away from charging what you’re worth based on your experience and service.

Charging what you’re worth is half the battle of being paid what you’re worth. Many professionals worry that the economic downturn makes it mandatory to lower their prices. In truth, it doesn’t.

Avoid catering to the customer who wants something for nothing. Solid and true customers—the ones who will return, display loyalty and refer others—will recognize your worth and value. They won’t buck at paying you what you’re worth, as long as you ensure the rate is reasonable and your delivered work meets (even exceeds) expectations.

 

 

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lalunablanca/1058204843/

3 Accounting Firm Management Fundamentals You Need To Know For Success

5750960959_529a1a70b4_nFundamentals are base or core rules or principles. They are of central importance, especially in the accounting industry, because without them you risk losing focus and making mistakes that could hurt your firm.

There are three accounting fundamentals or basics that you never want to ignore when running an accounting firm:

Fundamental No. 1 – Have a Goal

Goals are important. They motivate. They give us something to strive for, and they keep our focus sharp.

How do you set a good goal? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I want to accomplish this week?
  2. What distractions will I need to squash?
  3. What will I need to do in order for work to be complete by the end of this week so that I feel like I’ve been successful?

Fundamental No. 2 – Plan Ahead

Planning is vital. If you don’t have a plan, then you will lack focus. As a result, if something crazy happens (and let’s face it: this usually happens), you’ll quickly go off the rails and find yourself lacking productivity and success.

How can you effectively plan? Ask yourself:

  • When are you going to schedule the challenging, high-concentration work?
  • When are you going to tackle the menial administrative tasks that take limited brainpower?
  • How will you gauge your progress?

Gauging your progress is important. You need milestones or markers that are either time, day, or percent based. As you check these markers off, you’ll see your progress and be able to adjust to any unforeseen hiccups as they arise.

Fundamental No. 3 – Anticipate

Anticipating is all about predicting the future. It’s like the weather forecast. While it isn’t always spot on, it’s accurate enough to prepare you for when to carry an umbrella or watch for treacherous conditions.

Unforeseen hiccups tend to crop up when you execute your plan. They can derail you if you aren’t at least somewhat prepared.

Think ahead. Consider the possibilities and plan for the future so that you can stay ahead.

Be ready to adjust your plan. Have a backup! You can accomplish this by asking yourself:

  • Since I planned for this, what has changed?
  • What is bogging me down or moving faster than I anticipated?
  • What wildcards are liable to pop up?

Once you’ve answered these questions, think about how to adapt. While a certain amount of anticipating will factor into the planning stage (Fundamental No. 2), you’ll need to actively anticipate as your putting your plan into action.

These three fundamentals are the basics. They are designed to keep you at peak performance, ensuring your focus is sharp and your energies are used wisely.

By sticking to the fundamentals of accounting, you will separate yourself from others. Not only will you stop yourself from becoming the unwanted procrastinator, but you’ll also be (and stay) the professional your clients will love!

For more detailed information on practice management success, check out the book: Accounting Firm Owners: The 7 Secrets You Know To Increase Profits in 2014. 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/courtneyrian/5750960959/

3 Ways to Use Social Media to Track What People Are Saying About your Firm

The 3-Step Program to Monitoring Social Media9733284483_e147eda73b_n

Google+, Twitter and Facebook feeds can blow up quick. How do you sift through the mountain of information and zero in on reviews and stories related to your firm?

The best way to accomplish this is to setup lists. Most social media platforms will let you divide your notifications and circles into lists. Follow these three steps when setting up your lists:

  1. Red Alert: configure a “mention alert.” It’s a huge deal if a customer mentions you on social media; you don’t want to miss it! Setup your accounts to alert you if and when you’re mentioned so that you can view the comment. Whenever possible, shoot back a reply, even if it’s as simple as, “Thank you!”
  2. Yellow Alert: browse certain activity feeds. This list will include anyone who talks about you. When you have five to ten minutes, browse the activity feed for the list just to see the top discussions trending about your business. These are feeds you aren’t worried about missing, but you want review just to have a clue about what’s being said.
  3. Low Alert: the posts you can afford to miss. In truth, no social media post about you is worth missing, but the third list will be the conversations you aren’t worried about seeing until your schedule allows. A good example of who to include on this list are prospective leads; you want to know if and when they talk about you, but they aren’t an immediate priority in comparison to established chatterers.

The trick to monitoring social media on a busy accounting executive’s schedule is filtering. Social media lists and notifications take minutes to setup and will cater to keeping up with your media when you only have five minutes to check in between meetings.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/epublicist/9733284483/sizes/n/

How to Run Your CPA Firm Like A Business with Greg Porter, CPA

Greg Porter, CPAThe fifth interview in our interview series at Email Stopwatch, Run Your CPA Firm Like A Business, is with Greg Porter of Berntson Porter & Company, PLLC.

Berntson Porter & Company can claim bragging rights in being one of the largest CPA firm in the Puget Sound Region (15 principals and over 75 total employees), all while growing organically since only 1985. I think you’ll love this interview specifically because of Greg’s philosophy about running their firm like a ‘real business’. To him this means hiring people for specific roles (HR, marketing, sales, etc.), instead of having everyone in the company try to do everything.

Firm: Greg Porter of Berntson Porter & Company, PLLC
Website: http://www.bpcpa.com/
Highlights of his website: They have a list of specialized services on the front page and an industries tab at the top, allowing them to narrow in on their audience right away. They also have construction specific blog that’s still updated regularly, remember if you’re not going to update it after the first few posts, then just take it down.

What are your top three time-management tips?

  1. Try to group CRM related activities together. Our firm has gotten more away from the one-on-one meals and we try to participate in larger activities, events or within organizations. For example, we’ll try to attend events where we know lots of our clients will be instead of trying to engage with them individually, which takes more time and money.
  2. Identify early on whether someone is truly a qualified lead. You can spend a lot of time chasing people who will never hire you. We always try and determine several factors when we’re talking to a potential lead: are we speaking with a decision maker, do you they have money to pay for our services, is their business size congruent to our firm’s services, how many other people are they interviewing, and do we have the expertise to deal with them.
    We also try to work with the professionals that our clients are already using (i.e. financial advisors, lawyers, etc.). That way the other professionals know the level of service we provide, through that mutual client and likewise with us. It’s much easier to give and get quality referrals this way.
  3. Don’t get bogged down with unnecessary emails. I get as many as 100 emails today so to manage that many, I unsubscribe from everything that is unnecessary.

What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
My partner and I started our firm when they were 26 and 25, respectively. We didn’t have any mentors and made a lot of avoidable mistakes. It also took us a while to figure that there are a lot of different types of businesses and that each has different needs. I would suggest seeking out a mentor early on and meeting with them periodically. We eventually joined an international CPA organization that includes programs and resources that you can learn from.

Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
You must find people that are smart AND emotionally intelligent, not those with just a high GPA. We use tests, specifically skill tests to measure measure math, verbal, typing, data entry, office software proficiency, etc. and personality tests that describe an individual’s personal characteristics and their relationship to job satisfaction and performance. Together these tests give a good indicator of a potential hire’s competence as an accountant and whether they will they fit into the firm’s culture.

How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
It’s easy to get bogged down in all the day to day stuff and can be very hard to work on the business. My best advice is to block out time in your schedule, set out a day or half a day once a week. Also create a good executive committee, comprised of people that are forward thinkers to make decisions.

Is there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
CPA firms are notoriously poorly managed with a high turnover because:

  1. Staff are not always hired properly, by not taking into consideration technical competence and social skills.
  2. CPA firms are managed by CPAs, who are not trained to be good managers and leaders of businesses.
    We decided to scrap the model of traditional CPA firm structure where everyone is everything (sales, accountant, admin) and run it like a business. I like to always ask our staff, what would we do if we were a real business (jokingly of course!)? We have a president, marketing director, CFO, HR manager and sales reps, and try to find the best people for each role. Essentially it’s structured like a real business should be.

What are your best time-tracking secrets?

  1. Record your time everyday, before you forget. It’s not fair to yourselves or the client if you’re not recording it properly because someone’s going to lose out.
  2. Bill with less information. CPAs agonize over bills way more than the client, the clients don’t scrutinize as much. We don’t provide detailed billing unless they ask, otherwise they’re more likely to question everything. This works well as long as the client got the value they expected.

Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
We would recommend:

  1. Prosystem Practice Management
  2. Smaller GL products: Quickbooks, Peachtree
  3. Larger GL /CRM: Axapta (a Microsoft product and one of the few that have the Chinese language capability)
  4. Frx Forecaster for budgeting

Interview Series with Successful CPA Firms – Part 4 with Ed Guttenplan of Wilkin and Guttenplan, PC

Ed Guttenplan of Wilkin and Guttenplan, PC
The fourth interview in our interview series at Email Stopwatch, Run Your CPA Firm Like A Business, is with Ed Guttenplan of Wilkin and Guttenplan, PC.

Wilkin & Guttenplan, P.C., is one of New Jersey’s top 20 accounting firms and was co-founded by Ed Guttenplan almost 30 years ago. In addition to his administrative duties, Ed provides a wide array of accounting, tax and business advisory services to several industries including construction, food service, manufacturing, technology, engineering, medical, dental, and sales. Wilkin & Guttenplan also has a high level of employee satisfaction at their firm, indicated by their recent win of the #1 Best Medium Size Accounting Firm to Work For from Accounting Today Magazine as well as a NJ Biz Best Place to Work in NJ Award. They have been top ranked in both surveys since those surveys’ inception.

Firm: Ed Guttenplan of Wilkin and Guttenplan, PC
Website: http://www.wgcpas.com/
Highlights of his website: They have a well-defined list of specialties, as well as ‘Best Place to Work’ awards for several years.

What are your top three time-management tips?
I would recommend the following objectives as far as time management goes:

  1. Focus on things that are a priority and not things that merely appear urgent and try to ensure that priorities are the first things done.
  2. Manage interruptions by employees and clients. You can do this by understanding where people are coming from and redirect them to the appropriate outlet instead of trying to field all problems and issues that come to you.
  3. Keep a prioritized task list – I use outlook for personnel tasks and file team task lists in dropbox.

What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
I wish I had a better understanding of people and the power of getting things done through people, specifically delegating instead of trying to do everything yourself. Successes are created by energy of each individual working together towards the same goal. Set the goals, identify the challenges, and get out of the way.

Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
We have a fairly extensive hiring process that begins by identifying the crucial traits and attributes of an accountant that would fit in our firm, and then creating an interview process that looks for those qualities. We focus and hire as much for attitude as aptitude.
We have 12 key areas that each candidate is rated on, such as passion for the profession, passion for our firm’s unique culture, interest in personal and professional growth, interpersonal and communication skills, how good of a team player they are, ability to focus on long term objectives, leadership and marketing potential.

How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
For me, working in the practice needs to be done to some degree. It allows you to understand all aspects of the practice so you can effectively manage the challenges and see opportunities. That being said, to work on the business you need to treat the business as your most important client. It should come above all else and you should constantly be striving to improve all aspects of its performance. The first step in this is identifying your firm’s long-term goals and then strategizing about how to get there.

Are there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
I’ve been the managing partner since inception. We have great partners and staff that are engaged as team for improving the efficiency and workflow of our firm. We see the best results when staff are let loose to solve the problem. Partners can’t always see problems clearly because they’ve been doing it the same way for so long. New eyes give us new perspectives and fresh thinking. Our staff also have the energy to make it happen so we, as partners, highly encourage them to take risks and offer solutions.

What are your best time-tracking secrets?
I keep a diary on my desk and track my time throughout the day. We also use a system for telephone calls that logs all the time spent on each call and gives us a report based on the caller ID, through our Avaya phone system (for more info click here). We also have a time and billing system which remains open so staff and partners time can be input daily.

Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
We use an add-on to our time and billing software (CCH Practice Management) called E-Analytics. E-Analytics is a very handy reporting tool that gives us many different productivity and profitability analytics. These include time allocation of staff, where time and resources are being spent, analytics for each industry area we specialize in, client analytics, which niche is growing and their relative realization rates.

Interview Series with Successful CPA Firms – Part 3 with Keith Barfield of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC

The third interview in our interview series at Email Stopwatch, Run Your CPA Firm Like A Business, is with Keith Barfield of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC.

I chose to interview Keith because of his firm’s great track record. They’ve been around for over 20 years, growing from the three initial partners Don Murphy, Keith Barfield, and John Shank to over 100 employees and over 2000 clients.

BMSS ranks in the Top 10 in size of public accounting firms and is one of the largest locally-owned firms in Alabama. They also have a high level of employee satisfaction and low turnover, indicated by their recent win of the #2 Best Accounting Firm to Work For from Accounting Today.

Firm: Kieth Barfield of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC
Website: http://www.bmss.com/
Highlights of his website: The long list of speciality niches listed under the Industries tab and the Latest News section featuring seminars and training classes BMSS is offering (if you’re not sure why these are so great, check out this report on how to improve your CPA website).

What are your top three time-management tips?

  1. The book Getting Things Done by David Allen and Zen to Done by Leo Babauta have really helped me to get organized and become more productive. More specifically, they helped me realize that I needed to chose one location to organize all the information I receive throughout the day. This can be done with your phone, calendar, inbox, etc., however it is important to only have one to-do list. Another rule I set for myself is categorizing every task into one I can do in less than 10 minutes or more than 10 minute. If it’s less than 10 I do it right away, if it’s more than I schedule it.
  2. Do not multi-task! Moving from one task to another requires re-focusing every time and only slows you down. There’s now a lot of literature out there agreeing with this and you can see we do too from this post.
  3. I create a triage checklist of how I process the common tasks in the office. This allows me to go an autopilot when I get into the office for tasks that need to get done and in what order. My personal list is:
    • Cell phone voice mail
    • Cell phone missed calls
    • Text messages
    • BMSS voice mails
    • BMSS scan emails
    • Desktop cleanup
    • Phone call category of to do list
    • Next action category of to do list

What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
I wish I had spent more time defining my target market and developing some specialty niches much more deeply and quickly. Currently my largest niche is construction companies, which I’ve spent years building up by getting involved in local construction company organizations. However, when the economy changed and the housing market suffered, most of my clients were affected and 5-6 even went bankrupt.

Keith’s advice to prevent this is to always look to the future of business. Understand what fields are growing and diversify your client base with a few different niches, and that way if one is suffering, you’ll still have others. Currently, a couple options you may not be focused on right now that hold promise in the current economy are technology, robotics, genetics, health care, alternative energy, and nanotechnology.

Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
Personality tests have helped us tremendously, specifically the DISC personality profile system and the Wonderlic test.

Since starting our firm, my partners and I have realized that personalities are very important in hiring. The DISC personality test allows us to see what kind of personality each potential candidate has and allows us to see whether the job they’re applying for would be a good fit. For instance, rule based personalities work better on tax returns and result oriented personalities work better on audit work. We have worked very hard to match the personality types to the job.

The Wonderlic test is a unique IQ test with a corresponding chart that gives suggested occupations chart for each results. Essentially it indicates the professional level someone can function at. The general consensus for low scoring wonderlic test scores is that they have lower problem solving skills, as well as lack the ability to read, interpret and apply knowledge. Keith suggests not hiring low scoring candidates on the Wonderlic test.

Lastly, pay very close attention to the character of the candidate and be sure they fit the firm culture. Attitude, people skills and even a sense of humor are key elements to success in our firm for the best CPA’s.

How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
There are three keys that I focus on to improve the business:

  1. When working on your practice set up your key performance indicators (chargeable hours per day, etc.) first and monitor those every day.
  2. Develop well documented practices of handling everything in the business from tax returns to financial statements (quality control, Doc plus, routing sheets, etc.).
  3. Most importantly, locate the best technology and “make it work for you”. By that I mean, keep up with changing technology and find the right pieces that are going to improve the workflow of your office. We’ve always been on the forefront of technology in accounting by testing out anything that might be useful to us by dealing with the technology directly instead of outsourcing it. One of the partners is always responsible for researching, purchasing and testing new technology so we know what will and won’t work for our office.

Are there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
Change management is a critical concept and it is constant in our firm. Every process and procedure is questioned periodically to dissect it and ask the question if there is a better way to do it.

For instance, every May after tax season, we create committee of three people to evaluate problems during tax season while it’s fresh on all our minds. We review the procedures used to process returns and let staff voice their concerns about past practices. This allows us to become more efficient and lets the staff know we’re always open to suggestions and improvements.

We also recognize that technology plays an important part of change and new technology is evaluated constantly to see if it can work for us productively.

What are your best time-tracking secrets?

  1. Best time tracking secret is to turn in your time every day by the end of the day while your memory is still fresh.
  2. Use your calendar appointments first to fill out the important client meetings you did.
  3. As a safety net to catch the really important things you did for clients, review your sent items emails to fill in the gaps.

Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
For this question, Keith actually sent me a couple blog posts he wrote over on their firms site, which has some really great content.

Interview Series with Successful CPA Firms – Part 2 with Vic Alexander of KraftCPAs PLLC

Vic Alexander
The second interview in our Run Your CPA Firm Like A Business series was with Vic Alexander of Kraft CPAs PLLC. Kraft CPAs has been around since 1958 and is one of the largest independent certified public accounting firms in middle Tennessee.

Their firm includes over 150 employees and runs so smoothly and efficiently that a third party client survey revealed that they’re in the 99th percentile of CPA firms in the category of “overall client satisfaction” and in the 100th percentile in the categories of “responsiveness” and “overall communication”. Who wouldn’t want advice from this firm?

Firm: Kraft CPAs PLLC
Website: http://www.kraftcpas.com/
Highlights of his website: The long list of specialty niches they’ve developed, as well as the awards and testimonials on the front page, lending credibility to the firm right away.

What are your top three time-management tips?

  1. Return calls and email in blocks of time. If you struggle to do this effectively, set aside specific blocks of uninterrupted time throughout the day.
  2. Write your schedule out the night before so you come into work organized and ready to go.
  3. Rid yourself of time robbers. This includes any activity that takes up time but adds little or no value to your firm or life. You have to manage these types of activities so they don’t take up too much of your time.

What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
Public accounting is more of a people business then I originally realized. There’s a lot of customer service and client communication required to keep your firm running smoothly. The background I had in retail and team sports really helped me resolve this earlier than some others. If you’ve had any similar experience, use it to your advantage.

Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
Specifically, you should be offering a superior work environment for employees. This way you have the best CPAs coming to you and you can easily retain the ones you already have. We do this by implementing systems and processes for everything around the office.
Our superior work environment also includes a culture centered around respect and one where employees know we care about their development. Our firm does this by investing in our employees with lots of training including, soft skills development such as sales, interpersonal training, and management training.

How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
My best advice is to carefully develop systems and processes and then properly document them. Processes should become fluid so your staff always knows how things should run and your clients always know what exactly they’re getting.

Is there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
Since I started with firm in 1982, technology has helped a lot by increasing the productivity per person. The biggest technology changes that have helped us has been the use of cloud computing and switching to a paperless office.
Also the development of specialty niches has improved our efficiency. Once we reached a critical mass of clients interested in a particular niche we started developing it further and training dedicated staff members to that niche.

What are your best time-tracking secrets?
We recommend that everyone inputs their time directly into our time tracking system instead of writing on a timesheet, especially if you’re involved in litigation when detailed billing is required. It’ll allow everyone to do their time tracking quicker and they’ll remember more details.

Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
I would recommend Go File Room for workflow management and Microsoft’s CRM package.

Interview Series with Successful CPA Firms – Part 1 with Frank Gutta

Email Stopwatch is starting a new interview series with accounting firms that really know how to run their CPA firm like a business.

The first interview is with a Fort Lauderdale CPA firm that’s been around for more than 25 years, Frank Gutta and Co.. Frank was the perfect candidate since he really understands the value of running an efficient office and focusing his time on practice management and marketing.

Firm: Frank Gutta of Frank Gutta & Co. CPA, PA
Website: http://frankguttacpa.com/
Highlights of his website: The great testimonials featured on every page and the free book “Must Know Tax Tips for Small Business” (if you’re not sure why these are so great, check out this post on how to improve your CPA website).

What are your top three time-management tips?
1. As a company that bills mainly by the hour, Frank Gutta and Co. use electronic time sheets to keep track of it all in the software Practice Solutions by Thomson Reuters. This saves time by allowing all employees to input time electronically, rather than using paper, then having to manually enter the data, creating twice the work. Practice Solutions also generates a monthly report showing how efficiently everyone’s working and whether adjustments need to be made to any client’s bills.

2. My favorite- Frank and the rest of the team create a ‘to do’ list everyday. The list always includes something they need to today, in next few days, in next few weeks, and includes long term items. The ‘to do’ list is great because it keeps you focused on tasks that need to get done. For more specific tips on how to set up an extremely effective ‘to do’ list, check this out.

3. Using Practice Solution has made work flow seamlessly through the office. Documents are logged in by the receptionist, then sent straight to the staff accountant responsible for that client, where they get an alert. Once the work has been completed by that staff member it moves on to the supervisor, who signs off, then to Frank, who again double checks and signs off. After Frank’s approval, the client is invoiced and they receive the work. The system keeps the work moving fluidly throughout the office.

What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
Frank admitted that when he started out in accounting thought the technical knowledge would be enough. ‘I thought all you had to do was be knowledgeable and provide good service, and that would be good enough to bring in and keep clients’. He eventually realized that marketing was very important and that a CPA firm was like any other business, you need to make time to market it. Word of mouth isn’t enough.

Frank’s suggestion to new CPA firm owners, ‘Go to marketing seminars and make sure you’re doing practice development. One of your main jobs as the firm owner is practice management, not accounting’. For practice management, he specifically suggests documenting all processes and procedures in the office so other people can easily step into that job. Don’t keep it all in your head!

Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
Frank quickly realized in starting a firm, when you’re hiring, don’t just look for the technical knowledge. In order for the office to run smoothly, there’s got to be synergy and good teamwork. There are various ways of figuring this out about potential candidates but he suggests questions specifically designed to evaluate how well people work in a team and cooperate, as well as personality tests that evaluate this.

How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
Frank knew right away when I asked this question that this was a mistake most firm owners make. They don’t delegate anything, thinking it’ll just be easier to do it all themselves. Frank himself admitted that he tried to do everything when he first started out, answering the phone, meeting with clients, even making photocopies. The result of this- long hours and stress. He suggests, as was mentioned previously, document all office procedures and allow the employees to take over most of the accounting. Your job is to work on client relationships, marketing and run the practice efficiently.

Is there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
The most efficient change at Frank Gutta and Co. has been the switch to a paperless office. Since the switch in 2006, nothing is mis-filed, clients can send and receive documents electronically and no longer have to come into the office, and everything around the office just flows more smoothly.

What are your best time-tracking secrets?
Practice Solution has really with the office’s time-tracking. It allows employees to enter their time into an electronic time sheet, so there’s no longer any pencil and paper notebooks that have to be manually entered. Practice Solutions also gives a monthly report on the profitability and productivity of each employee, letting Frank know right away how employees are performing and if billing adjustments need to be made for a client.

Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
Frank highly recommends Practice Solutions, everything flows through the office so easily. They also use Ultratax for individual and personal tax returns, which links to their electronic filing cabinet and can link corporate taxes to personal tax returns.

We want to thank Frank for his time and wisdom.

Please leave any additional questions in the comments.