04 Oct October 2017
On a whim, my wife and I recently made a weekend visit to NYC. We caught a United Flight direct to Newark and stayed at the St. Regis Hotel at 55th and 5th Avenue—a great location. The St. Regis is an incredibly nice boutique hotel. The service is impeccable (which I will talk about in a future article). They provided us with a butler upon check-in, and to top it off, it was free, because I’m a loyal Starwood customer and I used travel points to pay.
Each time we travel to the city, I plan a few fun things for us to do. On this trip, it was the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, the Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen, the Rooftop Bar at the Peninsula Hotel, and a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibit called “Sara Berman’s Closet.” Each experience was remarkable in its own way, but I left thinking mostly about Sara Berman’s Closet. The small exhibit was, literally, the contents of her closet, which had been preserved following her death in 2004 at age 84.
This modest, meticulously organized closet in which Sara Berman—an immigrant who traveled from Belarus to Palestine to New York—kept her all-white apparel and accessories both contained her life and revealed it at the same time.
Divorced after a 38-year marriage, she lived alone in a Greenwich Village apartment. In her closet Berman lovingly organized her shoes, clothes, linens, beauty products, luggage and other necessities. Although the clothing is of various tints—cream, ivory, ecru—it gives the impression of being all white. Everything in the closet was neatly arranged, organized and displayed.
I found its ultimate simplicity fascinating. While gazing at her closet, I couldn’t help but think about the clutter I have in my life and how Sara’s goal appeared to be a kind of unfettered liberation. It appeared that she knew what she liked and felt good wearing, and decided to simply free herself from everything else.
It made me think of Steve Jobs, who was also known for simplifying various aspects of his life, from what he wore each day to the ultimate sophistication of the products he envisioned at Apple. He famously said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
I imagine it may have taken Sara Berman a long time to reach a point of clean thinking—enough to know that various shades of white were what she felt best in and to realize it wasn’t the quantity of the things she had in her closet, but the quality of those items. The care and tidy order of those items must have reflected an inner sense of peace and detachment from the noise that surrounds us all.
It’s impossible to look at this exhibit without seeing it through the lens of your own life. My thoughts went straight to my closet and my personal preferences: navy, grey, white and ecru. I’m also particular about the way clothing fits and feels. Yet, my closet is full of things that I don’t truly love. What would it be like if I could focus and find that ultimate simplicity in my closet? My wife and I purchased a new house just a few months ago. We made the decision (pre-closet epiphany) that we were going to approach our new living space with a sense of intentional, clean thinking. We decided we would only retain or purchase things that we truly loved and that we would avoid clutter.
I’m now beginning to ask myself the same questions about my business and how I spend my free time. Can I organize my company with the same meticulous, ultimate simplicity that Sara Berman achieved with her closet? From the products we sell to the method in which we deliver them, can I evaluate and simplify based on the work we love to do and the way we love doing it? Can I honestly know what I love to do with my free time and how to do more of it?
I was drawn to Steve Jobs’s quote several years ago, but Sara Berman’s Closet expressed that strategy in an unexpected, powerfully inspiring way. I enjoy being exposed to inspirational ideas and exploring how they apply to my own life. When I peered into Sara Berman’s simple closet that found its way to one of the world’s greatest art venues, I couldn’t help wonder what impact her humble, tidy space might have on our cluttered, noisy world.
Make good use of fourth quarter to set your firm up for a better tax season next year.
Now that fourth quarter is upon us, start carving out bits of time to work on your business. If your tax season this year didn’t go how you wanted it to, changes need to be made; otherwise, the same problems will just repeat. Taking steps now will create a better environment to grow your business or refine it to make it what you envision. Everyone has goals for their firms, but you won’t reach them if you just keep doing things the same way you always have.
Consider the items below to make your firm more efficient and give you the ability to target your ideal clients:
Review your tax process and consider adding/adjusting your process with some of these tips:
- Consider how many tax appointments you have from January to April. Do you need to have all of them? If not, send out communications to clients encouraging drop-offs, mail-in and digital document uploads.
- If the backlog of work ends up on the reviewer’s desk, consider implementing a system to “triage” returns by complexity—classify them as Level 1, Level 2, etc. Assign basic-level returns to experienced preparers and reserve the reviewer’s time for more complex returns.
- Adjust your communication strategy. If you have a staff person who can gather missing info, respond to client requests, etc.—as opposed to the preparer doing it—you’ll be more efficient, keeping preparers focused on productive work.
- If preparers spend time scanning tax documents, consider moving the scanning tasks to an admin role. This will allow tax prep staff to focus on just getting returns done. Programs that do this are SurePrep, Gruntworx, Source Document Processing from TR, and CCH Scan.
- If you are manually keying in bank statements—stop! This means you’re not using technology effectively. Solutions like Bank Feeds/Credit Card Feeds in QBO or Xero, or downloading and uploading bank statements electronically will make that process much less labor-intensive.
- Consider your deliverable to the client: Is it a financial statement for all clients? Is a financial statement necessary? Removing unnecessary financial statement preparation and providing more KPI (Key Performance Indicators) reporting will provide way more value and will take far less time to provide.
- Make sure you’re filing W-2s and 1099s electronically. If you’re still getting red forms (for 1099s) or printing government copies of W-2s, you’re wasting time and paper.
- Eliminate barriers to a paperless payroll process:
- Allow remote data entry for clients. Yes, in some cases it will cost more, but it’s worth it for the resultant gains in efficiency.
- Don’t just offer direct deposit, make it your default delivery. Printing paper checks is old-school and definitely not efficient. Yes, you’ll have some one-off checks that need to be printed, but for the majority, it’s unnecessary.
- Produce check stubs and W-2s electronically for employees. Have employers sign up for electronic distribution only, so you don’t have to print employee copies. The more you print and have to mail, the more efficiency you’re sacrificing.
These are just a few popular initiatives that people prioritize for implementation during fourth quarter, when there’s good, productive time before the next tax rush gets underway. Working with your Rootworks coach will help you plan and act on these changes. There are many other ways your firm can become more productive, too—speak with your coach about making these things happen in the closing days of 2017.
Good passwords are easier than you think!
Security Pro Tip: Which Password is Stronger?
I love Cozumel!
It would take password cracking software approximately 24 days, 20 hours to crack the first password. It would take roughly 828 BILLION years to crack the second! You’re also less likely to write the second password down because it’s so easy to remember.
Password length is much more important than the complexity of the characters. Just make sure the passphrase is not something that could be easily guessed. For example, if you’re known around the office for always using the quote, “Surely you can’t be serious?” from the movie Airplane!, or you’re always singing the same song lyric, you probably should not use those as your passphrase.
One more thing about long passphrases: If you use proper capitalization and punctuation, it should meet most complexity requirements.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and these days, who would blame you?), you’ve probably heard the phrase “content marketing” bandied about. Which begs the questions: “What exactly is this new stuff called content marketing?” And, “Why is it so important?”
First, content marketing is a type of marketing communication that involves distributing useful, relevant, and consistent content in a variety of media, with the goal of building consumer relationships with brands and influencing customer preferences and purchase decisions in an indirect way. In other words, it’s not traditional advertising that explicitly seeks to sell, but rather information that answers consumer questions and helps them solve problems.
Second, although it seems like a modern-day innovation, content marketing is anything but new. Examples reach back to the 19th century—from recipes printed on baking powder packages to publications such as John Deere’s Furrow magazine for farmers and the Michelin Guide for early motorists.
So, if content marketing is so long-established, why does it sound like something new today? The answer can be summed up in one word: Google.
Actually, to be fair, the answer is the digital revolution in the broader sense, but search engines (such as the big kahuna, Google) are a cornerstone of how consumers connect with brands now. And online content is a critical component of the mechanism (a.k.a. the algorithms) that search engines employ to decide how to best answer queries. In other words, think of Google as a question answering machine. Good, relevant content helps Google find the sites and brands that are the best answers to user questions.
And where in your world does all this content exist? In all your online channels: your website, blogs, videos, social media, etc. Not only does content in these channels connect you to your clients and prospects, it also connects you with search engines that crawl the internet to help people find your firm as the answer to their queries. In days gone by, people turned to passive, static sources like the Yellow Pages; now, they turn to the powerful, dynamic intelligence of Google and other search engines. And that means today, content is king.
The downside? Content can be labor-intensive, and few firms have staff hours to spare for the process of generating a steady stream of content. Here are some strategies to help you make it happen:
- Take advantage of the content that Rootworks produces for you. Academy and Advantage members have the option of purchasing an exceedingly affordable, total content solution with our client magazines, In The Loop (for Academy members) and Advantage (for Advantage members). The package includes a complete, bimonthly magazine for your clients, posted to your website, as well as pre-written social media posts to help you promote new editions and extend the reach of that content. Plus, Academy members have bimonthly blog posts provided by our staff, which can be automatically posted to your site. (And you can post previews and links to your blog on your social channels, as well.) That’s a lot of good content, ready-made for your firm!
- Remember you can curate content from other sources as well. Finding good content that’s helpful to your clients and sharing that on your channels is another way to keep the content stream full without stretching your staff too thin.
- Fill in around the edges by documenting. Share the human-interest stories that happen around your firm, whether it’s a community service or charity project, celebrating personal or family milestones, hobbies, etc., simply documenting what goes on around your firm is a great way to connect on a human level, while keeping your content flowing.
Remember, content is king. Make a plan to start your stream flowing, and keep at it week after week with helpful information and answers for your clients’ and prospects’ questions.
We’ve recently added new webinars to the calendar:
1. October 5: Staff Training—Using Receipt Bank and Bill.com with QBO
2. October 24: Cybersecurity—Important First Steps
3. November 2: Vendor Hosted Webinar—Fathom: What’s New
4. November 7: Vendor Hosted Webinar—TSheets: What’s New
5. November 9: Staff Training—Fathom Reporting 2.0
Check Grow for the complete schedule of virtual events for the rest of the year.
Finally, our Q4 Planning Workshop is October 26. What are you committed to accomplishing? Be prepared to share!