Taking a family road trip is one of the rites of passage that we all go through during summer. The kids have their iPads and books, the dog has his bone, and that just leaves the adults to find ways to make the long hours go faster. You can either... ...

 

5 podcasts for your summer road trip and more...




5 podcasts for your summer road trip

Shutterstock_407042977Taking a family road trip is one of the rites of passage that we all go through during summer. The kids have their iPads and books, the dog has his bone, and that just leaves the adults to find ways to make the long hours go faster. You can either click the radio buttons a thousand times to find a station remotely tolerable, you can listen to the kids fight about who is touching who, or you can find an alternative.

Enter the podcast

A podcast is a great way to make the miles fly by. Of the more than 550,000 podcasts you can listen to, you’ll find educational, entertaining, or just plain random content. Did you know that there is a 51% chance that a flipped coin will land on the side that was facing up when it was flipped? A fun fact and I learned it from a podcast!

5 podcasts to help you survive

  1. The Tim Ferris Show – Tim Ferris looks for productivity tips in places most people wouldn’t think of. His discussions on leadership, productivity, personal achievement, and business are born from chess strategies, sports men and women, politics and top business people.
  2. Planet Money by NPR – The economy explained. Imagine you could call up a friend and say, "Meet me at the bar and tell me what's going on with the economy." Now imagine that's actually a fun evening.
  3. School of Greatness – Hosted by Lewis Howes, this podcast thrives on the foundation of sharing stories of greatness. He emphasizes that everyone has the potential to achieve success, regardless of what they've gone through in life.
  4. Radiolab – Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, is a radio show and podcast weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.
  5. Wait, What, Don’t Tell Me – NPR's weekly current events quiz. Have a laugh and test your news knowledge while figuring out what's real and what they've made up.

There are several great podcasts available related to the profession, including the Journal of Accountancy and Beyond Disruption, a new series on iTunes. Each week, Beyond Disruption brings you global expert insights on leveraging disruption today and preparing our profession for tomorrow.

Tune in and turn it up

Of course, podcasts are not just for family road trips, they can make your commute to and from work each day bearable, and they can make time fly by when you are sitting at your desk or running at the gym. Another great thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them anywhere from your phone, computer, or tablet.  

The key to happy listening is finding a podcast that keeps your attention and entertains you. Now off you go my friend, go pick out a podcast, throw the family in the car, and start your summer adventure!

Heidi McBurney, Communications, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

 

I jumpstarted my productivity in 15 minutes – and you can, too!

ReadingIt was early January 2014. The Kansan plains were covered in a crunchy layer of frozen grass, the overcast sky giving little indication that the ice would soon melt. Staff at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd – a small accounting firm – were eager to step in from the cold to start their day. But this day would start differently than others. No one opened their laptop. No one phoned clients. No one crunched numbers. Instead, everyone, from partner to administrative assistant, had their heads down in a nonfiction book of their choice. They read uninterrupted, untethered from technology, for 15 minutes. You see, this firm had taken the first step in a journey that would evolve from an experiment into a successful on-the-clock reading program. And that reading program would evolve them too. 

Admittedly, The First 15 reading program took some time to get off the ground because, although everyone agreed to the merits of reading, no one had time for it. That’s when Chet Buchman, managing partner and eventual architect of the reading program, suggested paying for people to read on the clock. “You can’t control what people have going on at home…but you do have the ability to influence what happens when they’re on the clock.” 

Only 10% of the firm read on a consistent basis at the program’s launch. In the last year, however, staff members read over 439 books, adding up to just over 76,000 pages. They read only nonfiction books with real life, real world application. It’s an exercise that Buchman and his partners state has contributed to a marked increase in productivity, revenue and morale.

I was skeptical when I heard these claims. Don’t get me wrong: like many of you, I watched Reading Rainbow as a child. I get that books are cool – that they serve a real purpose. I was just having trouble connecting increased revenue and productivity to the act of reading. If anything, I thought it would cut into a firm’s bottom line. So, I decided to test this out myself. For two months, I etched out fifteen minutes from my busy schedule to read self-help books, inspirational autobiographies and collected essays on anything from technology to an insanely poetic 17th century rumination on something as seemingly banal as urn burials.

Here’s what happened.

Increased focus

The first three or four days were rough going. Cutting my technology cord brought me significant anxiety. I’m sure you know the type: feverishly responding to texts and emails, unable to ignore news flash notifications, always searching for the next best meme. That was me, and maybe it’s you, too. But it doesn’t have to be. Like me, your fledgling days in The First 15 may cause cold sweats and unexplainable heart palpitations. But, also like me, you’ll get through it, even if you need your colleagues to steal your phone while you read. And, in less than a week, you’ll find, as I found, an exponential increase in focus. My mind stopped racing hither and thither. I didn’t bounce back and forth between the task at hand and emails, checking stocks and stalking my favorite celebrity chefs’ Instagram stories.

Confidence in communicating

The more I read, the better I became at communicating. Simply by devoting more time to the consumption of ideas, I felt less apprehensive using language to express my own – both in writing and in speaking. Previously, I’d kept quiet in meetings. I feared I’d forget my words – that I’d fumble my way aimlessly through sentences, unable to properly string words together in a meaningful way. Now, by reading the stories of others, I’ve become a storyteller myself. Moreover, I’m able to pull anecdotes and facts from the books I’ve read to support my own ideas.

Improved memory

Do you remember that movie Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore? It’s about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. After watching it, I was sure I suffered the same affliction. Of course, it couldn’t be that – with a smartphone doing all my remembering for me – I’d allowed my memory muscle to atrophy! But, as it turns out, that’s exactly what had happened. Reading, especially if it’s relegated to just 15 minutes a day, forces the brain to pick up where it left off the day before. It’s forced to up its memory game. I found this tremendously beneficial. As mentioned, I grew more confident speaking, no longer fearing I’d forget simple words. Plus, I went from a networking zero to a networking hero, with a new knack for remembering people I met – and some facts about them.

A new, improved addiction

Ultimately, 15 minutes a day wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to wait a day to finish a thought, an idea, a book. I wanted to keep reading and filled any rare moment of downtime by reading a few more pages. And I got faster at reading, too, which meant I consumed more ideas, more anecdotes, more data. I went to bed at night with a book in my hand instead of an iPhone, and I’ve truly become a better person – and employee – because of it. I’m doing more work, better work, and I’m bringing innovative, cost-cutting ideas to the table. The AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) has adopted The First 15 reading program, making email templates and other program tools available to PCPS members. The program truly improved my performance and can do the same for you.

Brock Faucette, Manager, Corporate Communications, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

 

5 tools to help your firm operate effectively

IStock-173737815Summer is a time for relaxing vacations, outdoor concerts and barbecue gatherings. It’s also a time to hit the recharge button and revisit the goals you planned to achieve by year’s end. Many CPAs set aside time during the summer months to focus on their firm’s operations and growth opportunities. The good news is that there are resources available to AICPA members to help you reach these goals and improve your firm’s overall success. Here are some tools for efficient firm management:

  1. Gain perspective with benchmarking metrics.

Metrics provide you with invaluable information. The PCPS/CPA.com National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey is a unique benchmarking resource that provides firms of all sizes with the key performance indicators they need to make many important management decisions such as firm realization, billing rates and compensation, net remaining per owner and more. The 2018 MAP survey has been significantly streamlined to make it even easier and faster to take. If you want to know where you stand compared to other firms in your region or nationally, I’d urge you to take the survey before it closes this month. Firms that participate receive a customized report comparing their responses to those of firms with similar net client fees, firms in the same region, and against top performing firms. PCPS members also get additional tools, including PowerPoint trend reports and the ability to run customized reports utilizing filters.

  1. Plot your future course.

The Firm inMotion e-Toolkit helps you navigate the latest trends and provides customizable tools for firms of all sizes as well as insights into best practices. The toolkit is divided into sections practitioners have identified as key to success in a quickly changing environment. See how insights from other firm owners can help you prepare for what’s next.

  1. Make the most out of your firm size.

Smaller firms have a lot going for them, and the Small Firm webpage can help you benefit from your strengths. Whether you want to enhance your value-added services, keep up with the latest news in tax, audit and accounting or advisory services, or explore strategic planning for firms like yours, you’ll find all the information you need in this centralized resource. 

  1. Enhance your client relationships.

You and your team develop deep bonds with many of your clients. The PCPS Trusted Client Advisor Toolbox supports those strong ties with resources to help you identify and follow through on consulting opportunities. Help your team learn how to define client needs, articulate the value of the services they can offer and get buy-in for additional engagements.

  1. Think outside the box when it comes to client services.

Being your clients’ trusted adviser means playing an active role in their financial big picture. Whether your clients ask for tax planning or need assistance with estate and trust planning, make sure they know you can help them with all their financial needs. This webpage and worksheet have more information on planning and tax advisory services.

Resources at your fingertips

As you review your firm’s operations, remember it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel when it comes to developing growth strategies and planning for the future. There’s a wealth of resources waiting for you as you work to fine-tune your practice and set it on course for even greater success. Let these tools help guide you as you plan for a smooth and profitable last half of the year.

Mark Koziel, CPA, CGMA, Executive Vice President, Firm Services and Global Alliances, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

 

Summer reading list

Shutterstock_288888452It’s that time of year: trips are being planned, office cubes seem emptier than normal and social media is flooded with pictures of vacation spots. But, nothing says summer to me like relaxing with a good book, so I joined forces with my colleagues to present you with a collection of books for your next trip or staycation.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
You don’t even have to be a history buff to become fully engrossed in this novel. It’s a remarkable story of one Jewish family who – torn apart by World War II – fought for survival without knowing if they’d ever see each other again. The most unbelievable part is it’s based on a true story. While the topic is a tad heavier than a typical beach read, I couldn’t put this one down!
Sonia Bauer, Senior Manager - Corporate Communications & Public Relations

Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield.
Focusing on rock music, journalism and a girl named “Renee,” this stunning memoir uses the music of the 90s as a backdrop to a bittersweet love story. It’s the perfect family vacation read because it reminds us to appreciate the life experiences and loved ones that make up the story of our lives. Just be prepared for the emotional roller coaster – no other book has made me laugh out loud and cry uncontrollably in a single chapter.
Allison Carter Fanney, Communications Manager – Tax

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
The novel was a departure for King at the time, setting aside his usual horror genre to create a fantasy world of power struggles in a medieval setting more than a decade before the series of novels that spawned “Game of Thrones.” It’s a quick read and lots of fun.
Adam Junkroski, Lead Manager – Communications, Tax, PFP, S&C

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
It’s a mystery novel that goes back and forth between the main character’s traumatic high school experiences and the current time period, where she’s a magazine editor who’s determined to convince everyone that she has a perfect, glamorous life – even though she’s seriously struggling underneath it all. The author does an excellent job of weaving the two timelines together, but be warned that there are some tough scenes in the book.
Michelle Lewis, Lead Manager – Communications, Quality Initiatives

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
This book is an unconventional gothic novel. It’s a ghost story – or is it? Are the residents of a crumbling English estate truly experiencing paranormal activity, or will the country doctor called to care for the family uncover a more logical, far more sinister explanation for the strange goings on? Read the book before the movie adaptation hits theaters August 31.
Brock Faucette, Corporate Communications Manager

What book are you most looking forward to reading? Tell us in the comments below!

Liz Rock, Associate Manager - Enterprise Social Media, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants 

 

Is hiring a CPA worth it in 2018?

GettyImages-863565040When people hear I’m a CPA who specializes in tax, the question invariably comes up — what do I think about the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (also known as “tax reform”)? I’m not one to talk about politics, so to be neutral, I say “it’s certainly an exciting time to be a CPA in tax.” No question, many of the provisions of tax reform bring added complexity to areas of the law that were not simple to begin with. 

Some individuals will continue to feel comfortable using tax preparation software, but there are circumstances where “you don’t know what you don’t know,” requiring you to call in the help of a CPA. A great CPA can provide much more value than just the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your forms are correct. They can provide planning and tax advisory services, consultation, business and international accounting, forensic accounting, business valuation and more. 

Read on to learn four reasons why it’s worth hiring a CPA.  

  1. To better understand your big financial picture

There are a variety of questions to determine if a CPA is right for helping you assess your overall financial well-being:

  • Do I have a clear grasp of my financial situation and how the new law will shape it?
  • When will I reach my savings or investment goals? Should I set new ones now?
  • How does tax reform affect decisions such as selling my house, retiring, taking a sabbatical, supporting a favorite charity, or sending my kid (or me) to college or grad school?

Figuring this out on your own is tough. Having a trusted adviser in your corner who knows all about your circumstances and looks at the big picture can make a critical difference. A CPA can help you start thinking about strategic timing and next steps, so you don’t miss out on important opportunities.

  1. To help you save for the big stuff

If saving up for education expenses, a baby or retirement seems daunting, you’re not alone. Some frequently asked questions in this area are:

  • My spouse wants to go to grad school. Can we swing this?
  • What is the best way to contribute to my children’s’/nieces’/nephews’/grandchildren’s college costs?  
  • Am I saving enough to retire early? Is that even possible?

A CPA will help you strategize, whether you’re saving for school or saving for retirement. For example, under the new law, 529 funds can be used to pay private school tuition. A CPA can recommend the best way to fund the 529 and how and when to use it. A CPA can also assist in evaluating investment options that would be the most tax efficient to maximize your return in retirement.

  1. To make the most of your retirement

Your ideal retirement might be sipping a cocktail on the beach, or it might be trekking across America in an RV. Either way, there are specific questions to ask yourself in order to make the most of this next life stage, such as:

  • When should I start receiving Social Security benefits? What are the tax implications?
  • What is the best way to draw down retirement funds to minimize taxes and prevent financial problems?
  • Is my estate planning in order?

Knowing how to handle Social Security benefits is critical. In 2017, 50% of married couples and 71% of single people aged 65 and older relied on Social Security for at least half of their income. A CPA can fill you in on what you need to know and work with you to develop an action plan.

Similarly, he or she can work with you and other professionals to create an estate plan that honors your wishes and minimizes taxes for your beneficiaries. Tax reform greatly reduced the number of taxpayers subject to federal estate tax, but only through 2025. If your state taxes estates, you will need to take that into consideration. Thinking about the distribution of your assets can be difficult; however, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing everything is in order.   

  1. To prepare you for whatever life throws at you

We all know the reality of the Forrest Gump quote – “Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.” Here are some important questions to consider before “life happens”:

  • If a natural disaster hits my home or business, do I have a plan for financial recovery?
  • Am I handling my health care expenses correctly to save the most money?
  • If I am injured or become seriously ill, do I know how I can pay the bills?

So, if your particular box of chocolates sticks you with the coconut-filled one you hate, how can a CPA help? Many CPAs are knowledgeable about insurance, such as long-term disability and property, and can advise you on what you need to be prepared. And if they don’t offer this service directly, they most likely partner with an expert in the area so they can oversee your full financial picture. They also know about the tax incentives related to health care that may help you save and pay for medical expenses.   

Next step: Making the Decision

If you’re not sure you’re on the right financial path, or what your path should even be, seriously consider contacting a CPA. To quote entrepreneur and business philosopher Jim Rohn, “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.”     

Of course, as a CPA, I’m biased. I’m extremely proud of my profession and believe deeply that people will benefit from our expertise. So let me share a more impartial comment from Manny, one of our readers in response to a much earlier blog, Is Hiring a CPA Worth it?: “Hiring a CPA may be a little costly in the beginning but will pay off in the long run. Tax planning and account management can be really confusing. Having a business and personal adviser will help save your time and money.”

For more information on working with a CPA, visit 360finlit.org. And to find one near you, visit cpasdotax.com.

April Walker, CPA, CGMA, Lead Manager Tax Practice & Ethics, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants