Yesterday, I tasked you with an exercise to define your future by visualizing what your business structure and personal finances look like on Dec. 31, 2021. If you missed it, you can read it here.
I promise, that’s as “woo-woo” as I get. Today, we start the process of converting that vision of your future state into pragmatic action steps.
- dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.
Above all else, this is the most important word that I try to keep in mind whenever I’m writing an article, developing a CPE class, or assembling a marketing toolkit for you to use in your practice. It’s a byproduct of my engineering background. My brief foray into doing research science was miserable, just way too theoretical for me. Engineering is all about practical application, and that’s what I try to bring to you here, as well.
So how do you convert a vision of the future into practical action steps you can start taking today?
Creating Action Steps, Part I
Here’s Part I of the simple process:
- For each component of your future vision (e.g., each question in the exercise), write down the metric that defines it’s achievement. In other words, a KPI (Key Performance Indicator). This should be an objectively quantifiable unit of measurement, such as hours or dollars. Again, see the the exercise from yesterday — it’s worded the way it is for a specific reason, to flow into this process here. For example, personal net income of $250,000 for the year.
- Write down the equivalent metric’s value as of Dec. 31, 2020. For example, personal net income for last year may have been $50,000.
- Calculate the delta between the two. In this example, it’s $200,000. This is the gap that we need to bridge, over the next 12 months.
- Divide the gap by 50. This gives you the weekly change you need to create. In the example, that’s $4,000 per week.
Was that complicated? Was that too obvious? Have you stopped reading because you already knew that?
Well, if it’s so obvious, and you already knew it… How come you’ve never done it? Aha, gotcha! 🙂
And if you have done it before, GREAT!
But if you haven’t, please…please…please DO IT. It’s one thing to proclaim a New Year’s resolution to 5x your income in 2021. But unless you take action, it’s not a resolution, it’s just a daydream.
I think there’s a big psychological aspect to this, too. What we’re doing here is breaking a big, daunting challenge down into small, bite-sized pieces. For example, I don’t know a repeatable strategy to generate tax resolution revenue in $200,000 chunks. Those “whale” clients do exist, but they are few and far between. Like, very, very few, and very, very far between. In 2020, we only had one Tax Resolution Academy® member that I recall reporting a single six-figure representation client. They do exist, but counting on finding them is a fool’s errand.
So I can’t show you how to generate the $200,000 gap in our example from a single client on a consistent basis. But I can definitely show you how to generate $4,000 a week in new client revenue in tax resolution (as long as you’re willing to do the work, of course).
Next, we’ll delve into the much more difficult part of converting vision to action, in Part II.
Creating Action Steps, Part II
Let’s wrap up this series on weekly planning to transform your tax firm from where it was to where you envision it being.
Let’s review what you’ve done this week:
1). Acknowledged the power of choice to create the tax firm you want.
2). Blocked out at least 3 hours per week for marketing your services.
3). Created a vision of what you want your business to look like at the end of the year.
4). Defined your KPIs and broken them down into measurable weekly targets.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: Now comes the most difficult task of all. If you’ve never done this sort of thing before, it may frustrate you. It’s also the most time consuming exercise I’m asking you to complete this week. That’s why I saved it for the weekend. But, as I said yesterday, if you want to see your future vision actually come to fruition, you have to take action.
In order to convert each of your measurable weekly targets into realistic action steps, you need to take an inventory:
1). In order to hit this weekly KPI, what systems (aka, processes) need to be put in place?
a). What systems already exist that can be adapted to his this weekly target?
2). What inputs do I need to create in order to feed the process? An input is anything that a process needs in order for it to run. For example, a sales process needs leads as the input. A client case work process requires new clients as the input. It is not uncommon for the output of one process to be the input to another process.
a). What inputs am I already creating that can be diverted to feed this system?
b). What inputs need to be changed or even eliminated in order to make the system work?
3). What resources do I need in order to build and run the systems, and/or to generate the inputs? Resources can include time, money, staff, software, hardware, etc.
a). What resources do I already have that can apply to this objective?
I find that this is best done with one weekly target per sheet of paper, with three vertical columns, one each for systems, inputs, and resources. While identifying the systems, inputs, and resources you have and need, you are creating connections between them. As you answer the questions and brainstorm ideas, draw lines on your paper to connect things that go together. Or, assign each thing a number or letter and mark the corresponding number or letter in the other relevant column.
When you’re done with this part, you’ll know which resources you need in order to build systems and create relevant inputs. In other words, you effectively have two resource allocation issues to address: The resources that go into creating the systems, and the resources that go into creating the inputs. When creating your action steps, building systems needs to take priority. Without the system in place, creating inputs for it is kinda pointless. For example, this is why I always encourage tax professionals to fire up their marketing and sales systems to get tax resolution clients first before they start worrying about having the right software or having all the technical competencies required to work the cases.
So, starting with your necessary system(s), plan your actual action steps:
- List out the steps you must take to move, allocate, or acquire the resources necessary to operate the system.
- List the steps necessary to install the system.
- If the system is one that requires periodic maintenance, articulate those maintenance steps.
- List out the mechanical steps for operating the system
- Once you have all steps written out, start to schedule them in your calendar. Resource allocation and system installation steps first. Then, the maintenance and operational steps at whatever frequency is necessary. These final maintenance and operational steps become your ongoing weekly tasks after initial system setup.
Repeat the exact same process for your inputs.
Bam. Done. There’s your action plan for success. Easy peasy, nice ‘n’ easy, right? 🙂
Yeah, I know. It’s not easy at all. Success isn’t easy, so you shouldn’t expect planning for success to be easy, either. I warned you at the beginning that this was the most difficult exercise of the week.
But I’ll also say this: It’s not nearly as difficult as you think it is. Why? Because you already broke down your future vision components into fairly simple components. Today’s exercise is why the future vision exercise is structured the way it is. You’re not creating massive, complex systems, like a colony on Mars. You’re trying to free up some time in your workweek or generate some extra income. So while the steps to create the plan may seem complex, they’re really not, because the objective isn’t all that complex. Does that make sense?
Here, let me provide a full example from beginning to end…
Vision exercise question from earlier this week: How many hours did you work and play in 2021?
Answer: Worked 1500 hours, played for 500 hours. That’s the vision for the rest of the year 2021
Breaking it down from yesterday: In 2020, worked 2000 hours and played 0 hours. So we have a gap of 500 play hours. 500 hours divided by 50 weeks = 10 hours per week.
Let’s say that’s the vision: You want to spend 10 hours per week doing something you love that isn’t work. For the sake of the example, I’m going to pick a random activity. Let’s go with kendo, the Japanese martial art of swordfighting.
What steps do you need to take to free up 10 hours a week — that’s 2 hours per day — from your workday in order to practice kendo?
Let’s take that inventory:
Systems: After giving it some thought, and examining how you spend your time in a typical workday, you identify two clear areas for time system implementation. First, you spend about an hour per day answering phone calls that interrupt you while you’re trying to do other work. Second, you spend an hour per day cold calling businesses out of the Yellow Pages trying to find business tax prep clients. You get the occasional client from it, but it’s time consuming and infuriating work.
Inputs: The inputs in question here are the incoming phone calls that you’re answering, and the leads generated through your outbound telemarketing. These are the two inputs that we have to do something with — manage them somehow to free up the time. For the latter, let’s assume that you have a good process for onboarding and servicing those business tax prep clients. The input problem is how you’re generating the leads.
Resources: Let’s assume that you have a busy family life outside of work. In that case, time isn’t a resource in another part of the day — we can’t just shift tasks to evening or earlier morning. But, you’re doing just fine financially, and could allocate $500-$700 per month from current revenue to address this issue. That’s a money resource. You have no staff, so can’t delegate tasks to them. These are all the resources you can think of.
So, we’re trying to free up time in the work day, reduce one input, eliminate another, and we have some money to play with in the resource pool. Back to systems, we need to think how we can apply the limited resources to eliminate the incoming phone calls, and replace your telemarketing time with something else. So circling back to systems, we need to find you an answering service to take the incoming calls, and we need to figure out a replacement input to feed your successful business return prep business. Given the resources you have available, and after doing some research, you decide to replace your outbound telemarketing time with sending direct mail to new business entity formation lists to create website visits and inbound calls (which will now be answered by somebody else).
For each system, we then go through the last set of steps in the bulleted list above.
To find an answering service and get that system started, to free up one hour per day, you need to:
- Research to generate a list of local and national answering services.
- Have a call with each answering to determine if they meet your needs.
- Hire one of them.
- Write the script you want them to use.
- Give them access to your calendar system to schedule appointments and callbacks for you, and your CRM to track contacts.
- Set up automatic payment to the answering service.
- Check the service once per week by calling it yourself and pretending to be a prospect to make sure they use the script and schedule the callback.
- Review the weekly call log they send you for billing accuracy AND to ensure all clients, prospects, and leads were properly tagged in your CRM and follow up with.
Steps 1-2 you schedule for next week. Steps 3-6 you schedule for the week after. Steps 7-8 become weekly, calendared tasks into perpetuity.
There’s one hour per day of your life back so that you can take time to drive to the dojo, put on your armor, practice kendo, shower, and get home to spend time with your family.
To regain the other hour, you repeat the systems bullet points to find a mailing list provider, write a 3-letter mailing sequence, find a service to print and mail the letters, set up an online lead capture system for this marketing funnel, and create new scripts and CRM connections for the answering service to take incoming calls from those letters. You extrapolate all the necessary tasks, schedule them, and then your weekly tasks become pulling down a new list and sending it to mailing service to start new campaigns — and then of course doing the callbacks to interest inbound leads. Thus, no more telemarketing, because you’ve used your resources (money) to implement a replacement system (direct mail) to free up time.
I hope that with the example, this process makes more sense, and appears less daunting.
Obviously, one of the challenges with distilling a future vision (or goal, if you want to use that label) into actionable steps is that you may not know what you don’t know. For example, maybe you didn’t know until 2 minutes ago that you could hire a company to answer your telephone for you. I take it for granted that tax professionals know that service exists, but I’m sure some don’t. Or perhaps you don’t know what you don’t know about how various marketing systems functionally operate, so it’s hard for you to assess the necessary resources to make it function — and so you just default to thinking you can’t do XYZ type marketing.
Part of my job is to show you what resources are necessary. To show you what various types of marketing, sales, practice management, technology, and case work systems all look like. Stick with me going forward on these articles, and I’ll help you fill in a lot of gaps (and if I don’t know the answer, I do my best to point you in the direction of who does).
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this week’s series on long-term planning for your tax firm. Next week, we’ll get back into the weeds on specific topics, but this week I felt it was necessary to start the New Year by stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture.
Here’s to taking action,
P.S. If adding IRS Collections and Examination representation to your practice is part of your long-range plan, then I invite you to join us inside the Tax Resolution Academy for in-depth resources on marketing, sales, practice management, and case work completion. You can take a no obligation, 7-day trial of the Academy by clicking here.