Four years later, it’s the end of an era

Today marks a special anniversary for me: It was four years worth of Mondays ago today that I made a life-altering decision. I walked out on my day job to enter the world of private practice and become a nomad.

Six weeks later, I was traversing a still-slick Vail Pass on a heavily overloaded motorcycle, threading the needle between two major snow storms. I remember stopping for gas along I-70, and people looking at me like I was nuts. I was also freezing my butt off.

But it was all worth it. I managed to rapidly build myself a successful, “stereotypical” tax resolution practice, and then just as quickly scaled it down to “boutique” size. While doing that, I’ve literally circled the globe, spent a decent amount of time in 13 foreign countries, met wonderful people, and experienced amazing cultures.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.

I’m a firm believer in living the life that you want to live right now. The whole fantasy of working your tail off for 40 years so that you can retire at 40% of your previous earnings and then going off to travel the world is exactly that: Very few people accomplish it.

Either they don’t have enough money, or they’re in poor health, or they’re simply dead. Yes, that’s right: It’s amazing how many stories are out there of people that wanted to travel the world “when they were able to”, but then kicked the bucket before everything was “perfect” for them to do it.

Not this guy.

Maybe I’m an odd duck. OK, I’m definitely an odd duck. But I’m OK with that. My life has had it’s ups and downs, just like anybody else, but I’ve made the best of it, I think, and it’s worked out well. But the single best decision I’ve ever made was to live life on my own terms, rather than what’s expected of me.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this. There is an entire world of lifestyle design and location independence enthusiasts out there. The other nomadic types that I have met in my travels, and the “famous” ones I’ve chatted with online, all say that eventually they get burned out on being a nomad.

I’ve always been incredibly conflicted between the nomadic life, and having a home. It drives me nuts at times, because after a few months on the go, I’m ready to settle down. But inevitably, after a few months in one place, I’m itching to go again. My incessant indecision on this matter has been particularly frustrating to my mentor and my family.

Recent relationship events have made me examine this even more closely, which I actually didn’t think was possible. In case you weren’t already aware, I got married a month ago. We were ready to settle down, start a family, start two new brick and mortar businesses — everything that was the antithesis of the life I’ve been leading for the past four years (some analysts would say even longer, in some regards).

I’ll spare you the details, but the fantasy didn’t last long. I had found somebody that met every criteria on my 37-point checklist. What I never considered was that such a person might have itchy feet syndrome, too. We’re both traveling in from out of the area to file our annulment petition in what is legally my home state on Thursday.

Am I done being a nomad?

Alas, the answer is no. I don’t think I ever will be. When I look back on my very early childhood, my nomadic ways make a LOT of sense.

But at the same time, I want the best of both worlds. It’s nice to be in one place for a few weeks or a couple months. It’s nice to sleep in your own bed now and then. It’s nice to have a sense of community somewhere — to belong to something. Being a solo permanent traveler can be a lonely life.

As most people know, I’ve recently set up shop in Port Orchard, WA. This was going to be where I planned on being for three solid years. We had grand designs, but they just weren’t meant to be. My original business plan (available in the members area for Platinum Inner Circle members) called for extensive, personal one-on-one relationship building between myself and local high-end clients.

I sent an exhaustive explanation to Platinum members about this last week, but the bottom line is this: The business plan is changing, but the market area is not. In fact, I’m also giving consideration to adding one or more market areas.

At the same time.

For the same first tax season.

In different states.

Plus maybe Japan.

What on Earth am I jabbering on about?

I want to have my cake, and eat it, too. I want the best of both worlds. I want a home base, a place to call my own, but I want to keep traveling, also. And I’m recognizing the fact that I wouldn’t be happy with my original business plan, which essentially allowed me to take 2 or 3 trips per year of about two weeks each. That just ain’t enough, folks. Not for this guy.

This whole train of thought had a mid-air collision with one of those light bulb idea bubbles: What if I remove myself from face time with clients?

Kind of a no brainer, right? After all, I’ve worked in tax resolution for almost seven full years while only meeting THREE clients face-to-face. But tax preparation is far more personal. Yes, there are plenty of preparers doing mail in or strictly uploaded work, but the vast majority of Americans aren’t yet comfortable with that approach. They want to be eyeball to eyeball with their tax preparer.

But they don’t have to be MY eyeballs!

I realize again that this should be a no-brainer, since that’s how most tax prep work is done. But I have zero interest in the bottom end of the market. My original business plan was to build extremely strong relationships with extremely high-end clients: The absolute top of my local market.

But what about the middle or upper-middle of the market? Would I be happy still doing 300 returns, but at a $300-$500 average fee, instead of the significantly higher average fees that come from doing multiple Schedule E’s and their 1120S?

What about my plan to offer packages of services, and charging monthly fees? (Example: Real estate investors that need monthly assistance across multiple rentals). Well, maybe I scale back that plan, but don’t need to abandon it entirely (Platinum members: I’m working on this, you’ll hear about it soon).

I realized that I could build any kind of business I want. I can still refuse to offer bank products, go after a higher tier client, but not actually do all the work. I can rely more on direct response marketing, and less on relationship building. I don’t have to be the face of the operation.

And on a related note, I can be in two (or more) places at once. Technology, which I’ve already proven in tax resolution, allows me to work from anywhere. I can review returns from anywhere. I can manage multiple offices, as long as I have great office managers, from anywhere. In other words, I can operate a somewhat traditional chain/franchise type operation, but simply using smart marketing to attract a better clientele.

As an aside, I can also buy practices, but that’s a topic for a future post.

So that’s what I’m doing. My four years of being full-on nomad are definitely over. That chapter of my life has closed. And I’m comfortable with that.

Now it’s time for me to buckle down and become a tax office tycoon. This will require me to be in one place for at least a couple months each year (you know, that whole tax season thing). Trying to be an absentee owner on the go will just be too difficult. So, I’m going to have a home base (hint: It won’t be Washington). But I’m also most likely going to spend most of January in Japan. And next summer I’ll be on the road again doing tax marketing seminars in a city near you, hitting up the various trade shows and tax forums, etc.

Will it be different? Very. Strange? That, too. But this is how life evolves… How business plans evolve.

Interestingly, there’s ONE THING that anchors all this for me. It’s one thing that I’ve been fighting against embracing to the fullest extent possible. After years of over analysis and too many emails (sorry, James!), all my “talking points” and “decision matrices” boiled down to one, single thing that, once I acknowledge and embrace it, makes every other decision easier.

Of course, this was all from just yesterday, so you know me… 🙂

In the near future, I’ll be writing extensively about the following topics:

  • Absentee ownership
  • Buying vs building a practice
  • The concept of your one thing
  • Elaboration on my one thing and how it strangely ties everything else in my life together.

Times, they are a changin’!