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David C. Smith, President
David C. Smith
Lee Ribolin, Broker
Lee Ribolin

Craig Van Laningham
Craig Van Laningham
Craig Van Laningham
Brandon Ribolin
Small Practice Specialist

A Letter from an Anxious Seller - Business Brokerage Incorporated

To the person contemplating selling his/her practice, please read this abbreviated letter that I received from a seller. I did sell the practice and satisfied the seller’s concerns. You may identify with some of this seller’s issues. Thanks, David C. Smith, former¬†President of Business Brokerage, Inc. (Founder-Retired)

Dear Dave:

My current situation is that of being overworked. I’ve not reached burnout. I learned early in my career that I could work 10, 12, 14 hours a day and never get tired. This was great for tax season. Now, though, I don’t need the money and I’m losing interest. I’ve become tired of listening to everyone complain about income taxes. I’m tired of being in a high tax bracket. I’m tired of explaining itemized deductions to young people. I’m tired of explaining the advantages of IRAs. I’m tired of cleaning up Quicken reports. I’m tired of I.R.S. audits. I’m tired of people FAXing important information to me with teeny tiny print that’s blurry.

I put in a lot of hours trying to keep customers satisfied. It’s been very lucrative and I’m not sure if anyone else could pull this off. But -I am looking for someone to take my place. I’m looking for some orderly transition. I’m not going anywhere; though I do have to move out of this office. My health is near perfect. Someone may complain that the fees are low but yet I earned enough so I’m still in my forties and don’t have to work anymore.

There are three clients with the lowest fees. I visit each of them one day a month and spend 6 or more hours posting the G/L on their in-house computer systems, discussing the results with the owner. My fees for these three probably average $65 to $70 per hour plus more for tax preparation and difficult projects. Figure $10,000 a year billing each. Someone else may not want to do the work. The owners of the companies may not want someone else to do the work.

I could also keep the elderly folks who are slow, take a couple of appointments to get their tax returns done and/or have rental properties with 1031 exchange cost basis problems. What lies ahead? What kind of person would want to take over this work? Someone just starting out who has plenty of time? A larger company who wants to expand? Remember, all my clientele are spoiled by direct personal services from me. I’m not sure if they’ll continue after working with a junior staff accountant, or musical partners in a firm, or, with anyone with a Big 8 background.

Would someone want to move me to their location? Or, will someone want to start up in a new location? Combine their client base with mine? Can we work side by side, share space, or allow me to visit or work part time? If so, for how long? How many clients will drop out? Riverside, San Diego, out-of-state clients? Should I stay and work part time just to “salvage” these? Can the dropouts be predicted so a plan of retention be sought? There are many other questions involved, including such personal ones as…How will I cope with “letting go”? Or, saying good-bye to my friends? Will I need a “shrink” to get through it?

These are my goals, in order of priority:

1. I want the most money for myself. I want to maximize my return, or investment. What can I do to achieve this, keeping in mind I am not dying, moving away, or taking on another job. Do I stay? Do I work part-time?

Do I stay as a figurehead? Rainmaker? Should the newer clients be treated differently than the longer standing ones? How about the numerous clientele who live out of state and mail in the income tax work? Do I stay and answer phone calls only? Or does this backfire? If I spend too much time with the clientele, they won’t figure out there’s a new CPA. What is part-time work pay status? Percentage of billing? How much, and for how long? How much free time and work will I be expected to give?

2. I want a good deal for the new CPA. I want him/her to be happy, satisfied, overworked and well paid. What can I do to achieve this and help the process? What’s best from the other CPA’s standpoint?

3. I want the clientele to be taken care of. I want them put into competent hands, and I expect them to pay decently for it. I don’t want a large fee increase to occur in the first year. If all the clientele stay, $180,000 or so in annual billings at $90.00 per hour average is 2000 billable hours per year. That means 2,400 hours in a work year to get it done. What kind of person will take this on? Who has this amount of time to work? Another work-a-holic? Someone adding a partner? Someone with nothing and just starting out? Whoever it is must currently now have a lot of available time in March and April. If he/she is busy now, they’ll never be able to get to my client’s work. What is the style of the office? It better be neat, clean, and have very nice furniture. Will it be quiet or noisy?

Where/how will everything be housed? This work requires a desk (or two), a computer processing area, and space for 9 or 10 filing cabinets. Add to that room for client interview, lobby, clerical staff, conference room, coffee pot and microwave.

I don’t want a new office in an area (near the airport) where the building address is not visible from the street. I don’t want a multi-level parking garage with elevators and validating. I like the clientele being able to park their car within 100 feet of the front door when they come for appointments. I don’t like the idea of them driving around the block looking for the right building while confused. I like 3 or 4 digit addresses over 5 digit ones. They’re easier to remember. I like north, south, east, west streets; not curvy, windy ones where people get lost.

I have several requirements of the person who takes over the work: The new CPA must be friendly and outgoing. Not all clients will know if their job is done right but they’ll certainly know if the person doing it is likable, available, enjoyable to talk to, punctual, on their side, creative, intelligent and detail oriented. The new CPA should have a program of advertising or promotion, especially to the existing clientele; something like Mostad & Christensen newsletters at a minimum. He/she must be able to promise the clientele many, many things. The new CPA should not wear a boring white shirt and preferably no tie.

The new CPA must have experience one-on-one with business owners and their bookkeepers. If he or she worked for a big 5, big 6, or big 8 firm they probably won’t qualify. The reason? They are used to working with corporate controllers preparing workpapers and have never worked with an entrepreneur. Also, they are used to billing clientele for multi-level bureaucracy. You know, billing the client for the interview, billing the client for the time to explain to a staff member, billing the client for a senior to review the junior’s work, billing the client for the partner to review everybody’s everything! Anyway, you get the picture.

Whoever takes over my work must be experienced in cleaning up Quickbook records without complaint, handling messy IRS audits, and resolving all differences and grey areas in favor of the taxpayer. He/she must cut all corners to keep the billing low but yet satisfy the bankers. He/she must be a perfectionist; dot every I and cross every T as quickly and as fast as possible without making mistakes that the client, IRS, or a banker would catch. Can I preview the prospective CPA’s existing clients’ files? Or billing? Or financial reports?

The new CPA should routinely expect to work up a sweat at work; numerous phone calls every hour, running back and forth to the computer, retrieving and returning files to the file cabinet, cleaning everything, etc.

The new CPA must use Timeslips and be compulsive about keeping time records. And I mean down to the 1/lOth of an hour {six minutes); even for a three-minute phone call.

I have some issues which need to be resolved: Will my present phone number transfer to a new location? How is this handled? Who picks up the phone? How is the caller greeted, identified, or notified? What explanation is given? How is the introduction and announcement made to the clientele and other interested parties? How is this communicated? All these people will be calling for me! All day long! How will the explanation be made to the callers? Do I advertise “sale”, “retirement”, “merger”, “partnership”?

In my earlier missive I spoke of possibly keeping the three large clients with the lowest billing rate for myself. Is this a good idea, or not? Will it backfire? Should I do this work home based or will the new CPA rent space to me?

Should I get a cell phone and/or E-mail?

Signed by:

An anxious Seller