[Image ©Eric Millette]
Chris Coggins had a new-client presentation to give on behalf of his firm, The Tax Office, Inc., but he didn’t get a chance to prepare for it. Then he remembered the Practice Forward™ materials he’d been given at a Thomson Reuters Partner Summit in 2015.
Using the materials, Coggins developed a proposal that pulled together his firm’s expertise in bookkeeping, accounting, planning and training. The prospect was looking for bookkeeping services, but because of the one conversation they’d had before their meeting, Coggins knew she would also benefit from the firm’s consulting expertise.
Shortly after the presentation, The Tax Office, Inc. had a new client.
“I got a far larger fee than I ever would have gotten before,” he says. “We always understood value pricing and telling prospects the story of how we can help them, but Practice Forward puts it all together in a more strategic way so we can clearly say, ‘For this fee, here’s exactly what you’re going to get from us.’”
It certainly wasn’t Coggins’ first new-business pitch. After all, he founded The Tax Office, Inc., in Roseville, Calif., in 1986, and serves as the firm’s managing partner. But when he saw the presentation on Practice Forward, Coggins says something just clicked.
“I’ve always presented solutions to clients, but now instead of just talking, I’m presenting ideas and solutions to clients in a more formal, strategic way,” he says. “Practice Forward really inspired me, and now everyone at our firm who presents to clients tells our story in a consistent way.”
A New Approach to Consulting Work
Thomson Reuters developed Practice Forward to help firms take their business to the next level. A subscription consulting and content offering, Practice Forward builds on the skills taught at Partner Summits to help firms improve margins, drive growth and elevate client service.
Basics: Established in 1986, The Tax Office, Inc., is based in Roseville, Calif. and has a staff of 16. The firm offers a full complement of tax, accounting and consulting services to businesses and individuals.
Website: The firm offers an array of services—including a secure client portal and a wide range of online resources—at www.plan4tax.com.
Software: The firm uses Software as a Service (SaaS) to run its Thomson Reuters applications: Practice CS, FileCabinet CS, UltraTax CS, Accounting CS, NetClient CS portals, Planner CS, ToolBox CS and Workpapers CS.
For Coggins, Practice Forward was a natural extension of The Tax Office’s evolution. In the beginning, the firm primarily offered tax and accounting services, along with some bookkeeping. Over the years, the firm grew and expanded into other areas, such as payroll and consulting.
A few years ago, the firm decided to begin branding and managing specific sectors of its business independently from The Tax Office. Even though The Tax Office remains a single firm, Coggins and his partners felt the sector-branding strategy would offer a competitive advantage.
The first piece of the operation to be branded as its own entity was payroll services, under the brand Secure Payroll. The firm was already thinking about how to break out its consulting services when Coggins was inspired by Practice Forward—and Outsourced CFO Solutions, Inc., was born.
“We took the concepts we learned from Practice Forward, as it was presented to us as a firm, and turned it around,” Coggins says. “Now we’re using that same philosophy to present to our clients.”
Guided by the principles of Practice Forward, the firm created a series of five best-practice strategies on topics such as corporate compliance and cash flow management. Under the Outsourced CFO Solutions brand, the firm hosts seminars on these best practices for corporate clients and the general public at no charge.
After a seminar, attendees are given an opportunity to sign up for Outsourced CFO Solutions’ flagship offering: Profit Improvement Academy, a two- or three-year program for corporate clients.
“Basically, they’re renting a CFO on a monthly basis over a couple of years, and they get all the strategic planning and best practices up front,” Coggins explains. “It’s a lot of value, and we feel we’ll increase their revenue a minimum of 3 to 8 percent through what we’re offering.”
Profit Improvement Academy begins with a strategic planning session that includes all relevant members of a client’s team, plus outside consultants as needed. From there, Outsourced CFO Solutions develops a business plan and a proactive tax plan for the client, provides training in the five best practices and delivers monthly coaching in areas such as risk management and accounts payable.
According to Coggins, many firms desperately need a service like this, but have never had it offered to them. “In some cases, they don’t just need a CFO—they need a CEO,” he says. “They know how to make the widgets, but they don’t know how to run their business.”
That may explain why, from a seminar of about 30 attendees, Outsourced CFO Solutions immediately brought one new client into the Profit Improvement Academy, with an expectation of securing a total of five or six—and that’s just the beginning.
“This is probably the most successful launch of anything I’ve ever done in nearly 30 years of being in business,” Coggins says. “In the first three months, we tripled our initial investment in Practice Forward.”
Better Business Through Technology
Technology, always part of The Tax Office’s business model, is enabling the work of Outsourced CFO Solutions, which is completely consultant-based—other than the leadership of Coggins and his son, Brian, a business attorney. In early 2015, the firm established its own training center, which it uses for seminars and Profit Improvement Academy sessions.
“With videoconferencing, we can get our clients’ attorney, financial planner and insurance agent online,” Coggins says. “We can get their foreman, supervisors, administrators—whoever needs to be involved in a joint meeting. We could never do this without technology, which allows us to do it all in a cost-effective way.”
The firm has been working with Thomson Reuters for “at least a decade,” he adds, signing on initially because of Virtual Office CS. “I could see technology was headed toward everything being cloud-based.”
Today, the firm uses Software as a Service (SaaS) to host all of the Thomson Reuters tools it uses, including Practice CS, FileCabinet CS and Workpapers CS. Coggins appreciates the superior workflow Practice CS provides, and is a big fan of Workpapers CS.
“Tax documents are uploaded to the Thomson Reuters servers, then Thomson Reuters sorts them all and sends them back down into files and they dump automatically into the tax return,” Coggins says. “We really like Workpapers CS, and we feel that technology is going to be the future, so now all our documents are going to be stored on Workpapers CS.”
Even though he’s old enough to be looking forward to semi-retirement, Coggins thinks a lot about the future—his dream is to “work from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a three-hour lunch,” he says. But he wants his firm to be on solid footing for the future for the sake of his younger partners, as well as his wife and children, four of whom work at or with the firm.
That’s why he’s so focused on Outsourced CFO Solutions, because he sees consulting as the future of the tax and accounting business.
“The tax preparation business is changing, and the ability to work with clients on a collaborative basis is where the industry is headed,” Coggins says. “To be a next-generation accounting practice, you have to focus on the consulting side of the business. If you’re not on that train, you’re going to be left at the depot.”
Family Traditions, On Water and On Land
When he’s not working or serving on the board of directors of MainSource Financial Group, John G. Seale spends as much time as he can in his Sea Ray Cruiser on the lake near his home.
“We have a community of friends we call our boater friends,” he says. “My wife, Julie, and I spend a lot of time boating on days, evenings and even some weekends when we have the time.”
In recent years, Seale has also passed many hours walking golf courses with his son, Austin, who set high school records for his golf game. Now, his son is off to college in the fall.
“Just guess what his field of study is going to be,” Seale says with pride. “He’s going to pursue an accounting degree.”