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As shared in previous messages, I enjoy reading books, blogs and articles on leadership and business topics as part of my own professional development. They often serve as inspiration for many ideas and initiatives which are currently established here at the firm. One blog I find particularly good is Three Minute Leadership by Michael M. Reuter, speaker, author and a Professor at the Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business, and also a friend and colleague of our partner Tom Basilo who is an adjunct professor there, as well. I am going to share one of Professor Reuter’s recent posts, which I hope will provide some inspiration to you as we approach the finish line of tax season. Enjoy…

There comes times in the lives of all great leaders when they are pushed to their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual limits. Fatigued, exhausted and drained by their experiences, they still relentlessly pursue their journey. They never give up. It is their attitude and mindset to hold on to their hopes, dreams, determination and life’s purpose. Pause and reflect a moment on the words of other great leaders who shared their counsel and learning about giving up.

  • “When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.” Thomas Edison
  • “Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.” Albert Einstein
  • “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 30 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed; I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
  • “Having a rough morning? Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That’s called purpose… you’re alive for a reason. Don’t give up.” Melissa Joy
  • “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Vince Lombardi
  • “I ran and ran and ran every day, and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened.” Wilma Rudolph
  • “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Babe Ruth
  • “Falling down is how we grow. Staying down is how we die.” Brian Vaszily
  • “Never give up. Go over, go under, go around, or go through. But never give up.” Tom Venuto

In those solitary moments when life’s challenges are pushing your limits, may you feel your power and purpose remembering the words of Bevan Lee: “’I am’ – two of the most powerful words; for what you put after them shapes your reality.” Be more than you ever dreamed you could be. Be also that one person in someone’s life who would say to you: “Because of you, I didn’t give up.” Be that servant leader of love, caring and hope. Life is so very good.

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We just passed a big deadline and what I always consider the mid-point of tax season, with the passing of the corporate deadline I felt it would be a good time to share an email I’ve sent previously on having a successful tax season:

I had a younger staff member ask me, “What can I do to make sure I have a successful tax season”?  Aside from having the technical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful tax season is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to clients.   Some clients prefer we only send emails; others need us to spend time on the phone; most effective is to meet in person. Regardless of our clients’ preferred mode of contact, keep in mind the following tips on being an effective communicator. In addition, effective communication with fellow engagement team members will improve the efficiency of the engagement and enhance “world class client service.”

  • First, you have to remember that good communication starts with being a good listener. Always be prepared to patiently listen to your client or teammate and never interrupt them. A simple way to be sure you understand their point or questions is to rephrase it and ask them to confirm that you didn’t misunderstand him or her.
  • Second, try to focus on being self-confident and positive. By projecting the right attitude, your words also become more positive – affirmation and encouragement will help get the best out of people, and clients will get more from the conversation. A good tip in this regard is to smile even when you are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen. This helps project a positive attitude.
  • Third, understand who your audience is. When speaking with clients, it generally is not necessary to be technical in nature. Tax clients don’t really care what the code section is that allows the deduction; they only care that they can take advantage of it. Be sure to speak in your clients’ terms.
  • And lastly, you don’t always have to be right – sometimes it is better to “let it go.” There will be times during tax season when conflict with a client or fellow team member will occur. It’s generally best to hear each other out and allow time to cool off before addressing it. Remember that there is normally a compromise that is possible, and you just need to approach the conflict with a cool and rational state of mind.  If you do make a mistake or find your previous position on a subject is no longer accurate, your clients and colleagues are likely to be forgiving when you are honest and up front about it.

Always feel free to seek advice from your peers or supervisor if you are not clear on something.  Not only will it help you work more productively, it will minimize any potential pitfalls with our clients, particularly during this stressful time of year.

Thanks and have a great week!

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We call tax season “busy season” for a reason – everyone in the firm is exceptionally busy, especially this week, as we come to the corporate deadline, churning out the tax returns for our valued clients. However, be mindful that busy season can also present additional marketing opportunities that will lead to new business after busy season.

  • Value Add. This is a good time to work on becoming our client’s trusted advisors. Make value added recommendations while we are at their offices. Ask them what the 5-year plan is for their business’ growth and development. Ask them what keeps them up at night, or what issues have been plaguing them lately. With this information, we can help them achieve their goals and solve their problems. We should get client contacts signed up for applicable firm newsletters, tax tips, seminars, etc. This will provide contacts you’re working with information that will help them beyond tax season.
  • Ask for the referral. Once you have a great client relationship, let them know you enjoy doing their work. Clients are your best sales people – they already believe in our firm and our abilities.
  • Don’t forget referral sources. Call a couple of your top referral sources to touch base and say hello. Mention there might be clients they have whom you’d like to meet and vice versa. Set up a lunch to talk about co-business development efforts. Hey, everyone needs to eat no matter how busy they are! They will be impressed you took the time to call them during busy season. Remember, you are helping them as much as they are helping you.
  • Client Service. Nurture our client relationships and let them know how important they are to our firm. Don’t just assume they know this – tell When appropriate, ask them if there are things we could be doing better. Client service and strong relationships with our clients are critical to the future of our firm.

It is so important (and easy) to stay in front of clients and prospects during these next few months. With just a little time each week, it is possible to turn busy season into marketing season!

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I am pleased to share some really exciting news today. The partners of Walsh, Jastrem & Brown, LLP (WJB), a highly respected public accounting firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, have signed agreements to merge their practice with WithumSmith+Brown. Indeed, this is a very big milestone for our firm, expanding our presence in the Northeast, up through the New England corridor.

We have been seeking the right strategic partner to expand our geographic reach to the Greater Boston area, and we found the perfect match with Walsh, Jastrem & Browne in terms of expertise, location and culture. Boston and the New England region are at the forefront of industries such as healthcare, financial services, technology and life sciences, aligning perfectly with some of our fastest growing practice niches.  They are equally excited to now have direct access to the metro New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia marketplace, as well as an expanded suite of services we can offer their clients. Both firms are thrilled with the endless possibilities this merger creates.

With WJB on board, we will add about a dozen professionals to Withum’s roster, including three partners: Thomas F. Walsh, CPA, who has been serving as WJB’s managing partner since 2000, James D. Browne, CPA and Stephen R. Yardumian, CPA.  WJB has a solid reputation in their marketplace, with expertise in financial services, professional services, private investment partnerships, employee benefit plans, nonprofit organizations, individuals and estates.

Their office is located at 155 Seaport Boulevard, Boston, and will remain at that location under the WithumSmith+Brown name. As our firm’s brand is not well known in Boston, we have outlined a marketing and advertising strategy which will be executed in the coming weeks to include digital and print ads appearing in the Boston Business Journal and other local traditional media, in addition to other interactive digital campaigns. Letters and emails to WJB clients and contacts will also be sent.

Please join me in welcoming our newest team members.  We look forward to having you all meet them personally at future firm events.

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I had a younger staff member ask me, “What can I do to make sure I have a successful tax season”?  Aside from having the technical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful tax season is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to clients.   Some clients prefer we only send emails; others need us to spend time on the phone; most effective is to meet in person.  Regardless of our clients’ preferred mode of contact, keep in mind the following tips on being an effective communicator.  In addition, effective communication with fellow engagement team members will improve the efficiency of the engagement and enhance “world class client service.”

  • First, you have to remember that good communication starts with being a good listener.  Always be prepared to patiently listen to your client or teammate and never interrupt them. A simple way to be sure you understand their point or questions is to rephrase it and ask them to confirm that you didn’t misunderstand him or her.
  • Second, try to focus on being self-confident and positive.  By projecting the right attitude, your words also become more positive – affirmation and encouragement will help get the best out of people, and clients will get more from the conversation.  A good tip in this regard is to smile even when you are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen.  This helps project a positive attitude.
  • Third, understand who your audience is.  When speaking with clients, it generally is not necessary to be technical in nature.  Tax clients don’t really care what the code section is that allows the deduction; they only care that they can take advantage of it.  Be sure to speak in your clients’ terms.
  • And lastly, you don’t always have to be right – sometimes it is better to “let it go.”  There will be times during tax season when conflict with a client or fellow team member will occur.  It’s generally best to hear each other out and allow time to cool off before addressing it.  Remember that there is normally a compromise that is possible, and you just need to approach the conflict with a cool and rational state of mind.  If you do make a mistake or find your previous position on a subject is no longer accurate, your clients and colleagues are likely to be forgiving when you are honest and up front about it.

Always feel free to seek advice from your peers or supervisor if you are not clear on something.  Not only will it help you work more productively, it will minimize any potential pitfalls with our clients, particularly during this stressful time of year.

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With the feeling that summer is slowly drawing to a close as back-to-school is just around the corner, I feel compelled to look further ahead to November and wonder what is to come for our country, the economy and the business environment in general.  Certainly, the results of the upcoming election will assist in shaping the future of how Healthcare Reform will transition into 2013 and beyond.  This emotionally-charged topic has generated an incredible amount of discussion, debate… and confusion. 

 

And it’s no wonder, considering the resulting legislation – which can be perceived as positive or negative, depending on which side of the fence you stand – has created a slew of new tax law changes and compliance issues for business owners and individual taxpayers alike.  In the months and years ahead, this legislation as we know it today will likely change, but most likely will not disappear in it entirety, as it is expected that certain provisions contained within the healthcare reform act will continue even in the event the act is overturned in the future.  Regulations and additional implementation guidance will be issued; new initiatives will be proposed; and those that have already passed may be adjusted or withdrawn. As professional service providers and advisors, it is imperative that our views be both bipartisan and neutral, preparing our clients for whatever may come post-election.  At this point, however, there is much more clarification to be provided by the IRS on definitions and compliance rules, so we cannot advise on too many specifics just yet.  However, we do have some guidance to share in times like these.

 

For business owners and financial executives:

The most important piece of advice we can share with our business clients is to be proactive in running a lean and mean company, focusing on the areas of employee utilization, operational efficiencies and expense cutting, getting the most value out of every dollar.  Depending on the size and structure of the business, we can assist in evaluating a variety of issues as they relate to the provisions included in the healthcare reform act.  For example, we are working with our clients who are deemed to be “large  employers” in determining advantages and disadvantages associated with the provision of minimum essential coverage versus the penalty for not providing such coverage.  For our business clients of all sizes, we are discussing issues related to healthcare reform act provisions such as the premium assistance credit, and, importantly, reporting of the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health coverage provided to employees on their 2012 Form W-2. 

 

For individual taxpayers:

If you are a high net worth individual, you are likely wondering what you need to do to protect yourself and your assets.  We have the resources to provide education on a cost/benefit analysis of your health insurance programs.  And we are discussing strategies to minimize the impact of a variety of surcharges including, but not limited to, upcoming changes in flexible spending accounts; the .9% hospital insurance tax on high income tax payers; and a 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income.  And don’t forget that starting in 2014 – depending on election results – the requirement for most U.S. citizens to have minimum health coverage or face an additional tax will come into play.   Additionally, our Estate & Trust professionals are not waiting until after the election to speak with the clients, but are proactively reaching out to them now to review their current financial and estate planning strategies.   Discussions include utilization of the increased gift exemption and evaluate if current investment and financial planning decisions are appropriate for their lifestyle needs and family estate planning objectives, before and after the election.

 

WS+B’s HRAT Team

In response to the healthcare reform policy and the impact it has upon businesses of all sizes, WithumSmith+Brown formed a Healthcare Reform Advisory Team (HRAT). The group is comprised of WS+B’s most seasoned healthcare and tax professionals, whose mission is to answer and address client questions and issues related to the federal policy. “Healthcare reform affects every business from every industry,” says Anthony Panico, CPA, WS+B partner and team leader of this advisory group. “Members of the Healthcare Reform Advisory Team are here to help clients navigate the rules and regulations of this policy.”  Feel free to contact Tony with questions related to healthcare reform at healthcare@withum.com.   He and the HRAT team are very knowledgeable about the subject.

 

In conclusion, our goal as ‘trusted advisors’ is to work alongside our clients as true partners, helping their business grow and thrive through good times and not-so-good times.  As during all times of significant upheaval and change, individuals and businesses of all sizes will need to seek the guidance of their professional advisors and consultants, including CPAs, who, in turn, will need to stay informed as to the changing aspects of the U.S. healthcare delivery system.

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Being from NJ, I just read with great interest the book, The Jersey Sting, by Josh Margolin and Ted Sherman, covering the sting operation that came down in June 2009, in which the FBI and Department of Justice indicted 44 politicians and political operatives and five Rabbis around New Jersey. While reading this compelling story, I was struck by the number of people who were willing to cooperate with the central character as he manipulated them to break the law for purportedly his own benefit, which was usually for his real estate ventures.

 

We all know entrepreneurs who want to push the envelope and go as far as they can, whether it be relative to their tax postures or an opinion on their accounting statements or – as described in the book  – to gain favoritism for their real estate projects. We must realize it is their nature, and essentially their role within their business, to maximize the potential with every opportunity they encounter. This drive is what generally makes them successful business people. On the other hand, our job as professionals – and this would include not only accountants but also attorneys, engineers, architects and others – is to be honest and forthright with them, explaining the circumstances, the parameters that can be pushed, those that cannot and the risk of failure. We need to be crystal clear and sometimes sobering in our discussions. They need to know the ramifications of their actions and how to accomplish their goals within the boundaries established by laws and regulations. And in the end, we must be willing to walk away from relationships that encourage us to compromise our integrity by breaking any of those laws or regulations for their benefit. We are an important part of the business community and need to be there to keep entrepreneurs in check and avoid chaos.

 

So long as we understand our role, we will preserve and protect both our clients and the organizations where we are employed, assisting both in successfully growing, without having cause for anyone to write a book about us.

 

Bill

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