My Review of Robert Flach's New Book So You Want to Be a Tax Preparer
By Andy Frye
Here at Pronto Tax School, we have enjoyed the privilege over the past six years of bringing thousands of people into the tax business as newly minted professional tax preparers. Many Pronto Tax Class Graduates start with literally no knowledge of taxes and, within 60 hours and for less than $300 total investment, they become professional tax preparers through our online tax course that gives tax preparers your first credential showing you have indeed "gone pro."
Now the reality is, as we clearly state in our materials, completing your course is only one step in the process of becoming a success in the tax business.
To achieve true mastery as a professional tax preparer is a journey of many years.
Robert Flach, a veteran tax professional who runs one of the best (not boring!) tax blogs online, recently released a brief but compelling book called So You Want to Be a Tax Preparer: Advice from a Veteran Tax Pro.
Mr. Flach's book, which can be purchased for less than $6 per the instructions at this link, should be required reading for anyone who's considering getting into the tax business as a tax preparer. You'll find numerous nuggets of golden information in these pages, giving you a clear view of how to succeed in this profession on your own terms.
In this blog post, I'll give you my review of Mr. Flach's book, so that you can see how Mr. Flach's perspective might enhance yours as you start (or continue) your journey as a professional tax preparer...
Positivity about the Profession, and How to Say No
Mr. Flach has been doing tax returns as a professional since 1972. One thing you'll discover right away with this book is the author's strong affection and enthusiasm for this business even after 45 years in it. Mr. Flach's enthusiasm immediately revived my own realization that yes, this is in fact a wonderful business, one of the best ever known to man (or woman)--and yes it can be a good career choice to become a professional tax preparer
HOWEVER, if you enter this profession without sufficient guidane from someone who actually knows about it and is willing to guide you, your ride can be a rough one.
Fortunately Mr. Flach with his book provides a boatload of invaluable guidance that will be extremely useful not only to new people contemplating entering the profession, but also experienced tax pros who may have feel they've lost their way.
And let me give you an example of what I mean by that. In the first couple pages, Mr. Flach outlines the importance of the word "no" in the tax preparation business, and you being able to say that word. Your must be able to say this is what I do, and this is what I don't do. If you are not able to say no, you will have infinite troubles in this business, because you could be saying "yes" to all kinds of tax returns and other work that you really are not qualified to do, and do not want to do.
Mr. Flach says no to pretty much types of work other than the preparation of individual 1040s.
If a client asks him to do anything other than a 1040, he just says no. No insurance, no FAFSA applications, no corporation tax returns, and most definitely no bookkeeping. 1040s is what he does, and pretty much everything else gets told "no."
By means of that sage advice about the importance of No, within two pages of this book, you will have already gotten much more than the $5.45 you'll pay for the ebook version
. In fact, the advice on those first two pages can save you literally YEARS of pain and suffering!
Just the other day a business owner was asking me about sales tax compliance, and I started to actually talk to him about sales tax, but then I realized--I don't give a HOOT about sales tax, it's not what I do, and I have no interest in doing it. Problem solved, "that's not what I do," and I was moving on to other pursuits that are a better fit for me.
Saying no to what you don't want to do frees you up to say yes to what you do want to do. Mr. Flach, for example, by restricting his tax practice to 1040s, frees himself up for extensive travel when it's not tax season. This is why he is known as "The Wandering Tax Pro," because when it's not tax season, he's likely off wandering somewhere...
Mentorship Is Huge
Mr. Gill hired Bob as an apprentice in his New Jersey tax office when Bob was just a freshman in college.
This is one of the things I am constantly harping about is the need for veteran tax pros to mentor newer people into the business, and for newer people in the business to have enough sense about them to put a proper value on mentorship, instead of whining about low starting pay. Let me tell all you new tax professionals something that may disturb your: when you're brand new in this business, you have very little value in the marketplace, and holding your hand while you learn the ropes takes up a lot of time and, during tax season, time is money. In short, you cost more than you produce, which means that your mentor is really doing you a solid by even letting you be in the office, let alone paying you.
Now if you take your training from Pronto Tax School, you can be more valuable more quickly, but even then just realize that it takes a minute to be valuable in a game as deep as Taxes.
Anyways, Mr. Flach talks about the way his mentor didn't worry at all about him not having experience in taxes, and in fact preferred that. And he taught him the business from the ground up. Mr. Gill also mentored other college students letting them work in his tax business.
It just so happened that Mr. Flach was Mr. Gill's best pupil, and Mr. Gill ended up handing over his tax business to Mr. Flach.
New tax preparers will want to take note about how valuable a positive and mutually beneficial mentor-apprentice relationship is in this business.
This theme of mentoring and being mentored will continue to be something that we speak about in our online tax courses
Want to Hear Something Truly Crazy?
Mr. Flach invests some time in his book talking about how important it is for beginner tax students to fill out the tax forms manually--that is to say, by hand, without the aid of computerized tax software. I'm all with that. It is truly best to learn the actual tax forms before moving to the computer.
The part of this book that almost made my eyes pop out of my head, however, occurred when Mr. Flach states that he still does 1040s by hand, and has never used a computer to fill out a federal tax return.
Just the thought of filling out one complex 1040 by hand makes me want to QUIT the profession.
I did notice that Mr. Flach was careful to state that he fills out all the federal returns by hand, but he does not mention if he uses a computer to fill out the state returns, which if you've ever had the pleasure of working with clients from New Jersey / New York area you know that they often have multi-state returns which can be ridiculously complex calculations...I guess that question will have to be addressed in The Sequel.
Anyways again, I thought you young bucks will get a kick out of that, anyone who can say they do all their tax returns by hand in this day and age is a unicorn.
Practical and Procedural
The next section of the book discusses some practical items that you'll need to handle as you progress through the business, including:
- Options for Acquiring Your Initial Tax Training
- Getting Your PTIN
- Joining Professional Organizations
- The importance of continuing Education
- Understanding Your Ethical Responsibilities (including a great dissection of the phrase "direct personal knowledge to the contrary" and how that is such a key concept for tax professionals to understand)
These sections round out the more entertaining, story-based sections, ensuring that any newbie who reads this book will have view of the practical and procedural steps involved in the profession.
Client "Family Tree"
Mr. Flach is proud to say that he has done no marketing of any sort, except for a small ad in a charity journal. You will see this trend a lot with old school tax pros, they really do not believe in spending money or time on marketing. They work by referrals.
My favorite section of Mr. Flach's excellent book talks about how, back in the day, he met a young fireman on a long train trip, and he ended up helping that fireman with his taxes. That fireman then referred several people, who referred several people, who referred several more. Years later, Mr. Flach sat down to build out a "family tree" of his clients, and was amazed at how many clients "sprouted" from that chance encounter on a long train trip.
This is so true! This is how it happens! Ask any successful, experienced tax pro and they will have a similar story of an "influencer" client who turned out to be their best advertising.
There is also some slight mention in this book of Mr. Flach's practice of ending his tax season one day before tax season actually ends, as a tribute to one of his clients who passed during the tragedy of 9/11. This particular client, Moe Barry, a safety officer in New Yor City, used to always come to file taxes on the very last day of tax season. Moe died on 9/11 going into the burning building to save people and, as a tribute to Moe, Mr. Flach no longer works on the last day of tax season.
If you want to read that full story, Peter J. Reilly of Forbes did a write up on it that you can read here
, it's quite moving.
I think it's important for newbie tax pros to read these kinds of stories because this way you will understand how incredibly much the best tax pros care about their clients. It is a lifelong bond, when done right. If you build this deep caring about your clients into your tax business at an early stage, you will see much faster, as well as longer-term, success in this profession.
Importance of Blogging
Mr. Flach operates a tax blog called The Wandering Tax Pro
. Wandering Tax Pro is knows as one of the best tax blogs going, and Mr. Flach speaks in the book about the importance of blogging, and how it can act as a great marketing technique for a tax professional. As someone who's done a fair amount of blogging myself, I would definitely agree.
You must understand that the tax business is all about getting people to call you and choose you. Making your voice heard through blogging is one way that people can get to know you and then choose to contact you and want to work with you. You would be amazed at the power of a good blog to reach millions of people as long as you stick with it and build it up brick-by-brick.
This section of the book is a little bit of "inside baseball," as Mr. Flach points out other tax blogs that you should peruse, but if you are looking for a fast way to immerse yourself in "Tax World," this section gives you some websites to bookmark and, again, represents a massive return on investment for your $5.45.
My Gripes with Robert Flach's Book So You Want to Be a Tax Preparer
I don't want you (or Mr. Flach) to think I'm just trying to butter him up, so I'll conclude my review with a few things that some people may not love about the new book.
First, you have to send a paper check or money order when you place your order for the book. For God's sake man who sends a paper check or money order for an eBook that you're going to email the customer? I guess this is supposed to be charming but I'm sure this will "turn off" some portion of the younger audience, which is a shame, because that audience really needs to read this book (especially the section about mentoring). UPDATE: this issue has since been remedied by Mr. Flach, who has now put the book for sale on Amazon.com, where yes you can use a debit or credit card.
Another potential downside to Mr. Flach's perspective, for some readers, is his...uhm...severe antipathy to President Trump. If you are a Trump supporter, or even don't completely despise the man, you might visit Mr. Flach's blog and be offended. I am always a fan of not bringing political opinions into the profession of being a tax preparer, so spouting off political diatribes is one practice of Mr. Flach's that I would recommend you not imitate, if you're new to the profession.
That being said, Mr. Flach does have one of the best quotes of all time in his email signatures, as shown here:
My other "gripe" would be that I think Mr. Flach should charge more for the book, because it's worth a lot more.
I'm sure he'll refuse that suggestion.
Similar to what I find when I ask my father to raise prices on tax preparation, these veteran tax pros do not work for money, and when you tell them to raise prices they just dismiss you and start talking about something else. Yes they like to make good enough money to meet their lifestyle goals but once they reach that level they are not motivated by money. They work to be of service.
And Mr. Flach, a.k.a. "The Wandering Tax Pro," has certainly been of tremendous service to anyone who is considering becoming a tax preparer, as well as anyone who's already in the profession and could benefit from a veteran perspective.
Order your copy today is my humble advice and I hope this blog post review has infomed you of why it's worth far more than the $5.45 Mr. Flach is charging for it.