A CPA in business

The Web helped a CPA meet the right people and change his career.

Consulting on the Side

By   Richard J. Koreto

J ohn Butler is attracting clients through a Web site that cost nearly nothing to set up. In fact, hes turning away potential clients because he isnt particularly interested in doing straight tax preparation work and his time is limited. After all, his practice isnt even his "main gig," as his home page says. Butler, a CPA in business and industry, uses his site to moonlight as a consultant; nearly all of his current 12 clients found him through the Internet. His Web activity also helps him network—which led him to the company that became his current employer, a business technology consulting company.

Although Butler has been out of college for only 10 years, he has an eclectic background that he can put to good use for his consulting clients. From 1994 to mid-1997 he was manager of tax services at the University of Utah. He advised faculty and students on accounting and tax matters, took responsibility for tax compliance and designed and implemented a program for reporting and withholding taxes on payments to nonresident alien scholars at the school. Before that, he performed tax, consulting and audit engagements first with a Big 6 firm and then with two small firms.

While working at the university, Butler prepared some 1040s on the side but did not find the work professionally satisfying. "I didnt like just pounding the numbers." Because of his interest in the Internet and information technology, he taught himself a lot about IT. He wanted to meet technology-oriented businesspeople—entrepreneurs with high-tech start-up companies—for his own professional development: "People complement each others strengths and weaknesses. I knew if I could get together with the right people we could solve a lot of business problems." He thought a Web site would help him network with the right people, noting that the technologically savvy were turning increasingly to the Internet instead of the Yellow Pages when looking for services and suppliers. He went online in January 1997 and registered himself with the major search engines. From the beginning he got local queries; he continues to get about six a week.

"My site has changed the types of engagements I had been getting. Instead of traditional tax preparation, Ive been handling yearend planning work and compensation consultations with closely held companies. These are areas where I can make a long-term difference and really provide value." Butler is able to keep his fees low because he does not maintain an office for his tax and consulting work.

One of his first consulting clients was his ISP — Butler bartered his services for free space on the ISPs server for his Web site. Because of his extensive knowledge of technology and the Internet, he was able to help the company. "I knew ISPs usually offer steep discounts to customers who sign up for 6 or 12 months in advance. So the first thing I asked my new client was, If you closed your doors today, how much would you owe to people in prepaid, unearned revenue? The answer helped me create a tax plan."

While at the university, he had kept his 9-to-5 job and consulting work separate, and his employer had no problem with his sideline business. Butlers new "day job" at Call Business Systems is also in consulting; he uses Oracle systems to find business solutions. "I implement Oracle applications, including general ledgers, payables and receivables—the whole accounting information system package." He still keeps his own consulting business separate—Call is comfortable with it—but plugs his employer on his site and added a link to the companys Web pages.

Firm Profile
Name: John Butler, CPA.
Personnel: Part-time sole practitioner; works full-time for Call Business Systems.
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah.
Type of clients: Individuals, closely held companies.
Client services: Tax and business consulting.
Web site: http://www.utahman.com

Since his sideline business was part-time, Butlers time was limited. He knew his site would be small and simple, but that did not mean it had to be dull. He found an artist ( http://www.tedgoff.com ) who, for a modest fee, syndicates daily cartoons for Web sites. For additional humor, Butler mines court cases in a law library and places interesting items under the rubric "Stupid Tax Trick of the Month." In October, for example, he described a case in Tax Court in which a businessman bought off a woman his married son was having an affair with and then claimed the cost was a business expense. (He lost.) Butler lists his clients as "individuals, C-corps, S-corpsand computer geeks." The lead-in to his rsum reads, "Feel free to ponder my rsum for an idea of what my qualifications might be. Then ask yourself if any one man could actually do all that stuff."

Links. Butler has about a dozen tax-related links, for which hes provided descriptions. Included are the Utah Association of CPAs ("You can go darn near anywhere from here!"), the American Institute of CPAs ("Good stuff and getting better every day.") and Windows95.com ("The GROOVY Windows 95 shareware site. Way, way cool!").

Butler did all the programming, designing and writing himself. He began using simple text editors (such as Windows Notepad) to create the HTML code. He taught himself the more elaborate programming techniques by visiting other sites and using the View command to see the underlying codes. He later used Homesite, an inexpensive easy-to-use shareware program. His main time commitment is about 20 minutes a month researching tax cases, and another 10 minutes writing and posting the resulting "Stupid Tax Trick."

Butler has been putting his Internet skills to work in a fundraising effort for the University of Utah. He registered the schools alma mater as a domain name (utahman.com) and the school is selling it as an e-mail service. A booster can make a donation and buy the e-mail address JohnDoe@ utahman.com, for example, for business or personal use. "Meanwhile, I just want to keep meeting the young high-tech types the Web attracts. I know my Web site isnt going to bring in big clients—Im not going to find myself doing tax consulting for Lee Iacocca. But I may find someone who will be the next Lee Iacocca in 25 years."


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