Almost everybody, at one time or another, dreams of getting away from it all: trading that 9-to-5 routine for a dream life filled with nonstop traveling. For most people, that dream just isn't practical—at least not until retirement.
But for CPAs, especially sole practitioners, the profession can provide enough flexibility to transform your work life into a permanent vacation of sorts. How do you do it? Rod Burkert, CPA/ABV, offers a nice case study for CPAs interested in a nontraditional work/life balance.
Five years ago, Burkert left behind his old life to travel North America in a recreational vehicle with his wife, Amy Burkert, CPA/ABV, all while still running his business valuation practice, Burkert Valuation Advisors LLC. The firm focuses on management succession planning, gift and estate tax planning, and related litigation support.
"There's really nothing I do out of my RV that I did not do in a home office," Rod Burkert said. "It's not rocket science. The only thing that makes us unique is we had the nerve to do it."
The itinerant lifestyle hasn't prevented business from thriving. Rod Burkert has leveraged 20 years of contacts to generate business for his firm, and he has benefited from an era when working remotely has become accepted. He gains business through referrals and also showcases his expertise to potential clients by writing articles for trade publications. While internet and phone service can be spotty from the road, he still spends hours online daily connecting with hundreds of people through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Plus. He also presents at conferences, and the Burkerts often plan their trips based on his speaking schedule.
"He has not let being mobile deter him from anything," said Amy Burkert, who does all the driving for the family.
About a year ago, Rod Burkert and a business associate launched the Practice Builder Academy to help other accountants create nontraditional practices that better fit their desired lifestyles (see "Moving On"). Rod Burkert offers the following basic tips for creating innovative CPA practices that allow accountants to eschew the typical office-building-bound work existence:
- Start small. "Take two weeks or a month off to find out if you are really suited to a nomadic [or nonconventional] lifestyle," he said.
- Don't be afraid to leave your comfort zone. "We think that having a house and all of those things are signs of success," Burkert said. "But Amy and I have realized that they are the sign of a big anchor around your neck."
- Believe in yourself and your ability to get clients. There is plenty of work to go around.
- Use social media, particularly LinkedIn. These online sites can be great marketing tools, which is extra important if you don't have a "storefront" like most firms (see "Checklist: Boost Your LinkedIn Profile," page 18).
- Be patient and flexible. "There are no valuation emergencies. There are no accounting emergencies," Burkert said. "Enjoy the fact that your phone doesn't ring for a day."
- Embrace the cloud. "There's nothing like having all of your files with you all the time," he said.
- Create alternative, location-independent revenue streams. "Accountants have a lot of knowledge (intellectual property) between their ears" and should use that knowledge, he added. He suggests creating webinars, or writing guides and ebooks.
So just how did Rod Burkert end up running a CPA practice out of an RV?
The origins of his current lifestyle trace back about 15 years. Burkert spent most of his career working at large and small accounting firms and financial companies. In 2000, his wife, Amy, convinced him to start his own business valuation firm in Philadelphia. A couple of years later, she left her full-time job to work with him.
In 2008, the Burkerts—who already owned a quiet, 30-pound Chinese Shar-Pei named Ty—stumbled across a stray, energetic 70-pound German shepherd in their city neighborhood. When nobody claimed Buster, the Burkerts adopted him.
Later that year, while traveling with the dogs, the Burkerts realized the lack of resources available for people traveling with their pets. So in January 2009, Amy quit her job working with Rod, and together they launched a website (GoPetFriendly.com), which is designed to make it easier for people to travel with their furry companions.
"Right after the website launched, I said to Amy, 'You can't tell people how easy it is to travel with their pets if you are sitting behind your computer, at your desk, in Center City Philadelphia,' " Rod recalled. "A few months after that we were living full time in an RV."
They bought a Winnebago and hit the road in March 2010. After their first six months on the road, they came back to their home in the Poconos and, within four days, realized the stationary life was no longer for them.
"That was our 'aha' moment," Burkert said. "That's when we ended up selling everything," including both their condos in Philadelphia and their mountain home.
Everything they own—literally everything—fits inside their now new and larger RV, which features the comforts of home: a microwave, stove, shower, washer-dryer, flat-screen TVs, and computers. Buster has his own sofa, where he perches to watch the scenery; Ty prefers his bed and loves to sleep.
The Burkerts have traveled to 47 states and plan on hitting their 48th state—North Dakota—this summer. They travel where the weather is good—south in the winter, north and higher elevations in the summer. Their life is about meandering, stopping to smell the sea air—or savoring small-town Americana.
Rod, 58, has no grand plans for retirement. "What am I going to retire to?" he said. "How will it get any better?"
About the author
Cheryl Meyer (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in California.
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"How to Open New Doors by Closing Your Office," July 2013, page 24
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- 2015 Valuation Handbook—Guide to Cost of Capital (#PBV1502P, hardcover; #PBV1502PDF, quarterly PDF updates)
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- Understanding Business Valuation (#732886001, text)
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