'There is nothing more gratifying ...'
It's important to persevere: It's been 20 years since I started my practice. That first year, I made $4,900 and was ready to give up. But my wife, Melinda, believed we were going to make it and wouldn't let me give up. That's when you learn a lot of the lessons in life, when things are tough. I didn't have a travel budget—if I had to travel, I slept on a friend's couch. I got creative. I didn't have a marketing budget, and I was doing a lot of work for attorneys who would hire me to do a business valuation in divorce cases. I made up a one-page information sheet and used the fax machine to send that out to attorneys to make them aware of our services—and it paid off.
A CPA serving CPAs: CPAs enjoy working with us because they know providing valuation and litigation services is all we do. We're a niche practice and don't offer traditional CPA services. Open communication is key. Anything we do with their client, we discuss with the CPA. We don't want anything to come as a surprise, and make sure the CPA is copied on all communications. They trust us to take care of their client's needs because they know it's our niche, and because we've built trust through communication.
It's OK to be selective: We do say no if our firm may not be the best fit for the case. Lawyers need the right person on the stand to win a case. If our firm isn't qualified in a certain field—perhaps regarding a specific aspect of a business valuation, for example—or there's a conflict of interest, then we'll refer them to someone else who can help. Other times a case may require a quick turnaround, and if we can't meet the deadline, we'll make a referral.
Giving back: Each year, I am retained to calculate economic damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases. If I am retained by the plaintiffs in a wrongful death of a minor, there is no fee for the preparation of my report and testifying at trial because that child's family has gone through so much. While there are many sad cases involving personal injury and wrongful death, the saddest for me is the wrongful death of a minor.
Find your passion: When I get up every day, I truly enjoy going to work. For expert witness work, it's very important because of the demands of litigation work. With cases often settling just before the start of a trial, trials being continued for various reasons, and last-minute deadlines, a CPA providing expert witness services has very little control over his or her schedule. However, I believe there is nothing more gratifying than doing this type of work.
—As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.