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Four years later, it’s the end of an era

Today marks a special anniversary for me: It was four years worth of Mondays ago today that I made a life-altering decision. I walked out on my day job to enter the world of private practice and become a nomad.

Six weeks later, I was traversing a still-slick Vail Pass on a heavily overloaded motorcycle, threading the needle between two major snow storms. I remember stopping for gas along I-70, and people looking at me like I was nuts. I was also freezing my butt off.

But it was all worth it. I managed to rapidly build myself a successful, “stereotypical” tax resolution practice, and then just as quickly scaled it down to “boutique” size. While doing that, I’ve literally circled the globe, spent a decent amount of time in 13 foreign countries, met wonderful people, and experienced amazing cultures.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.

I’m a firm believer in living the life that you want to live right now. The whole fantasy of working your tail off for 40 years so that you can retire at 40% of your previous earnings and then going off to travel the world is exactly that: Very few people accomplish it.

Either they don’t have enough money, or they’re in poor health, or they’re simply dead. Yes, that’s right: It’s amazing how many stories are out there of people that wanted to travel the world “when they were able to”, but then kicked the bucket before everything was “perfect” for them to do it.

Not this guy.

Maybe I’m an odd duck. OK, I’m definitely an odd duck. But I’m OK with that. My life has had it’s ups and downs, just like anybody else, but I’ve made the best of it, I think, and it’s worked out well. But the single best decision I’ve ever made was to live life on my own terms, rather than what’s expected of me.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this. There is an entire world of lifestyle design and location independence enthusiasts out there. The other nomadic types that I have met in my travels, and the “famous” ones I’ve chatted with online, all say that eventually they get burned out on being a nomad.

I’ve always been incredibly conflicted between the nomadic life, and having a home. It drives me nuts at times, because after a few months on the go, I’m ready to settle down. But inevitably, after a few months in one place, I’m itching to go again. My incessant indecision on this matter has been particularly frustrating to my mentor and my family.

Recent relationship events have made me examine this even more closely, which I actually didn’t think was possible. In case you weren’t already aware, I got married a month ago. We were ready to settle down, start a family, start two new brick and mortar businesses — everything that was the antithesis of the life I’ve been leading for the past four years (some analysts would say even longer, in some regards).

I’ll spare you the details, but the fantasy didn’t last long. I had found somebody that met every criteria on my 37-point checklist. What I never considered was that such a person might have itchy feet syndrome, too. We’re both traveling in from out of the area to file our annulment petition in what is legally my home state on Thursday.

Am I done being a nomad?

Alas, the answer is no. I don’t think I ever will be. When I look back on my very early childhood, my nomadic ways make a LOT of sense.

But at the same time, I want the best of both worlds. It’s nice to be in one place for a few weeks or a couple months. It’s nice to sleep in your own bed now and then. It’s nice to have a sense of community somewhere — to belong to something. Being a solo permanent …

» Continue reading this article: Four years later, it’s the end of an era

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Do you have a pre-season tax prep marketing plan?

This week, founding members of my brand new Platinum Inner Circle program received the detailed pre-season marketing plan for my new tax office in Washington state. (If you’re a Platinum member and didn’t see that yet, you can find it in the members area under “Marketing Materials”).

Over the past couple days since releasing that document, I’ve had some exchanges with Platinum members about the marketing plan. A couple members had existing pre-season marketing plans, but most have not.

Your pre-season marketing plan sets the stage for your entire tax season.

I know what some readers are saying… “October 15th is next week. I don’t have time to worry about this right now.”

To which I reply, “Wrong answer!”

Here’s why…

First of all, your extension clients are not the bulk of your annual revenue. (If they are, then I’d say you have other significant business practice issues you need to address…). For most tax professionals likely to be reading this, that Feb. 1 through Apr. 15 time period is the single largest piece of their annual revenue. Even if it’s not (dedicated tax resolution practitioners, for example), tax season is most likely still significant to your annual bottom line. This massive revenue block should not be left to chance.

Second, you need to take into consideration the time of year. There is a window of opportunity open right now to bolster your results for tax season. That window closes once Thanksgiving rolls around, and doesn’t open again until after New Year’s weekend. Yes, you can (and should) send holiday cards to your existing clients and best prospects, but the time for creating brand new prospect connections is right now. The next six weeks, properly applied, can make or break your tax season.

Third, some of the January and February marketing that you should be doing to help your business needs to be arranged now. You need lead time time when it comes to printing certain materials, scheduling tax talks and seminars, arranging joint venture opportunities, etc. You also need to lock in the most desired spots in various advertising media, such as print publications, radio, billboards, etc. For me to get the best price, and perhaps try to be the only tax pro in the envelope, I need to be in touch with my Puget Sound ValkPak and Money Mailer reps right now — January is simply going to be too late.

Fourth, planning out your pre-season marketing and tax season marketing right now means that you’ll actually plan it out. The old saying applies here: Failing to plan is planning to fail. As you get closer to tax season, so many other things are going to eat up your time and attention. You know, the little things, like training seasonal employees… Bugs in your new tax software… Getting slammed with price-shopping phone calls (which you should ignore, but that’s a topic for another day)… Etc., etc.

So what exactly should be covered in your pre-season marketing plan? I’ll cover that in my post next week, so stay tuned!

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How to skyrocket your tax business

Revenue growth. Do you want that?

Everything I write about in these Tax Marketing Tips… Everything I discuss on our Premium member Q&A calls… Every book, every course, every seminar… It’s all about helping you to achieve revenue growth.

If growing your client base…increasing your fees…and making more money are NOT your objective, then please click the “unsubscribe” link at the very bottom of this email. Seriously — I mean that.

Still with me? Good. You just passed an important test.

Certain things in life are worth fighting for. I’m not going to go into details right now, but right now I’m fighting for something that means more to me than anything (yep, even more important than taxes!). Today has been an extremely painful day for me on a personal level, but despite the pain, I’m fighting for what I know is right. That’s the very same attitude you must have in order to skyrocket your tax business “to the next level”.

If you haven’t heard the news, I’m interviewing Chauncey Hutter, Jr., the leading marketing consultant and tax business growth coach to the tax preparation industry, this Wednesday (October 1st) @ 2:00pm Eastern. Click here to register for the call.

Chauncey and I are going to be discussing what YOU need to know in order to have a more successful tax season in 2015. Here’s the kicker: You need to be taking action RIGHT NOW in order to ensure next tax season is more financially rewarding for you than 2014 was.

Having a better life…making more money…eternal happiness — These are incredibly valuable things that are worth fighting for. Fighting for something means more than just “wishing” for it, however. You must take action.

On Wednesday’s call, Chauncey is going to be sharing with you some of the insight that he shared with attendees at our live summer seminars. We had attendees that traveled up to 800 miles to attend these seminars, and attendees left with big “ahas!” to skyrocket their revenues.

I’m so certain that you’ll benefit from Chauncey’s advice, I’m going to “put my money where my mouth is”. In other words, I’m going to fight for you to be on the call. Just for being on the call on Wednesday, I’m going to give you — absolutely free — the audio recording and workbook manual from my full-day tax resolution seminar in Phoenix, Tax Resolution Sales & Marketing Best Practices. This seminar material will be sold for $197 after Wednesday’s call — but I’m going to give call attendees a copy at no charge. That’s revenue I’m willing to forego in order to make sure you’re on this call with Chauncey.

FREE TeleSeminar: Wednesday, October 1st @ 2:00pm Eastern How to Skyrocket Your Tax Business to the Million Dollar Level the Embarrassingly Simple & Easy Way! Register here: http://TaxMarketingHQ.com/chauncey

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Maximizing tax office efficiency

When your tax practice operates at maximum efficiency, you are leveraging your strategic assets to produce maximum profits.

Most of us are in this business for the sake of creating profits. Otherwise, what would be the point of driving ourselves crazy with tax code and clients, right?

In my experience, when you are operating at maximum efficiency, you are able to enter an interesting world: Choice. I have long stated that your business should exist at your whim, not the other way around. Efficiency allows you to reach a state of being able to control certain variables — hold them steady — while allowing others to change.

For example, if you want to hold your weekly workload steady to around 10 hours per week (as I’ve done for the past two years, more or less), then you have to operate at peak efficiency in order to keep profits up.

Similarly, you can change gears at will. I am in the process of exchanging my fixed workweek for a geometric increase in profitability. Since I’ll be working with efficiency in mind throughout the entire process of growth over the next few months, my profits will multiply beyond the 4x increase in my tax workweek to 40 hours.

So how do you achieve this level of efficiency. It’s pretty easy, really: Systems. You might prefer to use a different word: Protocols, processes, procedures. Whatever the nomenclature, the bottom line result is the same: A collection of written steps for accomplishing well-defined tasks.

Right now, I am in the process of finishing up a joint project with Chauncey Hutter, Jr. to create such a set of tools for running a seasonal tax preparation office. I welcome your feedback on this process, so if you happen to have two or three minutes to complete this brief survey regarding what you would value most in such a set of systems, please complete the survey here:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/taxtools

Also for you today is a follow up regarding last week’s article. In order to focus on the elements of your business that are actually worth maximizing efficiency in, you have to spend some time working ON your business, like I did at Burning Man. I promised a webinar on the topic, and that will be happening tomorrow at 11am Pacific (2pm Eastern). This webinar, 7 Big “Ahas” For Working ON Your Tax Practice, will cover the areas of your tax business that I believe are important to work on regularly. To register for this webinar (which will include a Q&A period), please go here:

http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=EB50DD8485473B

I appreciate your feedback on the tax preparation office systems, and look forward to seeing you on tomorrow’s webinar!

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What’s *actually* important in your tax practice?

“Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it’s been.” –Robert Hunter, “Truckin’”

Going to Burning Man is like spending a week in an alternate universe. It’s an event that is almost indescribable to somebody that hasn’t been there, and it’s even more difficult to define exactly what it’s all about.

Having been to Burning Man before, I experienced this year’s festival through a slightly different lens. In fact, this year’s week in the desert turned into more of a business planning retreat than anything else.

Some readers from the accounting world may be familiar with the concept of an annual retreat. Traditional, this consists of several days each year wherein the partners of a CPA firm disappear into the wilderness together in order to evaluate the hits and misses of the previous year. This is usually conducted shortly after tax season.

Due to the cost of such retreats and the questioning of results obtained from them, this practice has seen dwindling popularity in recent years. I think this trend is a mistake — particularly when the annual retreat is properly applied.

DUring my week in the desert, I had zero access to the Internet. There was no temporary cell tower erected off-site this year, so nobody had cell service. It was 8 glorious days of absolute communication blackout.

When we disconnect ourselves from the constant ringing, beeping, and blinking of our modern digital universe, we can obtain a clarity of thinking that is simply impossible to achieve otherwise.

From this year’s Burning Man event, I don’t have any super-crazy tales to share. I even kept all my clothes on for the entire week (which my camping companions were very grateful for!). In fact, by the standards set by almost any other burner, this was a boring Burn. I didn’t imbibe to excess, and spent a significant amount of time actually in the RV. Defeats the purpose of going, some would say.

I’d say quite the opposite. By taking the opportunity to unplug and disconnect from the default world, I was able to make monumental leaps in my business life. I had the time to work ON my businesses, rather than just IN my businesses.

I was able to take the time to formulate my zero-to-hero marketing strategy for the new tax office in Washington. I was able to determine what I really want out of that tax office, and how it works with my existing boutique tax resolution practice. I was able to outline the future of Tax Marketing HQ, and came to several decisions regarding related projects. I solidified my strategy for returning to real estate investing, and assigned realistic yet aggressive targets for achieving specific financial goals.

Taking the time to step out of the “real world” was a blessing. I’m now much more focused on what I want to achieve. I’m far more comfortable now with the notion of hanging up my nomadic hat and being in one place for a while. And through a strange set of circumstances, I was introduced to a completely unrelated, brand new entrepreneurial endeavor that may or may not come to fruition, but will be an interesting adventure no matter what (I may or may not share more about that in the future…we’ll see).

Perhaps the most important thing, however, is that I was able to eliminate a number of distractions. I tend to have a short attention span, and suffer from what is commonly known as Shiny Object Syndrome. Focusing on just a few things that actually matter is really the secret to success, but many of us get tugged in various directions by all the available options out there.

By eliminating what wasn’t gaining traction, or that no longer really interested me, I can instead focus on things that drive real results. My time at Burning Man this year yielded three basic tenets for my business life that I’ll be referring back to extensively for …

» Continue reading this article: What’s *actually* important in your tax practice?

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Making a million bucks, by the numbers

One of the tasks I’ll be embarking on after settling down in Washington state next month is the updating, revision, expansion, and editing of all of my published books. Before the end of the year, I’ll have new editions of each book done.

The first of these to get the update treatment will be my book about building a million dollar taxpayer representation firm. A lot has changed in the 18 months or so since I last revised that particular work, and I need to update it to reflect the ever changing realities of doing tax resolution marketing.

One of those realities is that the cost of client acquisition has gone up a little bit. The primary reason for this has to do with the efficacy of small, cheap postcards. For years, these regular sized postcards were the workhorse of my direct mail lead generation efforts. Today, those same postcards just don’t yield the results they used to.

In general, we’re seeing about 1/4 of the response rate from SIMPLE direct mail compared to what we used to get. By “simple” direct mail, I’m referring to basic postcards and machine addressed letters with postage permits. What’s the reason?

Direct mail is still a great way to generate clients. In fact, since fewer companies use direct mail, there is less clutter in the mailbox to compete against. However, what I think is happening (and this is purely conjecture, by the way) is that mail recipients are more discerning when it comes to sorting there mail — in other words, they are more quick to discard anything that looks like “junk mail”.

My rationale behind this assumption is that dimensional mail and heavily personalized mail are working great. Most readers know by now that I heavily advocate sending 3-letter sequences in sync with the IRS notice cycle following a lien filing, and that these letters should be hand addressed and use real stamps.

Hand addressed? Real stamps? Geesh, that sounds like WORK! And yes…yes it is.

So with that said, what’s it going to take to hit the seven figure mark now?

One of the nice things is that, while marketing costs have increased, so have average fees. In fact, average tax resolution fees nationwide are up nearly $1,000 since I last wrote about this topic here on the blog over two years ago.

Assuming an average fee of $3,500 per client, we need 286 clients per year to hit the magic million dollar revenue number.

As always, let me start with the SIM (Standard Industry Model), on which the fly-by-night tax resolution operates. The average telemarketer (“opener”) must dial 60 tax liens in order to find one interested person, who is transferred to an unlicensed sales closer in most boiler room operations. This closer will close, on average, 9% of these prospects. So, in order to get ONE new client, a company has to churn through 660 tax lien filings, at a typical cost of 35 cents per record to purchase. So, that’s $231 just in lead costs.

Now, the opener also typically gets a 10% commission at most companies, and the closers receive, on average, 20% to 30%. Lets’s again be conservative, and together give the sales guys 30%. Note here that we are also ignoring minimum wage laws and other costs for this sales staff, which most firms do ignore, believe it or not. So our $3500 new client also costs us $1050 in commissions, for a total of $1,281 that we have to spend in order to get one new client.

To hit 286 clients, that’s an annual hard cost of $366,366 in order to generate $1 million in revenue. All else being equal, that’s actually quite an acceptable number, which is why this model works so well within the “tax resolution” standard business model.

Note that under the SIM, all those purchased leads are literally trashed within a week or two, with no effort made at long …

» Continue reading this article: Making a million bucks, by the numbers

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Have you written your book yet?

It’s the final few hours of the NAEA national convention here in Las Vegas. It’s been a blast getting to meet some long-time Tax Marketing Tips readers face to face, plus being introduced to many new readers as an exhibitor here in conjunction with NTPI. Many thanks to everybody that has dropped by to chat!

This week I want to touch on a subject that is a little off the beaten path of my normal messages: Authority positioning.

We live in a culture that loves to love expertise and authority positioning. If you think about it carefully, it’s the reason NTPI itself exists. As a profession, we tend to embrace anything and everything that that let’s us display expertise (I’m quite opinionated on the subject of “credentialitis”…).

Within the general public, however, it’s a whole different ballgame. Our clients and prospects don’t have a clue (nor do they care…) about all the alphabet soup we put after our name. As an EA, for example, I’m stuck with the challenge of having to explain what I even AM — so I generally don’t bother (it’s rarely questioned by tax resolution prospects, by the way). CPAs and attorneys have built-in designation recognition, but anything beyond that, in terms of public perception, doesn’t mean anything to them.

But if you do something that positions you as an authority, that displays your expertise in a manner that is highly valued by the general public, then that suddenly becomes worth a LOT.

When you write a tax advice column in the local newspaper, or appear regularly on a local business talk radio program, or write a book — you suddenly attach to yourself much higher perceived expertise in the eyes of the general public.

When I wrote my first book over Christmas weekend at the end of 2011, it was driven by being snowed in. But in retrospect, it became one of the best marketing moves I’ve ever made for my tax practice.

After publishing “Tax Resolution Secrets“, it quickly became the best selling tax resolution book on Amazon. It began to routinely generate two to three leads per week coming into my tax resolution practice. With this steady trickle of free prospects coming in, I was able to pick and choose the clients I actually wanted to work with.

Did the book generate perfect prospects every time? Absolutely not. There were definitely a fair number of “tire kickers” calling in. But at the same time, there were enough good prospects calling and emailing that the process of writing the book had been very much worth my time.

Beyond just the lead generation component coming from people that purchased the book, it also replaced my business cards. I have no ordered business cards since writing that book, even three years later. A book you authored is the best business card you can ever give out.

When you hand prospects a copy of your book, the nature of the interaction usually changes instantly. There is massive authority positioning (deserved or not) that comes from being an author. A book doesn’t get thrown away like a business card, either, and it’s great to be able to say, “Oh, see page 74, that covers exactly what you’re asking about.”

With your new position as a recognized expert, interesting things start to happen. People seek you out. You’re able to command higher fees. You’re able to be a bit pickier about the clients you work with. You have something DIFFERENT to send in your “shock & awe” package in response to inquiries from leads.

Writing a book has, without a doubt, been one of the top three most valuable marketing tools I’ve ever created for my business.

I would highly encourage you to do the same. Writing a book isn’t really that difficult (I wrote Tax Resolution Secrets in 4 days). You can also hire ghostwriters to write a book for …

» Continue reading this article: Have you written your book yet?

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Cultivating long term relationships with your tax prospects

So you’ve been offering special reports and other educational items to your target audience, and you have built a prospect list of folks that have ordered your information. Once you have built a list of prospective clients, what exactly do you do with that list?

First of all, don’t be disillusioned into thinking that you are going to convert every prospect you communicate with regularly into a paying client. And yes, you need to be communicating with them regularly. It is through this long term communication that people come know, like, and trust you. And never forget that people do business with people that they know, like and trust.

Don’t forget that the same holds true for your existing clients as well. It is important to have regular contact with them, year round, in order to reaffirm that they’ve made a good decision in working with you, and to reestablish yourself as an expert. There are four distinct things you can use your list for in order to cultivate new and repeat business and referrals from your internal list.

The first thing you should be doing is publishing a monthly newsletter. This works much better if you physically mail it, and here’s why: It’s because people discount e-mail. So if you actually take the time to go print out an 8 ½ x 11 two-sided newsletter once a month, you can upload your newsletter to the U.S. postal service, and also upload your mailing list to the postal service. They’ll do all the printing and mailing for you, and it’s dirt cheap. But you should mail it out because it’s going to give more value. People are going to notice it. Even if they throw it away, you’ve now gotten the “hits” on your name and your information. If, within the next couple days, somebody says they need an accountant, they’re calling you.

The second thing you should be doing is sending them regular emails with updates, promotional offers, seasonal reminders, and important announcements. Keep them up to date with what’s going on with tax and accounting changes that may impact them, and also let them know when you’re going on vacation, and to contact you before that to get their needs taken care of. This will encourage them to come in and speak with you.

The third thing you want to be doing is making yourself available to your prospects on social networking sites on the Internet. People actually do want to get to know you as a person. People want to know what their professional advisors are like outside of the office. They want to feel like they know you more so than you’re just an accountant. So give them access to you.

Create a Twitter account and share with them when you do certain fun things or vacations you take or restaurants you go to or sporting events, share whatever your hobbies are. Then people will know, like and trust you and be more likely to do business with you by becoming involved in those things. You can use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, all the different social media websites in order to do that.

The fourth thing you should be doing with your internal client and prospect lists is to create new content, such as blog articles, educational videos, and special reports, and make these available to your prospects. Have a blog set up that people can read, and syndicate an RSS feed through Feedburner for people to subscribe to and follow. Mail and email occasional reports and videos to your list. The bottom line is to proactively make sure that you are constantly in contact with your prospect list. Tax Marketing Premium membership provides you with some special tools to help you accomplish this.

How many contacts should you make with folks on your list? My suggestion is to contact them monthly, at a minimum. However, I …

» Continue reading this article: Cultivating long term relationships with your tax prospects

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How To Expand Your Tax Practice

Expanding into new realms is one of the best ways to expand your tax or accounting practice. In this article, we will discuss how to do exactly that.

When it comes to market expansion of your practice, there are really two ways to go about doing it. The first is to consider geographical expansion. You are already offering your services in your local area, and at some point you will be asking yourself, “Can I offer my services in adjacent communities, also?” You could establish satellite offices in neighboring cities, or take advantage of the growing number of “virtual office” spaces that exist and meet with clients in other cities one day per week. Then, you could perform targeted marketing in those other areas to obtain new clients there.

If you live in a rural area, this strategy could be particularly effective. By establishing occasional office hours in a series of small, rural towns that are distant from a large city, you can quickly create a following of dedicated clients that deeply appreciate your taking the time to come to them. Chances are you could find a client in a small town that was willing to trade occasional-use office space for some services.

The other way of expanding your accounting practice is to look at specific niches. Niches are small sub-groups of clients that you choose to specialize in servicing. For example, providing tax services to construction contractors is a niche. Becoming the “go to” tax advisor for a local major employer is another niche.

The great part of creating unique niches for yourself is that specialization tends to command higher fees. For example, a heart surgeon charges a lot more than a family practice physician. The more specific you can get with the niches that you target, the easier it becomes to focus in and market specifically to those audiences. You can create special reports and marketing tools that are tailored very specifically to your niche audience. For example, you could offer construction companies in your area a free report detailing the “7 Major Tax Mistakes That Cold Kill Your Construction Business”. This sort of targeted marketing is noticed by the relevant audience.

Drilling down into targeted market niches is referred to as “vertical” marketing. Another option is to expand out. For example, some firms also offer various forms of business consulting services, business planning, business valuation services, wealth management, stock brokerage, insurance, and more. This not only allows you to make more money from existing clients by selling them additional services, but also gives you a greater variety of things to talk about in your marketing, and specifically market those services.

Start thinking about unique industries you could specialize in servicing, and also start thinking about additional services you could offer to your existing clients. Both of these methods will give you new avenues for increasing revenue that simply did not exist for you before.

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Setting Revenue Goals For Your Tax Practice

The most common answer to the question of “How much money do you want to make?” is “As much as possible.”

Anybody that is in private practice for themselves, either as a solo practitioner or with a small group of partners, has to take a serious look at this question, however.

Obviously, different revenue levels require vastly different levels of work, commitment, infrastructure, marketing, etc. The decision to make X dollars is not as simple of a decision as what you might think.

I believe in two approaches to this decision process. The first is to decide how much TIME you want to put into your practice, and make revenue and expenditure decisions from there. The other approach is to determine how much take-home income you want, and work backwards from there.

I personally make the decision more from a time standpoint. My lifestyle design objectives are somewhat unique, as I am willing to sacrifice significant financial gain in order to have extensive freedom to travel around the world. You may be more interested in earning a certain income to support a specific lifestyle.

If you want to make $500,000 per year in take home pay, then you are going to need a certain size organization, as it is unlikely you can achieve that income goal completely on your own. That size of organization is going to require infrastructure, employees, office space, etc. All these factors need to be taken into account.

If you want to work as a solo practitioner, and only work 40 hours per week, then this is going to create an income limit for you. You can increase this limit by focusing on niche clients, charging premium fees, performing high end services, and doing specific styles of marketing.

Keeping in mind the various challenges and limitations that come with having certain income goals is important. Keeping an open mind, and having realistic expectations about how much money you can make, and what it will require, is critical to your success as a firm.

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