Pro Spotlight Ep. 9: Russell Webb On Being A Taxfyle Pro, Partnering With Firms, And How He Succeeds On Our Platform
Russell Webb has been practicing accounting for 15 years and is a licensed CPA for six years. His decision to pursue accounting was spontaneous, as he chose the major during college orientation without prior interest. However, he found enjoyment in the field when he realized its importance and the puzzle-solving nature of the work. Throughout his career, he has focused on public accounting, finding growth opportunities and the ability to help and educate others as a CPA. Webb joined Taxfyle to broaden his horizons and earn additional income. As a Taxfyle Pro, he appreciates the flexibility of working remotely and continues to provide high-quality work to his clients. Webb believes that firms can benefit from Taxfyle's service during busy seasons, as it provides a convenient and reliable option for completing tax returns.
Q: Russell, how long have you been an accountant
Webb: I've been practicing accounting for 15 years, a licensed CPA for six years.
Q: What made you decide to pursue the career?
Webb: You know, I wish I could say that there was something that made me decide to go into accounting, it's kind of a just a odd story. So when I was at orientation, back in college back in 2003, you know, there's a lot of kids that have ideas of what they wanted to be, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be. So when we were segmenting off into our groups, and they said, “Business majors go here, engineering majors go here,” I just went with the business majors, because I figured there might be some opportunities, there may be something that speaks to me. And when they were handing out the degree catalogs, they weren't really telling us what each degree catalog was, I saw one that they were about to hand out was blue. And it turned out that that was an accounting degree. So that's how I, chose my degree, and stuck with it ever since.
Q: Even though you didn't have that initial thought of I want to be an accountant; when during your time studying accounting did you realize that this was really something that you would enjoy and you'd want to pursue further?
Well, I think it started when I could see that, you know, it's something that everybody really needs. It's a job that you kind of, don't realize that it’s something that you need until you need it. There's always going to be taxes. And see now like they say the the two, two absolutes in life are death and taxes. So I always figured at least once I chose my degree, that there might be some job security. It would just be a matter of getting into the field and then starting, and once I started actually working within it, then it started making a lot more sense, it became a lot more enjoyable. I really liked puzzles, so to me, it was like that you get these, this just folder or stack of papers, and your end result is turning it into a tax return. And so I always found that part enjoyable.
Q: Now that you've had years of experience in the industry, how has that perception of your role in accounting and why you like it changed, or is it still the same?
Now that I'm entering my 16th year of doing taxes, and working with small businesses, I really found that the public accounting side of things was always more enjoyable. When it first started, I thought maybe I would just go into admin for some company and just do general ledger entries or keep receivables payables, stuff like that, and never really thought about the public accounting side. But once I got into it, I started to learn more from clients from other CPAs. And I feel like there's just the growth opportunity is way more and so I feel like in my now 16 years I've learned a lot more I'm able to, to help others, educate others when needed, and I'm still learning myself every day. So that's what I always think that is really beneficial about being a CPA.
Q: How has your career changed since you graduated college and what have you learned the most during your post-graduate career?
Well, I mean, when I first started, it sounds bad, but I really had no idea of anything with accounting. Despite having a four-year degree. I felt like the college really prepared me to pass tests. But there's really nothing compared to actually just going in and being tossed in and in and handed a return whether it's a partnership return or an individual return corporate return, and say, “Here you go. Make sense of this, and let's see what you can do with it.” Oh, I remember having to one of the very first times when I was starting off I had to do a 941 which is a quarterly payroll return for an employer showing payroll taxes and I basically had to look up on my phone, which at that time was a flip phone, the instructions, and this was all done within the little paper kind of newspaper packet that they gave you back then. And it was something that you know, it taught me that as you go on, you're gonna hit road bumps, but even you're gonna find ways to get past them and, and that's basically it. rn more about this profession
Q: Where do you currently work at, and what is your role at your firm?
I currently work for a premier CPA firm in Houston, Texas, Riley, CPA, we provide all sorts of services. We're a top-down full-service CPA firm. We do everything from advisory, consulting, and tax budgeting. And something else that we do is we really help others with their retirement planning audits. That's something that we do.
Q: How did you hear about Taxfyle?
The Taxfyle thing came on about four years ago when we heard about it and thought it was something that could provide another revenue stream, while also helping us earn more, and see what else is out there to broaden our horizons. I honestly, I think that Quinton, our Managing Partner, brought it up to me one day and said that there was some that he saw in an article that was just I think it was about four or five years ago that they were starting up. And he said, “What would you think about this? Do you think this is something that might interest you?” I've always been under the mindset of, you know, more is more with our firm, and never been one to turn down a challenge. And so I thought it sounded exciting, and was an opportunity for us.
Q: Why did you become a Taxfyle Pro?
Well, after the first season, and about, when they did the onboarding and everything and I got tossed into an outsourcing client right away a workspace that where I was doing business returns, and I found that really enjoyable was that here I was with, they would just hand me the returns that needed to be done. And I was able to go in and kind of do what I've always liked about this job, which is going steady something make sense of it and put a puzzle together. So when I started with that, it was basically you know, they'd say, hey, they're like the work you do you want to be on another workspace and go for it. Yes, I mean, I've always been one to say, Let's go for another workspace. And now if you're on a walkabout, the 10 to 12 different workspaces and always trying to see what else I can do to help others educate others and myself learn more about this profession.
Q: Working as a Pro how do you still maintain life balance?
Webb: you know, it is difficult in the, in the, the deadline times, especially, but I'm fortunate that I've worked for a firm it's always put family first, and my, my employer has always given me ample opportunity to take time if I have a couple of hours here when everything's settled at night out, I'll jump on and do a couple that's what I loved about Taxfyle was I didn't have to be at the office to do any of it I could do it from home remotely.
Q: If you were talking to someone who didn't know what Taxfyle and what Taxfyle’s outsourcing service was, or even what being a Taxfyle Pro is, how would you explain it to them?
Webb: So I had kinda this conversation a few times and I've talked with others and kind of referenced it to you like a gig economy job, say like Uber where it's, you know, I don't want to say Uber we’re not allowed but you know, it's kind of like the Uber of tax prep, you have the retail side which is you maybe some individuals out there are looking for someone to do their taxes and they don't know where to go Taxfyle kind of the broker and they set them up with a CPA or an enrolled agent and that way they're able to get their taxes done. Sitting with all the outsourcing workspaces online, its CPA firm, you know, maybe they've grown at a pretty fast rate, and they're not able to keep up, it's something to help them out as well. So it's basically tax prep on demand. That's kind of how I always looked at it.
Q: As a Taxfyle Pro how have you helped firms that have outsourced with you?
I feel like I've always provided a pretty high level of work, we hold ourselves to a pretty high standard in our firm, and I've treated every workspace I've been put on with Taxfyle as if it was working for my own clients. I don't take any shortcuts with it. I put in the the work same as I would if I'm doing it and the return or a project for an in-house client here.
Q: How can other firms benefit from using Taxfyle’s outsourcing and staffing service during the busy season?
Webb: I would just say if you're a firm that has experienced some growth, maybe you have acquired new clients from a CPA that's retired, CPAs are retiring at an alarming rate these days. So there seems to be more work to be done than there are available CPAs look into Taxfyle, it's something that where you get set up with someone that there's not the unknown, say, rather than going through the process of hiring a new Pro on site, if you would have to go through the background checks the hiring process, getting them set up with your HR department and payroll, all that you could just go to Taxfyle and they would set you up, say, how many returns do you need done versus your contract will do, you'll submit 75 returns for this period, and we'll get these done for you. And I feel like that's always been a pretty good model, especially for CPAs. Because a lot of times, we don't have time to go out and hire a new Pro or go through that whole process. So it kind of expedites that and takes it to where it's no longer an unknown. You at least know that with Taxfyle entering whatever you already know. And I don't remember exactly that it's a model that works.
Q: When you're at work for a firm for the first time, how do you integrate yourself with their workflow so that you can immediately start working on jobs that they're submitting rather than needing to be trained and get up to speed with their way of things?
Webb: So for that, I mean, I think it's with any other client communications key. Some some firms, they like to have certain ways that things are done. Others have another way. So I always have to make sure that as I'm working on that, that workspace I'm in that correct frame of mind, I know that this is this firm or they want the work papers prepared and they want to be prepared and organized in or is it just one that I'm just gonna prepare the return itself within the tank software and maybe provide a few notes. You know, with the chat feature within Taxfyle, it takes a lot of that guesswork out because I'm able to talk with the other person and just say, hey, here's what I'm finding. Here's my notes on the return I'm working on, let me know how you want to approach this.
Q: What makes a good engagement with your firm?
Webb: For us, we would consider a good engagement, you know, if they're going to be submitting jobs that were I like to see when they submit jobs and they have all the documents already there. That way, we're able to get it done quickly. Get it back on a 40 hour turnaround, and the jobs that will be closed. Now, that doesn't happen, maybe but 10% of the time. So I always like to make sure that we have that back and forth, and that the other Pro is going to be available to answer any questions on might have let him know that there is a missing items list. Just stuff that we know that we have up we same way that we operate within our own. For when we have a procedure to where we get the initial prep done, we take a look and see what's missing, we do overview, we approach the client and let them know what's missing. And from there, we know then they're gonna get us to the missing items that were able to finish up later date.
Q: When you're working on one of your workspaces from start to finish, how long does it take for you to complete jobs and what are the steps that you take to ensure everything is done precisely how it needs to be done?
Webb: So I like to keep my open jobs sorted by the deadline. And I know from the time that it's submitted, I keep an eye on whether if it's a remote login job, there's tend to separate the jobs that I have one on the separate workspaces. There's my remote logging into the other firm’s software, or am I preparing their client on my software, and then furnishing a backup if it's a remote login as soon as the job's uploaded, and I know that I have access to the work and I will get that typically done on their 48-hour turnaround as protects files, standard operating procedures. Getting the missing items list from there, it just depends on the communication with them and their client. If they're able to furnish the new documents may great they'll give it to me and we'll make the changes update it as the stuff comes in. Or sometimes they'll just say look, we'll take care of that on our side. Alright, let's go ahead and close it out for preparing the other jobs then winds up preparing our software. And it's kind of the same. And the only difference is that I'm receiving it all. I'm going to be uploading a backup to my software, and then working within our software just normally as I would for any of our personal clients. And then when I'm done with it, I will have my list of notes. And I will give them the list of notes, open items, missing documents, let them know here's what's up. How do you want to treat it? Let me know if you need the backup back. And if not, we'll put it on hold until we get the rest of the information. Sometimes, I mean from a lot of them, it's closed within a week, seven to 10 days, it all depends on how much stuff is missing. I've had jobs that have been open for a couple of months. But that's because maybe we're waiting on a K1. At that point. We just make sure that we check in with each other every now and then. And I'll go back through my list of jobs on Worklayer and to see how was last time I touched base with this probe. And I'll see hey, have you received any more K1s, for example, you know, K1 are kind of a Achilles heel with this is because sometimes they're not ready till August. So it just really depends on when the information is readily available.
Q: How do you make sure our communication stays up to speed so that neither you or the firm you're working with is left hanging?
Webb: The chat feature I've that's basically it and you know, the chat feature I feel on Taxfyle, it's really helpful. And, and if you have a chat feature, make sure you have the Worklayer app to where you're getting the push notifications on your phone, I'll get the push notifications, and I will be responding to notifications daily. I'll let them know or you know if it's something that a this is what we're waiting on. You get a push notification sometimes one says you haven't heard from this workspace in a while, why don't you check in so and sometimes there are a few the actual Taxfyle support staff who will come in and say, Hey, we noticed that you haven't had any communication with the client, why don't you reach out to them. And that's happened to me only a few times. But I feel like there's a multi-point system to make sure that the communication keeps going whether it's the app, the chat function itself, you get emails and the support staff is very helpful in that regard too.
Q: You're talking to a Taxfyle Pro and maybe they’re beginning outsourcing for the first time what are some of the best practices that you would give them so that they can get started easily without any hiccups?
Webb: I would say probably get on a workspace that uses a tax software that you're familiar with. And then once you're comfortable within that and you get the back and forth and the ebb and flows within the jobs then maybe move on to another workspace or learn another tax software maybe you have software that you're not fully familiar with those your main software but that's kind of what I would say is get you don't put all your eggs in one basket try to get across as many workspaces as possible. And that way you can see what works for you. And maybe what not what doesn't work. I mean, I've always tried to anytime there's a bit of a workspace addition, I've been reached out by the staff at Taxfyle and we have a new workspace would you be interested in at least meeting with the firm, the outsourcing firm and I'm always willing to meet up with other Pros. I mean, I mean, I like learning what other people are doing. Maybe it helps me see there are efficiencies that I might be missing out on. So for other people are looking into this, I would say get in there and start with what you're comfortable with. But don't be afraid to learn new things. Because once you realize that new you can, you know, maybe you're in UltraTax or Lacerte or Drake or CCH the more you become familiar with as many different options you broaden your horizons and aid your opportunities with Taxfyle.
Q: What types of tax filing software are you adept at that filing with and how did you teach yourself? Of all the all these different types of software and you know learning that proficiency.
Webb: So I'm, I'm a primarily UltraTax. And I've been working in UltraTax for the last 12 years. But I'm also proficient in Lacerte, Drake and CCH Access. CCH Access was the one I've learned most recently. And as long as you know what a tax return kinda looks like, then you can make it work for you, you can try to go in and see, okay, I know, here's the income items, here's the deduction items, the adjustments, income credits, what have you. That's how I've always approached, you know, these tax software whether they're UltraTax, or CCH, they always have a little search function and inside of it, and so if it's something that you're not totally familiar with, and you don't know where to find it, I've always thought that just typing in the search function, you know, if it's cancellation debt or something, that's just the first thing popped in my mind, you don't know where to put it in the software, you search for it, and it will usually take you right to the screen. So that's in this 15 going on 16 years of being in this business, I've had to adapt. We started out with Lacerte. I've done contract work for other CPA firms within the city that use Drake, and then just taught myself how to do CCH Access. And all of those have helped me to where I've been able to be on multiple workspaces for tax fall and cheapest additional revenue stream coming. So it's been really nice.
Q: While you're a Taxfyle Pro you obviously see work at a firm and earlier in this call you talked about how Taxfyle’s outsourcing service can be an ideal solution for firms that don't have the bandwidth to hire and train or you've been struggling to find staffing. So what I want to know is from your perspective, why does the accounting and tax industry have challenged staffing firms nationwide?
Webb: You know that that's an interesting question. And I wish I had the answer. I don't really, I could maybe tell you that, 15 years ago when I was in school, and I went to a fairly large university, Texas State University in San Marcos, it didn't seem that there were a lot of accounting majors, at least once I got into my later classes, my upper graduate courses, it seemed like it's a degree that really weeds out the people who are not willing to commit. And you can see that with the I've heard something at one of the Thomson Reuters synergy conferences that within the next 15 years, some astronomical number, like 75% of all licensed CPAs will be of retirement age, and there's not enough to replace them. And I think maybe, that people don't look at accounting, they kind of look at as a stuffy, maybe it's an old, outdated profession, but it's really what you make of it. And I think a lot of people are now you see, everyone's going into engineering communications. But from my perspective, when I was in college, it just seemed like accounting was something that just really was unforgiving to a lot of undergraduates. And so once they couldn't cut it bait, they moved to other places.
Q: What I've heard about like how turnover and staff retention are also difficult I guess from your perspective, what does it take to keep somebody on staff for 15 years?
Webb: You know, I think it's just a, you know, I don't know, I'd have to use my employer of what it takes to keep someone you know, the workloads always been very good. I feel like me, my employer, we have an understanding, we have a lot of the same values and I know what he's about and is someone I deeply respect, and I've seen the work that he has been willing to put in and it's always something that I've wanted for myself. So you know, now here I am 15 years later and trying to just only make myself more in that image and try to kind of mimic I guess what I've learned from him.
Q: What are some of the benefits that you appreciate most about being a Taxfyle Pro?
Webb: When I first started with Taxfyle, what I really liked was the, you get the job. You prepare the job, and then you're done with the job and it's not the same. In public accounting, you deal with a lot of clients, and it's something that I've learned to deal with being in public accounting with, you know, I will get 40 phone calls emails, and I'll have eight meetings a week. But with Taxfyle, you just get the meat, and it's just job after job after job. And so a lot of times, if you just want to kind of it's kind of like a little, I guess, decompression for me is to just be able to know that I have this job. And I can do a start-to-finish. And then once the job's complete, I know I'm done with it. It really, in this profession, one of the things I don't like here is when I'm working, and I get to something about maybe 75% of the way through, and then I'm stuck on that impasse, and then it and then I had to wait until we get you know, more information or, you know, maybe I'm missing some bank statements from a client. And, just kind of that part frustrates me, you get the jobs and you're not able to complete them. And so that's kind of where I always the benefit was, you can really see that, you know, you're able to complete a lot of jobs. And in the last two years, I've completed 600 plus jobs for Taxfyle.
Q: And when it comes to outsourcing or firms what do you appreciate the most about that aspect of being a Taxfyle Pro?
Webb: Well, I think when you're helping a firm in their outsourcing work to you may have an appreciation for what you're doing, they know that you're really helping them out. And that's always felt, you know, I don't need the thanks or the gratitude, but it feels we've all been in a spot where we might need someone to help us out with something and it makes me feel better that I can help someone else in need know whether it's the other job that they need done, or maybe they needed something reviewed. And while I'm reviewing it, I find a mistake that someone has missed and I can that always gives you a sense of accomplishment. And I think when you're doing work like this, that sense of accomplishment is what keeps you going.
Q: And is there anything that may not have asked you what are the benefits of firms being able to outsource and tap into somebody like you who has not only experienced but a passion for filing taxes that you think is important that people know about?
Webb: I can't think of anything that you haven't asked, but I would just say if you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you know, you're not alone. In this profession, I think that that's almost a default setting. But the fact that Taxfyle is out there helping brokering these relationships is something it's, it's incredible, you know, it's people out there can find the help. And the help that they can find is it's more than adequate. And so I always think that if, if you're a CPA, and you think that you're you're just in over your head, you don't want to do it anymore. Maybe Taxfyle is a solution for you.
Q: And Russell, when it comes to tax season, obviously because you're a Pro and you've got a lot of things to juggle, how do you prevent yourself from feeling stressed or overwhelmed?
Webb: You know, I have three young kids at home. And so I know when I get done with the work, I get to go home and see my family, whether it's at my son's baseball games or spending time to live my daughter who just turned 19 months, that does a lot to help with that, you know, I try not to get too bogged down and I know that you know, I've never missed deadlines. And I don't intend to. Now, I mean, it's just something that I've always I always look around and see what I have and I know that you know tomorrow is gonna be a new day. We're gonna get it done. We always get it done. So why worry, right?