A Sad Day

It’s incredible that these things can have such an effect. I mean I never knew the man, never met him. Just saw him on TV mostly, and read about him in Road & Track magazine. I did once manage to get within a shout of him. In the late seventies it was. At the Canadian Grand Prix, I somehow managed to sneak into the pits. And there he was. There was the great Niki Lauda sitting in his car. A Brabham-Alfa Romeo this time. And not his mythical Ferrari. So yeah, that was my moment. My claim to fame. “I took a picture of the great Niki Lauda.” Pretty nice shot too.

So yeah, I never knew the man. But yet, late last night, when I saw on Twitter that Niki Lauda had passed away, there were tears in my eyes.

I remember Lauda from his halcyon days. Or maybe they were my halcyon days. Don’t really know, but I do know that I vividly remember Lauda racing his Ferrari with wilful precision. Always precision. To me he was a cold and calculating F1 pilot. An almost emotionless man who, in a sense, became part of the machine that he drove so well. Just another component in a racing system designed to go flat-out. Go bloody fast. And scare the wits out of mere mortals.

His life is legendary. The stuff of fiction. His arrival in F1. Seemingly out of nowhere, and straight into a Ferrari. His Nurburgring crash in 1976. The heroic and near-miraculous return to his Ferrari’s cockpit only forty days after receiving the last rites. I mean, come on, everyone thought he was dying. Everyone but Niki anyway. And to think that he returned to contest that 1976 World Championship, contest it against his friend (and nemesis too), James Hunt. And to lose said championship by one point. Lose it because he decided to park his car in that last race. That Japanese Grand Prix, the one held on a day of monsoon-like conditions. Conditions that were near-impossible. Conditions that, today, no race steward would allow any F1 event to so much as begin.

I remember all of that. And I still wonder what went through Niki’s mind when he stopped his car. Did he say, “Hell with it. Life’s too short?” Did he say, “Screw this, I’ve been through enough?” I have no idea, but I do know that no one begrudged him of his decision. 

He went on to win two more championships, you know. The next year–1977–again for Ferrari, and then 1984, this time in a McLaren. From there the man went on to fly airplanes, and start his own airline, and then, years later, help build the mighty Mercedes F1 team. It was Niki, apparently, who convinced Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren for Mercedes. Quite a gamble, for both of them. And quite an accomplishment too.

He accomplished so much. So much. And now. And now the man is gone. 

There were, to me, three men—three larger-than-life men—who drove for Ferrari. The first, of course, is my boyhood hero. The giant of them all, Gilles Villeneuve. The second was Niki Lauda. And Michael Schumacher was the third. When I think of any of those three, I immediately picture a red car. A Ferrari. To me you cannot separate the men from those machines. They’re synonymous. They’re inexorably linked and intertwined. By fact, by history and by giant near-mythical moments.

Men like Lauda. They’ve accomplished so much. And I often ask myself, “How did they achieve all of that?” Was it fate? Was it a God-given right? Was it sheer purpose and determination? I don’t know. Because we–the rest of us–the mere mortals, we lead our lives, and we accomplish whatever it is that we accomplish. And we feel more significant. We somehow feel more significant just because of our distant affiliation, our appreciation, for the giants of men like Niki Lauda.

#GodspeedNiki

An Unappreciated Service

Last week, between the hours of 4PM on Tuesday and–let’s say–8AM on Wednesday, some forty centimetres of snow came down on Montreal.

I was teaching in Granby on that Tuesday. Teaching QuickBooks Online with my colleague Ricky Duquette. And by the way, if you’re stuck, if you’re looking for help with QuickBooks or any other business software, give Ricky a call. Especially if you’re in Québec, call Ricky, he’ll get you sorted.

So yeah, that whole Tuesday the talk—on the radio, on my social media feeds, everywhere—was about the advancing snowfall and the ravage it would leave in its wake. Wrapping up the training session around four, chatting to a few attendees until 4:30 or 4:45, when I finally left the hotel shortly before 5PM, the snow hadn’t started yet. So I got on a dry Highway 10 and decided to hightail it back to Montreal. On the highway, I was following one of those big pickups—a Ram F150000 or whatever they’re called—I was following that truck and I was wondering to myself, why do people drive those big behemoths anyway? I can understand needing one if you’re in the trades, but this truck looked pampered and fancy. Not a work vehicle at all. And me, of course, being a number-cruncher and therefore unable to help myself, I also pondered the heavy financial burden of just such a vehicle. Depreciation, ineligible leasing costs, fuel consumption. On and on, my mind went. On and on.

Anyway, whoever was driving that truck must have had a similar goal: get as far west as fast as possible. Checking my speedometer, I saw that I was travelling at a a decent rate of knots (somewhere, oh, around the speed limit) and I also saw that I wasn’t making any headway on that Ram pickup as it left a rooster tail of exhaust and vapour some fifty metres ahead of me. For forty or fifty kilometres, we maintained the status quo. We (me and that Ram) were heading west on a bare and dry Highway 10 with the radio (mine anyway) on a local news station, the whole while listening to the radio announcers as they did their best to gleefully sensationalize what they were describing as the end of our civilized world. Based on the ominous warnings coming over the radio, I knew I’d eventually hit the leading wall of that incoming storm. But so far, nothing. Still though, you could almost hear those announcers rubbing their hands together greedily and smirking evilly as they warned of all manner of doom and gloom. I actually chuckled at one point, listening to some traffic guy, some guy out of Montreal named Jonathan or Jackson or Jeremy. You know those  people who try to be witty and funny? And no matter how hard they try to be witty and funny, they fail? Well that radio announcer was such a person, and those types of people often annoy me. Maybe it’s because I’m one of them too. Funny, unfortunately, just isn’t my thing. You know how it is right? We damn number-crunchers, we just can’t do funny. A sad fact, but a true one.

Anyway, this guy was talking about the terrible traffic and the ever-worsening road conditions, and at one point he explained with great relish, how the south shore, especially Highway 10 outside of Montreal was suffering near white-out conditions. Travelling on Highway 10, the radio guy assured us, was hopeless. Hopeless and dangerous. Really? Really? I was on that very stretch of road, and yes there was snow beginning to swirl about, but nothing, and I mean nothing near as bad as what this ridiculous reporter was making it out to be.

Sure enough, somewhere near Highway 30, the snow truly began flying. The winds were high though, and that wind was preventing the snow from actually accumulating on the autoroute. Visibility was good too, so we could still move at a decent clip, somewhere around 90 or 100 clicks. Once at the Champlain Bridge however, things were different. The snow was starting to come down more heavily, the roads were getting slicker and the traffic heavier. I pulled out to pass a slow moving vehicle just as the Champlain merges with Highway 15. There was a slight curve in the road and even though I wasn’t moving that fast, maybe 70 clicks, I could feel my car moving around underneath me, the front tires no longer obeying the direction they were asked to assume. So yeah, I slowed way down.

I got into Montreal easily enough though, and I was surprised to see that my commute was no more than fifteen or twenty minutes longer than when conditions are ideal.  So yeah, in spite of it all, a relatively easy drive. For which I must also give an appreciative nod to my ever-present travelling companion, Waze.

It was later though, in the wee hours of the night, that Mother Nature unleashed her fury. Which meant, by Wednesday morning, forty centimetres had fallen. I had some work to do, a few phone calls, a short webinar, and by 2:30 PM I was beginning to get cabin fever. And with that came the eventual decision to drive to Ottawa. I consulted the traffic-cams, both in and around Montreal, and then the same for Ottawa. To my surprise, the roads looked good. These were passable roads, Nearly bare roads.

And so off I set. Sure enough, except for a brief squall around Vankleek Hill, the roads were mostly wet. Not icy, not snow-covered, not slippery. Just wet.

How could this be? How could it be that, not even twenty four hours after a major dumping of snow, the road crews had not only made the highways passable, but had even rendered them perfectly safe? As though nothing more than a little bit of rain had fallen? These people, these people coordinating things, these people driving the plows and the graders and the salt-dispensing thingies, they’re magicians I tell you. Absolute magicians. And they’re not thanked anywhere near often enough.

All too often we come across a service we take for granted, a service that we consider not one iota. And today, after a safe and easy journey in conditions that were challenging at best, I thought I’d take a moment to say thanks for what is truly an under-appreciated service. So listen all you snow-clearing people, thank you! Thank you very much. Thank you for helping guys like me (and that person in her Ram pickup) get home with nary a scratch and barely a concern. Safe and sound, yeah, safe and sound.

So yeah, thanks guys, you really did a solid job.

What if?

I wrote this a few years back. I like to refer to it once in a while. I like to refer to it because, like any entrepreneur, I sometimes need something to motivate me. To cast away the self-doubt. The self-doubt that comes–part and parcel–with the world of self-employment. Anyway, I thought I’d put it up here; share here with anyone who’s considering taking that leap, that leap into self-employment, that leap onto a new and maybe scary project. That leap into the unknown.


What if?  You said, “I will” rather than, “I’ll try.”

What if?  There’s one person standing between you and your dream

What if? That one person is you

What if?  You have superpowers

What if?  You only need to realize you do

What if?  You said, “I’ll do it” rather than, “Someone should.”

What if?  You created opportunity rather than waited for it

What if?  It is rocket science, and you’re the only one with a Ph.D

What if?  Money does grow on trees

What if?  Your resourcefulness & imagination are the roots

What if?  You won’t enjoy doing nothing

What if?  It’s not about greed

What if?  Greed was illegal

What if?  Negativity is bad

What if?  Nothing is real

What if?  Everything is

What if?  Jagger had stayed at the London School of Economics

What if?  After being laughed off-stage, Charlie Parker had simply quit

What if?  Beethoven had said, “I’m deaf, I can’t write music.”

What if?  Robert Johnson hadn’t gone to the crossroads

What if?  Warhol only got 15 minutes too

What if?  Dreamers stopped dreaming

What if?  We’re all cheering you on

What if?  You’re not listening to us

What if?  Nothing is mutually exclusive

What if?  Everything is possible

What if?  Procrastination didn’t exist

What if?  Idleness was outlawed

What if?  Cartoons are real life

What if?  Real life is a cartoon

What if?  You listen to your heart

What if?  You ignore the negative chatter of naysayers

What if?  There’s no such thing as failure

What if?  The idea you’re hesitant to share is the one that will bowl us over

What if?  There’s a masterpiece inside you, just waiting to come out

What if?  The world is waiting for you

What if?  It’s you we’re all counting on

What if?  It’s all a dream

What if?  Dreams do come true


You’ve Got to Go

It’s mere days away. But it’s not too late to register. QuickBooks Connect. Downtown Toronto. Dec three-to-five.

You’ve got to go.

Why? If you’re a number-cruncher. A tax preparer. An IT type. If you have clients that rely on you. Then you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Our profession is changing. It’s transforming. Listen, I’ve been at this game more than twenty-five years. And never, never, have I seen our profession evolve. Never like it has in these last two, maybe three, years.  You’re a seasoned pro? You remember the dawn of the PC age? Think that was big? That’s nothing compared to today.

The dust has settled. Cloud is in. Cloud won.

The way we deal with data. The way we interact with clients. The tools we use. Our internal practice-management tools. Our client tools. Communication. On-boarding. Payment, Billing. It’s all changed.

You still keeping timesheets? You still using cheques? You still have legacy desktop software? Backups and software-versions? Well, that’s why you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Times have changed. Time are changing. You need–we all need–to keep up. Or get left behind.

QuickBooks Connect. You’ve got to go.

Is it Better Cold?

I love this place. I love le Vieux Québec.

I’m here for two days. Two nights and two days. Teaching QuickBooks Online. Got here early evening Tuesday, leaving Thursday night. After checking in yesterday, I walked around. Walked down La rue St-Louis, down to where you’ll find Le Chateau Frontenac. I took the funicular down to basse-ville. Walked past places I’d been before, Le Lapin Sauté, l’église Notre Dame des Victoires. It was all so evocative of earlier visits. Pleasant visits.

This morning I woke up promptly, walked in the early morning, pre-dawn light, down to la Rue St-Jean, got to Boulangerie Paillard at 7:00 AM. It had just opened.

There’s something about this city. It just feels right. It always feels right. But this time, if felt even better. It felt more whimsical, more expressive, more romantic.

After teaching QuickBooks all day, it was dusk. The sun was going down, the landmarks–those romantic gates cut in old stone walls–were lit up. Buildings too, they were all lit up. Light, playful light, shone on churches. Light shone on old homes converted into hotels (like the Manoir d’Auteil where I was staying), light shone on statues, carvings, walkways.

And the air too. It was crisp, it was cold. Not uncomfortably so, nothing distressing.

And that’s when it hit me. As much as I love Québec, can it even be better when it’s cold? Is it better when the sun sets in the early evening, and rises later in the day? Is Québec more memorable in the late fall when everything is lit up and there’s a nip in the air? Is it better at this time of year because (let’s face it) there are less people walking its beautiful, historic streets?

You know what? I think it is. I think Québec is better when it’s cold.

You walk quickly–you want to warm up. But you can’t help but pause and admire this old house, that beautiful church. Everything lit up.

There’s some kind of va et viens. There’s an anomaly, a contradiction in terms. It’s cold, you want to hurry and get indoors. But it’s too beautiful and you linger a little bit, talking in the sights. And when you finally do get inside, a cosy little restaurant, and you sip that single malt–pour me réchauffer–you tell the waiter, well even that first sip is made more vivid.

Hmm, maybe it’s true, maybe it really is so. Yeah, I do think it’s true. Québec is better when it’s cold.

That Gateway Thing

We were in Granby.

Granby, just east of Montreal, is a gateway kind of place. It’s where the rolling hills of the Eastern Townshops begin to make their presence felt. If you haven’t been there, the Eastern Townships are a picturesque part of the world. Luscious hills, sparkling lakes.

But I wasn’t there for that. I wasn’t there for the lakes or the hills. I was there for work. I was there to discuss QuickBooks Online (QBO). Me and about forty other number-crunchers.

Later on, driving back toward Montreal, cool jazz playing on the car stereo–Miles Davis, that kind of stuff–I reflected on the day’s discussion. The word “gateway” came up; there was a lot of talk of gateways. About the way that QBO facilitates the transferring and sharing of data.

That’s what I like, you know, about QuickBooks Online. It’s a gateway app. A gateway to third-party applications that lets you do, well, just about anything. Need point of sale? Need time tracking? Need cash flow management? Need scheduling and CRM and project management? Yeah, we got that. And then some.

You use an app to take pictures of a receipt. You bridge that app to QBO and you’re now using your phone’s camera to input expenses. Use another app, also via QBO’s gateway, and you can pay anyone electronically. No more cheques, no more stamps and no envelopes. I mean come on, cheques and stamps? That’s so 1990, isn’t it?

Soon enough, the talk turned to something else, another sort of gateway. The gateway between the practitioner and client. Lines of communications have narrowed. Roles strengthened. Support more immediate, and information more current and more relevant. All of a sudden, the practitioner/client relationship is closer, more in sync. There’s less talk of what happened six months ago, or last year. There’s less talk of how someone did something. And more talk about how to do something. And why to do it.

The mood changes. There’s less (as one of my dear clients once termed it) “rear-view-mirror” discussions and more “where are things going?” planning. More depth; more meaning. All because of that gateway thing.

Oh sure. There are some, still today, who won’t get onboard. And that’s OK. Some people don’t want to hear of gateways, and even less of cloud.

Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! What’s all this fuss about cloud?

Some don’t see the point. Some don’t get the benefits. My old software does this, my desktop software does that. And sure, that’s all good and true.

But it’s not about software. It’s about the philosophy of software. It’s about the way we think about it all. How are we going to use that software to strengthen relationships? To modernize the game? The playing field is larger, but the players are closer together. Things are more immediate, information more crucial and relays ever shorter. Today, we need to build communication, and support, and trust. And we need a gateway to do that. A really dynamic, really reliable gateway.

And that’s what stayed with me as I drove out of Granby, that gateway to the Eastern Townships. Gateways, everybody needs gateways.

It’s What Comes Out That Counts

Some people, in search of relaxation, play tennis; others chess or mahjong maybe. Me, to relax, I play the guitar. Except that, at times, this blasted instrument is not quite the stress buster I want it to be. Case in point: I was working on–and struggling with–a beautiful piece of music called Marieta. It’s an hypnotic piece, not overly complex (when compared to other contemporary pieces) but nuanced–a sneaky sort of nuanced.

Music is a cross between golf and, oh I don’t know, acting maybe. Like golf, it’s all about technique. And like acting, it’s the interpretation and interpersonal style that makes or breaks the end result. And it was frankly in all of that that I was struggling. I was tilting at windmills, trying to balance technique (the accurate placement on the fingerboard), interpretation (loud when the piece called for it, and soft when it didn’t) and style (making the whole thing cohesive and compelling).

Over and over, I started and restarted the piece–bar after bar–getting at times impatient and at other times impatient and frustrated.

And then a thought hit me. Instead of focusing on how to pluck the strings and how to position my fingers, what if I tried it with the other side of the instrument in mind? What if, while playing, I actually listened to what was coming out of my guitar? What if I tried to experience the whole process as a listener rather than a technician?

And you know what? Strange as that might appear, it actually worked. Focusing on the outcome made me more attentive to what I wanted to achieve. And that felt good.

And then, a little later, another thought hit home. And it was this. How often, as entrepreneurs and advisors, do we focus only on the effort that we put into a project? How often do we lose sight on what our customers are “hearing”–on what they’re experiencing? I mean, let’s face it, all too often, we’re solely focused on the technical side of the work we perform. Too many of us are all too self-aware and self-obsessed with the required skill and acquired dexterity of the oh-so-important work that we do. Which begs the question. Do any of us ever stop, even for a minute, to imagine what the person sitting on the other side of our desk is getting from all this? How often do we pause to consider the client perspective–the customer perception? Sad to say, for too many of us, the answer is, not very often.

And so, as entrepreneurs, as advisors and business owners, we’re missing the boat. We’re focusing on inputs rather than outcomes. And we’re losing a key opportunity to make our service more client-centric. So hear’s (get it?) a suggestion; let’s tune our ears so that we can listen from our clients’ perspective. Let’s view our work the way they might view it. And maybe that way we’ll solidify, even further, the client relationship. And we’ll all  enjoy the overall sound of success.

Great News if You’re an Accountant

Journal Entries. We accountants, we love our journal entries, right? Love them so much there’s even an accountant’s credo. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a neat and tidy journal entry. Yeah, journal entries, they’re the WD40 of number crunching; the duct tape of data entry.

And yet, for accountants, there’s always been a bit of a problem–a perfect storm of frustration–that would come crashing down whenever three particular elements converged all at once. And those three elements were:

  • QuickBooks Online
  • Journal Entries
  • Sales Tax Accounts

You know what I’m talking about right? I have certainly written about it before. Even offered a nifty workaround.

But now (well, as of mere weeks ago actually) it’s all good. If you’re an accountant, and you want to record a journal entry in QuickBooks Online, and you want–in that journal entry–to debit or credit a sales tax account. Well, go ahead. Knock yourself out. It’ll all work out. You won’t mess anything up and everything will remain in sync and in balance. All thanks to a new feature that adds a Sales Tax column in the journal entry window, a column that  now allows you to pick a destination line number on the corresponding sales tax return.

Which means, with this new feature, the GL and the sales tax report will always be in sync. No more out-of-balance reports. No more head scratching. No more adjustments. Which also means that your clients will, once again, view you–the fearless accountant–as the rock star that you truly are.

Right?

 

Yes, You Can

There’s been talk, a lot of talk, regarding QBO and sales taxes. The gist of that talk, of course, is about the inability to mix journal entries and sales tax accounts.

The fail is known by most of us. To recap, it goes like this. Debit or credit a sales tax account and, yes of course, QBO will update the general ledger. However, what QBO won’t do is capture that amount in the sales tax reports. And it won’t reflect it in the File Sales Tax routine either. Which means you’ll end up overpaying or—perhaps even worse—underpaying the sales taxes owed to CRA or other government agency.

This is not a good thing. And we all therefore go out of our way to avoid mixing jounral entries and sales tax accounts.

But did you know you can use a journal entry for sales tax accounts? And did you know that it actually works? What I mean is that, not only will QBO update the GL but the sales tax reports as well?

All it takes is a little workaround, and a clearing account. Here, let me show how to do it.

Let’s say you want to record a $50.00 GST credit. And let’s say you also want to debit a revenue account for the same amount.

The first step involves grossing up the sales tax amount. All  you need to do is figure out the grossed up amount of the aforementioned $50.00. In other words, assuming that the $50.00 reflects GST, then you have divide that fifty bucks by five percent. Which gives you a grossed up amount of $1,000. And that, right there, is the hardest part. You’re now ready to record your journal entry. Don’t forget, though, that you also need that clearing account I mentioned earlier.

OK? Alright then, let’s record the journal entry

Start by crediting $1000 to a clearing account. Then, choose GST in the sales tax column. Notice what QBO does at the bottom of the window? It adds a $50 credit to GST.

Now, debit $1,000 to that same clearing account. What you end up with, of course, is a wash. In other words, those two clearing account entries cancel each other out. Which means your final step is to debit $50.00 to your desired revenue account and, voila! Job done.

Using this method will mean that your GL and sales tax reports are always in balance. If you don’t believe me (and it’s OK that you don’t, you’re an accountant. You’re paid to be skeptical), here’s proof.

Here’s the GL: 

And here’s the Sales Tax report:

So there you go. Journal entries and sales tax accounts. Yes, you can.

Kinda cool, no?