Eric Hjortness is a Certified Public Accountant, with 25 years experience in both public and private accounting.
Hjortness & Associates prides itself on providing outstanding service to their clients. This means phone calls returned within 24 hours, usually the same day. They are dedicated to four underlying principles – professionalism, responsiveness, quality and respect.
MO: What influenced you to start your own firm, instead of working for someone else? What challenges did you face when first setting up the company?
Eric: I didn’t want to – but the firm I worked with was too cheap, I had four kids, and I couldn’t afford to work for them anymore. I was bringing in $100,000 a year on computer consulting and business taxes, all due to referrals from the consulting, and they were paying me $30,000, and I got a $1000 raise. But what really made the decision was when I went to an out-of-town client and asked for a check for the day’s work – it was higher than my payroll check, which was for two weeks! Yikes!
MO: Have always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
Eric: No. I wanted to be responsible for the strategy and decision-making within a company, but I wanted the security blanket of a larger company with a guaranteed salary. I had a degree in Management, and realized that it was useless without knowledge in a particular type of business. I liked accounting in high school, and I liked the fact that it was a profession with a license, so that’s what I did.
MO: What are some of the ways that you build trust with you clients?
Eric: This is crucial in our business. The industry is gravitating toward value-billing, and selling financial services – so to build trust we do NOT do that. We bill people by the hour, we list out on our invoices what we did, much more-so than our competitors. We call people back, which I think is VERY important. And I hire honest people who are straight-forward. Trust is something people can see, so if you treat them with respect they’ll pick up on that.
MO: What makes you better or different than your competitors?
Eric: First, we never say we’re better – we simply say that there is no one better than us. We always have two professionals with over 10 years experience work on every piece of paper with our name on it – we are paranoid about making a mistake, or missing a potential deduction. We have thorough checklists, and we let the people see them so they know we are professionals. And we show our clients respect – we call them back right away, we call them sir or miss, and we ask a lot of questions. It’s not that other CPA firms don’t do that – it’s an effort to achieve excellence, and be proud of your work.
MO: What are some of the most common issues you see people have when it comes to filing their taxes?
Eric: I’m afraid there isn’t that much they have in common, other than the fact that everyone has to pay them! If they own a house they usually itemize (unless they are depression era seniors who’ve already paid off all of their debts). Many of them give to charity and don’t keep track of these deductions. I think what we enjoy so much about taxes is that everyone is so different – you really have to get to know them, and on a very private and personal level. We may be the only people they meet all year that they confide in, and you have to be very respectful and appreciative of that.
MO: If a friend was going to start their own accounting firm, what advice would you give them?
Eric: Buy an existing practice – Don’t do it from scratch like I did. It’s too hard. I would strongly suggest buying a practice from an older CPA who has a good personality, someone who will let you in on their network. Almost all CPAs are good technicians, but they are terrible at marketing – so, in a land of blind men, a one-eyed man is king. The CPA who is friendly and outgoing has a major advantage over the technician. Finally, remember that your customers are your number one, and cheapest, referral source. Be good to them and they will be good to you.
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