Carol Aikins: Going Live

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Carol Aikins started her tax practice in 1987 working out of her home. Now she’s one of the most popular accounting professionals on Intuit’s Live Tax Advice Center.

Before the tax center, Aikins, based in Anaheim, Calif., had built her 16 years of experience on word-of-mouth referrals. Her business grew and in 1998 she began providing services as a QuickBooks Pro Advisor. But nothing prepared her for the surge in business once she joined the online program last year. "At first I was appalled by the idea. I thought an online service, you have to be kidding me--it’s going to be all psychics and sex lines,’" says Aikins. "Now I get as many as 40 calls a day from new clients needing guidance in preparing their tax returns."

The Live Tax Advice center links Intuit’s QuickBooks, TurboTax, and MasterBuilder users with professionals such as Aikins, who are ready and willing to answer all tax questions. The Live Advice Center hosted by keen.com, enables accountants to develop a profile that showcases their expertise on tax and accounting matters.

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Professionals enlist by visiting www.TurboTax.com. Participants choose a tag line, profile, price, and opt from e-mail, telephone or online chat as the preferred method of communication with clients.

Aikins’ tag line is "small business tax expert," and she focuses on small-to-medium-sized businesses and sole proprietors--most of her clients are doctors, business owners, and attorneys.

After tax season, the majority of Aikins’ business is write-up work and QuickBooks consulting. "As a QuickBooks Advisor, I provide assistance in establishing a company set-up such as chart of accounts, company configurations, and configuring the QuickBooks system to adapt to the company’s normal transaction activities," she says. Besides using QuickBooks, she also uses Sage’s BusinessWorks and Accpac’s Simply Accounting for write-up. Using three packages enables her to reach more customers, she says.

Aikins finds herself swamped during tax season, especially now with the success of the Live Advice Center. She estimates she spends half the day completing corporate returns and half the day answering calls from the Advice center. During tax season, she can complete about 10 tax returns per day, and her average daily billing is an estimated $700. "I have no life during tax season. I make myself available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. My rule is simple: If I’m not focused on my family or another client, I’ll simply activate my profile on the Live Tax Advice Center and let the calls come in," says Aikins.

As of March, Aikins had received 1,600 calls at a $2- per-minute charge, which is split between Aikins and Keen. "The average call ranges from three to five minutes--some even up to 30 minutes--so this service is already making a difference to my practice’s bottom line," she adds.

Aikins also enjoys the ability to share her industry-specific expertise, and the convenience of the Live Advice Center. Almost all questions can be answered quickly. For example, one client called to have Aikins check depreciation numbers that weren’t coming up right. "Over the phone, I couldn’t see what was wrong, but I had the client e-mail me the file. I saw what was wrong, and was able to fix it in minutes," she says.

Making a busy tax season run smoothly is often difficult. But, Aikins has found the use of Web-based organizers and supporting customers via the Web makes work a little easier. "I have one client I have never even spoken to. We communicate only through e-mail and fax. I access his server, download the accounting information, make month-end adjustments, and reconcile all from the Web," she adds.

She has 30 clients using Intuit’s ProSeries Web-based organizer. Client data entered into the organizer is then imported into the tax program. "It has a few bugs, but overall it is faster and more accurate than re-entering the data into the tax program," she says.

Best of all, the Live Tax Advice Center provides a platform for Aikins to market her skills to millions of potential clients with a minimum investment and a maximum return. "My practice is now attractive to individuals and businesses not just in my local area, but across the country. Not to mention, the Live Advice Center has increased revenue by 99 percent of what it was last year," says Aikins.


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