Outlook Secrets for CPAs

Are you an Outlook user looking for ways to operate this powerful platform more effectively? There are many helpful aspects of Outlook that many users overlook.

Here are some recent tips from David Ringstrom, CPA.

1. Did you know…There’s a free macro that can prompt you if you send a message without a subject line:  www.codeproject.com/KB/office/outlookblanksubject.aspx

2. Most e-mail systems impose a 10 MB limit on the size of e-mail attachments and there are some types of files you cannot attach. But, there are various free sites on the Internet that enable you to send restricted or large files. You can try:

www.yousendit.com (Lite Account), Free Outlook plug‐in available
www.dropsend.com (Free account)
www.transferbigfiles.com (Free account)
www.dropbox.com (Free account)

3. To sort your inbox (or any folder) on multiple columns, hold down the Shift key and click another column to sort based on two columns.

4. Overloaded with emails? In Outlook you can use “rules” to manage your email. Rules can sort e‐mail into folders and even reply automatically. Although it takes time to develop rules in Outlook, the payoff over time is tremendous.

5. Push “send” too hastily? Retracting an e-mail is possible when you’re on an Exchange Server, the e-mail was sent internally, and the recipient has not yet read the message.

For further insights into how to get the most out of Outlook, including numerous add‐on tools, that extend Outlook’s capabilities, view David Ringstrom’s free on-demand webcast, Outlook Secrets for CPAs.

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Mobile Learning is Here!

Over the past three years as an online CPE provider, CPE Link’s national webcast audience has grown, mobile learning has also advanced.

Mobile learning (or m-learning) allows the student to access the information from virtually anywhere—which supports today’s widespread work-from-anywhere lifestyle. It is an especially good fit for today’s accountant.

Given the popularity of tablet devices for both work and play, it was a natural evolution that we use tablets for learning as well. They are portable and so easy to use. To participate in one of CPE Link’s live webcasts using a mobile device, the user simply downloads the “Adobe Connect Mobile” app onto his/her device—Apple iOS or Android. On the day of the webcast, the learner logs in to join the class. The Adobe Connect app launches automatically. There are minor differences for the mobile user–such as the way to answer a polling question and toggle back to the main presentation view. But, overall the webcast experience is the same using the mobile app as it is on a PC.

Seeing the number of mobile users in its webcasts grow, CPE Link quickly responded by gearing up to support these attendees. Webcast hosts tested both Apple and Android devices, added instructions for mobile participants to the FAQ web page, and primed the customer service team to answer questions.

Mobile learning is here and CPE Link is ready!

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Law Basics for Accountants: How to Write Better Contracts

As certain as death and taxes, accountants are sure to brush up against the law in the daily practice of their profession. “Every accountant needs a good working knowledge of the every-day legal matters that affect their clients financially,” says CPE Link instructor, Paul Jorgensen, founder of a Washington, DC law firm specializing in intellectual property and contract law. “A basic knowledge of the legal concepts involving contracts, intellectual property law, and the Internet makes you a more valuable financial professional. It helps you know when to enlist a lawyer and to recognize bad or wasteful lawyering,” says Jorgensen.

When he teaches accountants about basics of law, Jorgensen likes to start with contracts. Non-lawyers often think that contracts have to sound legal and the more legal-sounding the better. Nothing could be further from the truth, says Jorgensen. There’s a lot of bad legal writing out there and bad writing should send up red warning flags.

When it comes to the language of contracts, several rules apply. One is that “Simple words are best.” Start is better than commence. If is better than in the event that. Later is better than subsequent.

Another is “Always reject the passive voice.” Passive voice leaves too many questions, never a good thing in a contract.

Bad: “Use of Services shall be paid for by Tenant. Payments shall be received monthly for such Services.” Who uses the services? Who provides them? What are the payments for? Who receives them? How much are they?

Better: “Tenant will pay Landlord $65 for the Services on the third day of each month during the term of the contract.”

Once you cut through the bad legal writing, it’s easier to understand the essential contract provisions, not only in the contracts that accountants review for clients, but also in the contracts they make.

How often do you review contracts in which your client is a party? Do you always understand them?

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5 Things CPAs Should Know about Excel Macros

This list comes courtesy of David Ringstrom, CPA, CPE Link instructor and Excel expert.

1. Macros are programming code that you can add to your Excel spreadsheets to automate repetitive tasks. Macros can be as simple as a single line of code to carry out a task, such as typing your company’s name. Other macros interact with accounting programs, download data from the Internet, or collect information from users via custom forms—you’re often limited only by your imagination.

2. You don’t need to know anything about programming. Excel’s Macro Recorder feature makes it easy to create your own macros. Think of it as Excel’s version of a camcorder, where you click Record and have the actions you carry out transformed into programming code that you can play back over and over. This allows you to automate simple tasks such as cleaning up a text file that you download from a web site.

3. Many of the tools that you use for macros in Excel 2007 and 2010 reside on a hidden Developer tab. In Excel 2007, click the Show the Developer tab checkbox on the first Excel Options window. In Excel 2010, right-click on the ribbon, choose Customize the Ribbon, and then click the checkbox for the Developer tab. You’ll find the Macro Recorder button on the Developer tab, as well as a Visual Basic button that enables you to get behind-the-scenes to your macros in the Visual Basic Editor.

4. You don’t have to create your own macros. Programming isn’t for everyone, but knowing that it’s possible to have a tool that carries out a repetitive task dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times can be a huge time saver for your company. You can hire an expert to create a macro-enabled spreadsheet that allows you to accomplish your task with the click of a button.

5. The best way to learn about macros in Excel is to have a project in mind that you wish to automate. Many of Excel’s features seem to fall into the category of “why would I want to know how to do that”, but given the proper context you have that “Oh! I get it!” moment.

If you find yourself carrying out the same steps over and over again in Excel, try experimenting with the Macro Recorder, or do a Google search on automating your task. You’ll be surprised at the wealth of information that’s just a click away!

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Tax and Non-Tax Issues During ‘Bad Situations’

Life is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and many of them lead to unpleasant places.

CPE Link instructor Arthur Joseph Werner teaches a calm, rational approach when helping clients navigate life’s rocky road. It’s important for the practitioner to understand clearly — and thus help the client understand — the tax and non-tax issues related to divorce and what he calls other “bad situations.”

Personal bankruptcy, cancellation of debt, foreclosure, repossession and reporting of bad debts all require expert handling. Werner teaches just what planning considerations and potential problems practitioners should watch for.

In the often messy areas of personal relationships, there’s a lot to take into consideration. Werner points out that practitioners must be up on the latest surrounding support issues and tax treatment of back child support, as well as less conventional problems.

The odds are very good that practitioners will have more than a few clients facing such issues. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report, marriages in the country hit an all-time low in 2009, the most recent statistics available.

In some states there are more marriages but also more divorces. For example, in North Carolina 19 marriages took place for every 1,000 of the state’s women in 2009, compared to a rate of 17.6 marriages for women throughout the country as a whole.

However, women in North Carolina had a divorce rate of 10.3 percent per 1,000, up from the country’s overall 9.7 percent. Other Southern states also had relatively high marriage and divorce rates.

Couples who live together, or who do — or do not — have premarital agreements, present a completely separate set of tax and non-tax issues that must be managed. Also on the table are married versus unmarried tax rate comparisons, head of household status and marital property rules.

Werner is a shareholder in the lecture firm of Werner-Rocca Seminars. His areas of expertise include business, tax, financial and estate planning. He’s also an adjunct professor of taxation at Philadelphia University.

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A&A Updates: The Beat Goes On

Whether your financial practice is in the public sector, industry, government, education, or somewhere else entirely, one of your to-do list essentials is keeping up with the latest accounting and auditing rule changes.

CPE Link instructor Russ Madray points out that monthly A&A updates mean not only following new number-crunching techniques, but also reviewing the latest in areas such as ethics and client confidentiality.

Madray is president of The Madray Group, an author, lecturer and adjunct professor at Clemson University. He says that every month there are new accounting issues, new audit issues, new compilation and review issues — and it’s never exactly the same mix.

For example, in late summer SSARS 19 revised reporting requirements for a review engagement to provide more transparency.

“When you review financial statements for a client,” he says, “Identify the financial statements reviewed in the opening paragraph, describe management’s responsibility for the financial statements in a second paragraph, describe the accountant’s responsibility in a third paragraph, and describe the results of the engagement in the fourth paragraph.”

Madray says that earlier standards “did not provide a framework for the level of assurance you were seeking to obtain. As a result, some review engagements were performed by blindly using an illustrative checklist rather than applying professional judgment to tailor the nature and extent of review procedures to the client’s situation.”

Are the majority of financial statements you prepare based on GAAP? Or International Financial Reporting Standards or Other Comprehensive Basis of Accounting? Whatever you use, there are various fine points of each month’s changes that you need to know.

A proposed financial interest change, for example, provides new guidance on evaluating potential threats to integrity and objectivity and applying appropriate safeguards when necessary.

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What’s the ‘Happiness Factor’ of Your Business?

Gearing up for Fall? Now is the perfect time to sit back, take a deep breath, and re-evaluate your tax business and how it’s performing for you.

CPE Link instructor Dominique Molina points out, “They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and adds that a critical reassessment of the health of your tax business is just the apple you need for good financial health.

Molina points out just a few of the key questions practitioners should ask themselves:
• Do you know the value of a client?
• Do you have a dashboard to stay in touch with your business from anywhere?
• Have you created an individual, tailor-made business model?

Molina, co-founder and president of the American Institute of Certified Tax Coaches and an author and frequent lecturer, also urges practitioners to look below the surface at the “happiness factor” of their business.

That factor, she says, is made up of a range of variables that include “relationships, meaningful and important work, progress toward goals, and connecting to something larger than yourself.”

In the more nuts and bolts area of running a successful and satisfying business, Molina says practitioners should consider whether they “offer real value” and also whether the values of their customers have changed over time.

She urges practitioners to be more eclectic, broaden their scope and offer an array of services so that they serve varying needs of their clients.

And she says that to keep your financial house in order, make sure you always have a clear view of which of your services and products are the most popular.

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Leveraging Facebook, Twitter for Professional Growth

If your experience with Facebook is limited to viewing pictures of your co-worker’s cats and snooping into your son’s party plans, you’re missing out on a major professional tool.

So says CPE Link instructor Garrett Wasny, a web productivity consultant who advises financial professionals on Internet discovery and social media.

“With so much of our professional and personal lives spent online,” Wasny says, “this knowledge is beyond relevant. It is the absolute core of how we gather information, make decisions and live our lives in today’s digital age.”

In fact, Wasny says, a thorough understanding of social media such as Facebook and micro-blogging site Twitter can be used to build your practice, network and career.

Facebook counts more than half the U.S. population among its users, and Wasny says there’s a lot to consider: How to register and control privacy, how accounting organizations use its services across the globe, and how to leverage its tools to boost online productivity, workflow, communication and collaboration.

Twitter is a free micro-blogging service that allows users to send and receive “tweets” — text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Those tweets can seem like the height of self-involvement (@kittykat Im goin to make that soup u talked about #whatieatfordinner).

However, Wasny points out that since its rollout in 2006, Twitter “has been embraced by everyone from Senator John McCain to Britney Spears and grabbed headlines all over the world.”

But with financial professionals “already overwhelmed with e-mails, overloaded with websites, and swamped with Facebook friends, do they really need one more Internet service in their professional and personal lives?” Wasny says the service can be used for business research, network building, marketing, recruitment, reputation management, idea sharing, regulation monitoring and much more.

Turns out social media isn’t just about how much beer your kid drank last night and what kittykat is having for dinner.

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Professional Education: How We Learn

We all seek out education for different reasons. According to a recent poll of association executives, the top five motivators for participating in continuing education programs are:

1. To keep up to date professionally. (No small feat in today’s rapidly changing regulatory environment!)
2. To increase competence in your job
3. To learn completely new skills or knowledge
4. To maintain or improve skills or knowledge you already have.
5. To increase your self-confidence as a professional or practitioner

Although face-to-face is still the learning format of choice for the majority of practitioners, the tide is turning towards online delivery. Web-based education bypasses some of the barriers of classroom education such as being too expensive or requiring travel.

The webinar/webcast format also brings CPAs many “extras” that have always been important to them in the learning process.

• Access to the materials before the program; users can download the course materials (PPT and any supplementary) before the program.
• Access to the instructor; Users can submit a question for the speaker before, during or after the program.
• Supplemental resources; Bonus resources are made available when applicable. For instance, this last year CPE Link provided the entire compiled Q&A from our Federal Tax Update programs.

Webcasts appeal to all kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners are kept engaged when they mouse click to answer polling questions or raise their hand. Visual learners enjoy the PowerPoint slide presentation and screen sharing that most instructors do. And, of course, auditory learners are served with listening to the presenter via VOIP or teleconference.

And everyone can benefit from repetition to reinforce learning. CPE Link allows webcast attendees access to the recording for three months following the live event.

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Social Learning: The Future of CPE?

I attended a meeting last week hosted by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). As a CPE Sponsor, we follow the rules set by this agency for administering CPE credits to our nationwide audience of CPAs, EAs, and CFPs. There are some proposed changes to the standards under discussion–mostly focused on requirements the course developers need to satisfy.

What really intrigued me though was the topic of “social learning.” During the conference, we heard from several learning experts who shared information about how people learn and how today’s technology is being used for informal learning. Interesting stuff.

I have to admit that it was disheartening to hear a learning expert explain that classroom learning is not how our brains are built to learn and that only 10% of our learning comes from formal training of any kind. It’s on the job training where we really learn and retain information. Because it is social and built on a model of collaboration and trial and error which is how we learn best.

If this is true, are we using an outdated model for our continuing education requirements? We haven’t even begun to figure out how to track professional learning from a means other than traditional classroom style learning. Even the new version of the classroom (live webinar/webcast) is still built on the old model of measuring contact time (namely the 50 minute hour).

It struck me that CPE Link and other CPE sponsors may be spending too much time focused on the quality of the content, when it may be that the delivery system is becoming just as important a measure of successful learning for the end user – the CPA.

Hearing speeches titled “The World has Changed, So Why Not Higher Education?”and “Learning with Avatars: How Virtual Worlds are Redefining the Classroom,” makes me worry that our industry is lagging little bit behind the times.

What do you think the future of continuing education will look like?

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