Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Craft Emails That Get Responses

Tired of writing emails that don’t get answers? Following a few guidelines and thinking of your communications in a different way can help you get better results.
The Art of Manliness says to treat each email as a pitch. Bloggers Brett and Kate McKay write, “What you’re pitching is the idea that you’re worth responding to — and that can be a tough sell.”
The McKays offer a list of tips for crafting your emails — some obvious, some less so:
  • Respect the recipient’s time and make sure the email is necessary
  • Begin with a salutation
  • Type your email address correctly in the contact form
  • Address the email to a specific person or people
  • Spell the recipient’s name right
  • Build rapport before getting down to business
  • Keep your email short and to the point
  • Make your request crystal clear
  • Don’t be a tease (be forthcoming with what you want and what you have to offer)
  • If you have a website, link to it
  • Don’t use ALL CAPS or all lowercase
  • Proofread and spell-check
  • Close with a valediction
  • Return the favor (do what you can to support their website or business)
  • Follow up (but only once!)
That blog entry links to another blog, Think Simple Now, with its own guidelines for effective emails. It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient, who likely “Gets a lot of email; may receive compliments regularly, if they are a public figure; regularly gets asked a standard set of questions and favors; does not have a lot of free time; does not mind helping you, if it is fast.”

That blog entry also contains a list of 15 tips for effective emails:
  • Determine your desired outcome
  • Quickly answer the question, “What’s the point?”
  • State benefits clearly
  • Remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
  • Stick to the facts
  • Pretend you’re involved in a face-to-face introduction
  • Imagine you’re sending a text message rather than an email
  • Avoid excessive compliments
  • Be personal and personable
  • Make it easy to be found
  • Use simple English
  • Use the correct font
  • Use proper, easy-to-read formatting
  • Minimize questions (and ask questions that truly matter)
  • Reread your email and trim unnecessary words before sending
What are your email pet peeves? What tactics are guaranteed to get you to hit “Reply” (or “Delete”)? Sound off in the comments.

Monday, April 23, 2012

From Accountant to NFL Tight End?

From CPA to NFL? Not exactly. But what Les Brown is trying to pull off is pretty close.

Ben Maller of Yahoo! Sports blog ThePostGame wrote a story last week on Brown, a former accountant at a private equity firm in West Palm Beach, Fla. Brown played basketball at Westminster College in Utah before dropping out to take a full-time job offer at Huntsman Gay Global Capital. (Incidentally, that firm’s co-founder is Jon Huntsman, Sr., father of the former Republican presidential hopeful of the same name.)

Brown left that job and returned to Utah to finish his degree. While helping his brother, an offensive lineman at Brigham Young University (BYU), prepare for the NFL draft, he met a trainer who offered to help him pursue his own NFL dreams.
Brown, who played football in high school but concentrated on hoops in college, worked out at BYU’s pro day and impressed enough to earn a contract offer with the Miami Dolphins.
Even if it took a potential accountant out of the ranks in Utah and Florida, Les Brown looks like a guy worth rooting for. If Brown makes the Dolphins, the team might pick up some accounting-minded fans.

Read more about Brown in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Past Leaders’ Institute Attendees Turned Future Industry Leaders

The May 4 deadline to apply for the 2012 Leaders’ Institute on June 22–24 at the Inn at Virginia Tech & Skelton Conference Center is almost here! If you’re part of the class of 2013 or 2014, we hope you’ll join us! Here’s what past attendees have to say about the event:
"Whether you know you want to be an accountant or you simply know you enjoy that field of knowledge and aren’t sure yet where your future will take you, I would recommend attending the Leaders’ Institute. In one weekend, the Leaders’ Institute brings together college students, recently licensed CPAs and experts from the accounting field from all over Virginia, to share and collaborate on experiences, interests and knowledge of the accounting profession and it truly feels like a collaboration between the students and the professionals. I recall asking some of the speakers why they attend events such as the Leaders’ Institute. Several replied that it was because they, too, learn from the students and share the same passion for the industry as the students do. Being able to spend a weekend surrounded by that kind of enthusiasm and interest will leave you feeling full of hope and possibilities."

— Sara Crabtree
    Graduate Student, Old Dominion University
    2011 Leaders’ Institute Attendee

"Networking. It's not WHAT you know, but it's WHO you know. I hear this statement in just about every event, meeting and lecture I attend, and I rapidly learned early in the interviewing process just how true this statement is. By attending the Leaders' Institute, not only did I make friends with other student accountants all over Virginia, but I also met numerous CPAs and accounting professionals who offered their advice, discussed internship and job opportunities, among many other topics.
I can hardly begin to explain how much I have come to appreciate the opportunity to attend the event. In the not quite three days that we were in Blacksburg, we learned not only the steps that we needed to take in our careers, but how to be, look and act like the professionals that we are destined to become."

— Denise Widner
Student, Bridgewater College
    2010 Leaders’Institute Attendee

"I can say with conviction that the Leaders’ Institute has been a significant catalyst in my journey to a career in public accounting. The quality of the people that I met there, both professionals and students, was exceptional. I had many conversations during the program that I continue to refer back to, and I have contacts from that weekend that I continue to communicate with currently. These resources have helped to carry me forward as I prepare for the next step, and I believe that every accounting student with the desire to succeed as a professional should make every effort to participate in this amazing program.

The Leaders’ Institute provided me with a multitude of opportunities that I never would have had otherwise. From a mock interview with the managing shareholder of a public accounting firm to an etiquette dinner with the one and only Kathleen Harvey Harshberger, the program was truly unique and invaluable."

— Matt Richards
    Student, Old Dominion University
    2011 Leaders' Institute Attendee

The 2012 Leaders' Institute takes place on June 2224, 2012, at the Inn at Virginia Tech & Skelton Conference Center. Applications are due by May 4, 2012. For more information and to apply, visit

Monday, April 16, 2012

Changes to Virginia Retirement System: On the Right Track?

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently approved sweeping changes to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) while proposing several technical amendments to related bills. Changes include reduced pension benefits for employees with less than five years of service and an entirely new type of retirement plan for state and local employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014.

The changes, included in HB 1130, consist of three components:
  • Changes in benefits effective Jan. 1, 2013 — including changes to requirements for years of service before retirement, the average final compensation and multiplier used to calculate benefits and a 3 percent per year cap on cost-of-living adjustments — for state and local employees hired since July 1, 2010, and current employees with less than five years of service
  • Creation of a mandatory hybrid plan for all state and local employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2014, except for hazardous-duty employees such as police and firefighters, that will combine reduced pension benefits and a 401(k)-style contribution plan
  • A statutory commitment for the General Assembly and Governor to gradually adopt the same method of calculating retirement rates for teachers and state employees as the VRS Board of Trustees, with a requirement that the state must fully fund the VRS rates by 2018–2020
Click here to read more details on the changes at For more information, read an opinion article in Virginia Business magazine from VSCPA member Jim Shepherd, CPA. Bond-rating agency Moody's Investor Services said the reforms were "credit positive" (PDF).

What are your thoughts on the changes? Is Virginia on the right track to maintain control of its finances?

Five Years Later, a Connection With a Victim

Like many people her age, Kerry Inger, CPA, was saddened by the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, despite not having a personal connection to the attacks. Now she’s studying where the tragedy occurred, working side-by-side with one person who lives with the effects of the shooting every day.

Inger (right) is the 2011–2012 recipient of the VSCPA Educational Foundation's Austin M. Cloyd, Matthew G. Gwaltney and Maxine S. Turner Doctoral Scholarship, now known as the Virginia Tech Doctoral Scholarship. The award is given in memory of three Virginia Tech students from Virginia accounting families who were killed in the April 16, 2007, shooting.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the shootings, and the VSCPA and the Foundation are honoring the victims this week. Click here to learn about the Foundation's Day of Remembrance efforts and how you can participate.
Inger, who was working in the Atlanta tax practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers when the tragedy occurred, is in her last semester of her accounting Ph.D. program. She meets regularly with her dissertation advisor, Dr. Bryan Cloyd, whose daughter, Austin, was one of 33 students and teachers killed in the tragedy.
"He has been a great mentor and I feel honored to have the opportunity to work with him,” she said.

Cloyd was actually a major reason that Inger chose Virginia Tech for her doctoral work. The director of the University of Florida’s (UF) Fisher School of Accounting recommended Cloyd as an advisor. After a campus visit and interview, Inger knew that Blacksburg was the place for her.
Before going back to school, Inger spent one year as an independent consultant after a four-year stint at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UF.
Inger was drawn to accounting for a reason you don’t often hear — glamor. She came in contact with an accountant in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fla., who worked with the band Creed.
“Although I have not worked with any rock-and-roll bands, and the career was not quite as glamorous as I thought, it has been a great field,” she said. “I can say that I love accounting.”
While Inger enjoyed her tax work, the idea of teaching accounting never left her mind. She had taken note of several happy professors during her master’s education at UF and decided to enter academia herself. “My professors really seemed to enjoy their jobs,” she said. “I was happiest at my job when I was training and recruiting, so teaching at the college level seemed like a natural fit.”
For all the happiness she gets from teaching, Inger is inspired by her Virginia Tech mentor, who experienced some of the most profound sadness imaginable. Austin Cloyd was 19 years old when she was killed and was active in the community, going on church missions to rural Appalachia to help rehabilitate homes.

The Cloyd family has kept her generous spirit alive, asking for donations in her honor to the Appalachia Service Project, a program that repairs dilapidated houses in poor mountain communities. They have participated in house-repair trips themselves and brought hundreds of Virginia Tech students with them.

Inger has seen firsthand the effects of Austin’s death on the Cloyd family and the positivity of their remembrances of her life. She is honored to be a recipient of the scholarship that bears Austin Cloyd’s name after she lost her life so tragically.
“Although I had no ties to Virginia Tech at the time, I felt such sorrow for the families of the victims and the community as a whole,” Inger said.
Inger now has a family of her own, including a one-year-old son, Marlowe. She enjoys spending time outdoors with Marlowe, her husband, Matthew, and their two dogs. She’ll graduate in May and already has a job lined up as an assistant accounting professor at Auburn University, but Southwest Virginia will always have a special place in her heart.

“My favorite place used to be the beach,” she said, “but having lived in Blacksburg, the mountains are now at the top of my list.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Celebrate Tax Day With Some Special Deals

Tax season ends next week with the federal tax deadline on Tuesday, April 17! Several Virginia merchants are offering special deals to celebrate the occasion — and you don’t have to be a CPA to enjoy all of them. We’ll keep updating this list (organized by date) as we find out about new deals.
  • Arby’s is offering free curly fries from April 13–17. Print out a coupon on the company Facebook page starting Friday.
  • Bruegger’s in Northern Virginia is offering its Big Bagel Bundle — 13 bagels and two tubs of cream cheese — for $10.40 (get it?) The offer is good April 13–17.
  • If you’re looking for a quick getaway, the Inn at Riverbend in Pearisburg is offering a good deal for the weekend. If you stay April 15–16, they’ll refund $75 off your total stay if you note TAX DAY REFUND in your reservation.
  • Office Depot is offering 25 free black-and-white copies and free shredding of up to 5 pounds of paper through April 16.
  • Online retailer is offering a tax day discount April 16 good for 10.40 percent off. Use the code “TAXDAYSAVING” at checkout.
  • Chili’s is offering a free appetizer or dessert with an entrée purchase, good April 16–18. Use this coupon to get the deal.
  • HydroMassage is offering free massages from April 16–20. Print out a coupon on the company website and redeem it for a free massage. Be sure to call ahead to schedule your massage. You can find out if your closest location is participating on that site — currently, it lists sites in Abingdon, Alexandria, Centreville, Charlottesville, Chesapeake, Covington, Fairfax Station, Fredericksburg, Herndon, King George, Lynchburg, Manassas, Midlothian, Newport News, Norton, Richmond, Staunton, Stephens City and Wise.
  • Participating Qdoba Mexican Grill locations are offering $5 chicken entrees with a coupon available on the company Facebook page. The offer is good through April 17.
  • Cinnabon is offering two free Cinnabon Bites at participating locations from 6–8 p.m. on April 17.
  • P.F. Chang’s is offering its Tax Relief discount — 15 percent off on April 17.
  • Banana Republic is offering a 30 percent discount on your entire online purchase, plus free shipping on orders of $50 or more, with the coupon code BRTAXBREAK. The offer is only good April 17.
  • Buy one individual meal and a fountain drink at Boston Market and get one individual meal free, using this coupon. The offer is only good April 17.
  • Hooters is selling 20 boneless wings for $9.99 on April 17.
  • Maggie Moo’s is giving away free scoops of frozen yogurt at participating locations between 4–7 p.m. on April 17.
  • Panda Express is giving away free Shanghai Angus Steak entrees April 17. Print out a coupon on the company Facebook page.
  • Seattle’s Best Coffee is giving away a free small brewed coffee April 17 to the first 100,000 fans who claim their “coffee refund” on the company Facebook page.
  • Participating Sonic locations are extending their Happy Hour for half-price drinks and slushes. The discount, which normally runs from 2–4 p.m., will run all day April 17.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Most Outrageous Attempted Tax Deductions

The New York Times ran an article April 3 titled “What’s the Easiest Way to Cheat on Your Taxes?” While that title was thought-provoking enough — and the article is certainly worth a read — one of the most entertaining segments was on the most ridiculous attempted deductions.

Author Jacob Goldstein broke down the deductions into two groups — “Relatively Common, Somewhat Ridiculous” and “Less Common, More Ridiculous.” Goldstein pointed out that none of the following items are actually tax deductible.
Relatively Common, Somewhat Ridiculous
  • Gym memberships and country-club dues
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Haircuts
Less Common, More Ridiculous
  • Thong underwear (for an actress who needed to avoid visible underwear lines)
  • A wedding (under the rationale that clients were invited)
  • Vet bills (with the pets listed as dependents)
What crazy deductions have you seen or heard about?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Guest Blogger: How the Leaders' Institute Led to an Internship!

By Aaron Rawlings
Student, George Mason University

2011 Leaders' Institute Attendee
As I anxiously approached the entrance to the Inn at Virginia Tech & Skeleton Conference Center, I began to think about what the Leaders’ Institute would be like. Among the many things I wanted to achieve during the weekend, I wanted to make sure that I left with a greater understanding of what steps I needed to take in order to become a CPA.

My anxiety was immediately alleviated by the welcoming smiles of representatives from Ryan Sharkey and Cotton & Company. We spoke about various topics such as the difference between working in a small or large firm and I even got suggestions on ways my résumé could be tailored to the needs of accounting employers. I also had the opportunity to talk with recruiters and inform them about my career aspirations while learning how to be a successful employee.

Once the Leaders’ Institute was over, I had a greater understanding of how I wanted to pursue my career as an accountant as well as the steps that I needed to take. The purpose I had for going to the event had been fulfilled — I had a plan. Along with that plan came motivation. My new goal was to have an internship by the same time the following year. I was able to successfully achieve this goal with the help of my mentor whom I met at the Leaders’ Institute and who has continued to support me long after the event.

The Leaders’ Institute is the perfect place to gain a greater understanding about accounting as a career, to improve your networking skills and to gain direction from current employees and partners from accounting firms. I would encourage any rising junior or senior accounting major to attend this event. It is my hope that they gain just as much insight and motivation as I did, if not more!

The 2012 Leaders' Institute takes place on June 2224, 2012, at the Inn at Virginia Tech & Skelton Conference Center. Applications are due by May 4, 2012. For more information and to apply, visit

Friday, April 6, 2012

How to Learn From Your Mistakes

While it may be painful, thinking about your mistakes can help you become more productive in the future. As John Caddell says at The 99 Percent, “Remember that everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone makes them worthwhile by using them to get better.”

Caddell suggests categorizing your mistakes to root out patterns, which he says often fall into one of three categories:
  • Sloppiness or carelessness
  • Playing to your weaknesses
  • Making errors under pressure
After identifying your patterns, Caddell suggests you decide on one specific action to help you address each one. Then you can decide how many of those things you can successfully implement. “It’s better to make one change that sticks than five changes that don’t,” Caddell advises.
Scott Berkun, meanwhile, suggests a different way of categorizing your mistakes by using the following categories. The examples are his:
  • Stupid (stubbing your toe)  
  • Simple (Having the power go out in the middle of your party because you didn’t pay the electric bill) 
  • Involved (Regularly arriving late for work) 
  • Complex (Making tough decisions that have bad results)
Berkun says that the involved mistakes require the most significant changes to correct. He and Caddell both say that acknowledging your mistakes is the first step toward correcting them. “If you can’t see the gaps, flaws, or weaknesses in your behavior you’re forever trapped in the same behavior and limitations you’ve always had,” Berkun says.

What techniques have worked for you to fix recurring mistakes?

Top 5 Most Popular Articles: March 31 – April 6, 2012

Here are the five most-read news articles on! Articles are taken from the VSCPA News and Professional News sections and are ranked by unique page views.
  1. The 2011 Form 1040, Schedule D: Practitioner Issues
  2. Lawmakers Criticize PCAOB's Proposed Audit Firm Rotation
  3. McDonnell Signs Tax Return Confidentiality Bill Into Law
  4. 272 Members of Virginia Society of CPAs Recognized as 'Super CPAs' by Virginia Business Magazine
  5. Gov. McDonnell Declares April Virginia Financial Literacy Month
Check back each Friday for updated rankings of the top stories on