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Your continuing education hours should make you money, rather than being a time suck.

I hear the guffaws echoing across the Interwebs. Please allow me to explain.

As an Enrolled Agent, I’m required to complete 24 hours of continuing education per year. For the 7 years I’ve been licensed, CE has always been a real pain in the gluteus maximus. It’s always been something I’ve been required to do, but that didn’t provide any actual value to my career.

My entire career as a tax professional has centered on IRS payroll tax representation, not 1040 tax preparation. As a specialist, I’m able to charge higher fees and be more selective about the client cases I choose to take. Also as a specialist, I inherently go deep on a very narrow topic.

In other words, 1040 CE courses are utterly useless to me.

Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of EA CE is 1040-oriented. Even the stuff that is related to taxpayer collections representation (“tax resolution”) is, for the most part, absolutely horrendous in terms of quality and relevance.

Everything I know about representing taxpayers, I learned through old fashioned OJT, personal experience, and diligently reading the IRM and IRC. None of it came from completing continuing education.

That’s why I started teaching CPE.

I wanted to create CPE that was relevant, actionable, and most of all, profitable. That’s why I went on a 42-city speaking tour in 2014, teaching IRS Collections representation to hundreds of other tax professionals. It was awesome sauce.

Learning how to represent taxpayers with an IRS debt gave me a skill set that literally took me from bankrupt and homeless to international man of mystery in just a few years. It is the single most profitable skill I’ve ever learned.

Unfortunately, most CE/CPE simplys fails to deliver any real value — aside from checking the box.

For CPAs, most of whom are required to complete 40 hours per year of CPE, there are far more hours wasted every year on more-or-less useless continuing education hours.

With over 750,000 CPAs in the US, and over 50,000 EAs, that adds up to an incredible number of wasted CPE hours every year. Sure, there are many practitioners that manage to extract value from some or all of their CPE, but they are the minority, simply due to the available CPE options.

I believe that we, as practitioners, owe it to ourselves, our profession, and our clients/employers to maximize the pragmatic value of our CPE.

How to accomplish this? Hear are some suggestions:

  1. Seek out interactive CPE, even if it’s self-study, that gives you access to subject matter experts.
  2. Don’t do hours just for the sake of doing the hours. Have a purpose and direction for your CPE hours, particularly to acquire new skills that can directly drive income.
  3. Use CPE as a marketing opportunity. Complete 20 hours of practical CPE on a single, specialized topic? Then shout from the rooftops about it! Let the world know that you can now implement a new anti-fraud program, tax reduction program, or cost-management program for their benefit.
  4. Fall in love with the technical details of your specialization, and wrap your CPE around it. Become the go-to COSO expert in your small firm. Become the master of IRM Part 5 in your organization. Become the absolute, no-question-too-hard expert in your local community on the subject of partnership taxation. Expertise = income security, and CPE can get you there.

By maximizing the value and productivity of your CPE, not only are you hedging your own career, but you’re maximizing the benefit of your services to your clients. In other words, topically focused, high-quality CPE should be a profitability driver.

If you’re a participant in the 1040 preparation season, then your time is about to become even more valuable. Tax season or not, make sure that your CPE hours provide you with actual, applicable skills. Your clients and your bank account will thank you.

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