As Over the Road enters its 27th year of publishing, we would like to recognize Robert Scheper and his company Making Your Miles Count. Robert has been writing a monthly article for Over the Road for over 12 years now, and we thank him for all the valuable information that he has shared with our readers.
Robert has been so generous with his knowledge and advice over the years, that we wanted to write an article giving our readers some more information about Robert and his company, and to give him a chance to share some more of his thoughts pertaining to the industry.
This article is Part One of Two.
Robert Scheper & Making Your Miles Count
Canada’s leading Accounting firm for Independent Operator’s is aptly named: Making Your Miles Count. Known to Over the Road readers as the title to one of its regular monthly articles, it also represents the book series of the same name.
At the head of this firm is Robert Scheper who, with his wife, began his career driving as an Independent Operator in 1990. He planned on driving and staying only until he finished his education. While driving, he built up his experience both on the road and in negotiating his way through the trucking industry’s unique tax applications. He received his MBA in 1996
by focusing his thesis on trucking.
His early commitment to trucking was soft as he entertained other industries; he briefly owned a software company and had some other interests. But after one of his clients suffered a very negative experience in 2002-03, Robert fully committed himself to helping Operators. He began writing his first book “Making Your Miles Count: taxes, taxes, taxes” (published in 2007) and he began writing monthly articles for Over the Road in July 2008. Robert started in his basement with eight plastic milk cartons and a sheet of plywood for a desk, and from this he built up the business to where it is now. The company currently has four locations, over thirty employees and well over 500 monthly clients.
Robert credits his success to two things. First, a clear focus on having ONLY Independent Operators as his client (if a client grows to more than four or five trucks, Robert will help them find a different accountant). Second, he has an absolute mastery of the non-taxable benefits system as introduced in his first book. This specific tax advantage represents $10-12,000 per year for the Independent Operator over existing norms. The return on investment for the accounting fees is 450-550% over existing firms.
The system is not easy to manage for the firm. There is a lot of training for each client as well as training the employees of his firm. It generally runs about 2-2.5 times the average workload for a self-employed operator and holds seven, clear disadvantages that must be specifically addressed by the client and firm (and usually can be).
The problem with the Independent Operator tax industry is that it is a labor intensive, low margin industry. It provides only a couple thousand dollars a year in revenue for a firm and many hours of work a month, so most CPA’s do not get directly involved. It is a nice supplemental income for the under employed but it is very difficult to build a firm on this amount of revenue. Robert knew that until he had over 250+ clients, he would have to work weekends driving truck to make his payroll.
Q&A with Robert:
What makes a great Independent Operator accountant?
The accounting industry has huge sentiment associated with a person, the accountant. It is a misdirected affection. What saves an operator taxes is not a person; it’s the reporting system they use. Every accountant must follow the same rules for each system so, baring fraud, they will get the same numbers. Unless a tax preparer does not know all the eligible systems, they will all get the same numbers. In the end, a great accountant will be an app, not a person.
What is the most critical part of running your firm?
Training! Training clients to follow the rules associated with non-taxable benefits. It is very different than the standard TL2 type filing. The TL2 has very little training involved; non-taxable benefits take several months of use before most Operators begin to feel comfortable using it. Also, training staff takes time. On average we hire two new account managers a year and it takes at least a year for them to be fully trained. We usually try and train people from scratch as retraining someone is sometimes more time consuming. The non-taxable benefit system is different enough and our custom system is so unique, it takes time for experienced bookkeepers to rethink how they need to do things.
How has COVID-19 affected your firm?
Very little. We have four, full time programmers on staff creating some of the most innovative abilities for our clients and staff. Our firm went completely paperless in January 2019. When the pandemic hit over a year later, 50% of our clients were already sending their paperwork in electronically and the other 50% were scanned in by our offices so our workload was almost immediately available for off-site activity. In 2020, nearly all our clients had their year-end meetings without being physically present.
However, we did notice that when Canada Revenue Agency announced they were extending their deadline for filing returns, a fair number of our clients took their time in sending in their paperwork. It put our regular workflow out of step. We were a little behind in preparing the year ends compared to the year before.
The good news was that most of our clients qualified for the temporary wage subsidy. At $1,375 each, that collectively brought in well over $500,000 in additional government aid. Given our patches of free time, we were able to do that without charging our clients anything extra. That was sweet!
What do you think the future of the Independent Operator Industry will be?
There will always be Independent Operators. Their productivity is essential to carriers. Though there is an annual turnover of 5-15% of IO’s leaving the industry, there is also a regular influx of drivers with an entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that Operators need to understand their industry better. Everything from taxes, fuel consumption, fuel price/costs & residual value of equipment to strategic maintenance schedules. Over the next couple of years, I plan to provide as much information as I can towards these topics and many more. My work is changing and my role in the industry is also changing.
To be continued next month…
In the meantime, if you have any questions for Robert or would like more information about Making Your Miles Count you can reach him at 1-877-987-9787, or visit their website at www.makingyourmilescount.com
Robert D Scheper operates an accounting and consulting firm in Steinbach, Manitoba. He has a Masters Degree in Business Administration and is the author of the Book “Making Your Miles Count: taxes, taxes, taxes” (now available on CD). You can find him at www.thrconsulting.ca and thrconsulting.blogspot.com or at 1-877-987-9787. You can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.