SIPA Member Profile: Freer Keeps Spidell All Accounted For

Lynn Freer, President, Spidell Publishing, Inc.®, Anaheim, Calif.

How did you get into this business?
I was doing tax returns but was not an accountant or bookkeeper. I was actually a French literature major in college. Then I started doing some writing and contract work for Bob Spidell who owned the company. The combination of writing and taxes appealed to me—Spidell provides education and research solutions to tax professionals—so I bought the company from him in 1997.

What things are working best for you right now?
We put on full-day update seminars in 50 different locations in the fall with an average attendance of 325. The course is to get people prepared to do taxes and get them continuing professional education (CPE) credits. We also put on a healthy webinar schedule, about two a month. They have a pretty low price point so we do quite well, and they increase our customer base. We also sell those on demand—actually we now sell more on demand than for the live event.

How do you structure your pricing?
We give some group discounts and work with accounting firms on packages. But we don’t really do bundling. There are just too many categories of tax professionals with all kinds of CPE requirements—depending on whether you’re a CPA, enrolled agent, attorney or tax preparer. We don’t know if bundling can work.

How do you decide on what’s good content?
I have three rules; the articles we run need to accomplish at least one of them: 1) save clients money; 2) save accountants time; or 3) keep the accountant and/or client out of trouble. So we’re not just posting information; we’re going beyond that, telling them why they need to know it and where and how they will use it.

What’s your biggest challenge?
Finding good writers. Writing and accounting do not come from the same part of the brain. It’s so technical—and you have to understand the law. So finding people who can—and want to—write on the subject is difficult.

What’s new for you and Spidell?
The conversion to electronic is exciting—I can eventually see going more from live seminars to electronic seminars and podcasts. There are advantages for people in not driving and not having to be there in person. Plus our attention spans are getting shorter. I know I sometimes have trouble sitting for eight hours a day. The key for us is to be able to offer our product in multiple ways.

What keeps you up at night?
Electronics. This is about the third time we’re redoing the website since I took over. The time and personnel costs of that are high, but to stay current you have to do what you need to do. I’ve heard that computer and construction projects are similar in that they both cost three times more than you think and take three times as long. As a small publisher, you can struggle in those areas. But we get a lot of our orders on the Web now, so it’s vital. You have to make sure that your website is as easy, secure and profitable as possible.

And what doesn’t keep you up at night?
That our customers will go away—the federal and state governments take care of that for us [with their many regulations and changes].

You said you still print your newsletters?
Yes we do. Accountants are different. They tend to be older and traditional. I was just talking to a group about the different audiences for one of our seminars and one of SIPA’s. At SIPA, everyone has their iPhones and iPads out. Maybe 10% of our people have an iPhone out. They’re still taking notes in books.

What’s the most important key to success in this business?
To understand your customers, be they accountants, investment, IT, whatever. You have to know what they want. And you need multiple delivery channels for however they want it delivered. Bob Spidell is our focus group guy; he’ll ask questions sitting with people at seminars. Also, the people who work here are tax people so they understand. Plus we have a message board on our website where people can comment and ask questions. So we do hear from our people.

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Electronics. Deliverability. Pricing. Webinars.
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