Diane Yetter, CPA, MST is the president and founder of YETTER, a sales tax consulting and tax technology firm in business since 1996. But that doesn’t encompass everything she does. Diane is a strategist, advisor, speaker and author in the field of sales and use tax. She’s also an educator. As the founder of The Sales Tax Institute, she helps business professionals learn about sales and use tax and solve problems in their organizations.
I interviewed Diane as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands during the brand development process, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.
As you’ll learn below, Diane is a little modest. She’d never tell you this, so we’ll have to tell you for her: she’s been named one of Accounting Today‘s 100 Most Influential People in Accounting for two years in a row. And as you’ll see, she also has a lot of insight into topics outside her field, like the branding process and building a business. Read on for 6 answers from one of the hardest-working, whip-smartest people we know.
1. When we met you, you were making some major changes in your brand. Why did you decide to make these big changes, and how do you feel about them two years later?
I used to run a firm of 8-12 people and for personal reasons, I decided to simplify my life. I wasn’t getting to spend enough time doing the things I love in my business, and I was spending a lot of time doing a lot of things I didn’t love.
I decided to shift the focus of my firm from a larger consulting group to me as a thought leader. As opposed to a larger company where you don’t want the brand to be all about the owner, now it needed to be the opposite. I came to BatesMeron because I needed my audience to realize that I was interested in doing hands-on, personal consulting work that requires a high level of expertise.
I feel it’s been a really great experience, changing that focus. I feel like the brand really represents me. I will admit, though, that it was a little weird to make it all about me. I felt a little like it was too boasty, but the team working with me helped encourage me to be proud of my expertise and what I can do to help people every day.
BatesMeron works very well with someone like me, who tends to be very analytical and rigid. My work is all about process and logic—my industry is accountants and lawyers. BatesMeron was able to come up with a brand and an image that actually shows some of my personality—through the colors, the logos, the look, the components of the brand—while maintaining my professional image. You even went through the process with us of making the decision to shift the focus to me, working alongside me to help with strategy and positioning.
You were able to ease my discomfort about being the center of attention in such a successful way. You helped me change my image and go through a massive transformation, and I didn’t end up looking the way I feared I would. It looks so appropriate.
2. What are the projects that get you most excited?
I really love to work on projects where I can make an impact. And when the people I work with really value my advice.
For example, when I work with a very large company and we’re doing a lot of strategic thinking, and we’re focusing on becoming more efficient and compliant, I love when I’m able to help them come up with very creative solutions that reflect the complexity of their business.
I also get excited when I’m working with a small company that is starting out or looking to grow. Because they don’t have good support or previous advisors have let them down, we can come in and get them off on the right foot or help them solve what is, to them, an insurmountable problem. Whether that issue is a significant tax assessment or they’re working to be compliant to tax laws without facing overwhelming costs, I can help them figure out how to get to the practical answer. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that for me.
3. You’ve got many talents: sales tax consultant, speaker, expert witness, educator (the list goes on). How does your brand convey the dynamic nature of your skills?
The brand represents who I am and what I do. All of the pieces work together to show me as versatile and explain the different services YETTER provides. There’s not really a way to list my services in my logo, but working with BatesMeron, we’ve succeeded in representing me professionally in my industry—the way I wanted to be represented.
One of the things BatesMeron is great at is asking questions. You take in information that’s so outside the area of your expertise, and you’re able to get clients to show what they’re passionate about. You assimilate all this information and then come back with a product that truly represents what your client is all about.
What’s more, you took a business in an industry that is often technical and dry, and you made it look rich and classy and presented YETTER as a leading firm in its industry. BatesMeron really takes the time to learn about their clients’ businesses, even when it’s something I know you have no interest in!
[Editor’s note: what we love about our clients is that their passion makes even topics that initially seem dry or obscure truly interesting. So we do think sales and use tax is interesting, Diane! Check out some of YETTER’s infographics on sales and use tax, and you’ll see what we mean. Every business or brand is interesting—you just have to find those interesting nuggets.]
4. You’ve got a very impressive client list. What helped prepare you for these large opportunities?
I started my career as an auditor for state government. I audited very large companies while I was there and found that the size of the company didn’t really faze me at all. I then moved on to Quaker Oats, where I worked as a sales tax accountant. I had full responsibility for my projects there and still wasn’t intimidated. Next, I worked at Arthur Andersen, where I again worked with very large clients. This definitely cemented my comfort level.
That being said, of course I’m excited to know that some of these huge companies want to work with YETTER, but sometimes, it’s more impressive to me that I get to work directly with the CEO of a middle-market company. When doing this, I’m very thrilled to have that direct contact with the heart of the company. At the end of the day, every company has to deal with sales tax. And yes, the bigger company has larger numbers, but they’re just numbers. The problems aren’t necessarily different from those of a small company.
I will say that when working with a large company, I can generally be more technical with my client discussions. Whereas, with a small company, I do more educating and helping to craft solutions. But I enjoy both of those aspects of my work. I really try to treat all of my clients as equally as I can.
5. We were really impressed when you explained to us that you can help a tax department (which most corporations view as a necessary expense) actually make profit for the company. How is that possible?
When you think of administrative departments, their costs are all captured, but their benefits are often overlooked. Yes, there are costs related to being compliant with your tax obligations. But by doing appropriate tax planning, a department can actually lower those costs.
A tax department should work to show its value. It could be that they received a vendor discount for promptly paying the taxes due to the state or negotiated an incentive, such as credits from states to encourage new business there or training credits for training employees. Those different types of “revenue” are often not recognized as value delivered by the tax department in a financial statement because there might not be a line item for it to be applied to. Take an audit assessment, for example. You negotiate the audit cost down to $100,000, but because the initial cost of $190,000 was never booked, you don’t get credit for the negotiation savings of $90,000. If you didn’t have good people in-house to do that, you would have had to hire someone outside the firm to achieve those savings.
I work with tax departments to increase their knowledge of these kinds of opportunities and to improve the visibility and communication for their department within their company. Just recently, I hosted a Tax Leader Summit on Best Practices in Napa, CA. Industry leaders gathered to share, identify and plan how to implement best practices in their department—with visibility and communication as two main factors in this plan. And it was great to have Becka’s perspective to share with the tax department leaders.
6. At what moment did you decide you wanted to own your own business?
I had two good friends at Arthur Andersen in my early years that had started their own businesses. They encouraged me to go out on my own, telling me I could be very successful. I wasn’t interested at first because I liked my work at Arthur Andersen.
After some time, Arthur Andersen partnered with a tax software company and I was assigned to be a trainer, teaching clients how to use their tax software. Customers came from all over the country to attend this training in Chicago, but when they returned home, they often had to turn to a more local Arthur Andersen person for their actual engagement.
I approached my superiors with a concept to turn the training and implementations into a national program because I saw a lot of opportunity there. They weren’t interested at the time but I was very convinced. So, in the summer of 1996 I went out on my own.
I provided sales tax implementation services, but because of my experience, I was able to provide more tax strategy as part of the technical implementation. And because of my tax background I also can teach, provide audit defense and offer many other services that make me versatile. I hired my first part-time employee in the spring of 1997 and my first full-time employee in mid-1998. I’ve never looked back.
It’s been 16 years, and it’s been thrilling to have such amazing opportunities and such great clients that appreciate the value we bring to them. They trust us. It feels good to be a small firm and know that we have this strong relationship where our clients know we’ll tell them the whole truth—for example, if a project is out of our scope. There’s a mutual respect where they trust me when I give them advice.
Some of the larger consulting firms are even a bit envious of some of my client relationships—projects they couldn’t land because I work personally with people and they prefer having me come in and get in the weeds to solve their problems. Especially now that I’ve restructured my company, I can focus on the engagements and projects that excite me, and I’m still able to help clients with their full spectrum of needs, thanks to my strong relationships with partners who specialize in other areas. I’ve leveraged these relationships into the TaxForward Alliance (which BatesMeron also helped us brand). I’m excited to be working with the Alliance members to help us serve clients with a broader range of services and grow our individual businesses. I’m really excited about what might be next—and of course BatesMeron will be there to help me with the marketing!
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