Shon Holyfield is the founder and CEO of The Tax Research Company (TTR). Shon’s care for others has transformed the organization from the inside out. TTR’s purpose is to improve people’s lives and he starts at home with every professional at TTR. He leads internal training and makes time each week to connect with every professional at TTR through an amazing internal system of feedback. He created TTR’s 12 characteristics, that he aligned with each month of the year including Care for Others, Understand, Make it Simple, and Be the Best. “It is more than a list of characteristics or ideals. It is a genuine representation of the characteristics that every TTR professional embodies every day,” says Shon. “TTR talks about and practices all these characteristics daily. They are discussed in company meetings, training is provided on each point, and every TTR professional is aligned with these characteristics.”
TTR has ranked at #1 or #2 on the Best Place to Work in Oregon list for the past five years and their professionals love what they do and feel they are making a positive impact on others.
Shon’s focus is on what can be done and how things can be solved, not on all the reasons why things are impossible. His ability to simplify complex situations and create understanding is unique. He also possesses a great deal of creativity. An accomplished sculptor and artist, his product designs are beautiful, practical, and easy to use. His tax experience and genuine willingness to listen to feedback and make changes is a significant part of TTR’s success in the marketplace.
Ensuring That Sales Tax Gets Done Right
According to Shon, tax professionals genuinely care about getting tax rights. Yet, historically the tools available to them to achieve this goal were antiquated and clunky. “With over 600,000 tax laws in the US alone, tax professionals spent careers trying to get their arms around how tax applies to their organization,” he says. “Rarely did they have time to get to everything – often they didn’t. Their professional lives were a constant state of triage – getting to tax emergencies as best they could while not having time to get to it all. The result, it was nearly impossible to get tax right with available resources.” TTR was created to change this situation and make it possible for tax professionals to get tax right. TTR’s products combine industry-specific information with tax laws so that what used to take months, now with TTR takes hours. What used to take hours, now with TTR takes minutes.
According to a joint study of Harvard and Google, there are just over 1,000,000 English words. Really smart people know 60,000 and above, but there are over 800,000 unique English words in US tax laws. That means there are just over 700,000 words that most people don’t understand when reading tax law. No wonder it is so challenging to understand!
The company uses less than 9,000 unique English words to explain (in plain English) the tax laws in the US. They are working to release international content shortly – they have been working for years on a solution globally. “It’s not easy work – it takes one of our seasoned professionals around 30 minutes to find, read, and translate into plain English a single answer to a single question in a single state or country,” says Shon. “That works out to about 25 hours for a single question across all 50 states or 97.5 hours for a single question across all 195 countries. It is a lot of work to create new content. Our brave professionals do the impossible to make tax law easy for everyone to understand.”
TTR also focuses on providing the best and most amazing customer service. TTR also provides the first-ever “ask a tax expert” system. Tax professionals can send in complex tax questions to TTR and TTR tax professionals will research and provide an answer, usually within 24 hours. “For years, tax professionals often felt alone and without the resources needed to get tax right. TTR has changed all that,” adds Shon. “Tax professionals are not alone. TTR is there for them. TTR provides them with a level of customer care and professionalism that has been described by many as simply ‘Best in Class’.”
Focusing on Customers
In an instance, a Fortune 500 company was struggling to get valid exemption documentation on its sales to exempt customers.
They had spent a considerable amount of money and time implementing another solution, but they knew it wasn’t working because audit after audit they had invalid exemption forms on file. TTR created the first exemption certificate solution that leverages over a decade’s worth of legal research, combined with an Artificial Intelligence that “validates” exemption certificates before they are stored digitally. Utilizing TTR’s system, they were able to achieve over a 95% response rate and 100% validity rate on missing exemption certificates.
TTR reduces the research time (time spent finding a tax answer) by 40%. For tax lawyers and tax professionals, it is significantly more than 40%. Shon elucidates with an example, “You are the tax professional at your company. The IT Department comes and asks, “hey, how should we tax our purchase of software maintenance in all US states?” Using TTR’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled sales tax software maintenance solution, in less than 2 minutes you would have an accurate tax answer for your company’s purchase of software maintenance for all US locations.” He further says, “The best part is that it is tailored to your facts and circumstances (method of delivery, etc.). In fact, manually researching software maintenance using other tools or Google would take hundreds of hours. Two minutes versus 100s of hours – pretty significant time savings. This is true for TTR’s content. What normally takes about 30 minutes to read and understand using other tax website providers – takes minutes in TTR.”
TTR is organized into Industries – this makes their content more useful to companies who need to get tax answers for the business activities in their industry.
For the days ahead, TTR is concentrating on global content, Artificial Intelligence tied into the TTR subscription website, a complete tax rate management system, state and local “hold harmless” protection when using TTR tax answers and tax rates, and more.
Fighting the Covid-19 Pandemic
Executive Alignment: One of the first steps was getting the executives together to discuss the next steps over the coming months. It was decided as an executive group to first make certain we were there for our professionals. This included changing personal travel plans (and any extended personal time off – PTO) until TTR’s people are back in the office. “With this agreement in place, we went to work on planning and executing any and all projects that would provide better service to our clients or create new opportunities in the marketplace. Delivering value to our clients – through serving our existing clients or doing business with new clients – is the foundation needed to ensure our professionals’ jobs are secure,” explains Shon.
Organizational Alignment: “We openly discussed what it would take to successfully make it through Covid-19. We discussed the importance of keeping focused and staying tight as a team. We set up daily 30-minute Zoom meetings for our teams to come together,” he says. “Games are played, jokes are told, and coordination happens as well. The purpose is to keep our teams (we call them Colleges) as close as ever. It has worked well.”
Open Communication: “Safety is a feeling that each of us has within us. Therefore, it was important at the outset that we really did an excellent job of communicating often and finding out what each professional needs to feel safe while pursuing a career at TTR. We are not forcing anyone to come back to the office after all this passes,” adds Shon. “Feeling safe is foundational to the success of any professional. If for any reason, our professionals would feel safer working from home, then they will have the freedom to do just that.”
Towards the Future
TTR’s Consulting College works with clients based on their individual needs. Leveraging TTR’s best in class tax rates, tax answers, and solutions, TTR’s Consulting College can provide solutions not available through other providers. There is an interesting set of groups out there in the sales, use, global VAT, and transaction tax space (collectively referred to as “indirect tax”). On the website research side, there are publishers of content. They publish digital versions of laws and make some tools available to their customers. It is done self-serve. Many tax consultants use these same tools to provide services to their customers – it takes them just as much time as it takes their clients to find answers using these tools. Finally, there are software providers that supply software designed to automatically apply tax and tax rates to transactions. Their software is good, but their content is often “light” or missing things – the result is that the company buying the software must work with a consultant to do the legal research connected with their products and services.
This is where TTR and TTR Consulting comes in. TTR has more categories of tax answers than anyone – by over 20 times. Where most tax software providers have 3,000-5,000 “tax categories” – TTR has over 100,000 – with simple “taxable” and “exempt” tax answers. In addition, TTR’s tax answers are fully supported by linked authority for all TTR subscribers to access. This makes TTR’s content “audit-ready.” States like Alaska and Colorado have turned to TTR as an official “source of truth” because of TTR’s depth, breadth, and accuracy of the content.
TTR Consulting leverages TTR’s best in class information to work with companies all over the world. Whether a company needs help setting up tax software or they would like to see if they may be due a refund – TTR Consulting is there to provide solutions based on best in class content.”