Meet Caitlin Butler and Sheena Teshima – Video Tax News
The pandemic rocked all of our worlds. When the news started breaking in early 2020 that a global pandemic was about to change the way we live our lives and do business, those of us in the world of public accounting and tax were faced with a lot on our plates. Benefits, rules, and government programs were changing on the daily. Cash flow planning became critical for our clients and with ever-changing policy coming at us, practitioners relied heavily on each other and for experts in our industry for guidance.
We relied on experts such as Caitlin Butler and Sheena Teshima, along with their brother Joseph Devaney, of Video Tax News.
Video Tax News became my centralized resource centre for all things covid-support and tax related. When taking to Joe about how they as an organization pivoted so quickly, he credits his sisters Caitlin and Sheena for their success. He shares that his sisters were inspirational in how they came together as a team for each other and for tax practitioners across the country to provide up to date resources and advice.
The crew at Video Tax News is inspiring - Caitlin is one of the faces of tax in Canada, and as a woman in the industry, consistently shows up as an inspiration to those of us watching. Sheena, I've learned, is a behind-the-scenes firecracker that keeps the team organized, on task, and thinking creatively. These two women add immense and immeasurable value to the Canadian tax industry - they do this quietly and humbly. They are changemakers and rockstars in the tax world.
Last year after watching Caitlin talk about limitations to the work-from-home deduction, my then 7 year old daughter who was watching with me was honestly riveted by Caitlin's discussion and told me that Caitlin was "so cool." I agree. Caitlin, you are so cool. And Sheena, you are too. What you do for the profession is inspirational. Thank you.
Joe has shared the following about his sisters and how they worked together to support the country's tax practitioners in the face of covid challenges. Thank you for sharing Joe!
- Tell me about you and the work Sheena and Caitlin do! How does the work your sisters do impact their community (i.e. the tax community)?
Caitlin and Sheena are sisters, and Co-owners of Video Tax News, along with their brother Joe. Sheena manages operations, while Caitlin manages the product and user experience with Joe. Caitlin and Joe also instruct and host sessions. Video Tax News (VTN) provides tax education and subscription-based technical resources and publications to several thousand public accountants across Canada. VTN is a family business that was started over 40 years ago by Tom and Linda Devaney, with the second generation taking the reins approximately 10 years ago.
- How has the pandemic shaped the work they do?
Approximately 80% of the corporation’s pre-pandemic business revenue came from conducting in-person seminars to accountants across Canada. When the pandemic hit, the business had to change immediately. In short order, they were able to develop an online version of the courses along with an online gathering place for accountants to get information on the pandemic and the supports available (https://www.videotax.com/covid19).
In a normal year, it is no easy task to keep individuals engaged in an in-person two-day tax conference focused on tax. Converting the whole thing online was going to be even more of a challenge. They were told that there is no way that they’d be able to keep people engaged for more than an hour, never mind two full days.
However, through some pretty intense brainstorming, they were able to come up with a number of ideas, solutions, and key factors. They:
- conducted a survey, offering large customer gift cards, to find out exactly what people wanted (this helped sort out the fact from the speculation, and gave clients an opportunity to be part of the solution);
- conducted a usability and risk analysis of online conference delivery systems;
- identified the key components needed to maintain long period engagement;
- created fun and innovative contests to keep people engaged;
- evaluated the best mix of speakers, supplemental content, breaks etc.;
- incorporated user experience and knowledge into the presentations through use of polling, Q&A boards, and chat room;
- engaged programmers to customize and connect the system to the knowledge delivery portal;
- sought additional content and content creators to enhance the material (2.5 hours of bonus specialist footage was included for the general “Tax Update” fall session);
- created safety systems and scenario checks to ensure that any technical issues only minimally impacted user experience. This included everything from obtaining car batteries (originally) to provide support in the case of power outages, to locating speakers in various geographic regions, to using multiple internet service providers concurrently; and
- developed a system for evaluating a return to in-person sessions, which was extremely difficult, especially given all of the unknowns and uncertainties.
In particular, Sheena was able to use her creative experience obtained from participating in the management team of lululemon as it grew from a few stores into a public company. Her final role was “Operations Planning Manager”. Caitlin was able to use the drive, determination and persistence that was exercised from her time as an Ironman and competitive athlete. The combination of creativity, teamwork, passion and perseverance worked extremely well together.
Over the pandemic, VTN realized that it was not only their business that needed to adapt, but also that of their accounting clients, and in turn, the clients of those accountants. People were worried, times were uncertain, and there was a real need for useful consolidated information, supported by positive personal reinforcement. While significant efforts were required to transition the business, it was just as important to help their clients and community along as well. This is how VTN did that:
- created a free knowledge hub to collect information on all of the government supports and provide timely commentary at videotax.com/covid19. The site also include various interviews, posts, visual presentations and other updates (in excess of 1,000);
- created a free Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) estimator in partnership with Punchcard systems to help employers determine if they were eligible, and to what extent;
- provided knowledge support through covidcontinuity.com;
- conducted free webinars about government supports that were attended by thousand (participants were asked to either pay it forward, or make a donation);
- continued to produce free monthly 10 minute “Life in The Tax Lane” episodes;
- created two white-labelled COVID-support knowledge publications that accountants could send out to their clients. The publications were downloaded approximately 14,000 times, and then redistributed to the accountants’ own client bases, likely reaching a mllion or so Canadian businesses and taxpayers;
- collaborated to create the song “Accountants’ Ode to 2020” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjJWHvN81HY);
- provided registration fee support to those in need; and
- conducted education for the Community volunteer income tax preparation program in Alberta.
The pandemic has reinforced that fact that unexpected things happen. A much larger component of their work now consists of evaluating risk, developing contingency plans, and finding ways to improve communication both internally and externally. However, the one element that really provides a foundation to it all is the human side. How do we support each other? How do we stay connected?
Sheena initiated a weekly online team meeting in which everyone would be required to answer two questions using their thumbs: How are you doing personally? How are you doing from a work perspective? By having everyone answer the question at the same time we were able to quickly connect on an emotional level, and also get to the bottom of any issues or needs for support. It really connected the team. We celebrated successes and shared learnings together. The connectivity and team building was amazing.
Caitlin built the team in other ways. On a daily basis she had to find ways to bring the production team together and make sense of the incredibly rapid and significant development in the new COVID world. No easy tasks given the tight deadlines, magnitude of information to process, and the other two editorial teammates that often got carried away in their passions: Joe in respect of being creative and doing as much as possible; and Hugh in respect of getting everything absolutely correct. Caitlin is the glue that keeps everyone together and rowing in the same direction, not to mention all of the great technical and presentation knowledge that she brings to the game too. As part of the technical team, I can honestly say that I don’t know if we could have made it in one piece without her amazing influence!
- How do you draw inspiration from your sisters?
For me, it is all about attitude and balance. These two are so positive yet rational and balanced at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve wanted to dive into something and they helped me put the brakes on, only to hone the idea and double the impact. They don’t give up, and they always make sure to do what they think is right, no matter the cost.
Even when things look tough or disappointing, they are excellent at stepping back, looking at the bigger picture, and channeling the positive to reach even greater heights and solutions.
- You are so supportive of the work your sisters do and are such an advocate for them. Why is it important for you that they are recognized for their service?
Caitlin and Sheena are truly changemakers that are making everything around them better. They are talented and inspirational. They have amazing integrity that they employ not only at the office, but in everything they do, especially in their roles as mothers. They need to be recognized for their service because their awesomeness can’t help but rub off on the people around them. The more people they impact, the better!
- How do we connect with your team to support the work you do?
Our goal is to make our products as beneficial as possible. In particular, we are tirelessly looking for ways to get back to in-person sessions in a responsible way, and looking for ways to continue to make our sessions more engaging and useful. Any input that can help us on that journey is much appreciated!
If interested, feel free to catch us monthly with our Life in the Tax Lane Episodes (lifeinthetaxlane.ca), or every Thursday at 6:00pm Mountain time on the Canadian Tax Panel (sessions conducted in Canadian Tax Club on the Clubhouse App).