It was December of 2011. I was sitting down with my team to get ready for the 2012 tax season. We had software to install, organizers to run, and depreciation schedules to roll over. But before we got started I let them all know this was my last time.
Over the previous six years I had grown my little accounting and tax firm, but not on the basis of 1040’s and 1120-S returns. We had grown because a handful of small business owners desperately wanted help growing their businesses.
I had taken the time to help these business owners build strategic plans and we setup our schedule to work alongside them while they executed those plans. We played coach on the sideline and kept them on track.
And I wanted to do more of it, but taxes were holding me back. So I told my team we had three options.
1) Hire a CPA tax manager to come in and take over the tax practice 2) Bring on a partner to take over the tax practice 3) Sell it to another firm.
But it was going to be one of those three. I wasn’t doing another tax season after 2012.
In October 2012 I made good on my promise. We sold the tax and accounting clients to another firm and focused solely on strategic planning, execution and coaching for small businesses.
The last six years have been the most rewarding, both personally and financially, of my professional life. And it’s because every day it’s not about me.
How many of your clients are intimately involved in the planning, preparation and filing of their tax return? I had exactly one. And he was a royal pain in the rear end. In tax land it's all about the CPA...the wise, educated, credentialed CPA who can keep the client from going to jail for tax evasion.
One of the things I started figuring out pretty early on was that working with business owners ON their business was all about THEM. And they LOVED it! They stopped moaning about invoices and tax bills and started focusing on building their business.
Something happens when you help a business owner reconnect with the vision they had on day one. I believe that every new business owner starts out with a vision that is world changing in some way. They may not share it with everyone, but if they are honest there is some aspiration that goes beyond making money.
Once we got them to recall that vision, even though it might be 10, 20 or 30 years old, they came to life. Then we provided the missing pieces: the detailed road map, the financial projections, the focused strategy, the team communication, the accountability, the structured weekly operations meetings, the scorecards, real time financials…everything they needed to see their vision start to materialize, every so slowly at first, until they had a momentum that guaranteed success.
There were good days when they conquered the world, and there were bad days when things didn’t go as planned. Through all of it we provided coaching and perspective and a steady hand.
It was 2009. We were growing on the strength of some of our consulting referrals. I was short staffed going into tax season so we decided to outsource some of our return prep to India. I was skeptical, but I sent off the first batch of returns. The next morning the completed returns were waiting in my inbox. AND THEY WERE GOOD! I didn't have to change a thing.
I paid $75 each for those returns. And I realized, "that's what compliance work is worth!"
I decided to get serious about developing the systems and processes we used with the consulting clients. I started standardizing what I did and how I did it. I threw out the stuff that wasn't working and tried new stuff until it got results.
I started charging based on what we would be adding to the client's bottom line.
And I didn't take a client if I didn't think they had the guts to build and execute a strategic plan to grow their business.
The rest is history. My little firm (and I do mean little) made more gross revenue fom two dozen consulting clients than it did from 200 tax returns. And it dd it with a fraction of the overhead. You can do the math, you're an accountant. Our net income grew by multiples of what it used to be.
I'm not telling you to ditch your tax and accounting practice. My path isn't the path for everyone. But I don't think you should rely on it for your future.
But if you want to do more consulting work. First, there are a few roadblocks in your way we need to clear up.
I have presented to, talked with and worked with CPA's all over the United States. And I see them buying into the same myths when it comes to how they view this kind of work.
Myth #1. I just read this New York Times best selling book and I'm going to become one of their certified coaches as a way to build my practice.
Don't get me wrong. I read a lot of business books and I steal ideas from all of them. But reading is not the same as doing. If it was all my clients would go spend $15 on a business book and save $20,000 - $100,000 a year on my fees.
Books are great, but when it comes to transforming your practice you need more than a 2 day certification workshop. That's why I show you how, give you the tools and provide the coaching until you get it.
Myth #2. I can do consulting by just making sure I sit down with my clients every week/month/quarter.
I'm sure your clients would welcome that offer. But this is more than a meeting schedule. Strategic planning and execution is a discipline you will teach your clients. It becomes part of the way they do business. It has to be more than "how are things going?" while you review some numbers.
Myth #3. There's a certification from the AICPA, and I can get CPE at the same time.
As a general rule certifications mean a lot more to other CPA's than they do to your clients. So if your goal is to build your resume, go for it. But if you want to build a business the AICPA isn't the place I'd suggest you start.
Myth #4. I don't have the skills to do strategic consulting work.
You didn't know how to do a tax return either, until someone showed you how. If I had ever worked under a managing partner who knew how to do this stuff I'd probably be in business with that person today. But nobody showed me how, and I had to spend over a decade figuring out the approach and the framework that gets results.
The fact is CPA's have EXACTLY the skills that make them UNIQUELY qualified to do this work. You just need to be shown how to apply those skills within a framework that makes them hugely beneficial for your clients.
Myth #5. My city/town/metro market isn't right for this kind of work.
Well, if your ideal client is a Fortune 100 company that's probably true. But there are mom and pop businesses in every town big enough to have a stoplight that are begging for this kind of support.
The smallest businesses are usually the ones that see the biggest increases in profit when they start executing a strategic plan. If you want to change the world for the better, start helping mom and pop businesses in your small town. When you see them double and triple their growth it's the most fun you'll have as a CPA.
What I'm about to say may sound like I'm being a little harsh. And I am. I need to be. There are practice management guru's at accounting and tax conferences every week and they all have the same PowerPoint slide in their deck. It looks something like this.
These lists always include...
NONE OF IT IS TRUE
It's simply not true.
Since 2005 my ability to feed, clothe and shelter my family has come down to my ability to attract clients.
Every one of those clients LEFT another CPA.
Why did they leave?
Because their phone call didn't get returned?
Because they didn't feel cared for?
Because they weren't informed?
I won that client because I could help their business grow and the other CPA could not. And I have been able to keep that business because we continue to get results.
I am not here to help you "manage" your practice. I am offering to show you exactly how I built a business that helps clients in ways no other CPA firm can touch.
If you aren't committed to helping your clients grow their business and achieve their goals you will eventually lose them to a firm that IS committed. And it doesn't matter if you return their calls twice as fast or not. They will still leave.
The Consulting CPA is a step-by-step program to add strategic planning and execution services to your existing tax and accounting business. We cover everything in nine weeks. The pace is important. This is not a get rich quick scheme. It is equal parts mindset change, skill development and tools you can put into practice with your name on them.
If you take it one step at a time, and do the things I ask you to do you will change the direction of your practice permanently. Here are the modules in order.
We start by discussing the fundamental nature of transactional vs. consultative work and why most CPA firms fail to get sustainable consulting practices off the ground. We will also start identifying the clients you will work with first.
At Axiom we charge a minimum of $8,000 for these value packed kickoff engagements that deliver high value to clients from day one and insure you are working with “A” customers. You will learn our step-by-step Strategic Assessment process and start selling it to clients immediately.
After the Strategic Assessment most clients will develop and execute Goals-based strategic plans. You will learn the entire process, from setting vision and mission, to developing strategy and executing with the client on an annual, quarterly, monthly and weekly basis.
Not everyone fits the Goals-based model, so you will learn how to identify clients that are better served, at least initially, by a more flexible Issues-based process. This has application for nearly every business client in your firm, especially if they say planning isn’t for them.
You need a process that addresses client needs across a wide spectrum. Quarterly coaching and advisory services bridge the gap between clients who want a little more and clients who want it all. They also provide a way for you to engage with your top 1% clients who learn the planning process and decide to take it in-house.
Nothing creates anxiety and self-doubt like pricing professional services. We show you what has worked, what hasn’t, where the industry is going and how you can insure that consulting always works for both you and the client. This module will be the new profit center in your firm.
Once you gain some confidence with your current clients the next step is recruiting businesses that have not pigeon holed you as a tax preparer. These relationships always windup being more profitable and straightforward than legacy customers. You will learn how to attract and retain new clients without breaking the bank.
Over time you will learn the tips and tricks and tools that enable you to get more done in less time. This module is the shortcut that shares all of our workflows, high tech gadgets, low tech tools and bomb proof systems that let you get home for dinner and leave work at the office. You will see our practice from the inside out.
Doing strategic consulting is not the same as building a growing firm with a core competency in strategic consulting. I will walk you through the transition from tax firm to consulting firm. You’ll also learn how to continue the journey with a group of likeminded peers that you can grow and develop with over time.
I want you to begin a nine week journey that will result in a firm that you love, working with clients that you love, doing work that makes a difference in their businesses.
But over the next nine weeks you are going to get stuck. You are going to have questions. You will need a pep talk. And you will want to celebrate.
Every program participant has access to unlimited 20 minute coaching calls during the nine week program. These are 1-on-1 sessions with me where we can break down material, lookout examples, offer real time feedback on proposals and talk through your client cases.
I want you to be successful and if you will put in the effort to follow the program I will invest as much time as you need.
All of these coaching sessions are recorded so that you can review them whenever you would like. More important, everyone gets to benefit.
Every coaching session during the nine week program will be posted to the website where members can learn from one another.
You will be encouraged to see that others are making progress as they work through the issues we all have to overcome.
For the first time The Consulting CPA provides the step-by-step process to add strategic consulting services to your practice. And I've been working with CPA's all over the country for years on these same principles. Recently I asked a few of them about their experience working with me. Here are some excerpts from their feedback.
"Joey is an incredible leader for this group and his experience has enriched so many of our deeper conversations. I can't say enough good things about this group and experience!"
Jeff DeBolt, CPA
"Joey really nurtured us early on with just big idea after big idea with an emphasis on executing a plan. I shudder to think about all the mistakes I would have made..."
Joe Collins, CA
"I wish I would have learned this stuff years ago. Joey Brannon has done an unbelieveable job teaching us and he provides great feedback and a ton of knowledge."
John Clemons, CPA
"Joey lays out a easy to follow framework to begin offering high value consulting services. Prior to taking his course my consulting work was sporadic and unorganized. I have used his tools, templates, and processes to generate 15x my investment in the course. This is a no-brainer for a CPA wanting to offer high value consulting services."
Chris Farmand,CPA - Small Batch Standard
Meet Peggy Niles, CPA. Peggy was part of our most recent group of participants. We asked for her feedback with some open ended questions. Here are her unfiltered responses.
TCCPA: Where is your consulting practice now, after having gone through the program compared to before?
Peggy: My consulting practice is slowly growing. The reason I say slowly is because of the timing of getting started (end of Nov – beg of Dec). I was already committed to my normal accountant’s busy season so I had to take a break from keeping up the momentum I started to build up with the strategic consulting.
TCCPA: What program materials/ideas were most valuable to you?
Peggy: The structure of the entire process, especially the onboarding system for your own clients or prospects. I found most of the materials extremely beneficial and valuable; if there was something that I didn’t feel I could use I would discuss potential alternatives with Joey.
TCCPA: What has been your return on investment in the program?
Peggy: Within 30 days of signing up for the program I received the cost of my investment + 3x. By the end of the program I had another strategic assessment scheduled and paid.
TCCPA: In addition to how it may have helped your business, were there any personal benefits or have you grown as a person in the process of going through the program?
Peggy: I’d say I gained more confidence. For one thing I gained confidence in the “pricing” discussions with prospective clients. I also gained clarity. The consulting work was something I was doing, but never named it or described it correctly. (As an extra….my husband noticed how much happier I was.)
TCCPA: How would you describe the experience of working with Joey?
Peggy: Excellent! Joey is so easy to work with and never hesitates to help or answer questions. He also does not hold back from sharing his experiences to help you move forward.
TCCPA: What kind of advice would you give to someone sitting on the fence?
Peggy: This program is very worthwhile if consulting is the direction you want to take with your business. I do believe if you’re not going to put in the work, or you’re looking for a get rich quick system, this program isn’t for you. It is an honest, open, insightful, worthwhile program with an effective system to put in place. I found it’s definitely worth the investment!
The Consulting CPA
I don't want your money...
If you don't think The Consulting CPA is one of the best things you have ever done for your firm and your family I don't want your money.
In October of 2011 I came back from a conference totally sold on two things. I would stop billing my time by the hour, and I would offer every customer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We threw away the timesheets and we added a section to the bottom of every invoice (you can view it here) that gives our customers the opportunity to change the final amount before they pay the bill. I believe in putting your money where your mouth is.
We only want to work with people that are delighted by the service and products they receive. If you get into it, if you do the work and if you don't feel like I'm delivering the value I said I would then please, please, please! call me and ask for your money back.
By the way, over the last five years only two of those invoices have been adjusted down. One by $50 and one by $100. More than I can recall have been adjusted UP and by a lot more than that!
It took me seven years to finally make the decision, invest some money and turn my practice around. And what it cost me over those seven years in terms of lost profits was a fraction of what I had to spend to make the change. I don't want you to make the same mistake I did.
If you think like I do there are three or four things running through your head right now. One of my core values is TRUTH, even when it means saying things that are dififcult for my clients to hear. So we might as well get these out in the open. You might be thinking...
1. It sounded great until I got to the price.
If it seems like a lot of money then it is. If it doesn't, then it's not. In module two I walk you through our Strategic Assessment engagement. You can do it with clients right now and it will pay for the progam four times over. And that's BEFORE you get into the really profitable monthly recurring work with clients.
The future fees you will earn from consulting engagements, month-after-month-after-month will make this investment look like some of the smartest money you ever spent. And there's a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
So, it's not about the money.
2. I just need a little more time to build my own program.
How long have you been working on that program? How much longer are you going to need? What makes you think the same things that have been getting in the way all this time will suddenly dissappear?
I love to build my own stuff, that's one reason this program exists. But this is what I have done professionally for a living for years and years.
When trying something new I've learned, "pay the expert" because I may figure out a better way, on my own, but it's going to take a while. Given the choice I'll pay for expertise, especially if it saves me time...and it always does.
So it's not about more time.
3. I've got a lot on my plate right now. It's just not a good time.
Of all the rationalizations that will keep you from action this one is perhaps most toxic. It is definitely the demon that kept me from taking the leap over those seven years. Here is reality.
The more successful you become the busier you will get.
The only thing that allows you to move on to bigger and better things is deciding to do the important stuff and say "no" to less important stuff. And the less important stuff is always urgent.
So it's not about timing.
4. I just spent a bunch of money on this certification from _________ and need to give that a chance first.
CPA's love their certifications. Unfortunately clients and prospects could generally care less. But that's not the main issue. There are two problems with this rationalization.
First, a certification is not a magic pill. You need a program that takes good ideas and translates them into the step-by-step actions required to attain success. If you have already found a program, but you aren't taking massive action to make it happen it is usually because you are stuck in the weeds of great ideas and have no clue what the step-by-step process looks like.
Second, staking your future success on a sunk cost is one of the biggest mistakes business owners make. Wanting to rationalize your past purchase by promising yourself it will payoff, someday, is an exercise in futility.
So it's not about the money you've already spent.