Blake Oliver: I love the fact that you are combining joy and accounting services. That's not something that people commonly associate.
Andrea MacDonald: They really don't. And when I share this with people, they look at me like I'm crazy. But then I set about proving it, and then they usually come around.
Twyla Verhelst: I like it. And we often most say, show, don't tell, which means that you can say that you have joy, but not have joy. And I think then that's the intention of you at least say that you've got the joy, and you're bringing the two together, then it'll all fall into place, and you'll be able to show your clients what that looks like and feels like.
[00:00:31] Thank you to our sponsor, FreshBooks
Blake Oliver: As an accountant, there's no way around it. You need to collaborate with your clients, and that can become pretty complex. But imagine if you could provide them with a platform that's intuitive and easy to use. That's where FreshBooks comes in.
FreshBooks is not only built for owners, but also, for accountants to work with owners. You'll feel right at home with features like bank feeds, financial reporting, journal entries, and an easy-to-use interface. They also offer one-on-one onboarding for you and your clients. And if you're concerned about getting to know a new piece of technology, don't fret.
They have a new certification training program for accounting professionals that will make you an expert in no time. Visit freshbooks.com/accountants to become a FreshBooks accounting partner or sign up to their newsletter to learn more. Work better together with FreshBooks.
Blake Oliver: Hello, and welcome to the Earmark Podcast. I am Blake Oliver, CPA, and we're back for part two in our series: being intentional in your modern firm. I'm joined again by Twyla Verhelst, CPA. Twyla, great to have you on.
Twyla Verhelst: Thanks, Blake. I'm happy to be back.
Blake Oliver: And our special guest today is Andrea MacDonald, CPA. Andrea, thanks for joining us and being our subject for today's experiment.
Andrea MacDonald: Hey Blake, thank you so much. I'm happy to be here.
Blake Oliver: So, in our last episode, Twyla, we were talking with Kristen Keats about being intentional in your modern firm from a high-level perspective. What does that mean? It means defining your values. It means choosing what kind of firm you want to be, the type of clients that you want to attract. We didn't really dig into it all that much though; we talked about it from a high level.
And today, we're going to do something very exciting, which is we're going to actually dig into the how of it. And Andrea is going to share about her firm. And we're going to talk about, how do we actually do this? You've prepared a method for this that we're going to try, and I'm really eager to give it a shot. So, Twyla, would you mind introducing yourself briefly for our listeners, and then also, give us an overview of what we’re going to do today?
[00:02:51] Meet Twyla Verhelst, CPA
Twyla Verhelst: Yeah, sure. I love that conversation that we had with Kristen. We really did talk pretty high level. We talked about being intentional in your modern firm, but we didn't leave people with, what will that look like for them, and how do they actually decipher and distill down to the point of being able to put this into practice inside of their firm?
So, great to be back. My name is Twyla Verhelst. I am also a CPA. I'm based out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I’m the head of the accountant channel for FreshBooks. Prior to joining FreshBooks, I had my own advisory and accounting firm here in Calgary, as well as also co-founded a startup, which is a cashflow forecasting tool for accounting professionals to use with their small business clients.
And I've done a lot of mentoring, and a lot of work in this space around being intentional, and how to actually set yourself up in a really purposeful, and mindful, thoughtful way that outlines what you want to be as a business owner, and what you want to grow as a firm. And so, I'm excited that we have Andrea with us today to go through this process.
Blake Oliver: Andrea, thanks so much for joining us. Could you just give us a brief overview of yourself, and what you do?
[00:04:01] Meet Andrea MacDonald, CPA
Andrea MacDonald: Yeah. So, I am Andrea MacDonald. I'm a CPA here in Virginia. Came to be a CPA in a little bit backwards way from most people, but here I am. Got a small practice in Chesapeake, Virginia, and we are growing in a certain way, and retracting in another way. So, I'm excited to dig into that with you guys, and talk about why and how we're getting to where we are. Thanks for having me.
Blake Oliver: Twyla, where do we start?
Twyla Verhelst: Yeah, let's do this. So, when we did leave off with our conversation that we had with Kristen, we talked very high-level about being intentional in your firm. We did talk about things like your values, and your- we call it the client avatar, but let's call it the client persona today. And we talked about what sort of technology, what sort of team do you need to build, and really, being intentional about all that.
And really, the starting point then, for today's conversation and what we're going to unfold with Andrea here is going back to the very, very beginning. Firstly, Andrea, you shared a little bit about your firm. Let's go a bit deeper. Let's talk about, when did you get started? Tell us how old your practice is.
[00:05:07] Some insight into Andrea's practice
Andrea MacDonald: So, I just wrapped up my 8th tax season. And you know, when talking to people who do tax, we age our practices and how many tax seasons we've survived. So, I just survived my 8th tax season. We were founded in 2013 and underwent a little bit of a rebranding- a minor rebranding- in 2017 to become what is now Pro Tax and Accounting. Eight amazing years.
Twyla Verhelst: Eight amazing years. Awesome. How many staff do you have?
Andrea MacDonald: So, we're pretty small. I have a staff of three, so it's myself, plus three people. Only one of those is actually full-time year-round. One of them is full-time only during tax season, and the other one is part-time year round. So, I run the gamut here. We've got a little bit of everything.
Twyla Verhelst: Stick with numbers, let's talk about clients. How many clients do you have?
Andrea MacDonald: So, I actually had to sit down and count before this so I could make sure I knew my numbers. We've got about 55 or so accounting clients. And I say or so, because some are regular routine work, and some are just as needed, but about 55 accounting clients and right around 450 tax clients. So, we're not a huge firm, by design, and we will actually be getting smaller as the next year goes on. It's pretty excited about that.
Blake Oliver: Getting smaller. I want to dig into that. I'm curious why, but I don’t want to derail things.
Andrea MacDonald: Part of being intentional.
Twyla Verhelst: I think we'll get there.
[00:06:25] Andrea talks service offerings
Andrea MacDonald: Definitely.
Twyla Verhelst: Tell us, even just to go a little bit more fine tune yet, what does 55 accounting clients- specifically, what does accounting clients mean to you? And what I'm asking is, what services do you offer those clients who are accounting clients?
Andrea MacDonald: It runs the range. We've got some clients at, I say the low end, that just need us once a month or once a quarter to go into their accounting software behind them, make sure everything is categorized correctly, P&L looks right, they're not entering negative expenses, and negative assets, and all this craziness, all the way to full-charge bookkeeping, meaning we handle their AP, their AR, their billing, and everything.
We run the range. We're not super systematized, which is one of the things we're changing, ‘cause it makes it a little bit hard to grow and scale when you're all over the place, but we run the gamut. And then at the high end, we do also offer some advisory services like cashflow forecasting. I offer tax planning and tax preparation services to both businesses and individuals, which is another area that will be changing in the coming 12 months or so. So, full service.
Twyla Verhelst: Okay.
Blake Oliver: For the clients you work with every month, are they- is it mostly they're doing their accounting, their bookkeeping, or are you doing it, or is it a mix?
Andrea MacDonald: So, the majority of our clients, they don't even touch their accounting records. And some of them are more write-up services, bank feed, bookkeeping, where it's mostly after the fact accounting; we're just making sure that they have tax-ready books.
In those cases, very few of those clients even access their accounting files. They're all set up as users, but they don't want to touch it. And frankly, I prefer if they don't as well. And then we do have a handful of clients who actually keep their own books, and just utilize our services to make sure they're doing everything correctly.
Blake Oliver: Gotcha.
[00:08:11] What's Andrea’s niche?
Twyla Verhelst: Great. Let's talk a bit more about those clients. So, is there any particular niche that you've started to establish for yourself over the last eight years?
Andrea MacDonald: If you talk to any accountant, niching down is a hot topic, especially right now. And it's one that I've always struggled with. One of the reasons I wanted to get into an accounting practice for myself is, accounting can be boring and routine, and I don't like boring or routine. Initially, I didn't have a specific industry niche. And to this day, I don't- I look at it more of a revenue niche. Probably 95 percent of our clients do a million in revenue or less. So, I work with a variety of industries, but almost everybody is in that revenue range- million or less.
Blake Oliver: And most of them, you're doing the books, write-up work for them so that they have tax-ready books come tax time. That's the main service that we're providing.
Andrea MacDonald: Right. And the tax-ready books is generally more for the lower end of the revenue clients. If I've got a business whose revenue is only $250,000 a year, no matter how much value I might bring to the table, they just can't afford a huge suite of accounting services. So, I tailor each package to the individual client's needs. So, we talk about, what's the most worrisome things that they're dealing with? And then we tackle those highest-level fears first or highest-level anxieties.
And then as they grow, we can expand the service offerings, which of course, expands where they fall dollar-wise for us, but in service offerings as well. So, we do have some very small- I mean, I've got a couple that even do under $100,000 a year in revenue. There are tiny, tiny, tiny. I love them just as much, though.
[00:09:50] What type of pricing model is Andrea using?
Twyla Verhelst: All right. So, that's a great segue into one final question, just foundational about where you're at today. What sort of pricing model do you currently have for these clients that you're working with?
Andrea MacDonald: So, on the accounting or bookkeeping side, I almost exclusively quote a fixed monthly fee. And I do that for a couple of reasons. When you're dealing with companies that don't have a whole lot in the way of revenue, it gives them some peace of mind to be able to budget what their professional service fees are going to be every month.
So, if you've ever worked with an attorney, you're afraid to pick up the phone, you're afraid to shoot an email. ‘Cause then, you're going to end up with some crazy high legal bill this month, and no legal bill next month. By assigning a fixed fee to the monthly services, they can reach out to me when they have questions, they can sleep a little better at night, knowing exactly how much that bill is going to be every month.
They can do a little bit of cashflow planning for themselves, because they know what that expense is going to be. And I just found that I had better traction with smaller business owners when I was able to quote them one set price for the month. It's a little bit different than value pricing; it’s actually a lot different than value pricing, and maybe someday I'll get there. Maybe someday I'll be a grownup enough practice to be able to use the value pricing model. But for now, the fixed fee pricing is working really well for us.
Twyla Verhelst: All right. Well, I think we're going to talk pricing when we get a little bit further along in this intentional journey, but I heard a lot of intention in there already. So, I want to acknowledge you for that, because you had some things that you shared with us about your firm so far. They clearly have been intentional; not everything has been by accident, like we talked about in our last episode, where we said a lot of times, it is an accidental firm, or an accidental niche or an accidental no niching.
You have some things that you've really been mindful about setting up for yourself. So, I'm excited to take these steps further. Let's talk a little bit less about the numbers and the technical side of your firm, and go even another layer deeper, or maybe even higher up, depending on how you view it, mission statement. Have you ever set a mission statement for your firm?
[00:11:58] Andrea MacDonald's mission-statement struggle
Andrea MacDonald: It’s a struggle. My mission statement has been loosely in development for the entire eight years we've been in business. You're trying to make one statement that just defines who you are as a business. It's really hard. We have a loosely developed mission statement that's being refined, and that I hope to make official. And by official, I mean Facebook official and website official, put it out there for the public to see. But for right now, our mission statement is loosely, to help small business owners find and maintain joy in owning their businesses, by allowing them to work on their businesses instead of in them.
Blake Oliver: Help small business owners find joy-
Andrea MacDonald: Find and maintain joy.
Blake Oliver: Find and maintain joy by letting them work on their businesses, instead of in their businesses.
Andrea MacDonald: Right.
Blake Oliver: I like that.
Andrea MacDonald: Which, when you're working with really small businesses, and you have both owned businesses, you wear a lot of hats. And sometimes, you get distracted from the main thing, the thing that makes you the money. So, I try to help business owners keep the main thing the main thing.
Joy has become my new barometer for all things business-related. And so, I'd like to- I'm trying to incorporate that into our mission statement. So, for now, that's the draft version; might get tweaked a little, but I feel pretty good about it.
Twyla Verhelst: Alright. I like that too, and I love hearing that as accounting professionals, we’re consciously or intentionally bringing joy into our practices. Because the reality is, is that the last few years have not necessarily been joyful for everyone at all moments. And when we bring that word, and that awareness into the practice, it can create something different, and set it up a little bit different. So, I love this as a starting point. Now, let's just go further back- sorry, Blake, were you going to say something there?
Blake Oliver: Oh, I was just going to- I love the fact that you are combining joy and accounting services. That's not something that people commonly associate.
Andrea MacDonald: They really don't. And when I share this with people, they look at me like I'm crazy. But then I set about proving it, and then they usually come around.
Twyla Verhelst: I like it. And we often most say, show, don't tell, which means that you can say that you have joy, but not have joy. And I think then, that's the intention of you at least say that you've got the joy, and you're bringing the two together, then it'll all fall into place, and you'll be able to show your clients what that looks like and feels like.
[00:14:10] Simon says: Start with your why
Twyla Verhelst: So, let's talk about why. And have you ever read the book, Start With Why? So, Simon Sinek has a book called Start With Why. Are you familiar with that book?
Andrea MacDonald: I have not read it, but you mentioned it in one of our previous chats. And so, it's on my list to get to this off season.
Blake Oliver: I haven't read the book, but I've watched the Ted talk. Does that count?
Twyla Verhelst: Yep. That's the distilled version, the Coles Notes, distilled version of the book. And we're not going to go into as much detail as they do in that book, but I love this starting point. And Simon Sinek calls your why or defines the why as the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us, and the compelling higher purpose that inspires us and acts as a source of all we do.
And so, if we use that as our starting point, I think when we're in a spot of, whether we call it being intentional, recalibrating, resetting; you talked about downsizing your firm, so, there's obviously some intention in there, that it's good to go back to why. And so, whether this is a why that's as crafted as Simon Sinek spells out in that book, or a simplistic version of this, is why do you get up in the morning?
What gets you excited to get out of bed? And you shared the mission statement that you're working towards it, where at least we're going to work from, but for you, Andrea, what's your why? What gets you excited to get out of bed each morning?
[00:15:38] Andrea’s "Why"
Andrea MacDonald: The why now is a little bit different than the why when I kicked off my business. The why right now is one, I love accounting, and I want to bring accounting to everyone. I want everyone to understand what we do, why accounting is important, especially in their small businesses. What I love most about every day- and this is part of why I'm downsizing a little bit- is I love helping small business owners better understand their businesses.
When I decided that I wanted to own a business, I had to think about, what am I good at? What is my skillset? What is my experience? I had already been working in accounting for however many years at that point, 13, 14, whatever it was. When deciding to start a business, it made sense to me to start a business in something I already knew how to do. And then I paired that with wanting to help other people in their businesses, and it just flowed naturally from there.
So, what can I do to help other business owners do better in business? And it just seemed really natural to make it an accounting, bookkeeping, tax type setup. My why originally was, I want to own my own business. That was the kickoff for this whole entire thing. That's pretty simple. I would love to say it was for altruistic reasons, but really, I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to start a business, and grow a business, and be a business owner. I wanted the flexibility.
My initial why was a little more self-focused. But by choosing small businesses- and I did that from the start- it lends itself toward a little bit of altruism, because I probably could make a bunch more money working with bigger companies who have better resources, but those companies don't excite me. I love talking to people who wear 16 different hats in their businesses and aren't really sure what their next steps are. They're not sure how to mitigate tax liability; they're just not sure.
They didn't become a plumber to understand accounting. They didn't buy a hair salon or start a hair salon to understand accounting. This allowed me to take my desire to be self-employed and bring all of this knowledge that I've been accumulating for all these years to more than just the one person I was working for as an employee.
So, it's evolving over time, like everything else in my practice. Some days, I don't really want to get out of bed. Even when you have a business you love and you work with people you really care about, there are some days you just don't want to adult. Those days, maybe I ignore the why and stay in bed, but that's pretty few and far between. Most of the time, I hop out and get to getting. That was a long answer to a short question.
Twyla Verhelst: Oh, I think that's great. It gave us a lot of perspective on what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning but prompts me to ask you another question. ‘Cause you mentioned you want business owners to better understand their business. What do you see happen when business owners better understand their business?
[00:18:20] Why business owners benefit from understanding their businesses
Andrea MacDonald: I think the first thing that happens is they- well, they understand how to be a little more intentional in their businesses. I just love this whole being intentional in your business theme, because now is the season. This has been one of those years, and intention is everything I'm focused on. So, when business owners better understand their numbers, they have a better understanding of where their money's going, they have a better understanding of why the profit and loss statement shows a profit, but they have no cash to pay bills.
They can't understand why they're running out of money every month, but they're reporting net income on their tax returns. They don't have a way to understand the difference between profit and cash in the bank. It helps them to be better estimators. I work with a lot of contractor-type clients. That's one of my sub-niches, I guess. A lot of them, once they're done working with me, realize that they haven't been estimating appropriately, they haven't been covering overhead expenses.
They know about direct materials and direct labor, but there's a whole host of other expenses they're not even thinking about. It helps them mainly with the cash. I mean, everyone starts a business for the most part to make money, right? Most of us aren't starting nonprofits, and those who are, are amazing, but for-profit businesses start to make a profit.
And even when it's something as lower end as tax-ready books, or write-up services, just helping them understand where the money's going, and where it's coming from can help to transform the business. They can change directions; we can focus on the services that are making a higher profit than other services. It's just a whole entire package.
And then I do have some clients who just want to know the books are ready at tax time. They don't want to talk about their numbers. They don't want to hear from me throughout the year. It's a little bit weird, but I've got several of those. So, in those cases, maybe my services aren't quite as valuable as with others, but even the lower-end clients, I just feel like can really benefit from understanding, especially money in and money out.
You have to know where it's coming from and where it's going, if you plan to grow, expand, or even just increase your profit margins. I think that's probably the best thing that results from clients working with me.
Blake Oliver: Even those clients that don't want to necessarily talk to you, they must have some comfort in knowing that you're taking care of them, that you provide to them.
Andrea MacDonald: Yeah. I'm really focused on relationships. So, even the people who don't want to talk to me all the time, we do still reach out periodically, because I like to establish a relationship with my clients.
Twyla Verhelst: All right. So, I want to take that even one level deeper, because I can see- I don't know, Blake, if you picked up on it with Andrea, you can see the passion that comes out when she talks about the clients who she gets to work with really closely, and the passion dissipates with the ones that you don't work as closely.
So, I'm intentionally noting that. So, I'm calling that out here, that we can circle back on that particular note. But what happens with the clients that you do give them that understanding of the ins and outs? Tell us about- from a client perspective- what does that do for the client? I'm trying to just go a few layers deeper to find the why that's the real magic, because you shared about your- you love accounting, you want to have your own business.
You can see that they're small business owners who don't know their ins and outs. They don't understand why they don't have cash when they made income on their tax return. Go deeper than that, what does it do for these business owners that probably have some sort of Andrea aha moment- is what I'm going to call it- of, “Ah, this makes sense.” What happens then? What do you see there?
[00:21:49] Helping business owners find their own "A-ha" moments
Andrea MacDonald: I think my favorite part is when I can take someone who's overworked in their business, they're working crazy hours, they're sacrificing family time and family values to try to make this business work, and we can make it so that they can be away from the business for family time, for evenings, for weekends, depending on what kind of business they're in.
Some are nighttime and weekend businesses. But when I can help them understand that you can run your business instead of your business running you- because it wasn't always that way for me. My business used to run the heck out of me. And when I finally had my aha moment, like, “Hey, this isn't how this is supposed to work, I should be able to be in control of this. I should be driving the train, not the other way around.” Once I figured that out, then figuring out how to help my clients apply that same change in their businesses.
Sometimes, it's a slow-going process; helping clients establish processes and procedures that do allow them to step away, instead of working 18 hours a day is not always a quick thing. Sometimes, people do what I suggest, and sometimes, they don't. But for the ones who have, when I get the phone call that says, “Hey, I just took my first vacation in 10 years. I took a whole week off. My kids actually got to see me,” or, “I got to be at my son's soccer game for the first time this season, or first time ever, I got to be at the football game,” that's what I'm driving for.
So, that same feeling that I've finally figured out how to get out of my own business, helping other business owners find out how to do that in their practices, or businesses, or whatever type of industry. That's one downside to not niching, is that how is a little bit different for everybody. It's not like I could find the secret sauce and then apply it to all my clients.
Everyone is a little bit different because it's not consistent industries, or business models. So, it makes what I do a little bit more challenging. And I could probably take a little more time away from my business if I were super intentional and niched down. But until then, I'm happy with how it is for now. Is that a little more what you were going for?
Blake Oliver: The commonality though is- well, I think I heard it earlier- it's, they know where their cash is going, and they're doing a better job of- an example of construction estimating. So, they have the margin that they need to actually take that break. It leads me to an interesting question, which is maybe it's more interesting for you because it's a challenge. With all those different types of businesses, you get to have more variety in your work. Would you be happy if all your clients were exactly the same?
[00:24:11] Why Andrea hasn't niched her firm yet
Andrea MacDonald: That's exactly what I've struggled with. And it's why I haven't settled on a niche. I started working with a business coach about a year ago, and he recommends choosing a niche. And I've managed to resist his efforts this entire time, because I am worried that I'll get bored. Maybe bored’s a strong word, but I'm worried that I'll get bored.
It's one of the reasons that I left private industry accounting, because every month is exactly the same. Every year end is exactly the same. It's very cyclical. That's one of the boring parts about accounting. By keeping my client persona, my customer persona a little more varied, it keeps me on my toes, it keeps me guessing. It keeps me having things to research, and to study, and to teach myself about, because I'm constantly learning. I'm learning about 15 different industries, instead of one industry. I will confess that I'm a little scared to choose an industry niche for that reason.
Blake Oliver: Definitely something to take into consideration there.
Andrea MacDonald: I mean, I feel like if it's not broken, why fix it, right?
Blake Oliver: Well, that is the reason that most firms are still using timesheets too.
Andrea MacDonald: Yeah. We don't do that. That's why we do fixed-fee billing. So I don't have to track my time.
Blake Oliver: Yes, that is the big benefit. Although it's surprising how many firms are still tracking time, even though they're on fixed fees now. But I digress, this isn't a timesheet episode. We're talking about values, and Twyla, should we go back to the Simon Sinek why, how, what? I feel like one of the things I'd like to just help our listeners visualize is what that diagram looks like in case they haven't seen it.
It's really simple. It’s three circles, one inside- each inside the other. So, at the center, you've got why, and then the next layer is how, and the next layer is what? And my big takeaway from that diagram, from that methodology of thinking about values is we often, when we're talking about our firms or designing our firms, we think about the what, which is the external part. That's what we do.
And we talk about, “Oh, I am an accounting firm. I do tax. I do bookkeeping.” And we think about the what, but what is more important to figure out is the stuff in the inside, which is the how we do it, and the why we do it. That's what people really care about.
Twyla Verhelst: Simon Sinek believes that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And that's what differentiates you as a firm owner, those three layers; it almost looks like a bullseye. So, the outside being what, and then you got how, and then why in the middle. That ultimately, what you're buying is in the very middle. And if you do watch the Ted talk, like you did, Blake, Simon Sinek often will refer to Apple, and Apple's innovation in this respect, and how they really were one of the leaders in somebody buying why versus just the computer or now the phone, the smartphone, right?
He really, he [INAUDIBLE] Steve jobs was really the one who started this path of why, versus what. And the what is thing that they do buy, but that they buy it because of the why. You dug into that why with whether we could say that you pinpointed it or danced around it a little bit, and I think we got there to the spot of, you want people to run their business, instead of running themselves- of the business running themselves; let's say that again.
Andrea MacDonald: So they can run their business instead of their business running them.
Twyla Verhelst: That's right. And then that's what does allow them to have the optics to be able to take the break? And I mean, the financial optics, understanding their cash flows, in and out, where's their money going, where's their margins, where do they need to achieve more margins so that they can set themselves up so that they can take that vacation, go watch their child's soccer game, and actually still run a profitable and successful business.
Andrea MacDonald: Exactly.
[00:28:02] Thank you to our sponsor, FreshBooks
Blake Oliver: You know what an ideal client is. They've accurately issued their invoices on time, kept track of every expense, and electronically saved and organized all of their receipts. But that's not always realistic. Clients are busy. They're running empires, big and small, with a thousand more pressing matters than keeping track of their finances.
Some might even do a pretty good job at it, but they get intimidated by the software that many accountants use. And let's be honest. Sometimes, the tech we use doesn't always set them up for success. Accountant Megan Justice of Crayon Advisory knows this all too well. In her experience-
Megan Justice: -clients who don't do their accounting, a lot of times, they don't do it because they're intimidated by the software.
Blake Oliver: That's where FreshBooks comes in. Thanks to FreshBooks’ award-winning support and intuitive interface, FreshBooks is already a favorite for small business owners who need an easy way to manage their finances. It's built for owners after all, but here's the kicker. It's also built for accountants to work with owners. Megan Justice says-
Megan Justice: It's very intentionally designed and accessible for people of different neuro types to really see what they need, and for me, as an accountant, to be able to train them.
Blake Oliver: The team at FreshBooks has spent countless hours working with accounting professionals like Megan to get this right. They've drilled down to every detail, and it's only the beginning. They're constantly listening to their users and introducing new product features. Through dedicated support, FreshBooks will have you feeling right at home with bank feeds, financial reporting, journal entries, and an easy-to-use interface.
They can even set you up with one-on-one onboarding for you and your clients. And if you're concerned about getting to know a new piece of technology, don't fret. They have a certification training program for accounting professionals so you can feel like an expert in no time. As Megan says-
Megan Justice: It's not just software, FreshBooks cares about the actual people using it. And that comes through in everything they do.
Blake Oliver: Visit freshbooks.com/accountants to become a FreshBooks accounting partner. Or sign up to their newsletter to learn more. Work better, together, with FreshBooks.
[00:30:13] Talking company values
Twyla Verhelst: I'm loving that. Let's go then a bit further out, which then would be how. So, if we think of that's the why, then we have the how. We won't get to the what just yet. So, the what being the services, ‘cause you've touched on those a little bit. And again, if we're intentional about it, maybe your services are perfectly aligned with the why, and maybe there's some things that you're changing.
But let's go to just how and talk a bit about company values. So, if you just do off the cuff, what are they most important one or two-word phrases that you want your clients to experience from your firm? And if I give you a couple of examples, the really obvious ones would be trust. We're in the accounting profession; trust, honesty, you see where I’m going.
Andrea MacDonald: Yep. The first one is the one that's, as you just pointed out as obvious, we want our clients to feel like we have honesty and integrity in how we're delivering our services. And everyone says that, but my core values for the company are in development, just as much as our mission statement is. So, they tie together.
We strive to maintain an open and approachable atmosphere. And that's one area that is really important to us. When you're working with smaller businesses- I mean, think about it from a very small business owner standpoint. If you walk into a really fancy, stuffy CPA firm, are you going to feel comfortable or are you going to be scared? For me, I'd be terrified, feel out of place.
Blake Oliver: Yes, absolutely.
Andrea MacDonald: We strive to maintain that open and approachable atmosphere in everything that we do, from the way our office is set up. And we do still have a brick-and-mortar office, although that's phasing out. But from the way our office is set up, to the way we dress at the office- wear jeans, T-shirts- I wear flip flops 365 days a year, including when it snowing.
So, we're a more laid-back, casual atmosphere because we want people to come in and feel comfortable and safe. We want them to step into our office and feel like they're part of our family. In fact, when we onboard a new client, the first email they get welcomes them to the Pro Tax and Accounting family.
Maintaining the open and approachable atmosphere is probably our number one core value. That's not one of the rote- everyone's going to be honest. The other thing is commitment to lifelong learning and continuing education. I just love learning. Learning doesn't always come easy to me. Sometimes, I struggle with retention and how to apply concepts, but continuing to learn, focusing on my continuing education; as a CPA, we have to do a certain amount of continuing education. To me, that would be the bare minimum.
If somebody is not doing at least 40 or 60 hours a year, how are you even growing in your business? How are you even bringing anything new to the table for your clients, year after year, if you're not even focused on the minimum education requirements? So, those two things, I think, are the core values that really drive how we operate here at Pro Tax and Accounting. One of my employees is still in college, so he's definitely learning and growing.
I highly encourage other staff members. One is actually thinking about going to law school, which has nothing to do with Pro Tax and Accounting, but I love it. Whatever direction their passions take them, either way, it's gonna- no matter what it is- it's going to circle back and help our clients in some way. So, focusing on those core values, I think, really drives how we deliver the services that we provide.
Twyla Verhelst: I love all that. And I think you've nailed some really great things there, in terms of, if you think of now starting to shape your company values inside of that. Really, your company values are what shape your work environment. So, you spoke to your physical environment, and how your people show up, and how human- is a word that I don't think you use, but I'm going to add on there- is how human and authentic your style is.
And then on top of that, other things that are important to you, that really shape your business decisions, and that everything ladders up through that. I love the open and approachable, so that's also very human. The lifelong learning, every decision that you make inside of your firm, it sounds like flows through those points that you mentioned, the open approachable, lifelong learning, of course, the honesty and integrity, but you're laid back. And I think your joy probably also fits inside of there as well.
Andrea MacDonald: Definitely.
Twyla Verhelst: Does that feel right to you, or anything to add there?
[00:34:23] Andrea’s decision-making process
Andrea MacDonald: No, that definitely feels right. So, every decision that I make, I keep in mind those couple of things. Even as far as choosing which clients we're going to work with. I mean, we're fortunate enough to be in a position now where we don't have to work with everyone who comes through the door.
That was not always the case. It used to be, if you had a pulse and a wallet, we were going to be best friends. I can be way more intentional in our client selection now. And some of that is being able to choose clients whose values align with ours. Not to say that everyone is someone who I would love to be friends with outside of what we provide to their businesses, but they, in some shape or form, met the criteria to align at least somewhat with our values, so we'll work with them.
So yeah, those things really drive pretty much every decision I make. It drives my decisions about which benefits to offer employees. It drives how I decide when and where my employees work. Just today, my bookkeeper, Whitney, the only full-time employee I have, she has two kids. They're two and a half, and just under one; they were both in the office here today ‘cause she didn't have daycare, but she likes coming to the offices on Tuesdays.
So, it becomes an all hands on deck, but we're a family. Like I said, that open and approachable family-style atmosphere, we live it. That's not a great fit for every client. We've had a couple people come in and they're a little off-put by the fact that there's a two-year-old running through the office. Well then, they're probably not going to be a great fit for us because nine times, nine days out of 10, she works from home, and that two-year-old could be a little bit noisy in the background.
And so, they're just not going to be happy with us, but being able to offer that to my staff is super important to me. And so, I would rather prioritize my staff's needs over that one person who can't handle that. So, those values really do drive everything we do here.
[00:36:10] Website design, and nerdy accounting humor
Blake Oliver: And I get a bit of that open, approachable feeling from just the colors on your website. I see there's this- is it fuchsia? Is that the color? It's like a hot pink.
Andrea MacDonald: Yeah, raspberry.
Blake Oliver: Raspberry. And you know, that's not a common color that you see on CPA firm websites, right? I wouldn't say- it's usually some navy and gold, maybe; that's the traditional thing. Did you make that choice because you liked that color, or was that linked to the values?
Andrea MacDonald: So, a little bit of both. The tagline on our website is, ‘We're not your grandfather's CPA firm.’ We do things differently here. Some of that-
Blake Oliver: Let us account the ways.
Andrea MacDonald: Yeah.
Blake Oliver: I like that.
Andrea MacDonald: I love nerdy accounting humor; y'all should just know. So, if I could sneak it in on my website, I'm doing it. I didn't want the typical- it all actually started from developing the logo. I had a client who does web design and graphic design, and he actually helped me develop my logo. And so, it all expanded from there.
So, I like the aqua color. We're actually changing the black to a navy blue. It's funny you brought up navy blue, cause we're going to soften it up a little bit. It's a little bit harsh with the black, but adding that pink- I say pink, it's raspberry, y'all, it's not just pink.
Blake Oliver: Raspberry.
Andrea MacDonald: It's not Pepto-Bismol pink, but I liked a little bit of a softer, ooey-gooey feel, than just harsh colors. So, I'm glad you picked up on that, that you just tested- I didn't do any market testing. So, I have now, and my marketing person will be super excited.
Blake Oliver: And there's a picture of you and the team there, sitting on a couch. It doesn't feel like- you're not wearing pant suits, and ties, and that sort of thing. It looks very cozy.
Andrea MacDonald: Good. That is exactly what we're going for. And I mean, that was the best of the pictures we could get. If you saw the rest of them, you would understand that we really are a little bit laid back, and- I was going to say hot mess. We're not a hot mess, but you can tell that by the pictures.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. This isn't to say that the more, I know, dressed up corporate type of look isn't appropriate. For a lot of firms, it is, but-
Andrea MacDonald: No, definitely.
Blake Oliver: -it’s aligning what it is you want to communicate to your prospective clients, and your clients. How do you want them to feel? And so, I'm seeing that.
Andrea MacDonald: Good.
Blake Oliver: There is alignment in what you have told us, and what we're seeing on the website.
Andrea MacDonald: So, my brand strategy is working.
Blake Oliver: The one thing I would add is, that image at the very top of your website, there’s people down below the fold when you scroll. But I would love to see people up at the top too.
Andrea MacDonald: I'll make note of that.
Twyla Verhelst: That goes back to the human element of what you're about, right? And I think I agree with you, Blake, that it doesn't mean that you can't have a firm, a very successful firm, wearing suit jackets. It just means being intentional about, that's your persona, and that's how you show up in your firm.
And then you’ll be attracting- potentially, attracting clients who are drawn to working with an accountant who is still wearing a suit jacket, versus Andrea, you, today, being dressed very casually, probably in what you tend to show up in, which is much more of a laid-back feel, like you said, because you're intentionally trying to be human, be approachable.
One of the words that I often use is intimidating. Accountants don't realize that they're intimidating. And my experience with this is if we've met in person- Andrea, we haven't had the opportunity to meet in person yet. I'm 5’3, and I'm not super intimidating, but I actually had clients tell me that at times, I am.
And it was always this joke because in our firm, my business partner was significantly taller, broad shouldered, a man. And we always joked that he was the intimidating one. But the reality is, is that when we talk certain ways, when we dress certain ways, when we show up certain ways, we actually are intimidating, which interferes with the client experience that you're trying to create, which is giving them the ability to run their business instead of their business running themselves.
And that means that they have to be in a relationship with you that is comfortable, not intimidating, laid back and approachable, where they can learn about their finances, which are so- it's so overwhelming for them, but that they understand from you and your team, in this human way that you're talking to them, about, here's what the ins and outs actually mean. And here's how this is going to better your business.
[00:40:45] Accounting speak versus normal human speak
Andrea MacDonald: Taking that one little step further, one thing that I strive really hard with is trying to explain things to clients in lay people's terms, right? I don't use a lot of accounting speak. I don't use accounting terms because that does make me seem even more intimidating. Speaking to them in a language they understand, and then in my choosing of my staff members, neither of the two who help me on the accounting side have a traditional accounting background.
Now, one of them, I will confess, is my son; he's in college. He changed his major to accounting, so he's learning it. But Whitney, who has been with me for four years now, I think, did not have an accounting background at all. I knew her from a previous company that we worked at the same place. So, I chose her specifically for the skills that she brings to the table, which are not accounting.
She's applying them to our bookkeeping clients, but because she doesn't have that traditional accounting education, she doesn't even always know the traditional accounting terms. So, that makes her super relatable. Even in my employee selection, I try to take those same core values and apply it. So, like I said, every decision that I make really starts with those two areas.
Blake Oliver: And I'm sensing a link between the other value that you have, which is commitment to lifelong learning and education, and the clients that you seem to get along with the most, or the ones that you get the most fulfillment out of, which are the ones where they’re basically learning something about their business, and they're discovering something new, and you are as well with them.
[00:42:15] Andrea's passion for teaching
Andrea MacDonald: I definitely have a passion for teaching. I joke that I'm unemployable. So, working for myself has made me unemployable for anybody else. Or I would probably be teaching accounting at community college or at a university because I love teaching, and I love seeing the click; when you're explaining something to somebody and they finally get it, and you can see the light bulb turn on, it's such a rush. I absolutely love it. And so now, I get to do that over and over and over again, with all these different business owners. It's amazing.
Blake Oliver: And maybe this is a good time, Twyla, to talk about the persona. The ideal persona, the type of client that is most receptive to those values.
Twyla Verhelst: Absolutely. I was just thinking the same thing. Great segue into, let's talk about these clients. Because you do have an intentional way that you're showing up. And the core values, even though you maybe don't have them as structured in your head as you think that they should be, the beauty of core values is it can be as unstructured as the approachable commitment to lifelong learning, honesty, and integrity.
Your core values don't have to be this well wordsmith’s paragraph. It can actually be what you stated. So, I think we're greatly set up for talking about who these people are. So, tell us a bit more about the types of clients that you- if we go back to that analogy, what gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning?
Because I’m sure all of us have had clients before. Even if I know- you still have a client, and we've all had client experiences that we've got our favorites, let's be honest. It's like the favorite client, the favorite child. And then we've got the clients that you're like, “Ah.” You dread their call, your dread their email. They're just not exciting you get out of bed each morning. Tell us about the one that excites you.
[00:44:02] Andrea’s favorite client persona
Andrea MacDonald: I have a background in construction accounting, not necessarily big construction companies, but industrial work, contractors. That was my private industry accounting background. I definitely have a passion for- pretty much all the companies I work with are service businesses. So, I'll start by saying that. that was an intentional choice, because I really don't want to deal with manufacturing, costing, and inventory tracking, or any of that mess. So, I love working with service-based businesses. I'm a service-based business. So, I love it. So, from there, I have a natural tendency to really enjoy working with contractors.
And that's still, even if I were to niche to contractors, that's still very broad, right? You can have plumbers, electricians, class, A, B, C; they run the gamut. So, I probably have the highest concentration of client type in some type of contractor industry. I love working with them for several reasons. One, they tend to be a little more blue collar.
Not to say that they aren't well-educated and that a lot of them don't have continued or college education, but they tend to be a little more blue collar. They tend to be very good at what they do, and don't understand or want to understand the accounting, but they have the most to learn. To be really effective at running their businesses, they really need to understand the numbers, down to the penny. It affects very heavily, whether they have cash at the end of the day, week, month, or year. So, it's always been amazing to me, how little they understand about their finances.
When I can sit down- and these are my favorite types of discovery meetings, is when somebody in a contractor type industry comes to me, and they're just a little bit overwhelmed, not just trying to keep up with the paper, but like, “Man, I don't understand why my worker's comp premiums are so high. I don't understand why I don't have any cash in the bank. I don't understand why I'm constantly bidding jobs and landing jobs, but I can't make payroll.”
At the end of a one-hour meeting, they can leave with an updated estimating template. And I usually do my consultations for free. So, even at the end of a free consultation, they're leaving with an updated estimating template to help them better understand why they weren't covering their costs before, and how they can start covering them today. The first estimate they do after they walk out of my office.
That's probably my absolute favorite thing, is to have them leave a one-hour meeting with just a sense of relief. They walk out like, “Okay, this is going to work.” They leave with a newfound passion for their business. I feel refreshed and renewed because I can see how much they love what they do. I can see that they're overwhelmed. I know how to fix it.
And I can convey to them in that one-hour meeting that together, we can make this work. We can figure out what the next steps are. We can make your business amazing. We can make you fall in love with it again. It's super exhilarating. Love, love, love it.
[00:46:46] Helping clients understand cashflow
Blake Oliver: Is the reason that they are having trouble with cashflow, is it mainly because they are not considering all their overhead, all their costs when they're bidding on these projects?
Andrea MacDonald: 99 percent of the time, yes.
Blake Oliver: What sort of costs are they missing? I'm just curious, honestly.
Andrea MacDonald: Almost exclusively when I meet with them, they talk a lot about the direct materials, they talk about the direct labor, they know how much they pay their employees or their subcontractors. And those are the only two things they mention- labor costs and material costs. So then, I talk to them about, “Well, what about vehicle payments? What about loan payments? What about the worker's comp that you're paying? What about your general liability insurance? What about the fuel you're putting in the vehicles? What about the office person you're paying for? What about the rent? What about the utilities at the office?” All these things.
And they're like, “Well, I'm making a 30 percent margin. So, that should cover all of that.” We run a P&L, and it turns out their overhead is 68 percent of their revenue. Well, if you're only marking your stuff up 30 percent, you're still falling quite a bit short. For people who don't have a numbers background, throwing those percentages out can be confusing.
Being able to translate that data into a demonstration that makes sense to them, you can see the moment it clicks. They're like, “Well, crap, 30 percent markup isn't going to be enough if I'm paying all this money for all these other things.” Almost exclusively, it's that they don't understand the cost they aren't covering.
They all understand the cost they are covering; paint costs what paint costs, but what about all the things to make that purchase of that paint come to fruition? And they almost never think about it.
Blake Oliver: And they feel like they're doing well because they're winning all these jobs, but that's because they're underbidding. The guys who know the numbers are bidding higher, because you can't make money on 30 percent margin.
Andrea MacDonald: “I hit my $300,000 revenue goal.” “Well, that's great, but your overhead expenses were 280,000.” So, $300,000 isn't sounding so great right now. Just getting them to understand that one concept can completely transform their cashflow. And if you can completely transform your cashflow, you can completely transform every other facet of your business. For me, I almost feel bad charging for this. To me, it's easy. I understand it. It's just one little concept, but-
Blake Oliver: Well, there's the value that you need to think about value pricing.
Andrea MacDonald: I know.
Blake Oliver: It's something that you've learned over years, and years, and years. And for you, you can figure it out maybe in 10 minutes. But these folks would never know, because they just don't have the whole history of all the learning you've done. I love that.
[00:49:23] Is job costing Andrea’s niche?
Andrea MacDonald: It's so exciting. So, I guess if I had to choose a niche, that would probably be it. I love job costing for service businesses, and that's aligned with the next step in the evolution. First, they understand their overhead. Now, let's do some job costing, and figure out which of the types of services you're offering are yielding the highest profit, after considering for overhead expenses.
If you've got an interior paint job, and your profit margin after everything is 10 percent, and you're doing an exterior paint job, and your profit margin is 30 percent, where should you focus your time and effort? We’re going to focus on the 30 percent margin. It's a several-step process, and it doesn't just happen overnight, but-
Blake Oliver: Is there a third step from there or is it pretty much those two steps?
Andrea MacDonald: It’s pretty much those two steps, because once you can nail those down, then you can implement processes. At that point, then you can hire an estimator to go out and bid your jobs. Because now you have this template because you understand what your overhead percentage is, you can create a spreadsheet that has a formula. So, all they have to do is plug in the sales price, and it'll spit out if they hit that target margin or not.
Then you can start growing a firm, or- I say firm, applying the difference from practice to firm in an accounting business, but similar. You can have a staff that can start making money without you having to intervene in every single step. That's when you can really start to be able to step back from the business, and build something that's scalable and ultimately, sellable.
Blake Oliver: Oh, so, that's interesting, because earlier, we had been talking about cashflow being the issue. But really, it actually sounds like it's a process issue for them, in that can't delegate bidding out contracts, and they can't delegate folks running these, because the owner has to be involved in everything, because there's no template, for instance.
[00:51:10] The challenge of pricing ...
Andrea MacDonald: Yeah. I mean, if you can't explain to somebody how you price your services, how could you turn them loose to do it for you? And I actually face this in my own business. These last 12 months has been transformative for me. I've had a lot of aha moments, a lot of intention creeping in. And one of the first issues I tackled when Whitney, my bookkeeper, started getting involved in the sales process, and she started taking some of the discovery calls.
After every call, she would have to come to me with a recap, so that I could come up with pricing to issue the client a quote. And it's because I didn't have- and still to a certain extent, don't have- a solid, structured way that I assign fees to services. I don't have packages yet. Those are in development.
The same issue I've been helping my clients resolve, I had not yet tackled in my own business. It's funny. I know what needs to be done. It's a whole different thing applying it in your own business. But it is a lot about process. If you don't have cashflow to pay somebody, there's no one to teach the process to anyway. So, they go hand in hand.
[00:52:12] Designing services
Blake Oliver: Yeah. you got to do both. So, I feel like we have- maybe I'm jumping ahead here, Twyla, but I love the passion, Andrea, and I feel like we've already got two packages we could value price here for construction clients, right? Which is, the first thing is helping you- the first thing they have to do is they have to know their costs- their true costs.
Andrea MacDonald: Yup. Understand overhead versus cost of goods.
Blake Oliver: So, helping them do that is packaged number one. And then of course, there's all the services that go with that, that you have to do to get to that understanding. But that's what you're selling. You're selling the understanding of the business, not the bookkeeping or the tax, right? That just happens. Tier two is the job profitability. That's the next level.
Andrea MacDonald: So, I'm just going to go ahead and turn over my developing my pricing schedule over you, Blake. You've got it figured out. I love it.
Blake Oliver: Well, I don't know what we would charge for it, but I just- I feel like there's definitely two packages to offer, at least.
Andrea MacDonald: That's- we're striving to get there. We're not quite there yet, but I love that. And I actually wrote that down because I'm going to take that and run with it.
Blake Oliver: Oh, that's great. I mean, I've been getting a lot out of this discussion, so I hope- I would hope that we could offer something in return.
Andrea MacDonald: Definitely.
[00:53:20] When is it time to let your clients go?
Twyla Verhelst: I think what we should just touch on before we- because I know that we want to get to the spot of, let's talk longer-term growth and what you're going to need to get there, and what that pricing model looks like. But I’m not forgetting the fact that at the beginning of this conversation, you said a couple of things, but one in particular is that you are downsizing, or that you're trimming your client lists.
So, curious to know, what is it you're trimming? Because we've really outlined why you're doing this, what your core values are. You're pretty clear on who your favorite client is. We won't- maybe you won't call it your ideal because you haven't niched entirely, but your favorite client is, and the services that you can provide them that clearly light you up. So, when you've talked about trimming, what does that look like, prior to this conversation?
Andrea MacDonald: I am one of those tax firm owners who just about broke this last tax season. These last two years have been extremely challenging. I was on this very aggressive march towards building a firm. Touching just very briefly on the difference between- in my mind, the difference between a practice and a firm, I'd started a practice, I liked practicing accounting, but I wanted to work for myself.
So, I started a practice; basically, created a job for myself. I'm just the boss now. Whereas with a firm, there's a business owner, and then there's a team of accountants doing the work, doing the client deliverables, and you're running the business. I thought that's what I wanted.
I thought I wanted to build a firm, and I was very aggressively merging towards that. We were expanding rapidly. We were growing quickly. I love the sales process. I love speaking with prospects, and trying to figure out what they need, and if we can deliver it. And have a very high closing rate because I just love doing it.
I was on this aggressive march towards building a firm, and the further I was removed from the client deliverables process, shockingly- or shocking to me anyway- the less happy I was. I thought it would bring me more joy, and instead, it made me miserable, flat out miserable. And so, everyone around me was miserable.
So, in the last few months now, I'm pivoting moving back towards a practice model. I want to be in it. I want my fingers in client's books. I want to be the one having the financial meetings with them and talking through all this fun stuff. To do that, I can't have as many clients. Part of that aggressive growth was expanding the tax side of my practice. And as a result, we took on a lot of 1040-only clients.
So, they're not accounting clients; they're just once-a-year tax returns. A lot of them don't want tax planning. They don't want to pay for it. They just want a 1040, one and done. Well, when you have a team as small as mine, you can only take on but so much of that before everybody breaks. And we hit that point this year.
So, before this next tax season, I'm releasing the majority of my 1040-only clients. I'm inviting them- I've got a couple of local tax professionals who I've come to know and trust. And so, when my clients, these 1040-only clients get the letter saying, “Hey, we're changing our practice model. Here are some people you can call who I believe will take great care of you.”
So, I want them to have somewhere to land, because I still care about them, but we're shifting towards focusing on the entire accounting relationship. So, we're headed to the point where we're only offering tax preparation and planning services to our accounting clients. Part of that is, it was just too overwhelming. That growth was just too overwhelming. And the other factor is Sharon, my main, my full-time during tax season person is nearing retirement age, and I don't want to necessarily have to replace her.
So, it made me really think about what parts of my business make me happy, what brings me joy? It's being able to be in the work, which means I can't have as many clients. When she's ready to go, I want her to be able to go with peace, and not worry about us. And so, scaling back while she's still working is a really important part of that. So yeah, we're going to chop the tax side of my practice pretty heavily by January. I’m very excited.
Twyla Verhelst: I feel like we're going to get this influx of people listening to this podcast, asking for Andrea's referrals of her 1040 clients.
Blake Oliver: Well, maybe. But also, I mean, Andrea, you're not the only person I've talked to who says, “I really don't want the 1040 work anymore. I just want to do the tax for my ongoing clients,” because you can have five times, fewer, 10 times fewer clients even, if you're doing work where the client is paying you at least a few hundred dollars a month, versus a few hundred dollars a year. That's a huge difference in the number of clients you got to have.
Andrea MacDonald: It is. And that relationship is really important to me. And if I have 500 individual tax clients, there's no way that I can know them, that I can know who their kids are, and where their kids are going to college. With my accounting clients, I know that. If you had my client list, you name a business, I could tell you the names of the owners, their kids, where they live, what they do.
I mean, and in my drive for this growth, I a little bit lost sight of that. and that's why I say my values are being redeveloped, that I'm going back to what they were, to begin with. Everything's changing, but that relationship is really important to me. When you have too many 1040-only clients, it's really hard. I don't want to be a tax factory, ‘cause I really want to know people
Blake Oliver: You can't have family-type relationships with people who you're just talking to once a year for a 1040. But not to say that's a bad thing. There are plenty of firms that would actually be happy to call themselves the tax factory. And that's great. That's what they should do. They can optimize for that. And there's a certain type of client that is going to love it.
Andrea MacDonald: I enjoy a nice- I say easy tax return. It's easy because I do tax, but I enjoy a nice, easy tax return. If I only wanted to work January through April, I would just build a whole entire compliance practice, and probably make a lot of money doing it. If I could find someone who wanted to join the firm, who only wanted to deal with the tax side, then I probably wouldn't release the clients, I would just turn them over. But it's really hard to find help right now. You know that. That's been a topic on The Cloud Accounting Podcast, the talent shortage in accounting.
Blake Oliver: Every firm I know is hiring a senior tax manager.
Twyla Verhelst: Yep.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
Andrea MacDonald: It's hard.
Blake Oliver: They don't exist.
Twyla Verhelst: They've all fallen off the face of the earth.
Andrea MacDonald: I had to make the decision to just release that pipe dream of finding that perfect person who doesn't want to necessarily have their own business, who wants to help grow mine. It's just not out there right now. So, this is my answer to that problem. Because my family time and my family situation is a little bit weird.
My kids are grown and out of the house, but my husband lives 150 miles away from me. So, my weekends are sacred, right? That's our only time to see each other, and I don't want to have to work on weekends. And so, part of that is aligning my growth with those core values, so I can apply them to my own life.
Blake Oliver: Well, this has been really great. And I got really excited just going through this exercise with you. I think there's just so much potential. We have a part three of this series, and Andrea, I believe you're going to come back. If we haven't scared you away, you'll come back for part three?
Andrea MacDonald: I love this. I could talk about this all day, all night.
Blake Oliver: Awesome. And Twyla did a lot of the heavy lifting for this part. My job is in part three- at least for part of the episode- is, we could talk, if you about those packages-
Andrea MacDonald: Definitely.
Blake Oliver: For those construction clients. Let's see if we can come up with a set of offerings, and even some potential pricing. I would have a lot of fun going through that with you, and really, building out a plan for how to get there.
Andrea MacDonald: Perfect. Sold. I'll be there.
Blake Oliver: All right. anything else to add to add, Twyla?
Twyla Verhelst: I just want to cap it off with saying, there's been a lot of intention in what you've shared, Andrea, and I know that you already said that you're taking these moments now, post the last two seasons of tax that have been really trying, and being intentional. And I heard so much intention inside of what you shared with us, which is really, really exciting.
And that's the part that lit me up the most when you talked, was when you talked about your favorite client, and I think that your intention of downsizing your firm to get rid of some of the clients that are 1040 clients, and you're thinking about you wanting to have your hands in it, and you have your tax professional that won't be in the firm any longer, I get excited for you that there'll be some intention inside of there that you'll actually be able to then spend more time working on the types of clients that you get super excited about.
So, I think there's even some- another layer of intention in there that you may or may not have recognized that I certainly saw, seeing your face and hearing it in your voice, how much you light up when you talk about that ideal client. And even though you're apprehensive to niche, when you talk about that ideal client, I can't help but think there's some clients that are going to get some awesome, amazing service from you, and your firm, when you are working with those clients, because it just- your why comes through so passionately.
Andrea MacDonald: Yes, I do love it. Thank you, guys, for letting me talk about it and for confirming for me that I'm in the right- I'm headed in the right direction. This is amazing.
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah. I mean, I would get a good feeling and that always- that feeling that you're in the right direction is probably the most important thing. So, thank you. That's all the time we've got today. I am Blake Oliver, CPA, your host. I have been speaking with Twyla Verhelst, and Andrea MacDonald, both CPAs. Thank you so much for your time. We'll see you again soon.
Blake: Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and that you learned something new. And if you did, wouldn't it be nice to get some CPE credit for it? Well, I've got great news. My new app, Earmark CPE offers free NASBA-approved CPE credits for listening to podcasts, including this one. Visit EarmarkCPE.com to download the app, take a short quiz, and get your CPE certificate. That's EarmarkCPE.com.