Tim Howard first attended the NCI Plan I Practice Development Seminar way back in June of 1993. He also has purchased the home-study version of the Advanced Processing Seminar. After building and selling a practice using the methods he learned through NCI he tried his hand at a number of different business ventures. In November 2010 Tim decided to get back into the accounting business and he purchased a practice. Wanting to grow the practice he bought and increase revenue over the million dollar mark he upgraded to the Plan 2 Client Acquisition program, going back to a marketing system that he knew firsthand would work. Since doing so he has added $150,000 in new billings and is now that much closer to joining the NCI million dollar club! Read on to learn more about his journey to success.
The first question I’d like to talk about is your business background; where did you go to school, what did you study? What did you do after graduating that led you into starting your practice?
Well, after I got out of the Air Force I went to college and started studying computer programming in 1981. That morphed into accounting for ADP, auditing and the like. From there I got a job with Comprehensive Business Services. That’s where I got my first exposure to small business accounting, I got to see how their system worked, which was using telemarketing and outside sales reps to go get accounts. From there I finished up more schooling and worked as an auditor with the city of Jacksonville for seven or eight years. Following that I decided to open up my own firm in 1994. I attended the NCI Practice Development Seminar during that time and used your system to grow the firm myself. After three to four years of building that business I had a client with an idea for an internet business so I sold my firm and helped to develop this internet retailer selling clothing around the world. I did that for about a year, we worked on going public and did the whole dog and pony show. Then the bubble burst and I went back to managing the firm that I had built and sold. I did that for another year, decided it was time for a new change and I bought some cell phone stores and operated them for three years. Then I sold those. I laid around for about a year after that and then bought a truss plant and built trusses for houses and metal roofs. Then the housing industry fell by the wayside as you may have heard rumors about that (laughs.) I bought a CPA firm in 2008 that had been around since 1946. I took it over and started improving the systems and bringing them into the modern world. When I got things more or less settled down I knew I needed to grow it which brought me back to New Clients. I had attended the seminar and that had worked out great. I followed your methods to build my first practice.
That practice that you built up using the seminar, you said you sold that and went on to other things but do you remember the size of it when you sold it?
The practice was grossing about $225,000 a year. We probably had close to 100 monthly write-up accounts.
Was most of that a result of the marketing program?
Yeah, I had actually hired an outside rep to go out and get new accounts for me too and that worked for me. He had already had experience doing it too.
He had experience selling monthly accounting specifically?
Interesting, it’s very rare to find a sales rep. that has experience selling accounting services.
True. It worked out great because he had actually built up the Comprehensive Company that I worked for and another firm in town, so he was an expert at it and he had great perseverance as a sales rep.
That’s incredibly important, in sales you have to stick with it and be a real self-starter. I’m not surprised he did well between experience and his drive. So after trying your hand at a lot of other businesses, you ultimately went back into business for yourself as a CPA and wanted to grow it. You had a good experience with the NCI program going back a while, when was it that you bought your current practice?
March of 2008. I have a lady that works for me answering the phones and probably a year or so after buying the practice I put her on the phone setting appointments for me and I was going out and signing up clients using the NCI system. I can close them but after a while I just couldn’t do it all myself.
You’re only one man.
At best! (Laughs) So once again, I knew what New Clients does and how you do it so I thought “I have to get somebody in here and we need to get a plan, a system.” And NCI provided what I was looking for.
How big was the practice when you bought it?
You undertook the NCI Plan II Program, the Client Acquisition Program almost exactly a year ago. At the time did you have any reservations about upgrading into Plan II from your Seminar experience?
No. It all gets down to cash flow really. You have to make it work; you have to pay your bills. That was the biggest thing for me, making this thing pay for itself. And how fast can I wrap it up, how many people I need to add on. That’s all part of our different support features within the system to keep it flowing smooth. I know the program works, I just know because I’ve done it before. So there were no concerns about it there other than cash flow.
Since starting with the practice a year ago, how much billings have you been able to add through the marketing?
It’s going to be right at $150,000 or so.
Right at the guaranteed mark. (Editor’s Note: for those that don’t know, the Plan II program guarantees at least $300,000 in new billings within two years.)
Yeah, there’s no issue there.
Great. What advice could you offer somebody considering engaging in a marketing program like this? Keep in mind that there are a lot of people out there right now that I feel are hesitant to undertake something like this. Whether its money reasons or they’re worried about the economy, there’s not enough business out there, things of that nature. What would you say to somebody who’s thinking about ramping up their marketing with an NCI program?
Well, it works. I have no doubt about it working. There are certain times of the year when it works better, but it does work. There is business out there, no doubt. The program will work and you will get business. If people don’t know about you, they can’t use your service. You have to be in front of people for them to give you a chance. You can go the other traditional routes of referrals and what have you, and you might starve in the meantime. It’s an aggressive world out there – if you think that these larger firms aren’t doing the same, they are. They have their marketing consultants out there as well. If you want to compete, you have to be out there. That’s just the way the world is. Maybe people can survive on referrals and just building it organically like that, but I’m the kind of person that doesn’t want to wait for it to come to me. I’d rather go after it.
I agree, I think while that does work for some people, the problem with referrals and organic growth is that you have very little control over it. You’re at the mercy of your clients, family and friends giving you referrals. That may work up to a point but usually you hit a wall with it.
Yeah, we get referrals, we have a large client base but I don’t want to be at their mercy. I want to control my own destiny.
Exactly. That’s one of the other nice things about the program. Through growing the practice with the marketing, being aggressive and pro-active, you build up a large base of clients and from them you can expect more referrals than if you hadn’t done the initial leg-work of the marketing.
Especially with the downturn in the economy you have to replace clients. We had a lot of construction clients, people going out of business. So you have to have a program to replenish your client base.
That’s very sound advice. What is the most challenging aspect of the program in your experience?
The most challenging aspect is probably getting the right personnel. I think you need a unique individual that can multi-task. You’re multi-tasking on top of multi-tasking. It takes someone with a strong memory, capacity for detail and the minutiae of interacting with various different clients just to keep it together. You really want superstars. That’s the key to longevity and sleeping at night and not carrying everything on your own shoulders. You have to have the best people you can get out there.
You have to trust them.
Absolutely. If you get the best people you can delegate to them and that’s how you really want to build your business, because you can’t do it all. This all depends on the size of the business – if you’re just starting out, you’re going to be doing the returns. But my role right now is to develop the personnel and grow the business that way, to be a support as opposed to being in the trenches. That’s where my head is right now, but at any stage you have to have intelligent people that can grow with you. You have to get the best, I think, because it just does wonders when you have somebody that is a superstar.
Sure. That’s what everybody wants, the right people. We tell our clients that it comes down to the people that are implementing the program. As you mentioned earlier, the system is sound. We know that, it’s worked for 25 years. It all comes down to who your sales rep is and are they capable? Are they the right person for this job? It’s an important role because they are the face of the business, the driving force behind the marketing and the growth of the firm. You need somebody who can, like you said, multi-task and be organized with the sales skills to be social and close appointments. They have to be able to deal with the day to day paperwork and working with the appointment setters. Obviously the appointment setters have to be solid too because without appointments you’re not getting anywhere.
The processing is always a challenge. That’s why you have to get the work in. You need to get the best employees, and if you have to pay more it will ultimately be money well-spent. The system is designed to reward productivity.
Exactly, that’s what it’s all about. If you have a salesperson and they’re not performing, they won’t be making their commissions and won’t last long in the position. What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of the program?
Well you can certainly see your numbers increase, and the bottom line as well. You can monitor it monthly and watch it happen. As far as scorekeeping goes, that’s a good thing.
What about for somebody who’s running the program like you are? Do you have any advice for somebody who’s in the midst of running it, as you are?
For me it was just having a good time and billing system. I want to know how much time we’re spending on these accounts. And the accountants, how well are they doing? Are they struggling or keeping up with the monthly fee structure? For us those things are very important, to keep note of all our due dates and what have you. To me, that’s all part of building a business. That was one thing that helped us out a lot, a good time and billing system.
Just making sure you get the most from your employees from a processing standpoint with handling clients and monthly work. Especially with a lot of new clients coming in, you want to get them into the fold and set up properly and quickly.
That’s right. Also you need to make sure services are being priced properly. Are the accountants spending more time on a particular account? What’s the problem; do they understand how to process it? Is there a communication issue? It opens up the ability to ask those questions and manage the staff. If you don’t get it into a format where you can easily visualize what the status of the account is then I don’t think you’ll be able to manage the practice as well.
From a pricing standpoint, you mentioned making sure the price is right which has its own set of issues sometimes, how have you found that to be with the CSR out there quoting clients? Is that something that you had to work on with them in the beginning? Have they gotten to a comfortable point with that?
If they get too hungry they’ll want to drop the price down so you’ve got to have guidelines. Sometimes in sales they just want to make a deal, but we want to make sure it’s a deal that works for everybody. It can be unfair to the accountants because they’ll have a monthly rate that’s not appropriate for the level of work. We want to make sure it’s fair all the way through the system. That’s the thing that you really need to watch out for.
Do you have a monthly minimum fee?
We’re around the $200 mark as far as a minimum.
That’s fairly standard for many of our clients, maybe even on the higher end but that’s a good thing.
We want to move it up as much as we can.
Being established helps you do that, setting the bar where you want it to be. Are you surprised at all by the results the program has been able to generate given the economy? I know you had faith in it from your prior experience but that was a long time ago.
No, I expected it.
I think that mindset takes you a long way too, you believe and you achieve.
Yeah, that’s what it was supposed to do.
So that brings you up to, in terms of your overall growth with the practice, $750-$850,000?
Do you have an end goal in mind?
I’d say $1 million.
A nice round number, run the program for another year or so and you’ll be there! That’s a big milestone. You’ll have to let us know because then you’ll be a part of the NCI Million Dollar Club! Hitting that mark is a pretty special achievement. Is there anything you’d like to add Tim? Sum up your feelings about NCI?
One thing I will say about New Clients is that they’ve always done right by me. Bruce is a super guy, a real classy guy, and I’ve always enjoyed working with your company and I knew that NCI would deliver.
Again Tim, I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to sit down here with me. I’m glad that the program is doing so well for you and I hope for that to continue so you can hit that $1 million mark and beyond.
Chris Clark is the oldest son of New Clients Inc. founder and CEO Bruce Clark. He has worked as a Senior Account Executive at NCI for the past four years. During that time he has presented at the Practice Development Seminar on Internet and E-mail marketing and he also plays the prospective client during the seminar role play sessions. Chris also edits and contributes to the NCI newsletter, New Client News.