How Javier Goldin, CPA Tripled the Size of His Practice Since 2011
I had previously interviewed Javier Goldin, CPA in November of 2011. At that time his practice had grown significantly thanks to the NCI seminar and the NCI Plan 2 program. His practice went from a startup in May of 2007 to grossing $600,000 by the end of 2011. That’s $600,000 in four years following the NCI marketing program. Bruce Clark, founder and CEO of NCI, had recently sent Javier a copy of his new book, Beyond the NCI Effect: Sales Strategies that Matter to Grow an Accounting Practice and Javier responded thanking him and letting him know that his firm had grown by 70% the past year and that cloud computing had opened a lot of doors for the accounting profession. So we decided it would be a good time to do a follow up interview with Javier to see what new heights he and his business have reached in 2015. In this second interview we talk about the niche that Javier has found for his firm and how he targets that niche and the ways that the marketing of his practice has evolved since 2011, among other interesting topics.
When I previously interviewed you in November of 2011, your accounting firm was about three years old and doing approximately $600,000 in business per year. Can you give us an updated figure to illustrate your growth and success in the four years since then?
Without going into too much detail, as of this year, we have more than tripled our revenue since 2011.
So you’re closing in on 2 million dollars gross annual billings, wow, that is phenomenal!
Thank you. I am happy to share some of the factors I believe have contributed to our growth and hopefully it will be helpful for your readers.
Are you and your CSR Hamoon still using the NCI marketing methods to grow the business at this point?
The first part of the answer to that question is that Hamoon is still with us. He’s been here for about eight years now. This one aspect, the dedication of one individual to business development and client service, is an idea that I picked up from NCI. It has been one of the key tenets of our business structure. It has been crucial to our ability to grow the business. Someone who can follow up with prospects and clients, someone who can develop leads, close them and make sure the clients are happy. On the other hand our lead generation techniques have morphed a little bit.
That leads right into my next question, how has the marketing of the practice evolved as the business has grown so significantly?
In order to give context to my answer, our marketing has changed because the focus of our firm has also changed. First, we have become far more targeted to a particular niche. Second, we have narrowed the profile of the client we are after. Third, we have further defined the type of services we are offering. As a consequence of having changed these three components, the marketing strategy must also follow along to increase the chances of success.
Now if I may go more into the details of each component: In terms of niche, one of the things we have discovered is that in order for us to succeed, we had to discontinue looking at accounting as a commodity. We have to differentiate ourselves. This means becoming experts in a particular niche. In our case, one of our distinct niche markets is the non-profit community. There is no question that the greatest potential lies in differentiating ourselves from other CPA firms and making the accounting service something that is distinct, that in fact we’re experts in the field and as a result we can offer more value than the next firm.
Number two is the type of client we’re seeking. We are stricter in filtering the clients we accept. The type of client we now look for is someone who appreciates the value of financial services in contrast to business owners who think of accounting as an afterthought. As you know, it is not uncommon to still find business owners who think that accounting is just a burden on them. We shy away from that type of thinking because we know from experience that down the road we may have difficulties with them. So we’re looking for folks who appreciate the value of finances, who appreciate the value of our advice and who realize how important it is to have sound financial infrastructure and accounting tools to make decisions. We’ve also chosen a revenue target number, we know that the services we are offering are best suited for the companies that have “x” amount of revenue per year.
The third leg of the change is the type of services we offer. We’ve really expanded the suite of services that we’re offering to encompass not just accounting services but instead a financial infrastructure. We offer considerably more than merely providing financials and taxes at year end. We are looking more to each businesses’ needs to help make them a success. Some may need payroll, some may need job costing, for others a time allocation system may be useful. Payables and receivables are another option. The non-profit community, as an example, also needs experts in donor management software. So we’ve become experts in the different types of donor management software available and we can make recommendations on what may work best for their particular organization.
Do you offer financial planning services as well?
No, we have our hands full at the moment but that could be coming down the pike at some point. We do offer things like trustee 401k services. We are marketing ourselves as far more than just CPAs. We are the full finance department for our clients.
Why did you choose non-profits as you niche?
Non-profits are particularly open to outsourcing their financial infrastructure. These are folks who are very much oriented with fulfilling their mission and are very clear on the type of services needed to run their organizations. Executive directors of these companies understand quickly the value of financial services and are very focused on having their time directed towards the mission of the organization. They know that the financial side of the business is best handled by someone who is savvier than they are in that area.
In contrast, it is not unusual in the for-profit sector to have financial experts as owners. We have many MBAs, accountants and marketing majors taking the lead there. They begin with the assumption that they can do it all because they know how to do it all. It takes a little while longer for them to realize that their time is better spent concentrating on the goals of their company. Non-profits have that clear from the very beginning because the people that join non-profits as executive directors normally do not come from a business background. They are usually sociologists or university professors, they come from different arenas. That is why it is easier to sell the value of the service to non-profits.
Did you come to this realization by working with non-profits earlier in the development of your practice?
It was a combination of factors. I come from a non-profit background. I was the CFO of a rather large, international non-profit organization. So I was already aware of this world, which is a unique world. Also, as you pointed out, we had some non-profit clients early on and we saw that we could work well with them. Part of it is just being out there, trying different things and learning from our failures. I think we learn far more from our failures than we do from our successes. We are very big here on trying different things until something clicks.
Do you still use cold calling to generate new business?
As a result of this change in our niche and target client, the marketing also has changed. We found that cold calling was giving us minimal positive outcomes. We were having to make more and more phone calls to get leads. We have changed strategies and for all intents and purposes we do very little cold calling now. We are far more concentrated in networking which I know NCI also suggests.
We’ve also been developing strategic partnerships. As a result of the niche that we’re in, we’re getting close to many associations. There are many non-profit centers that we speak with. There are power players in the non-profit community and we’ve been trying to see what it is we can offer them so in turn we have access to their membership. We also spend time with Chambers of Commerce, SBA networking events, we give seminars and interphase with listservs that you can find via LinkedIn and other sites that are forums for non-profits.
Very interesting. You had sent along a thank you note to Bruce Clark, CEO of NCI, for sending you a copy of his new book Beyond the NCI Effect. In that note you mentioned that cloud computing had opened a lot of doors for your firm, can you expand on that comment.
Teaching through seminars is a big area for us. That ties in with how technology is helping us grow the firm. We conduct seminars both in-person and online. They are on various topics, most of them have been related to cloud technology for financial infrastructures because that is one of the hottest topics now.
Here in the firm, many of our staff members also are out teaching. I’m a big believer in delegating and passing on what I know. I think that a leader is measured by how successfully they can be replaced rather than what they can do own their own. If you really want to lead a company it’s about empowering others instead of putting all the pressure on yourself and trying to do all or most of the work on your own. This way the company grows quicker, is stronger and has a better morale. It has been my experience that we grow much more quickly when I make people happy. When you delegate and when you empower your employees by giving them authority and leadership roles, they do better.
That’s very profound and I agree that is really what leadership is about, lifting others up and in doing so making everyone more effective. Getting back to cloud computing, is there any particular software or technology within that sphere that really excites you lately?
I and many others in the industry believe that the technological changes to the accounting industry is coming fast and furious and whoever doesn’t adapt will be left behind. We’ve been trying to be as proactive as we possibly can. The way the technology and in particular cloud computing, has been affecting us is, both in processes and the way we interact with our clients. The number one change that accounting cloud technology has brought is processing efficiencies. The input of information is quicker which allows for more time to analyze information. In this regard, we’ve moved to a more visual way of depicting financial information. Whereas in the past we sent financials, now we have dashboards, graphs and charts which are far easier to decipher. It’s less about showing numbers and more about visual depictions that lends itself to quicker analysis.
We are also interacting with people differently. Millennials in particular are not so interested in being tied to one place or having offices. You now see a big trend towards independent contractors, rather than a desire to become an employee. We use a lot of collaborative platforms now, we can do just about everything online. This is what I was getting at in the note to Bruce: accountants have an amazing opportunity to be in the vanguard of this cloud computing revolution. Of course it all begins with understanding the needs of the client and that is what we have tried to do. Once you understand their needs, there are some amazing pieces of software out there that are very accessible since technology is now charged on a per user basis. So you could have a company that has invested billions in creating a great program and we can buy it for nine dollars a user, which is a bargain. It’s really up to us to find the right tool and see how we can incorporate it into the needs of the client. In doing so we provide a far more wholesome, integral accounting or financial suite. We have a lot more to work with and a lot more value to offer as a result.
That makes a lot of sense, it’s a brave new world out there. Technology now changes so fast that you really have to be dedicated to keeping up with it as it happens.
As a matter of fact, in our company we have two people who are technology experts. I believe that improved technology knowledge has become a necessity for a CPA firm. When there is a whole technology apparatus to install as part of the financial infrastructure we need someone who is very savvy to make it happen quickly and efficiently. They do all of the training and troubleshooting and then turn it over to the CPA who will service the account on an ongoing basis.
What new challenges are you facing lately with the practice?
If you look at the employment numbers, this is expected to be the best year in history for accounting and CPA graduates. The supply of qualified CPAs is very tight and the demand high. CPAs pretty much have their pick when it comes to the job they want. Normally graduates want some big four experience before they go to work for other companies. So attracting qualified professionals has been a challenge.
That is a pretty common problem for a lot of the accountants I speak to. Have you found any ways around it?
There are two things that I sought out and found success with when it comes to finding talent. The first is expanding the pool of potential candidates to not just include this country but also foreign countries. There is a lot of skilled labor willing to come to the U.S. and they are extremely capable people. I’ve found that a lot of the highly skilled and very competent professionals have been Asians. They have a tremendous work ethic and are very dedicated.
On the other side, when we have an overflow of work, we also outsource. There are countries throughout Latin America and Asia that have accountants who will help us with our processing.
NCI recommends a company called GKM out of India for that type of service and they do an excellent job for our clients. What is your feeling on social media for marketing an accounting firm?
We do have a social media presence and we have contracted a firm who maintains our social media. Our experience has been that it may be useful for branding but it hasn’t been attracting clients. In other words it is a necessary component of getting your business out there but it has not been a magnet for potential clients. Yes, a good website is a necessity, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels are also necessities. Those things are useful and people may use them to reinforce what they have already decided but they are not the initial attractors of potential clients.
Some people view the NCI marketing program as antiquated or outdated since we do still emphasize using the telephone for marketing to make direct contact with potential clients.
There is no question that NCI served us when we first began, not only giving us good information and good techniques but also in strengthening our resolve in becoming independent. So the NCI program was certainly very useful when we got started. I tend to think that the phone is less of a useful medium for reaching out to people versus a good website, effective networking and other approaches of this nature.
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.