Nick Hodges and Andrew Carroll
For this interview, I spoke with Andrew Carroll from Nick Hodges’ practice. Andrew works in an office in Orange County, California, for Nick. The firm provides primarily tax, accounting and financial planning services. They are also involved in a plethora of different types of marketing above and beyond the NCI program, including writing and distributing e-books and actual books, and holding seminars nationwide. The firm is very tech savvy and entirely paperless. Nick and Andrew were interested in the NCI Plan 2 program primarily to grow consistently each month, which would allow them to be able to continuously cross-sell the financial planning service to the large base of accounting and tax clients the program generates. I’ll let Andrew take it from here.
Chris: Can you give me a little bit of background information about yourself: what were you doing before you went into the practice and when did you start the practice?
Andrew: It’s actually not my practice; the owner is Nick Hodges. I’m general manager. What I was doing before I went into this practice was going to high school. I started working for Nick during my freshman year of college, so I’ve been working with him for nine years now. We used to be part of a regional firm. We were one of three offices, and Nick was the managing partner of that large firm. We basically split from them and went off on our own, and we acquired two businesses. That was our first growth measure. We’re somewhat unique in that we’re actually a wealth advisory firm, so we have a traditional tax and accounting firm, but all of our principals are also financial planners.
Very nice. I know a lot of our clients have found it to be very lucrative and rewarding to offer that service. Do you know what the size of the practice was when you decided to engage in the NCI program in terms of a gross billing figure?
I do; we were at about $780,000 a year.
When was it that you engaged in the Plan 2 marketing program?
Last August. In July, we went to the seminar and Pete Borrelli came out here in mid-August.
What were the deciding factors in the choice to undertake the NCI program?
We needed to add a mechanism for growth. We’d done all the stuff that you’re supposed to do for external marketing, but we wanted to grow aggressively and we didn’t have the time or talent to build on. We wanted people focused on marketing; we wanted them doing nothing but that so we would have a constant stream of new business coming through the door. We wanted to see 8% to 10% growth every single year. It really wasn’t about filling or hitting a specific target number; it was about having a mechanism in place where we’re constantly growing.
Okay, so you’re looking for that consistent, on-going growth on a weekly basis.
Right, because our job as principals is not; I do no accounting and I do just a little bit of taxes. My main job is to up-sell folks into financial planning services. So, if we don’t have a constant set of leads coming in at the bottom, we can’t be filling our pipelines at the top.
What other types of marketing have you done or are you doing?
We have a very extensive online set-up. We have our main website and we have two websites that are product-specific. We have a personal CFO package, which is our annual fee financial planning, tax advice product. And we have that rebranded for another niche for ex-pats. So, each of those products has its own individual site that has its own e-mail list that we’re generating. In addition, we have an e-book on those sites where people are signing up with an e-mail to get the e-book. Then, we’re sending them e-mail campaigns that we’ve created. We have our own monthly newsletter that comes directly from our site working the same way. Between the two of us, we probably do six to eight speaking engagements and different types of presentations a year, and we’re generally writing twelve to fifteen articles a year, along with one or two e-books a year. All of that’s getting spread out through our various e-mail lists, our blog and our Facebook page–any place we can get those things out.
Branding the firm, getting exposure, that’s great. It sounds like you’re very active in terms of marketing, which is so important. To be an effective marketer, you have to constantly be in motion to keep your firm in the public consciousness.
All that stuff is what we had in place. Then, we said, okay, now we need to go get someone who’s going to grow this constantly. We built the branding and we built the outreach stuff. It’s just not generating enough leads, which we didn’t think it was going to; we didn’t expect that e-mail blasts were going to generate a lot of leads.
Right, that’s supplemental.
Then, we moved to NCI, and now we’ve got people here who are focused on selling.
Okay, so you do the financial planning, the taxes and accounting. Are there any other services that the firm provides?
Not really; there’s a whole subset of things underneath those headings, but that’s generally what we do.
So, approximately how much growth have you achieved since starting the program about eight months ago?
Currently we’re at about $6,500 a month and about $2,500 per quarter on the books right now.
Is that just representative of the monthly accounting fees and doesn’t include any financial planning that you’ve sold on top of that from those clients that were developed?
Correct. That also does not include tax work. Also, we wouldn’t include financial planning fees in that because it runs through a separate company.
Right, I understand. I just meant that for the purposes of getting a bigger picture. Like you said, you wanted to bring those clients in to enable you to cross-sell the financial planning. So, do you have a sense of what’s been added overall, above and beyond the billings from the accounting work?
We’ve done no financial planning for any of these folks, yet. Financial planning generally takes several years to get going, to establish that relationship. But, yes, earnings to date from 8/1/10 to 4/30/11 are about $74,000. We also did about $12,000, including tax work, in May. So, it’s about $86,000 so far.
$86k in nine months.
As of May, yes.
What would you say was your biggest concern before signing up for the program?
Our biggest concern was whether the growth would be there. Would the program deliver what we needed and do it on a consistent basis?
What has been your biggest challenge in running this program so far?
Our biggest challenge right now is getting the traction. It took some time to get started. We were running the program for probably four weeks before we saw any new business. Now, we’re trucking along, but we’re having a problem filling the pipeline with new leads. We’re currently going back over our old lists and recalling some of them. Our CSR has been tremendous in that we have data in our spreadsheets for every single week. He’s keyed that stuff into the spreadsheet to show us what the appointments per dial are–all kinds of metrics.
Yeah, it’s important to track that.
He’s doing two weeks of going backwards through the list and comparing that to the 10 or 11 months of averages to see how redoing those old lists falls into that scheme. Another thing that we’ve done here concerns a very large hospital near us that has a lot of ancillary buildings and businesses. We’ve actually gone through a second time and opted to include the doctors, because we already have about a dozen doctor clients.
That certainly goes a long way.
That opened up another 300 to 400 leads we weren’t using, but will be using now.
Are you calling on new businesses, as well?
Yes, we pull those every Monday and run through those during the week.
Would you say that you’re surprised by the growth you’ve been able to attain thus far through the program?
No, it’s basically what the numbers suggested. If you do “x” amount of work and invest “x” amount of money, this should be the result. We’ve come pretty close; we’re a little bit light compared to what we expected, but most of that we’ve attributed to economic conditions. It was just slightly under what we expected.
I just wanted to ask you quickly about Nick. I know he does some seminars nationwide on picking up tax work for accountants. Is that right?
Not anymore; he used to. The seminar he’s doing right now is for ex-pats. We used to do consulting for CPA firms on how to add financial planning to their CPA practices and we did a series of speeches on that, but we haven’t done that in a while.
Any plans to return to it?
He won’t, but I might get back into it, if I can. We’ve found we make more money focusing on the practice rather than teaching people how to do what we do, because none of them believed us and none of them wanted to pay us to show them how to make more money. We thought it was going to be great because we’ve had success, and we can teach others and help people try to move the industry forward. Most of them either didn’t get it or didn’t believe it or were too scared to try something new.
The other thing is that a lot of them have waited so long to make a change in their business that now they’re broke and they don’t have any money to invest in marketing and growing their business. If they’d had the foresight to address it when they were still doing well, they’d still have money to invest in things like that. Now they get to the point where, “Okay, now I’m in trouble, let’s go do something.” Well, the problem is you can’t invest in something like NCI at that point. If you wait until you’re broke to find the solution, then it’s too late! You can’t do anything.
The seminars you do now are for ex-pats?
Yes, Nick is doing presentations for a magazine called International Living. They have three or four conferences around the world each year and he’s going to all of those as the speaker on taxes, investments, and things like that.
Also, Nick is writing a book called The Lazy CPA, is that right?
Yeah, the first book we have is called The Lazy CPA’s Guide to Adding Financial Services. It went along with the consulting business we did; it’s basically a book about how to add financial services and his experiences doing it. We’ve another book coming out, probably by the end of summer, that he’s going to finish.
It’s about getting your series 7 license and so on?
Kind of; it’s not that technical. It’s more about what you can expect from your clients, and what you want to portray, and what kind of personality it takes to be successful at it. A little bit more about the mindset that goes into it and handling objections that will come up, rather than a step-by-step manual.
Is The Lazy CPA an e-book or a physical book?
It’s a physical book; you can find it on Amazon.
Could you sum up your feelings on our company and the NCI program to wrap up?
The one thing I would say is that I like the program. You guys are really good at sticking to your guns and saying this is the program; this is what it is and this is how it works. That’s really good, because most CPAs don’t want to accept that. They’re looking for a magic bullet, and I appreciate the fact that you guys are the ones that go, “No, this is not easy. You have to do the work; you’re going to have to grind it out. We’ve made this as easy as possible, but if you work the program you will get the growth you need.” I think that’s really good, sound advice and the proof is in the pudding. I like that. I like that you promised that if we put the work in, it would work and the program delivered on that promise.
Thank you for your time today, Andrew. It is much appreciated and has been a pleasure.
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.