We featured Susan Haase as a success story almost exactly one year ago since she was off to such a great start with her program. I decided to check back in with her to see how she is progressing towards the million dollar mark in her practice. She is well on her way and continues to grow in leaps and bounds utilizing the NCI program but with one key difference: she had NCI train her as the salesperson for her firm. In our discussion she covers her progress with the program, some details on her very successful sales process and, also, the NCI Advanced Processing Seminar she attended to learn how to manage her growing practice more efficiently.
Chris: Can you give a little background on yourself and your practice?
Susan: I was in accounting for 28 years. I started as an enrolled agent, then I finished my CPA and I went to work for Ernst & Young for a while and then became a partner in a small local firm in IndianapolisSan FranciscoNCI client so he told me how great the marketing program is and how he had been able to grow his practice through that. After a couple years, I decided I may want to do the same thing and build my practice before I sell it. , so I purchased a firm from a retiring CPA here in the bay area that was at the time about a $650,000 practice. He had been an . Eventually I started my own business. Then my husband got transferred to
I see. What were some other deciding factors in your choice to undertake the NCI program, Susan?
It seemed to me that once the economy got bad, the referrals weren’t coming in as well as they had been. I was looking for a way to jumpstart the growth of the practice.
Can you tell me how much growth you were able to add via the program and where the practice was when you got started?
Yeah, I purchased the firm in 2006 and I went through your program in 2009. During the period before that, we were able to stay pretty even but it wasn’t growing like I hoped it would.
So you were around the $650,000 number?
Yeah, we were still there.
How much growth were you able to add with the program?
We added about $180,000 in the first year. Then we sort of backed off. I didn’t run the program at all during tax season this year, and I took my telemarketer and made her an admin. She helped with answering the phone, filing and scanning, things like that. Now we have started up again and we’re doing really well. I’m amazed; we did $30,000 in new business in January. In addition to that $30k from January, we’ve added another $20,000 since tax season ended. So we’ve added about $50,000 in those six weeks alone. That’s in six weeks.
That’s fantastic. In about 2½ months you added $50,000 in new business. That’s amazing. One thing that’s a little different in your program is that you were the one doing the selling as opposed to a CSR. How have you found that process to be? Why did you decide to go that route, and how has it been?
Well, I’m 60 now so I was getting a little tired of all the number crunching. I’ve always been pretty good at talking with clients in the advisory role that we play as accountants. So I just thought this was something different for me to do. I’ve got a good enough staff that they can do all the number crunching. It was just something I wanted to do.
What was your biggest concern before you signed on to do the program?
Definitely the cost, the investment required. Even though you’ve talked to other people who have done it, you don’t know if you’re going to be successful at it. It is a big investment, but the guarantee helped a lot.
Okay, so that helped in making your decision,. Also, did you talk to any references?
Just the guy I had bought my practice from, and that was a pretty good selling point right there.
That was a good endorsement, sure. What’s been your biggest challenge in running the program?
The first initial challenge was finding good telemarketers. I’ve done that now, I have the best. I have a girl that worked for years as a telemarketer for a charitable organization and she’d done very well with that. She’s very good at what she does, so I just have the one. She was a terrific find. I should also mention that the very first person NCI hired turned out to be terrific, too. She was so good that I ended up hiring her full time. She’s what I call my marketing director now; she’s in charge of getting the lists for the current appointment setter Judy and doing the thank-you letters and following up with phone calls. She does part of my job and also works for us full-time so she’s not technically on the phone anymore. I’m very happy with the system; you just have to keep tweaking it until you find the right combination.
If you’re willing to work the program, then you get the results. That’s what we’ve seen time and time again, and it’s a matter of bearing down and getting after it. If changes need to be made, you have to make some changes, but the general system will lay the groundwork for you. How does your sales presentation typically play out?
I try to structure it more as a conversation – my presentation is about five minutes long, tops. I tell them about me, I tell them about our team of people, and I tell them about all the services we provide. Then we just talk, and this might not work for a non-accountantCSR, but it works for me. I just talk to them about what’s going on in their business and what they’re looking for. I don’t try to sell them really; I try to show them what their options are: you can do it yourself, you can pay somebody to come and do it, but anyone can say they’re an accountant. I bring them around to the point that even though it may be more expensive, you’re better off with an accounting firm where somebody has your back; where somebody is keeping you away from late-filing penalties and things like that. Even if I don’t get the client, I almost always come away from a meeting feeling like I met somebody who lives in my community and is doing what they do, and now they know me and I know them. It’s amazing how often the ones that don’t come through right away will come back 6-10 months later and say, “I kept your card and now I’m ready,” or, “you were right, it’s not working the way I’m doing it.” I do use the Client Service Agreement [Editor's note the Client Service Agreement is NCI's version of an engagement letter.] which is awesome. It highlights all of the advantages they have to offer people.
Yeah, Client Service Agreement is a sales tool in the arsenal. Do you have any sales tips for our clients?
Well, one thing that I find very helpful is having a good website to shorten my presentation. I have a one-page presentation and it has our mission statement at the top and a little bit of bio on me, then the names of our team members. I just say, “If you want to know more about us, you can go to our website.” So many people will call back later and say, “Hey, I went to your website and it was really cool. I especially liked your newsletter.” We have the standard website from CPASiteSolutions and one really nice feature is the newsletter that they send out on your behalf each month. I think that can really help you, particularly with the younger clients, who are so computer savvy and want to get all of their information online. I guess the only other thing, which is just common sense, but in these economic times, I have really hit on the fact that when revenue’s down we can’t always control what’s coming in, but we have to control what’s going out. Cost management becomes so much more important in tough times and people really respond to that and ask me for my ideas on that.
With the marketing system in place, you have a larger degree of control over generating new business coming in, like in your case you were steady at $650,000 for a few years and now with the program in place you’ve been able to add some nice growth on top of that.
Yeah, I’m really hoping we’ll come close to $1,000,000 this year and hit it next year.
What’s the size of the practice now?
There are nine of us, including the part-time telemarketer and my daughter, who logs in from Seattle half-time so she can be home with her kids. So I have seven full-time and two part-time employees. We have two CPAs, two CPA candidates, sales-tax specialists and payroll specialists, and the girl who I mentioned who was my first telemarketer and who’s now my office manager. In terms of the billing number, this year we’ve already billed about $500,000 so I’m assuming it’ll be around $850k to $900,000.
Then it’s on to a million.
If we get there next year, that would be 40% growth; we would be going from $650,000 to $1,000,000 in about three years of running the program. And I will take tax season off again next year. I worked through tax season and still had marketing appointments but it was stressful. There’s assimilation, too. We don’t lose a lot of them but it’s not an easy transition sometimes, and I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of keeping track of them in the first 3 or 4 months to make sure that they’re getting what they expect to get and we’re getting what we expect to get.
One of the more challenging aspects is all that work coming in and growing the business and making sure you stay on top of that and don’t lose clients to attrition when you can avoid it. Actually I did want to ask you a couple questions about the Advanced Processing Seminar. You had attended that with Duane Gravley, as well, correct?
Before we get into that, I wanted to ask you, are you surprised at all by the growth that you’ve been able to achieve with the program?
No, you guys told me to expect it! But we’ve added a team member or two, and it’s been tough at times to keep up with the workload but we’re getting better at that too.
Did you have any reservations before you attended the Advanced Processing Seminar?
Well, I wondered if I would learn anything because I love that kind of stuff and I do a lot of my CPE with MAP stuff, Managing and Accounting Practices. I’ve been to a lot of seminars and conferences on that topic, so I thought I might not learn anything but I’d go anyway. But it was really good; I got a lot out of it.
What was it that compelled you to attend that seminar in the first place?
Probably just that I like that kind of thing and I always feel like if you get one good idea from a conference that it’s worth it. I always want to hear what other people are doing in terms of that.
So what would you say you did gain by attending? Hopefully, you picked up more than one good idea.
Oh yeah, I got several good ideas from it. We’re doing a better job of measuring our results. I did get into the suite of products that he recommended, the time and billing software and that kind of thing. We haven’t quite got to his 50 clients per bookkeeper; I don’t see how we could do that. I think maybe our clients are more complex, but my people work all the time and they don’t seem to be able to get up to that. But we’ve got about 30, and I’m comfortable with that. I’ve got a little higher percentage in salaries than is supposed to be ideal for an accounting firm but that’s okay. I know I’ve got good people and I think my clients are well served.
That’s important; you have to provide good service. Otherwise, you run into problems no matter what kind of marketing you’re doing. Getting them in is half the battle; the other half is then providing all the things that you said you would in a timely fashion. It’s not an easy thing but when it all comes together it’s certainly worthwhile. Do you have any advice for someone considering doing the processing seminar?
Well, I don’t think any of us can have too much input on that, because even though it may not be tangible, there are so many ways that the way we manage our practice affects everything. It affects the client relationships, the employees, everything. So, I think it’s important to keep fresh ideas coming your way. It matches your other seminar, too, because it gives you ideas on how to manage all this new business you’re going to get through the marketing. The best way to do that is to streamline your systems and make sure they’re operating the way you want them to, that they’re smooth and everybody’s on the same page.
Do you have any final comments to sum up your feeling on NCI and our marketing programs?
Well, it’s certainly had a great impact on our firm, and it’s probably been the most impactful thing that I’ve ever done in terms of education because I’ve learned a lot, and it worked and I’m very happy with it.
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 Email 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.