Brett Stigall, CPA – Knoxville, TN
For this month’s success story I interviewed Brett Stigall. Brett is based in the tri-cities area in Tennessee. He first attended the NCI seminar in 1995. In the ensuing sixteen years Brett has built and sold three successful accounting and tax practices using what he learned at that seminar. Using rough numbers I can say with confidence that means Brett easily has made over one hundred times his initial investment to attend that seminar in 1995. Brett is currently starting a fourth practice using the NCI marketing method and in just over one month’s time has already amassed $33,000 in new annualized billings! Brett also worked briefly for NCI as a Senior Account Executive installing Plan 2 and Plan 3 programs around the country. Read on to hear him tell his story of success using NCI.
Chris: If you could talk about your lead-up to the first time you engaged in the program, what you were doing before you started your own practice and what kind of led you to using the NCI program and where you were in business until that point?
Brett: Basically I had worked for a firm for about 10 years and got some experience there, working in all aspects of the practice. I did some auditing, some tax work, things like that. I always wanted to go out on my own so I got some good experience from them and just decided one day I was ready. I thought I could just start the practice and put a sign on the door and clients would be beating the door down to come see me, that was not the case. I did some research and contacted NCI, this was probably ’95 or ’96, so I came up there for the seminar over the weekend and it was just unbelievable. I’m thinking, “Man, this is a whole new concept!” So I went home and actually hired a telemarketer or two and a salesperson. That worked out okay, but I quickly found out I enjoyed doing the sales more than the accounting work. We did sign up a lot of clients that way though, but that was the only salesperson I ever had. I don’t remember how long she stayed on, it was several months though. But it didn’t really work out because I enjoyed doing the sales and getting out and seeing the clients, picking up and dropping off the work and things like that.
If you have the skill set to do the selling that certainly gives you an advantage. We usually try to shy our clients away from hiring their own sales reps because, unlike what happened with you, it usually doesn’t work out that well. You ended up being a better fit to do the selling anyway.
It did, it made me realize what I really enjoyed doing and that’s getting out and seeing the clients and talking to prospective new clients, things like that.
When you first went through the seminar in 1995, were you pretty much brand new in business? Did you have some clients at that point and remember where you were, what the size of your business was?
I had very few clients. I had some that came over with me from the larger firm but not many at all.
So you were very much a start-up at that point?
I was, definitely.
Okay. What were you able to go on and accomplish using these marketing methods? How much growth did you add and how big did you grow that particular practice? I know you’ve used the program to grow a few practices at this point.
I have, that practice went well, the program created steady growth which is good. I was able to pick up good monthly write-up work which took me from May to December. The tax returns, it seems like they’re always there. The tax work is there but it’s the write-up; that monthly retainer work, that you want. We were able to grow nicely, as I recall, we signed over 30 monthly clients that first year.
What were your deciding factors in deciding to undertake the NCI program? You were hinting at that but what was it that made you decide to go to the seminar?
I had to do something to generate business. At the time there really weren’t a lot of options. I talked to my colleagues and they said join the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary and so on, but you’re not going to get enough clients that way. There’s no way. The more I looked into the NCI concept and ran the numbers, I’m thinking, “you know, this thing could work.” My only concern was the size of the market that I had. I was in East Tennessee, but that was the only thing that scared me: is the market big enough to sustain a marketing program like that? And I found out quickly that it was. It really didn’t matter because with the NCI system you can target a fairly good sized radius and it doesn’t really matter where your office is located because you go out and see the clients to pick up the work.
Do you recall how much growth you were able to add in total to that practice? You ended up selling it, right?
I did end up selling it. It was approaching six figures when I sold it.
NCI helped you to find a buyer for the practice as well, correct?
What year was that, when did you sell that first practice?
I sold the practice around 1997.
So ultimately you built a $100,000 practice after attending the Plan 1 seminar in about two years?
What was the experience like for you working with NCI to help you sell your practice? How did that go?
Oh, it was easy. We went ahead and put an ad in the paper, I believe, and within two or three days we had more than one qualified buyer.
So it was a smooth process, you got the deal you wanted.
Oh definitely, it was great. I’d never done that before, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be like trying to sell a house, and it wasn’t.
It tends to be a seller’s market, which is nice. Having some experience to back you up makes it easier.
The NCI program generates a lot of monthly clients and emphasizes that you must keep up with the work. So when you put your practice on the market, a prospective buyer comes in and starts doing the due-diligence, and everything’s up to date, it’s nice and neat in the notebook, just like NCI teaches you. It’s turn-key, these folks are just like, “Wow, this is great!” Plus you get a higher fee when everything’s nice and neat, not scattered everywhere and you’re not 5 months behind with the bookkeeping.
Yeah, you have to stay on top of it, that’s important.
You do, and the way you all teach us to pick up the work, to drop off the work, it forces you to keep it up to date.
After selling that practice, you went on to eventually build another practice, right?
I did, yes. I was going through a divorce at the time and decided to move away from the Tri-cities and move down to the Atlanta area just to get a new start. I moved down there and I didn’t know anybody, I started from scratch. I used the NCI method again, hired a couple of telemarketers and ran that practice out of my home and the telemarketers worked out of their homes. I was able to grow that thing in a couple of years from zero, knowing no one in the area to around $75,000 in annual billing. I had no overhead, I did all the work, the office in my home and no rent, it worked great.
When and why did you sell that practice?
I had an opportunity, a friend of mine who’s also a CPA back in the Tri-cities had a small practice back there and was able to buy a bookkeeping practice but it was too large for him to buy himself. So he contacted me wondering if I would go in with him and merge his practice and the bookkeeping practice. We took a look at it and we thought, “Why not?” I wanted to move back, this was in 2001, so I went ahead and sold my practice down in Georgia fairly quickly and moved back to the Tri-cities.
Did NCI help you sell that one as well?
I don’t remember; it’s possible that NCI helped me to sell it. I just remember putting an ad in the Atlanta paper and bam, it was gone within two weeks.
So you joined up with this friend of yours, and you also helped to grow that practice as well, right?
We did the NCI program; we hired telemarketers that worked out of our office to help add new monthly accounting clients. We did that for 2 or 3 years, I guess.
Do you know the growth that you added to the practice through the program there?
Off the top of my head I don’t, but it was a good sized growth, though, to where we had to add a couple more bookkeepers to take care of it.
So now you’re back off on your own again? Quite the journey you’ve been through.
I know, it was good working with another CPA and a staff, but I just like doing it on my own. So I moved to Knoxville and basically started over for a fourth time.
You had ordered our marketing materials not that long ago actually, to refresh yourself with the training and our updated materials and now you’re up and running and off to a good early start so far, correct?
I’m off to a great start, I ordered the materials and started reviewing them, and you have done a great job updating the materials, including working with websites and internet marketing, things like that. I went ahead and hired an appointment setter. She started the week of May 9th.
How are things going so far?
Pretty doggone good! Our gross annual billing is already over $33,000.
Not bad at all.
And that’s after about 5 weeks and it’s all from the marketing program.
That’s all monthly clients at this point?
Most are monthly, we have picked up some that are just tax clients, but at this point, pretty good sized tax clients. Hopefully some of these folks will convert into monthly clients. We’ve already converted one, I went ahead and did a tax return, convinced him he’d be better off letting us handle his payroll and things like that.
Once you have them as a client it opens the door for that kind of thing.
It does, you don’t want to go out and just look for tax returns, but you’re not going to turn them away either. A lot of these folks are small businesses and they know a lot of other folks. The good thing about this program is you get to see so many people. You’re not going to sign everybody up, but you never know who they may know, and before you know it, the referrals start rolling in.
That’s the idea, you bring in all these small to medium sized clients and they all have friends and family in business and you’re going to get referrals. Obviously as long as you keep up with the work, that’s important too.
I’ve had a couple calls already saying, “You talked to me a couple weeks ago, I’m not ready to sign up but a friend of mine does. Here’s their name and number, give them a call.” We’ve picked up a couple of clients that way so far.
That’s something I always recommend to my clients. If you get somebody who’s not interested, thank them for their time and ask if they know anybody that could benefit from your service? It’s a great way to turn a negative into a positive.
I always ask for referrals. Plus we’ve got our website up and running through CPA Site Solutions and even if a prospect says, “We’re not interested,” we’ll ask for an e-mail address and ask if they mind if we send them the monthly newsletter. 95% are fine with that so we’ve got plenty of folks that are getting our newsletter automatically each month.
You’ve got to stay in front of people – they might not need your service now, but things change, a couple of months down the road something goes wrong with their accounting and you want to be the first person they think of.
Without a doubt, they may be one IRS notice away from saying, “I’m tired of this stuff.” If their having problems with their accountant, late filings, not returning phone calls, charging too much etc. you keep your name in front of them by that monthly newsletter. It’s great, you’re not worrying about mailing stuff out or anything, it’s just automatic.
We’ve talked about a lot of the positives you’ve experienced through the program, but what’s been the biggest challenge with running it over the years?
The biggest challenge has been trying to keep up with the volume of work. Once a client is set up in your system it’s easy but it’s the clients who have a lot of back work that can be a challenge. It’s a great problem to have, it really is, but it’s a struggle sometimes.
What advice would you consider giving somebody who’s considering engaging in the NCI program?
Hey, go for it. You don’t have anything to lose! It’s a very, very small investment and it works. It’s worked for me since 1995. I’ve done it in small markets, I’ve done it in Atlanta, and I’ve done it where I am now, Knoxville, Tennessee, a medium sized market. It’s worked every time.
That’s a testament to the adaptability of the program. I tell people we’ve done them all over the place, big markets, small markets, medium markets. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes people are skeptical in a bit of a smaller market, which I can understand, but the business is out there.
It’s out there, and you’ve got to go get it, and if you follow what NCI tells you to do, then it works without a doubt.
Are you surprised at all by the growth that you’ve been able to achieve in the various programs?
I was surprised early on, you never know going in how it’s going to work. I guess I was a little on the pessimistic side, just not knowing what to expect. But just getting out in front of these business owners, listening to what their needs are, the big thing is the way you price your services. You say, “We’ll set you up on a monthly retainer. You pay us the same amount each month; we won’t charge extra for all this other stuff that you’re getting charged for now. They love that, they can budget for it and we put it in writing, we’ve got an agreement. You know exactly what you’re getting and what it will cost and there are no hidden charges. They love it. It’s a great model, it really is.
To switch gears a little bit, you worked for NCI for a brief period there. Could you talk a little bit about that experience, what you were doing there, how it was?
Basically I would go out and help set up a program for these accountants, help hire and train the marketing staff which includes the appointment setters and the client service representative.
So you were installing Plan II and Plan III programs.
I was, and I got to travel all over the country and just had a blast. I enjoyed meeting all types of accountants all over the country, back in the late ’90s.
I know my father, Bruce; he speaks highly of your time here with the company.
I had a blast working for you guys, got to see a lot of neat places and to meet a lot of great people. Most of them were in the same boat that I had been in when I first started, they had worked for a larger firm or a big six firm and were just going out on their own, scared to death because they’d never had to do it all. I could really relate to what they were going through.
Yeah, you were in their position. Did you find that rewarding?
It was very rewarding.
I guess rewarding in a similar way to helping your accounting clients, helping them run their businesses and be successful.
It was similar, I really enjoyed doing that.
If you could just sum up your feelings on the NCI programs, on Bruce, I know you’ve worked with him for a number of years in the system?
Basically everything that’s taught and presented at the seminar is true, there’s no crazy projections out there. If you follow the plan it will work. I’m proof of that, but there are hundreds of others out there that you could talk to that are proof that this marketing program works.
I really appreciate your time today, Brett. Good luck with your new practice!
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.