NCI’s business relationship with Ray Busch, CPA dates back to 1990, before New Clients Inc. was even known by that name. Back then we were Accounts Unlimited and Ray had already been in practice 17 years when he first attended our Practice Development Seminar, but he needed a new approach to marketing to grow his business to the next level. Since attending the seminar Ray has also sent his daughter and his son-in-law to attend the course to learn NCI’s sales and marketing magic. Even though he himself attended 26 years ago, he can still call NCI’s CEO Bruce Clark for marketing support or just a friendly chat, which typically happens a few times a year. Now Ray’s practice brings in over a million dollars a year and he employs several of his offspring in the business just like Bruce has done at NCI. Ray has been in the accounting business and the NCI system a long time so he has plenty of wisdom to impart in those particular areas.
Please tell me about your accounting background and what lead you to run your own practice.
I graduated from college in 1967 with a dual major in education and accounting, I went to a teacher’s college. I had every intention of being a high school teacher. I started out as a high school bookkeeping teacher. Since I took ROTC in college, I taught for two months then went on active duty in the army as an officer. I spent a year in the states and a year in Vietnam. When I got out of the military I went back to teaching school for a while. Frankly, I couldn’t stand all the bellyaching that went on in the teachers' lounge. They were all bellyaching about something and I said to myself, “I don’t want to do this the rest of my life.” So I went and got a job on the audit staff of an international CPA firm. I stayed there for about a year and a half.
What made you decide to work at a CPA firm after deciding teaching wasn’t for you?
It was the students actually. This was back in 1969 and I never gave my students written homework on the weekends but I did have them look at all the want ads for accountants in the Sunday newspaper and the kind of money that could be made in the profession. Inevitably, on Monday morning, the kids would say, “If this is so good, why don’t you be an accountant, Mr. Busch?” So that’s what I ended up doing. I looked at the future of teaching bookkeeping in Chicago public schools and I knew I didn’t want to teach the same thirty chapters for the next forty years. I’m lucky I got out because they don’t even teach bookkeeping in the Chicago public high schools anymore.
I also worked at the IRS for three years to beef up my tax skills. You go to the IRS just like the guy who wants to be a pilot and goes to the Airforce or the Navy to learn how. Who else is going to pay you to sit in a classroom for a year just to learn the tax laws? So I did that for three years and then I went out on my own.
I started in 1973 at my kitchen table with my wife and one client that I had the day I left the IRS. That client was an army buddy of mine, we served in the states and in Vietnam together. A lot of clients I got in the beginning were referrals from banks and I played up my ex-IRS agent status for all it was worth. I got a lot of referrals that way. Between being an ex-IRS agent and offering monthly computerized statements, at a time when that was brand new and very expensive to offer, that got my business going. I bought my first computer for the business when they first came out. My first house cost me $30,000 and that computer cost me $35,000, if you can believe that. To this day I won’t buy a car that costs more than $30,000 because that is what my first house cost me. I’m serious, I won’t do it. I’ll spend whatever it takes on my practice, but I won’t spend more than $30,000 on a car.
That’s fair, a car is one of the worst investments you can make anyway. So how long had you been in business and what was the size of your practice when you decided to implement the NCI marketing program?
I first went to an NCI seminar in 1990 I believe, back then you weren’t NCI yet, you were going by the name Accounts Unlimited. Your dad and Robert Azar were the ones who taught the class. We were at the Holiday Inn on Route 30 in Atlantic City. I wasn’t happy with my growth back then, I just pulled up my financial statements and in 1990 I was doing $158,000 a year.
How much growth have you added since attending the seminar originally in 1990?
This year, our rolling 12-month sales projection, as of last month, was $1.3 million.
What was your biggest concern before signing up for the seminar?
My biggest concern was growth. I needed to have a consistent source of new clients because the only thing you can count on when you do small business accounting is attrition. You can really go out of your way and service a client as well as can be expected, but you have no control over them going out of business or selling the business or dying. Unless you have a consistent source of new clients, you’re going to go down.
Good points, I’m guessing your main concern over whether or not to attend the seminar was, will this system work to address your need of more consistent client growth?
That’s right, at the time and this is still true today as far as I know, your dad’s company is the only one that has been around consistently teaching accounting firms how to market their services. The principles he taught me back in 1990 are valid today. The program has evolved over the years but the basic premise of using the telephone to generate new business is still valid. You can fiddle around with different marketing ideas all you want but nothing creates the same level of activity that telemarketing does.
That has been our conclusion too. You’d be surprised how difficult it can be to convince our prospective clients of that because the concept of “telemarketing” has a lot of negative connotations associated with it, and rightfully so. The approach you take with your telemarketing is very important and the first distinction to make is that we never call someone at home on their personal time. We only call business to business.
Right, and when you only call on business numbers, the “do not call” list does not apply to what you are doing.
Yes, that is something that I think is misunderstood considering we get asked about it often. It doesn’t apply at all. What was your biggest challenge in running the NCI marketing program over all these years?
I would say you never, ever want to let your telemarketing or your overall sales program fall apart because it’s too difficult to have to start all over.
That’s an interesting point because I’ve seen our clients reach a point with their growth where they are satisfied and they decide to shut the marketing down. Then, a few years later, they decide they want to go into a growth mode again and that can be a difficult transition to make if you let all your marketing people go and are rusty on the process.
You can’t let your marketing terminate, you have to keep it going. With appointment setting, you need to be ready to replace someone at any time and not drag your feet on that. We still use our NCI training videos and scripts for the appointment setters. I attended the seminar in 1990 and about 15 years ago I sent my daughter Kathy to the seminar and just last year I sent my son-in-law, her husband Josh who had a sales background and is my marketing director now, to attend the seminar. My whole family that is involved with the marketing of the practice has been trained by NCI!
You’re a member of PASBA, can you tell our readers a bit about that group?
PASBA started out as a group of ex-Comprehensive Accounting franchisees who left the franchise system. Your dad provided me with the sales training but PASBA has a great practice management and operations system. PASBA/Comprehensive are the guys who came up with the bank draft and now it’s ACH. I’ve always said the perfect marriage would be NCI for the hiring and ongoing training of sales reps. and have PASBA offer the back office support. Having good processing in place is so important. In December of 2000 I was in a really bad car accident and I was on my back, 100% non-weight-bearing, for four months. I had 12 surgeries and didn’t come back to the office until April 10th. All that time I was out of commission and the practice never missed a beat because luckily I had the people and systems in place to keep it going.
It's so important. We talk to our clients about that very scenario. A lot of people have their entire business riding on them. If something happens like your car accident, the business is done. It’s a risky way to run a business. What advice do you have for someone reading this who is considering working with NCI to help grow their business?
I think they should do it. If you’re just starting out or you have a practice that is not growing the way you want it to grow, I wholeheartedly recommend NCI to you. Number one, it’s time tested. Number two, your company has had a history of continuity and outlasted many of your competitors, Don Uhl has come and gone, Dennis George has come and gone in your business but Bruce Clark and NCI are still here. NCI is like a Timex watch, it takes a licking and keeps on ticking, and that should tell you something.
I appreciate the kind words. What kind of advice do you have for someone currently running an NCI marketing program?
Don’t give up, that’s the first thing. No matter what you do, keep your marketing program going. Also, all of us are too slow to fire poor performing appointment setters and salespeople. You can’t give up and you have to keep it going 100%. Especially with the appointment setters, I would say they are more important than the salesperson. If a salesperson doesn’t have appointments, he won’t have a job very long because he can’t sell without them. A truly good salesperson, if his schedule is not full, he’ll get on the phone and start making appointments. We have one CSR right now who will make $300,000 this year. He started out as an appointment setter and now he’s a salesman signing up write-up accounts that the NCI program targets and he’s going to make $300,000 this year from his accounting firm and that was someone who was trained in the NCI system. He’s also not a college graduate. A good salesman needs to be a hunter-killer. He can’t be idle and wait for things to happen, he needs to go out and make them happen.
Absolutely, salespeople need to be proactive above all else. You mentioned the importance of the appointment setters, which I agree with, can you tell me how long you typically gave an appointment setter to prove themselves before cutting them loose?
I gave them 30 days. In Illinois, if they are on your payroll for more than 30 days, they qualify for unemployment, so that makes for a good cutoff to keep my unemployment rate from going up. The unemployment rate in Illinois is like car insurance, the more claims you have, the higher your rate goes.
That makes sense and is a good trail length of time for someone to show they can generate results. Some of the accountants we talk to are hesitant to engage in this type of program because they feel that the clients secured are too small and you can’t make money off of them. Any of our successful clients could tell them otherwise so what are some of the larger clients you have been able to sign using this marketing system?
Some of my larger clients were startups 40 years ago. My first twenty clients, if they are still alive and in business, I still work with them. I have them for life. These companies just starting out, if you service them, they will grow with you. I just had one client who has been with me for 40 years. I remember when he and his wife first came to my office, scared to death when they started up. Now they’re retired, they’re kids run the company and we still do the accounting work for the business. My very first client that I had in practice, he sold out twenty years ago for $20 million bucks and we’re still good friends.
That’s impressive. You make a good point, every company starts out small but you never know where they will end up. What are some of the larger monthly fees you have for clients?
Our largest monthly accounting fee is around $1,000. When they started with us they were in business a year and their initial monthly fee was $150. They grow with you. We have no qualms about picking up start-up businesses. No matter what you do, you’re going to have attrition anyway so picking up smaller clients doesn’t bother me at all. My wife and I started at our kitchen table too.
What about back work, have you been able to secure a lot of back work from your clients?
Sure, because we do tax resolution work, the client can’t get a payment plan unless they get caught up. What we do is, if there is a lot of back work, we put them on ACH and we bill them weekly until it’s caught up. We do a lot of weekly billing now, I would say almost half our clients we bill weekly instead of monthly. Let’s say we have a client I’m billing $160 per month, that’s roughly $40 per week, then my salesperson can say, it’s only costing you $1 an hour for your accounting. All the payments are done through ACH.
Interesting, now over the years I know you and my dad have stayed in contact and you call in from time to time with questions or for marketing support, how has that been beneficial to you?
I talk to your dad a couple times a year. If my kids need a refresher I send them to the seminar again or we review our seminar materials again. The ongoing support has been very beneficial to me and my business. In PASBA we share our statistics for everything. We have one guy with 800 monthly accounts doing almost $5 million a year. It’s all write-up. He employs six telemarketers and two or three salespeople.
Incredible! To wrap up, please sum up your feelings about NCI, Bruce Clark, and our marketing program.
For the last 30 years, my thought is, NCI is the only place where you can get decent sales training. What I like about NCI is the continuity, like I said earlier. I attended the seminar 26 years ago and then 15 years ago I sent my daughter and last year I sent my son-in-law. The fact is, NCI is always there to provide the training and frankly, the encouragement my salespeople need. In the 26 years since I first attended the seminar, if there was ever anything I needed or a question I had, and this goes for my children who attended as well, I could always pick up the phone and call NCI for that. I also love your newsletter and how you highlight successful salespeople and accountants.
And now you’re one of those featured accountants! Thank you for your time and insight Ray. All the best to you and your family of accountants and salespeople!
Chris Clark – Executive Editor, NCN Executive Editor, New Client News and Client Support Services
Chris is the oldest son of NCI CEO and founder, Bruce Clark. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA in 2005. He has worked for New Clients since April 2006 filling a variety of roles including Senior Account Executive, client support specialist, executive editor of and contributor to the NCI newsletter, New Client News and appointment setter evaluator. Chris also helped Bruce edit his two books, NCI Effect which came out in 2011 and Beyond the NCI Effect which came out in June 2015.