GrowCon Recap — Day 1

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Over 100 owners of bookkeeping, tax preparation and advisory businesses gathered on May 6 and 7 at the Southbank Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, to learn strategies for improving their practices at GrowCon 2024.20240506 094058

A lineup of eight speakers presented strategies for, among other topics, how to: wow your clients with tax advisory services, attract clients who will pay you what you’re worth, and rescue your clients from the silent killer of small businesses – poor cash flow management.

“Small hinges open big doors,” Kenny Harper, CEO of Growth Amplifiers, told the audience.

Attendees met in the ballroom for a day dedicated to working ON their business. Setting aside time to improve operations is key to achieving growth, speakers said.

After the conference concluded, the entrepreneurs, professionals, and members of their families met for a gala dinner to celebrate their accomplishments in 2023.

Universal Accounting Center President Roger Knecht and GrowCon Manager Christi Richards handed out awards to attendees, including best logo, best boss to work for, and rookie of the year. Any business owner who reported earning more than $100,000, $500,000, or $1,000,000 was also honored with an award.

The insights shared at GrowCon were specifically designed to help the owners of bookkeeping, tax preparation, CFO/advisory and accounting businesses achieve the vision they have for their firm. Here are highlights from the presentations:

Kenny Harper – CEO of Growth Amplifiers

The first speaker to address the audience was Harper, whose firm is based in Jacksonville. Harper presented on how to authentically attract and enroll more clients.

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Kenny Harper

Among the key takeaways from Harper’s presentation were:

  • Everyone is a salesperson. Harper shared a negative experience he had with a car salesman who, after a day’s worth of negotiations, changed the terms of their agreement at the moment of presenting the contract. He and his wife went through with the deal, and Harper recalled feeling taken advantage of. Many of us have similar experiences with sales causing us to feel uncomfortable when it comes time to make one. Remember, Harper admonished, that sales is really about inspiring clients to take new actions.
  • Don’t fall for this misconception: If the client doesn’t say anything, they don’t need anything. But the truth is the business owner can’t know what they don’t know. Engaging with them authentically and in simple terms can help them see the value an accounting professional can bring to their business.
  • Harper reminded the business owners in attendance that they are amplifiers of the clients they work with, meaning whatever great things the client hopes to achieve in their business can be multiplied with a strategic financial advisor guiding them to success.

 

Mark Kohler – CEO of KKOS Lawyers and Main Street Tax Pro

The key to a thriving tax advisory practice, nationally renowned tax advisor Mark Kohler said, is possessing knowledge that will “wow” clients. For business owners, how much they make can often be less important than what they lose to taxation.

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Mark Kohler

Kohler shared 5 strategies that every tax advisor should be using to demonstrate their value to clients. Here are a few highlights from his presentation:

  • S-corporations are an incredible resource for entrepreneurs who typically get killed by self-employment taxes each year. Kohler admonished the audience to shed any preconceived notions they may have about S-corporations and how keeping payroll will cause a business to get audited. He encouraged attendees to think outside of the box with their practices. “[Clients] don’t want the accountant who was up in the band. They want the accountant under the bleachers who smoked pot!” he told the audience with a laugh.
  • Kohler highlighted the potential savings for small business owners when it comes to real estate depreciation. He said this is one of the biggest drivers of sales at his firm and recommended having a handle on how to quickly explain the potential savings that come from different real estate investments. Kohler is a major advocate of owning the building where your practice is housed as well.
  • Among the plethora of other great strategies Kohler shared at GrowCon was the power of “self-directing” retirement accounts and real estate investments. For both clients and accounting business owners, self-directing can bring massive returns on 401ks, Roth IRAs, Health Savings Accounts and more. That money doesn’t have to be invested in Wall Street, Kohler noted. It can be invested however one desires, meaning these funds should be (and have been) utilized as assets when completing mergers and acquisitions. Kohler explained that last year he used his Roth to invest in cows in Idaho, leading to a 14% return on his investment.

 

Alison Ball – VP of Marketing and Communications for Bookkeep

Alison Ball expertly dispelled myths about AI & tech evolution in the accounting realm, reminding everyone that change is inevitable both in business and in life.

Ball presented “hacks” for building resiliency, which is key to bringing about change, she said. Professionals must develop the ability to overcome adversity and be able to lead through new and unexpected challenges.

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Alison Ball

Here are a few of the insights Ball shared with attendees at GrowCon:

  • Everyone has their own “change profile”, or, their ability to and comfort with tackling new tasks. Identifying your own, and that of your employees is key for developing new procedures at the business. Delegation is key when developing new processes.
  • There are several myths about AI in accounting that Ball discussed. She pointed out flaws in the idea that 1. AI is out to take my job, and 2. Older People Struggle with AI and new tech. The reality, per Ball’s experience, is that AI will really serve as a tool for future professionals rather than replacing them. Older professionals are well equipped to use generative language models because of their experience mentoring other professionals. (Bonus tip: Ball recommended using language models to write the prompts you feed them.)
  • Among Ball’s hacks for resilience was the “That’s not true because _____.” framework. Ball noted that people often jump up the “ladder of inference”. Instead of interpreting the worst possible outcome in a situation, take a breath and use the hack to reframe the thought. For example, Ball recalled a meeting where she caught a “funny” look from an employee. She thought, “This employee is going to quit. What are we going to do without her?” But after exercising the framework, she realized the employee had accepted additional responsibilities in the days before and hadn’t show any signs of jumping ship.

Amy Speece — CEO of A$pire Financial Services

Amy Speece recounted her journey through the accounting sector, starting from her first financial consulting role all the way to starting her own advisory firm.

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Amy Speece

Speece had worked in the industry for decades when she discovered Universal Accounting Center. The training she received from Universal Accounting’s team of coaches was a key in growing her business and guiding it to success. Here are a few of the insights she shared:

  • The training that Speece received was not like a blanket, she said. Working with Knecht, UAC Life Coach Robyn Mons and Vice President of Student Enrollment Clay Neves, brought incredible results and kept her motivated to challenge herself.
  • Speece shared six tips that she’d tell her younger self, if she could: 1. It’s OK to ask for help. 2. Embrace and Empower your help. 3. Go to GrowCon because of the networking opportunities it provides. 4. Find your niche client. 5. Charge what you’re worth. 6. Don’t hire friends and family.
  • Above all, Speece said her goal is to make life easy for her clients. She eliminates any data entry from the plate of her clients. Speece admonished the audience to understand that while QuickBooks is a powerful tool, it doesn’t “talk” with every other software or report needed. She recommended utilizing apps that harmonize with QuickBooks.

 

David Safeer – CEO of Cash is Clear Learning Systems

One of David Safeer’s very first assignments as a business advisor was with a man named Wally, who owned a landscaping company in West Virginia. Wally had a small operation with only a few employees. One of his daughters kept his books each month.

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David Safeer

When Safeer arrived to meet with Wally, he immediately handed Safeer a profit and loss statement. Wally reported that the business had made $250,000 in profit last year. And yet, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make payroll a few weeks later.

Safeer realized the devastating consequences of poor cash flow and set out to help business owners across the country to avoid common pitfalls that can close even the most profitable businesses. Here are a few of the concepts Safeer shared at GrowCon:

  • Many of the most popular cash flow “solutions” can actually lead to more severe issues for entrepreneurs. There are tons of articles online that offer misguided advice, Safeer said. They claim that “Cash is King,” and recommend focusing on the short term, paying bills and debts as late as possible, and relying on sales to fix the problem, among others.
  • Instead of falling into these traps, Safeer recommended getting rid of “loser” clients who may be dragging the business down. He placed a high priority on paying debts early because many companies will offer a discount for doing so. Relying on sales to fix the problem can fall flat on its face because it often doesn’t impact the margins enough.
    “Accounting looks backwards, and we need it, but when it comes to looking forward, it’s all about cash flow,” Safeer said.
  • Safeer noted that many of the companies who shutter due to poor cash flow are actually profitable at the time of closing. The culture of only prioritizing profits and quarterly results can pull the rug out from successful companies.

 

Sean Duncan – CEO SMD Consulting & Accounting

So, just what the HECK is advisory? Sean Duncan noted that advisory can be a bit of a mystery for bookkeepers, tax preparers and business owners. He got a Master’s Degree in Accounting, but never saw himself owning a consulting firm because he was dead set on joining the FBI.

As he went through the qualification process to become an agent, Duncan realized that it would take too much time away from his future family. He withdrew his application and decided instead to start a tax preparation business. The firm was incredibly successful, with Duncan putting in 75 hour work weeks to grow the practice.

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Sean Duncan

Duncan wanted to join the FBI because he wanted to do work that MATTERED, but at his firm, he found himself still missing out on the family moments that he started the firm to enjoy. He realized that things to change, and started one of the first business advisory only firms in America in 2017. Here are a few of the lessons Duncan learned while building his practice:

  • Advisory services brought incredible benefits to Duncan’s life. He was earning more for shorter hours and was able to spend more time with his family. Duncan found that entrepreneurs crave advice, creating a massive demand for professionals who can clearly communicate strategies for growth in small businesses.
  • Focusing on advisory allowed Duncan to step away from working directly with clients, though sometimes new clients still insist on speaking with him. Duncan recounted an experience with an entrepreneur who demanded to meet with him, even after Duncan warned him that because of his role overseeing the business, he wouldn’t do much of any preparation work. The two spent the first 30 minutes of the conversation discussing ways to get the most out of a Disneyworld trip. Duncan then suggested strategies which saved the business owner $30,000, but when the meeting ended, all the business owner talked about was Disney. Duncan shared the story to emphasize that, in advisory, you can really choose the clients who you work with, while bringing in huge revenue. As an avid lover of video games, Duncan has enjoyed working with video game development companies.
  • Your most important client is yourself, Duncan said, but we often think about ourselves the least when operating a business. To make sure you’re looking out for your own needs, Duncan recommends making a “love/hate” list. You essentially list what you love doing at your firm and what you hate doing, and by the end you’ll have written a job description. All of the tasks you hate should be delegated out.

Gaynor Meilke – CEO of Charisma Ink

Change can often be an exciting prospect for business owners, but in reality, 70% of all change products end up failing, Gaynor Meilke said.

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Gaynor Meilke

In most cases, that’s because change takes more than just one person. When workforces implement change, they often do so halfheartedly, Meilke said. She encouraged the business owners in attendance to carefully consider who can be agents of change at their firms. Which employees have the skillsets to oversee change, implement technological updates, and respond to hiccups along the way? 

“Change is not exciting when it’s done right,” Meilke said. Here are some other key takeaways from her GrowCon presentation:

  • An important step to implementing any change in a business is creating a sense of urgency to do so. Meilke encouraged the audience to avoid rushing processes, but there does need to be a commitment to addressing problems in a timely manner. If not, you may spend too much time spinning in circles considering ideas or solutions that aren’t worth implementing.
  • On the early adoption of artificial intelligence in accounting: Meilke said she found it curious to see the fear some professionals have shown at the advent of more advanced AI tools. She noted that we should look at generative ai and other new resources simply as tools to take advantage of, rather than potential threats to the future of the profession. The core competencies of the accounting profession will remain regardless of new tools emerging, Meilke said.
  • Don’t let the focus of implementing a new change become too internal. Essentially, when developing and implementing a strategic workforce plan for a new change, business owners should weigh the effect external factors like market and economic conditions could have.

 

Darnyelle Jervey Harmon – CEO of Incredible One Enterprises

Very few businesses in America make a million dollars a year, said Dernyelle Jervey Harmon. There’s even fewer million dollar businesses that are owned by women, and the trend continues for Black women. Harmon has made it her mission to equip professionals with the knowledge and tools they need to build million-dollar businesses.

Darnyelle Jervey Harmon

Darnyelle Jervey Harmon

“Until you work on the six inches between your ears, you won’t feel like 7 figures between your fingers,” Harmon told GrowCon attendees.

Here are a few highlights from Harmon’s presentation:

  • Scaling a business isn’t about growing as fast as possible. It’s about replication and duplication. Ultimately, the goal is to replace yourself in the day-to-day tasks of the business. That means the goal is to eventually hire a bookkeeper, a controller/CFO, etc., for the business so the CEO can focus on presiding over the operation as a whole.
  • “Your confidence will close more sales than your skills,” Harmon said. Harmon noted that talking about money is taboo for many people. Most Americans were raised not to. That environment causes many business owners to feel a great deal of shame and guilt when it comes to discussing their finances with their accountants. Harmon noted that professionals need to show confidence in the entrepreneurs they serve, the products they sell, and the potential of their business.
  • “What holds us back from millions are the stories that we tell ourselves,” Harmon said. Business owners need to get out of their own way sometimes, she advised. Many accounting business owners were raised to think that financial success from working themselves to the bone. Harmon said it more comes down to alignment – aligning your vision for your life with the choices you make each day, each week, and beyond.

Looking Ahead to 2025

Thank you to all of the speakers who shared their incredible insights at GrowCon 2024 in Jacksonville, Florida. We are extremely excited to announce that GrowCon 2025 will be held in Provo, Utah. Learn more and grab your ticket here.

To learn more about how you can start your own accounting business, improve your services, or train your employees, call Universal Accounting at 435-344-2060, or schedule a time to discuss your future online using this calendar:


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