GrowCon Recap — Day 2

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For owners of accounting, bookkeeping, tax preparation, and advisory businesses, the opportunity to work ON the business and collaborate with fellow entrepreneurs at an event like GrowCon is truly invaluable.

Scores of the over 100 business owners in attendance raved about the strategies they were taught for elevating their firm to new heights from presenters on Day 2 of GrowCon 2024. 

Five speakers presented actionable tips for improving operations at accounting firms in the ballroom of the Southbank Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida on May 7. Also on Day 2, Universal Accounting Center President Roger Knecht and Event Planner Christi Richards led a Q&A panel with the audience, reveGrowConaled the location for GrowCon 2025, and awarded raffle prizes from the event’s sponsors. Check out the highlights from Day 1, including presentations from Main Street Tax Pro’s Mark Kohler and Sean Duncan of SMD Consulting & Accounting here.

Among the topics covered by presenters and panelists were how to help employees reach their potential, how to build wealth outside of the business by shredding debt, and software applications and other tools to make the business operate more efficiently.

Conference attendees also participated in workshops and exercises led by Universal Accounting Center Vice President of Enrollment Clay Neves.

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 on Day 2:

(These highlights barely scratch the surface of what these great presenters shared at GrowCon. You can access the full presentations from both days of GrowCon here.)

Terrell Turner – CEO of TLTurner Group

The talent cycle is a heavily discussed topic in the world of accounting, Terrell Turner said. They often say the talent pipeline is drying up, but Turner has seen the start of the pipeline isn’t the only employment obstacle firms are struggling with.

“For years we’ve been funneling people into the profession, but when they get through the pipeline, there’s nowhere else to go,” Turner said. “Employees will ask, ‘What is my trajectory? What is my growth potential? What can I do afterwards?’ When there aren’t good answers to those questions, people leave.”

GrowCon

Terrell Turner

Turner realized that there’s a difficult balance to achieve with employees: they need a growth path laid out for them that allows them to reach their potential. That means challenging them to do the best they can, because if they’re left to chug along and take care of their responsibilities with little oversight, they’ll likely jump ship when another opportunity arises elsewhere.

That’s why Turner developed the Golden AGE method for firm growth. Instead of giving employees the sink or swim approach, picking one person to train and develop, or evaluating performance purely by the numbers, Turner’s model zeros in on using clear criteria to evaluate employees with room for them to grow. Let’s explore Turner’s method further:

  • AGE is an acronym for performance evaluation. At the end of each month, Turner’s company uses a rubric to measure employee performance on a scale from “Average,” “Good,” and “Excellent.” Turner used a bookkeeper as an example for how the evaluation model works: the Average capacity at his firm is to prepare the books for 15 clients a month, with the expectation to deliver reports on time, and with accuracy rating at 75%. Good performance would be slightly above average, so: preparing the books for 20 clients per month, one day before close (rather than right on time) and 80% accurate. Excellent is 25 per month, three days before close and 90+% accurate.
  • This model ensures that everyone is “rowing in the same direction,” Turner said. It makes it easy for the employee to identify their key priorities, but also allows them space to excel. Turner said it’s important to acknowledge that no employee will perform at the same level each month. Life happens. As long as the employee is reaching the “Average” performance markers, the firm will reach its goals. Turner recounted an example of a senior accountant who was dealing with problems taking care of her child. He told her that he’d rather have her perform at an average level and not feel like she’s failing as a mother.
  • It’s important to note that these evaluation criteria strictly measure a month (or quarter’s) worth of performance. The employee is not an “Average,” “Good,” or “Excellent” person. Turner makes it a priority for his employees to understand that “Average” performance is completely fine with him. People thrived when they had that clarity.

Adam Carroll – Chief Education Officer of The Shred Method

Renowned financial literacy expert and celebrated author Adam Carroll spoke on how to grow wealth OUTSIDE of the business. Most business owners focus on their business because it’s their main asset, but Carroll warned that “if you’re not selling the business, then you’re buying it.” Improving the value of your business comes with significant investments of time and income, so even if the asset is completely the property of the business owner, if the goal of the business isn’t to sell the business, it can weigh heavily on the entrepreneur.

GrowCon

Adam Carroll

Carroll said that most business owners who are struggling to build wealth don’t have an income problem, they have a liquidity problem. When most people have extra money in their checking account, they are happy and want to spend that money on hobbies (in Carroll’s case, kayaking). Instead, Carroll recommends putting your income into a “Shred Account.” Everything that is left over in that account after the mortgage, car, and other debts are paid, is used to blast debt down. Carroll emphasized the power of paying off debt quickly and broke down several strategies for reducing debt quickly. These insights are valuable for both accounting business owners, and the clients they work with:

  • Like with most things, habits tend to dominate how people think about their finances. The bank deposits the paycheck into a checking account, and people can either 1. Pay for their expenses, 2. Eliminate debt, 3. Build wealth, or 4. “frolic” with it. People tend to only do options 1 and 4 because they’re habitual. But breaking that habit, and dedicating your money to outrunning your interest payments, is a much more beneficial financial strategy in the long term. Carroll noted that mortgages and interest rates are based on what the bank thinks the lender can afford to pay. But you can skip months of payments (on a mortgage for example) by paying in a lump sum. “We’re prepaying all that principal on the mortgage,” Carroll said.
  • Everyone could be out of debt within 3 to 7 years, Carroll said. However, because most homeowners don’t start paying the principal portion of the mortgage until the last 10 years of the loan, they have no liquidity to build wealth and pay down that interest. Moving before the loan is completed, or refinancing, sets that clock back.
  • Carroll recommends opening a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) on their home as their “shred account”. It’s a simple interest vehicle, meaning the interest is calculated daily. So if a person borrows from their line of credit on the HELOC (which should be about 150% of their monthly net income), allows them to pay more of their mortgage down, saving tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest.
  • Carroll also highlighted the concept of “recasting” a mortgage, which allows a homeowner to maintain their interest rate, but pay down the mortgage enough to shrink the payments in a major way.

Laura Ferguson – Vice President of Sales & Business Development at The Value Builder System

Laura Ferguson spoke about what she calls “The Endgame Conversation,” and the problem that so many accounting business owners face when they’re ready to move on from their firm: “How do I sell this?”

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Laura Ferguson

Ferguson experienced the frustration of being burnt out at her business and like she was ready to move on, but, though she loved her accountant, she didn’t trust him to broker the sale. Ferguson admonished the business owners in attendance to have the Endgame Conversation with their clients, and to also be thinking ahead about their intentions with their own firms.

She outlined the benefits of being able to have the Endgame Conversation as an accounting business owner. Here are the highlights from her presentation at GrowCon:

  • 80% of businesses aren’t sold. Most people don’t control their exit. Most businesses simply close when the business owner passes away, gets divorced, or can no longer work.
  • Ferguson found that the advisors at Value Builder who were having the Endgame Conversation with their clients were able to charge more for their services, on average, and worked with more clients. Business owners start to look for outside help when they feel like it’s time to sell. Ferguson said business owners spend 59% more on advisory services when they decide to exit. That creates a huge opportunity for qualified advisors.
  • In the initial conversation that many advisors have with prospective clients, they often take a very casual approach. They ask general questions about the business, and what the business’ biggest challenges are. Ferguson warned against this approach because it’s been overdone and business owners are beginning to see that approach for what it is: spin selling. Instead, Ferguson recommends advisors avoid the questions everyone else is asking their prospective clients, and bring the Endgame Conversation up early.

Vanessa Vasquez – QuickBooks Trainer and Consultant

Technology moves so quickly. Vasquez noted that in society, technology transforms our worlds in small ways for a while, and eventually all at once. A few people had smart phones in the late 2000s, but by the middle of the 2010s, they were universally used. The firm owners who will have the most success, especially in the era of automation and generative AI models, will be those who embrace new technology, Vasquez said.

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Vanessa Vasquez

Vasquez shared a number of solutions for optimizing productivity as forward thinking accounting professionals. Here are a few of the strategies and resources she recommended implementing:

  • Automation is a wave of technology that has already revolutionized the industry. Enhancing efficiency and enabling innovation comes down to streamlining processes and repetitive tasks to boost productivity. Among the many benefits automation allows for are reducing human error, reducing time spent on frivolous tasks, and increased focus on strategic tasks.
  • Vasquez recommended using Google Workspace to organize a schedule, Calendly to set appointments, Anchor to create invoices and process payments from clients, Keeper for completing simple bookkeeping tasks, and QuickBooks Online for more advanced bookkeeping tasks. She notes that Microsoft Excel is not a bookkeeping software. The actual software the firm owner chooses will come down to what is right for them, but the important thing is to have integrated systems across these applications, Vasquez said.
  • Vasquez shared a number of actionable tips for increasing productivity at a firm, including identifying key tasks that could be automated in your workflow, taking professional training to effectively use the new tools (she says that most people underestimate how helpful customer services people can be when using a new software), regularly participating in webinars and conferences, and engaging with other industry peers through professional networks and online forums.
  • “Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.” – Laurie Anderson

Heather Hurst – Vice President of Marketing at Canopy

Heather Hurst presented strategies for finding your differentiator in a world of “Same” when it comes to marketing a firm’s services. Because marketing is an infinite task in the sense that one can always do more, it’s important to develop strategies that show off what makes one different, and what additional value they can provide to their customers.

GrowCon

Heather Hurst

Given that you could always technically do more, one of the most important things about marketing is establishing a baseline of how you will market your services. But pacing yourself might be even more important.

“It’s better that you start and stay consistent than jump in and get burnt out,” Hurst said. Let’s review some key points from Hurst’s presentation at GrowCon:

  • A great place to start developing a marketing plan, Hurst said, is to look at two-to-five competitors and tear apart their approach. What do you like and dislike about their marketing? What additional value do you provide to customers?
  • Hurst is a big proponent of getting feedback from clients. Yes, one should always be asking for favorable Google Reviews from their clients, but Hurst encouraged the business owners in attendance to get an honest review of their marketing from their clients. This can be very helpful when searching for a niche, and for writing a brand statement.
  • Don’t fear the blank page. The thing that separates you is your perspective, and you have to find a way to communicate that perspective to your clients. Whether it’s on LinkedIn, in short videos, or short blogs, you need to adhere to that baseline you set for yourself. One or two pieces of content per week is fine. Hurst warned against leaning on ChatGPT for marketing because it makes up information and misquotes sources regularly. (Bonus tip from Hurst at GrowCon: ChatGPT is great for finding Excel formulas).

Panel – Roger Knecht (UAC), Robyn Mons (UAC), James Donovan (Nine Two Media) and Dean Haupt (Matrix Tax Services)

Before the close of the conference, a panel of experts, including Roger Knecht, Robyn Mons, James Donovan, and Dean Haupt, discussed various strategies for building a successful accounting firm and fielded questions from the audience. They stressed the importance of surrounding oneself with successful individuals, overcoming mindset blocks in business, and monetizing LinkedIn profiles.

GrowCon

On stage from left: Christi Richards, Roger Knecht, Robyn Mons, James Donovan, and Dean Haupt.

Mons, who works as Universal Accounting Center’s Life Coach, emphasized starting work with a positive mindset, how to tackle imposter syndrome, and strategic decision-making in hiring.

Panelists offered advice on documenting processes, delegating tasks, and focusing on revenue-generating activities to enhance business growth. They also discussed factors affecting company valuation, such as customer lists, staff quality, and operational procedures, were highlighted, along with improving SOPs and employee retention.

The conversation covered starting an accounting business, gaining industry experience, and outsourcing’s impact on valuations. They addressed risks associated with outsourcing, leveraging LinkedIn for client acquisition, and productivity improvement tips. Emphasis was placed on fair comparisons, managing expectations, networking, and marketing oneself effectively. Starting small, setting proper expectations, consistency, and prioritizing marketing activities were recommended. The significance of confidence, competence, planning, sales, and taking action was underscored.

Advice was given on creating educational videos, starting a company while working full-time, transitioning from part-time to full-time work, and innovative marketing strategies like sending books for referrals. Commitment, focused content creation, and cumulative efforts over time were stressed as crucial for business success.

Access the Full Presentations

The tips shared in this article are truly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of game changing insights that presenters shared at GrowCon. Each speaker shared valuable insights for running an accounting business, from building wealth, optimizing processes, and beyond.

Fortunately, you can access the full collection of presentations virtually for just $197. Purchase the complete list of presentations at both days of GrowCon at this link.

GrowCon 2025

At the conclusion of GrowCon 2024 in Jacksonville, Knecht and Richards gave a recap of the Pre-Con VIP events, and announced the location for GrowCon 2025: Provo, Utah!

GrowCon 2025 will be held from May 5 to 7 at the Utah Valley Convention Center. Marriott Provo will be the host hotel for the event.

To learn more and register for this can’t miss event for owners of accounting businesses, follow this link.

The lineup of speakers will include experts in tax planning, business development, and client advisory services. Check out highlights from previous GrowCons for free here.

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 for GrowCon 2025 in Provo, Utah.

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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