What is it like to run your tax firm remotely? Is it even possible? In this episode, Michelle Weinstein welcomes back Marc Schnoll, the Travelling CPA, who shares his insights on what it’s like to achieve relaxed success. Marc’s firm grew in several ways: his people grew, the revenue doubled, and their systems are better when engaging with clients. Remotely selling their services welcomes the possibility of embracing relaxed success. Marc realizes that the more people he brings into his firm can be challenging, but it’s the only way to grow. Tune in to hear more of Marc Schnoll in this episode now!
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Embracing Relaxed Success With Marc Schnoll, The Travelling CPA
In this episode, we have a very special guest. He’s a returning guest and a dear client of mine. He’s the CPA and he’s owned a CPA firm since 2004. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and also a Master’s degree in Accounting from the University of Florida. He is a licensed CPA in Florida, as well as a licensed Certified Tax Planner. He brings many years of experience and specializes in providing sound, fiscal management for clients through proactive tax planning strategies for his clients.
He is also a tax firm owner who’s traveled 16 weeks out of 2022 and his goal for every year moving forward is to travel 1 week out of the year. I like to call our special guests the Traveling CPA. For those that are new or repeat readers, I’ve been helping accounting, bookkeeping and tax firm owners have more freedom like our special guest has and have more time and money so you can get paid first and upfront and confidently charge the fees that you know you deserve.
I know that our system works and that I can help you create the firm you’ve always wanted but it is up to you to take this next step. The next step is to head on over to TheAbundantCall.com to book your free breakthrough session with myself and my team. We will talk about three specific things in our breakthrough session. Number one, where your firm is now and what are the things that are keeping you stuck? Number two, where you want your firm to be and in your life to ensure you’re paid first, avoiding all the pitfalls along the way. Number three, the exact next steps you can take to double your firm revenue.
Every single one of our success stories has started with this call and our special guest did this call too. It’s turned in not only into more confidence, charging premium fees, doubling top-line revenue, eliminating burnout and frustration but ultimately feeling excited about your work again and being in complete control of your calendar, time and vacations. Head on over to TheAbundantCall.com to book your free complimentary breakthrough session with me or Denise. Our only requirement is that you own an accounting tax or bookkeeping firm. Let’s welcome Marc to the show.
Welcome back, Marc, to the show.
Thank you, Michelle. It’s good to be here.
I’m so happy to have you back here on the show. I know we did an episode a long time ago. Before we get into this episode’s case study about how you can travel the world and still run your firm and live this freedom that I think Marc dreamt of back in the day when we first met in November of 2017, why don’t you share with everyone where you are and what kind of firm you have. Also, a little bit about you in a minute or less before we dive into this episode.
I have a small but growing CPA practice. Our physical office is in Gainesville, Florida but we have a team of twelve and almost all of us are remote. We’re all over the place. That’s the 30-second version.
When we met back in November of 2017, we met because Marc was reaching out to learn about tax planning and changed his practice through an organization called Certified Tax Coach through the American Institute of Certified Tax Planners. Can you share, Marc, how many people did you start with on your team back then and now that you have a team of twelve working remotely?
Back then, we had 5 or 6 people. We had been at that size for a decade or more. We weren’t growing. It was stressful. As I progressed through this life and age and realized that none of us have a million years on the planet, I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go. I was looking for something new and a better way to do things and a way to be more successful. That’s how I found my way to the American Institute of Certified Tax Planners and you.
You did the Eight-Week Sales Mastery Training in 2018. That was a propeller into what we’re going to talk about in this episode which is the Traveling CPA. I remember when we first met, one of the most important things on your list or the things that you love most is traveling and eating well. Your goal is to take off almost a week a month. After that, it’s about how can you embrace what Denise and I have been calling relaxed success. In 2022, you were out of town for almost sixteen weeks and I would guess that in 2017 or 2018, you probably didn’t think that was possible.
I believe that a lot of firm owners aspire to travel more, spend more time with their families, work remotely and do the things that they were stuck with. You were doing the same thing for over a decade and couldn’t get out of the rut. What do you think was the biggest challenge that you overcome? How did you feel before versus now? You had skepticism.
You’ve come across people like me that are all certain and 100% confident that are like, “Yes, you can change, Marc. I promise.” You’re like, “I’ve been doing the same thing for years, Michelle. I know there’s a better way but I don’t know how I’m going to get there.” What is it that you see that I don’t see? Can you share with us a little bit about that journey and what you were going through in your head back in 2017 and 2018?
I was stuck. I needed to find a different way. It was very stressful. The firm wasn’t progressing and with the success that I wanted with my career and finances, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. Speaking with you, you were extremely confident that change was possible. I felt the change was possible but I didn’t know how to do it. Working with the folks at AICTP, I learned about a new service offering and how to relate to clients.
Also, working with you on the eight-week Sales Mastery course, you encouraged me to take it during that tax season in early 2018. I thought that it was a terrible time, as busy as we were but you reminded me that this was the best time. We’re talking on February 2023. This is the time of year that we are the busiest that we hear from more potential new clients.
If I was going to change how I presented our value and services, it’s no time like the present. It’s been nothing short of revolutionary in terms of the way our firm has worked with clients, how we acquire clients and how we continue to interact with clients and grow. In thinking about this conversation that we’re having, I thought back to those days. It’s night and day in terms of how we interact with clients and how we are as a firm.
It is night and day. I love the word that you used, revolutionary. We can tackle that a little bit deeper because what you did create is revolutionary. It’s what a lot of people reading aspire to. They might be in the same boat as you. They’re like, “I don’t know how to do it. I’ve talked to Michelle or Denise. I’ve watched their videos. I’ve read the show. I don’t understand how they’re so positive and certain.”
I promise you, there is a better way. You had a lot of low-profit services and you found tax planning as a higher-value service that changed. A lot of it is like you shared. You were unsatisfied with a lot of where you were at, not only in your career but with your financial success and you weren’t progressing. When we’re stagnant, it gets frustrating. When you say it’s revolutionary, can you share with everyone how your firm has grown since 2017 and 2018?
It’s grown in several ways. First, as it relates to people, these are things that we can measure. We had about six people then. We are up to about twelve in 2023. Revenue is nearly double what it was then. We’re growing consistently. It’s 15% to 20% a year. We could do more but I want it to be sustainable. I don’t want it to get out ahead of us but in terms of how we interact with folks, our systems are so much better. We know what we’re doing and everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing. We’ve implemented better systems technologically to help with workflow and communication. In terms of what the firm looks like, back then, we were 5 or 6 people all in the same place.
It was a traditional firm and a physical office. We had one person working remotely and that’s a story for another time but we had great difficulty finding talent in our local market in Gainesville. About a minute before COVID hit, we started offshoring and that did two things for us. Number one, we had better access to talent. Number two, it forced us to be essentially a remote firm. When COVID hit, we were set. It was not a big change for us in any way.
During COVID, I always knew we could do the work remotely. The question was, “Could we remotely sell our services?” The answer was yes. That was one thing that was maybe not surprising to me but it was a barrier that I needed to get over. In realizing that, I realized that we don’t need to be in Gainesville anymore to do our work and sell our services.
It’s because I sell on the phone. Most people think you have to be in person, on video or any of this. What I recommend and why I don’t do even a video podcast is we can’t be good listeners if we’re trying to use our eyes and our ears and pretend that we’re engaged with someone in person or on the phone. We don’t listen at the same rate as if you’re on a telephone. Old school telephone, listening to someone’s challenges and pain points. How can I help this person? Am I the best person to help them and convert them?We can't be good listeners if we're trying to use our eyes and ears and pretend we're engaging with someone in person or on the phone. Click To Tweet
What you created during COVID and that you weren’t meeting with people or anybody anymore in person and you’re not on Zoom and you’re doing all of your phone calls with prospects on the phone, is you saw a huge increase in revenue. That’s why you’re still growing 15% to 20% a year and increasing fees. You doubled your revenue from where you started back in 2017 and 2018.
That’s all true. You hit the nail on the head. We were able to sell remotely. In 2022, when things were more open, my wife and I felt like we were finally able to travel. The question is, can we take this on the road and travel a great deal, which is what we love to do and what we want to do but continue to maintain the responsibilities to the work? This is a growing firm and I’m the leader of the firm.
You’re the main show. You are the 100% owner.
We’ve got a great team that does the vast majority of the day-to-day work but I need to set the tone. I’m the only person that does the sales piece. For us to continue to grow, I need to continue to work. We tried to figure out a way to take it on the road. I put together a portable version of my workspace. I’m in my home office but I’m looking at three screens. When we travel, I bring the three screens with me. I have the same work set up. In 2022, we spent seven weeks in London. We rented an apartment. I had my home office there. We worked in London like I would work in Florida or anywhere else.
You stuck to your values and what you wanted to create with your wife. I remember when we first met, you guys were in a separate city. Wasn’t she in Memphis?
She was in Memphis. We were in a commuting relationship for almost fifteen years. That ended with COVID. She was a college professor. She came home for spring break in 2020 and never returned.
You’re home together. You’re home more because you’re working from home. You get to travel more together. You traveled 16 weeks out of 52 weeks in a year. You enjoyed life, did all the fun things and ate delicious food but still were able to focus on the sales and growing the firm so your team had work to complete.
It’s all true. We did sixteen weeks. When we spent much of the summer in London, my wife called it an experiment and the experiment was a success. We’re planning to do something very similar. We’ll be overseas for much of the summer again but I’ll be working. It’s not the same pace that I might work at home but I’m doing everything I need to do and that’s what we want.
That’s the beautiful thing about taking that leap of faith, trying something new and believing the others that saw the path that maybe you didn’t see. What I’m curious to hear is that if you could share, what were some of the obstacles or hesitations that you had in trusting this process? I know you were skeptical and maybe even shared, “What were your biggest fears when you not only enrolled in Certified Tax Coach and became a CTC?” You added tax planning as a service but also embraced a new way to enroll clients and create a sales process in your firm that you follow all the time which helped you double your firm revenue. That’s massive.
One of the things that I was concerned about is whether it’s working with CTC or working with you, you certainly encouraged us, all the folks that work with you, to raise fees to push the envelope on earning the value that we provide for our clients.
You are earning the value that you want.Earn the value that you want. Click To Tweet
For us to at some level set our fees. When you’ve been doing something a certain way for a long time and suddenly, you’re told, “You need to do things differently,” raising fees can be a challenge. The worry is that folks are going to push back. You’re going to lose a lot of clients. All these things go through your head but using what you teach in the Sales Mastery course, I’m able to communicate better what our value is. I’m able to present that to a client and make it easy for them to see the value. Make it easy for them to say yes and also improve the systems around enrolling and paying. We haven’t talked about the fact that we don’t spend five minutes a month dealing with accounts receivable anymore.
You are right. We forgot the AR. How much time did you spend before?
I spent probably 4 to 6 hours a month on billing. My office manager would spend a similar amount of time either interacting with clients as it relates to money or sometimes, having to chase clients for money. That situation doesn’t exist anymore.
You have a new sales process and create and implement it. I don’t know if you want to share how much your AR was and what you collected but the fact is that not only is it zero now but you don’t waste 4 to 6 hours a month, plus the others in the office spending on billing plus chasing clients for payments. There’s so much time that was wasted before.
In preparation for this call, I had a feeling that we were going to talk about this. I looked at the numbers and it never seemed like it was that bad. At any given time, we might have somewhere between $20,000, $30,000 and maybe $40,000 out outstanding as accounts receivable. Stuff was typically pretty current and I was never worried about it but the issue was the time. When we engage a client, if it’s a 1040 client, they prepay. That’s not a problem. For our ongoing services clients, they give us their debit or credit card at the outset and we charge them monthly as we provide service to them throughout the year. It isn’t a problem anymore and it’s a major time saver what we’ve implemented.
Some of these outcomes that you shared have massively changed the way you run your firm and also created this free time to travel more and do the things that you love because you’ve saved so much time in so many different areas.
I used to worry about things that maybe we had forgotten about or hadn’t covered but with the systems that we have in place, the technology and the communication systems, things don’t fall off the plate anymore even though we have much more work to do. That gives me more confidence. There’s something else that I wanted to mention. We were talking about fees and raising fees.
What I realized when we raised fees is we got very little pushback. Certainly, we have lost some clients as we have pushed fees over the last several years but I’d rather have fewer clients at a higher revenue number than the opposite. We don’t have fewer clients. We have more clients now than we did at a higher revenue number.
You got a new bench. It’s like a basketball team in the NBA. You have the bench warmers. You got rid of the bench warmers and put more starters on your bench.
All of those folks that are not as good a fit now as they were helped and sustained us for a long time. I certainly want to honor those folks but the firm has evolved. There are a lot of folks that were good clients of ours several years ago that aren’t quite the same fit now and that’s okay. I am at peace with that but it’s like night and day the way we operate now versus what it was a handful of years ago.
How do you feel on a personal level? From where you were when we first spoke, my guess is slightly frustrated. Maybe you can share exactly how you felt back then and compare it to how you feel now, being the Traveling CPA that you are and all of the plans that you guys have for vacations. Also, you went on a ten-day cruise and were able to check out and go enjoy life. You were able to see the fruits of your labor and all of your years of hard work come to fruition and enjoy those special moments with your wife.
There’s a lot to unpack there. In terms of how I felt back then, there was frustration and stress. Not that there isn’t stress now but it’s a different stress. It’s a much better situation. I feel great about how far we’ve come. There are still certain steps to go. We’re not quite where we want to be. There’s always something new to achieve. I feel good and confident. I feel like we are achieving the success that I want to achieve and there’s more there to grab, work and strive towards.
How do you feel about working during tax season than what it was like before? You did the Eight-Week Sales Mastery Training during tax season. For a lot of people, there’s hesitation about doing something like that during the busiest time of year. What would you share about your experience doing my program during tax season and also the amount of experience that you had?
You got the most people to talk to and the most practice. When you’re trying something new and doing something new where it feels uncomfortable and that you have no time and that these things Michelle has me do are like, “Enough is enough,” I’m sure is what you thought a couple of times, what would you say a tax season is like now for you versus before?
As it relates to the Sales Mastery program, the tax season is the perfect time to do it because you do get the ability to practice what you learn immediately. You get the feedback and it’s going to be good feedback. Very rapidly I could see myself being a better salesperson as the season wore on. You get all of that practice in an intense way so it solidifies what you’re teaching. It’s the best time to do it.
You get positive feedback. Tax season is still very busy but this is what we signed up for and it’s a pleasure for me to have all of these new clients, sales calls and meetings. We’ve increased our revenue so much that we’ve hired a lot of higher-end people. The folks that can do a lot of the day-to-day work historically had fallen on me, especially in tax season. I have to do a lot less of that so that it frees me up to do more of the sales and growth activities. It’s a virtuous cycle.
It’s a beautiful thing that Marc is still doing ongoing coaching with me. We always talk about delegating more. You have the delegation thing down to a science.
What I find is that the more people we bring in, it’s amazing the things that we would love to get to and the more projects and improvement areas. The things we’d love to do that we can’t get to. You hire a new person and suddenly, you have all that capacity to throw stuff at that new person.
It’s scary to delegate and take control away from you, especially if you’ve been doing it for so long and at the beginning of the firm or for the first decade, you were stuck and stagnant doing the same thing over and over again and to finally let go of it and see what happens. Trust that the person you’re delegating to will do the same work, if not better than you, takes a lot of courage.
It is challenging but the only way to grow is to do that. It was an interview for my first job. The managing partner of the firm who hired me said, “You can’t be promoted until you train your replacement.” It’s many years ago that he told me that and I’ve never forgotten it but it’s something that I’ve always tried to do. I’m always trying to personally grow and certainly, having a practice and wanting to grow. The only way to do that is to continue to train others and try to help them progress as well. It frees me up to travel and do more stuff. It all works.
Marc, thank you so much for taking out the time to share all this with us and share your experience of what it’s like to have a remote firm, do your sales over the phone, go on 16 weeks of travel with your 3 monitors and work part-time. What would you say to other bookkeepers, tax professionals and accounting firm owners who are struggling like you were?
Also, they are wishing they could travel more and go to eat at nice restaurants like you enjoy. However, they can’t seem to break the 14, 18-hour day mold, get unglued from the desk, not feel burnt out and stressed as you had shared and frustrated with the way things have been going for so long. What would you share with them with any final thoughts?
There is a different way to do it, Michelle. Working with you is a great way to learn how to do things a lot differently.
I always tell you different things. I have a new idea for Marc and he’s like, “I’m going to have to think about this one, Michelle.”
I always think about it but every time I’ve implemented one of your ideas, it has increased revenue every single time. I don’t know why I even have to think about it. I should just do it. You have to step away for a moment to think about what things can be and things can be better but you’ve got to do things differently. Working with Michelle is a great way to do that.You must step away for a moment to think about what things can be and can be better, but you've got to do things differently. Click To Tweet
Is there anything else, if they don’t work with me, that you think one should implement or do differently that you wish you would’ve known maybe even prior in 2015 or 2016 that might have made life feel a little bit better?
I bought the practice in 2004 and the person I bought it from told me to never be afraid to charge what you’re worth. You would say the same thing. You have said the same thing. CPAs and accountants frequently are afraid to charge what we’re worth to our detriment. I have continued to try to do that and the perspective clients keep coming. My biggest problem is I have too many people that want to meet with me and not enough time to meet with them. It’s not like they dry up because I’ve raised the fees.
Hopefully, you think over my new idea for you and implement it and increase revenue again because I’m always all about that. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your knowledge, wisdom and experiences. You’re not alone. Even Marc went through it along with a bunch of other firm owners but there is a different way and a great way. You can always give me a call. Marc, I wanted to say thank you. It’s been an honor and I can’t wait to hear about all of your vacations and see all the photos of the yummy, delicious food that you guys eat during your travel days.
Thanks, Michelle. I appreciate being here. I enjoyed this.
Thank you all so much for joining Marc and me on another amazing episode. If you’re feeling like where Marc was, frustrated, stagnant, looking for something revolutionary in your firm but unsure how, reach out and we can support you. We can have a phone call for about 45 minutes. We’ll get to the truth about where you’re at in your firm. We’ll get to the truth of what you tried and also of how much may be the time you’ve lost by trying things that don’t work.
Head on over to TheAbundantCall.com and pick the first spot you see. My business partner Denise and I look forward to connecting with you. What Marc has and traveling sixteen weeks out of the year and his goal is at least a week a month is possible for you. You can work remotely, sell over the phone and get paid your worth. It’s up to you to take the next step. Head on over to TheAbundantCall.com to book your call. We look forward to speaking with you. I’ll see you in the next episode.
About Marc Schnoll
Marc has owned Sexton & Schnoll, CPAs since 2004. His undergraduate work was done at the University of Wisconsin, and he earned master’s degrees in Business Administration and Accounting at the University of Florida. He is a licensed CPA in Florida, as well as a Certified Tax Planner. He brings 32 years of experience and specializes in providing sound fiscal management for clients through proactive tax-planning strategies. He offers strategies that can save his clients money by becoming your trusted partner.