We all want to scale our business, but the question is how? Successful entrepreneurs have their secret sauce to success. In this episode, Sharrin Fuller, the founder of Glass Wallet Ventures, shares her secret sauce, the scalable to saleable system she develops to help grow and set our firm to success. From having $70,000 revenue a year, her firm scaled to $2.5M! Her secret? The three keys to success are communication, consistency, and follow-through. You don’t want to miss this opportunity, so let’s dive right into this roadmap to success!
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Scalable To Saleable System: The Roadmap To Scale, Sell, And Succeed In Your Firm With Sharrin Fuller
We have a very special guest. She is the CEO and Founder of Glass Wallet Ventures and is also the Managing Partner of two growing accounting firms. After successfully starting, scaling, and selling her accounting and bookkeeping practice, she has developed the scalable to a saleable system and remote team roadmap to help other firm owners position themselves for growth and eventual acquisition with the maximum productivity from their teams. She also specializes in consulting on business strategy, human capital optimization, partnerships, and entrepreneurship.
Before we welcome our very special guest, can you imagine being able to increase your fees by more than 300%, double or even triple your annual revenue? What about collecting 100% of your AR and always getting paid upfront? These are some of the results that the firm owners I work with have been able to accomplish, and they all started by watching my free training.
I’m going to show you four shifts to charge higher fees, and double your firm revenue without having to work harder or take on any new clients so you don’t have to grind fourteen hours a day and you can finally get the excitement back you’ve had in your firm. Sign up right now at TheAbundantAccountant.com/Masterclass. Now, let’s welcome our very special guest, Sharrin Fuller, to the show.
Thanks for having me.
That’s awesome to have you here on the show. I’m excited to know your story about how you sold your firm by accident because I speak to a lot of tax accounting firm owners focusing on revenue growth and increasing profitability and value, so in the future, they can sell their firms. Knowing your story and going through what you went through in the process and also what you learned and what a firm owner should think about and look out for is going to be an eye-opening conversation. Before we dive in, it’d be great if you could share with everyone who you are and what you do if they’ve never heard of you before. I’ve already shared it from my point of view, but I always think it’s better to come from the horse’s mouth.
I also think I’m funny. I like to let people know that right off the bat, it’s typically not true. I’ve been in accounting for quite a while, since 2004. I started wanting to be a paralegal. I started to go to school for that. As I got into it, I thought I got to the business courses and said, “I’m just going to start a business.” I had a nail license at the time, one of those side things to get you through school, and opened a salon. While I opened that, I realized I now have payroll. I have sales tax and all these things. I downloaded QuickBooks on my computer and loved it. From there I thought, “That’s it. I love accounting and I love this. I’m going to keep doing my salon, but I love this piece.”
What kind of salon?
It was tanning, but we were full-service. We had nails, permanent makeup, and massage, and I even did a little bit of body piercing. It’s quite a jump to where I am now. I used to pierce tongues and now I am creating cash forecasts. There are complete differences there. I decided I loved it. I had a friend in college at the time. I didn’t want to go to college. I just wanted to learn. I was a pretty fast learner. She checked out some books that were on the course curriculum. I taught accounting myself.
I moved to a different state. I’ve always been in customer service and sales. I was at a cold storage facility, and I was the operations manager. The facility was selling. As I was leaving, there were a bunch of tenants that rented space and they said, “You’re great. I wish I could hire you, but I only need you for five hours a week.”
There were a good 8 to 10 people that needed this. I thought, “There is a business model here.” I started my first company, which was a simple office solution. My original tagline was, “I was your mobile office manager.” I was remote for the most part. I would go to your office, file all your paper, grab everything for the week, and take it home with me. I would create, LogMeIn on the computer so I could log in remotely and access their QuickBooks desktop. I would work from home. Usually, on Mondays, I’d go take the stuff back, file it, grab the new shoebox, and keep doing that.
That went on for a while from probably 2006 to about 2010. There’s a lot of learning growth in working with tax advisors. In 2010, I started working with a firm as a contractor, and I learned a grip ton about the VC back startup industry. I fell in love with software as a service. I started rebuilding my company to more of a fractional controller and fractional CFO services from the course of 2012 to 2020 when I sold. focusing on VC-back startups is a whole other beast, I can tell you that. I grew from there. My whole business was built on word of mouth. It was just me until about 2014.
My husband and I lived in San Diego at the time. We were there for about fifteen years and we thought, “Let’s go buy property somewhere we can. Let’s build a house. I’m going to work part-time.” We moved to Utah, which is a whole other story. As soon as we moved there, all of a sudden, my business exploded. The word of mouth was everywhere. I was getting referrals left and right. I thought, “I either need a 1) Hire staff or 2) Tell these people no.” I’m bad at telling people no. A lot of us are in this field. I started hiring staff. The next thing you know, I went from just me to a staff of 7, 12, 15, and 18. From 2015 to 2020, it was insane.
How much did you grow from 2010 to 2020?
In 2010, I was probably only doing $70,000 a year in revenue. In 2020, I’m leaving it at $2.5 million. That’s quite the revenue jump. From $70,000 to $2.5 million is quite a bit in five years when you’re talking about a few people. It was crazy. It was fun. It was a learning experience, but I never once thought, this was something you can sell. When I was thinking about an exit strategy, I was more worried or I was thinking, “If something happens to me, I’ll give equity in my team. I’ll make sure my team gets it.”
The next thing you know, more word of mouth, I start getting all these random people calling and saying, “I’m interested in buying your business.” It was weird. At first, I thought it was a scam, and then I looked into it and it wasn’t. People wanted to start building a lot of this FinTech software. People come in and they say, “I’ve got this amazing platform, but to build this software, I need to have clients to test it on. I don’t want to build an accounting firm. I’m going to go buy one and use their revenue and then use those clients to build this platform.” We’re not a pre-revenue company.
Was this a software company that ended up acquiring you?
It wasn’t. I didn’t want to sell my company. I didn’t want to give that up. I wasn’t ready yet. That was in 2020. I went through a little bit. I only took three seriously. Two of them weren’t aligned and I wasn’t going to put anybody through that. This was my baby. I changed the logo twice. It was mine. My name was on it. My name was in the reviews. To give it up is, it was not something I wanted to do.
Finally, the third one came along. It is at an inconvenient time. By this time, I have already sat through acquisitions and due diligence. I’ve walked about 30-plus clients through these acquisitions, IPO, or whatnot. I know what that first step looks like. I know what to do and what to be prepared for on the business side. I was not prepared emotionally.
Before we talk about the emotional part of when the third buyer came along, we’re talking about scaling to selling, scalable to saleable. I know there are certain elements that got you from your $70,000 of revenue in 2010 to $2.5 million in 2020. What do you think, if we had to break it down into three major areas?
To my director of marketing, I said, “I want you to make this post on Facebook.” It says, “I am going to give you the three keys to success for free.” I list it up. “Key Number 1) Communication. Key Number 2) Consistency. Key Number 3) Follow Through.” I live by that. Everything I’ve done has been extreme communication. Make sure that communication is open.
Communication with your clients.
Clients love communication. Any of my clients that you talk to, they’ll say, “What do you love about Sharrin?” “I feel like she’s always on it. I don’t have to worry.” My secret to that is they’ll email me or text me. I may not be able to get to the deliverable right then, but I let them know I received it, “Thanks, Joe. Got this. I can’t get to this right now. Give me a day,” then I make sure that I have that follow through. I’m consistent in making sure that I am on top of my communication and that he knows if I say a day, I mean a day.
He loves that. He knows, “Sharrin said a day. She is always on time. She follows through with what she says.” That has been everything. I feel like that goes in life. You can put that to anything. When you ask them what are they upset about at their firm, you hear, “I never hear from them. There’s like no communication. I don’t know if they’re doing anything. I never know when I’m going to get it.”
That’s the biggest complaint that I’ve heard but a lot of firm owners are busy. We think we’re in communication with our clients, but I think what you’re referencing is over-communicating. It’s being so on top of it that from the client’s perspective, they see that as normal. It might feel for a lot of firm owners out there that that’s a little over the top. Did you have support, an admin, or a team member that helped keep you so in communication or on top of it with your clients?
Not in the beginning. I’m extremely organized. I’m very consistent in the way I manage and do things. It’s always the same. I made sure my clients understood this is how I did things. I also understood that if I have my email up on my right screen, I have three screens. I see an email come in and respond quickly, then they’re not going to bug me five times and blow up my phone in text.
I’ve saved maybe twenty extra minutes of back and forth of me having to check things by just quickly saying, “Got this. Received,” and then they know the email got to you. That’s something I learned over time. It’s easy that when the client is comfortable, trusts you, and knows you have it, they leave you alone. They won’t nag you, which saves you time in the long run.
What areas did you focus the most on the consistency that helped you scale quickly and obviously, present the value of the firm and got a pretty good multiple on the sale of it? Consistency could be in so many areas. What do you think are the areas of consistency that you found you got the biggest bang for your buck or the highest ROI?
It would be the management of the client and the style of how I did it. If I’m going to each of my clients, I would use the same chart of accounts. That way, I know what it is in each. It makes it easier to manage. I always use the same accounts payable program. I don’t have to learn five things. I don’t have to go to ten places. It’s in one thing. I can set up one process, procedure, or way of doing it, and just replicate it across the board for each of my clients.
The clients that you work with had to adhere to your technology choices. It wasn’t up to them.
It was a, “I would love to work with you. What do you have right now? This is what I use and this is what I require that people work with me use. The reason being is this.” That allows us as accounting firms to scale. The first thing we did was we got up to like 16 or 17 people, then when we sold, we were down to like 10 or 11, but our revenue was still up.
We were able to scale with consistency and add in software that would replace a lot of the things that we were doing that were just unnecessary. If you have 70 clients, try processing payroll or paying bills in 70 different ways, 70 different bank accounts on different days. We would say, “We process AP on Thursday and we do it through this software. Here is the process. If you approve it by Wednesday, we will pay on Thursday.” We saved so much time.
A lot of people are afraid to manage their clients in that way, but they need to understand their clients are coming to them for expertise and service. They need to say, “This is how we work.” If it doesn’t work for a client, that’s okay. Refer them to somebody. Making a lot of exceptions, honestly, drives down your revenue and ROI.
It’s super inefficient.
It ruins everything.
This is an important element to talk about. You put boundaries in place on, “What do you guys use right now as a client when you’re intaking or onboarding them?” Here’s what I require as a firm. Your revenue grew. For readers, she decreased the amount of overhead from the employee side by creating consistency and efficiency. Having the appropriate technologies in the firm is crucial. From a consistency standpoint, it’s a valuable piece. How much did you save on overhead from an expense standpoint?
Let’s assume they were basic accountants. Let’s assume $60,000. That’d be $320,000 grand a year.
That’s a lot. A lot of people are afraid to let a client or a prospect go because we try to make it all fit and work. When you are specific and specialized, set the guidelines and the boundaries, and turn away people who don’t want to comply with your requirements, you end up in the positive.
Let me tell you something even funnier than that. Nobody likes to be told no or, “Sorry. That’s just not how we do it, but you can go here.” It makes you step back and go, “Hold on a second.” A lot of times the clients come back and say, “I thought about it,” or go talk to ten other people. It is perfectly fine. Here’s my proposal. Here’s how I do things. Go get quotes from other people. I feel like they always come back because they love the confidence of, “This is how we do it. This is how we’ve been doing it. This is what we know. We’re not deviating because then we would not be an expert for you.” Hire an employee if that’s what you want, which is probably not the right fit for a lot of companies.
To me, follow-through seems like communication. I’m very curious about the uniqueness and the difference that you’re assigning to follow through and what that looked like for you over that ten-year span.
Do what you say. If you say, “I’m going to call you tomorrow at 10:00,” call tomorrow at 10:00. If you say, “I will get this deliverable to you, but it will be to you on Friday at noon,” try to get it there before noon but don’t have it there afternoon. People need to be able to rely on you, especially in the industry that we are in. We’re handling their money.
When you make the littlest mistake, you oversee, your follow-through is not there and you don’t return their deliverables on time, they start analyzing, dissecting, and thinking, “What else are you going to do? Are you not going to pay my payroll on time? What can I not account on you for?” You have to do what you say. If you give a date a time or a promised deliverable, deliver it. If for any reason you can’t, don’t wait until the last minute. Communicate as soon as you can. Let them know. It’s okay to say, “I messed up. I overbooked myself. I am so sorry. What can I do?”You have to do what you say. If you can't do it, don't wait until the last minute and communicate as soon as you can. Click To Tweet
Take responsibility. The biggest thing and people appreciate it, and I love anybody who can step up and say, “I’m sorry I messed up.” It goes so far. It’s one of the most valuable assets that improve the know, like, and trust factor with your clients, especially since you’re dealing with their money, their QuickBooks, their accounting, their payroll, you name it. It’s crucial. Follow through from being of your word, doing what you say, and also, cleaning up your mess where you do mess up and coming from a place of under-promising, but over-delivering wherever you can.
People use that a lot, but probably not enough. There’s always such a big difference between admitting that you messed up and then using that as an excuse. If every time you’re like, “Oops,” then people start hearing you cry wolf and they no longer believe you. If you’re consistent and you communicate and you’re typically consistent on your delivery and follow through, then when you mess up, they’re going to listen. People respect people that can admit, “I messed up.”
Accountants tend to think a lot. We don’t like to admit defeat. We don’t like to say we can’t do something. That’s not what we do. We’re numbers people, 1 and 1 equal 2. It’s hard for us to do, but people are just people. Most people are empathetic and they’re going to listen and they’re going to be understanding. If they’re not, then that’s a whole other story. That’s another episode.
We’re clear on the three keys to the success of having a scalable firm or scaling it to selling it. Now let’s jump back into the emotional part that you were not prepared for when that third buyer came along and you took it a little bit more seriously at that time.
I always tell people as I’m coaching them as they’re getting ready to sell their companies, “Make a list.” I used to go to church when I was younger and they would tell us to sit down and make a list of what we want in a husband. For some reason that always reminds me of this, “Before you get married, open it up and make sure this is that person.” Do the same thing with your business. Sit down and make that list, “What do I want from my business?”
I don’t care if it’s unrealistic, but still, write it down. “I want X amount of dollars. I want to stay with the company. I want to make sure all my employees get X.” That way when the time comes, you have at least this past piece of paper that you wrote down in a clear state of mind to keep you focused and on point because you’re going through a lot.
Due diligence is business. They’re rifling through everything. They’re making sure it’s organized. They’re asking hard questions. You’re taking some things personally. When it came time for mine, I typically take a vacation every year from December 10th through January 10th. I am burnt out by that time. My candle at both ends until about Thanksgiving. By Thanksgiving, I am ready to zone out.Due diligence is business. Click To Tweet
You have Thanksgiving break and then you go on a month’s break.
I close out the month in November, make sure everybody’s set for December, and then I peace out. It’s okay because December is our quiet time. January gets crazy for 1099s. They hit me up on November 20th. I was at the end of the year and I had a controller that just gave notice. I was like, “I’m done. I’m over this. I want a break. I need a break.” Here comes my break, handing me a check. Everything at that point sounds amazing. I’m going through it. I’m going to be very delicate with how I say anything because I don’t want anything to come off the wrong way and whatsoever.
From an emotional standpoint, you’re going through it. I’m flying through due diligence because I’m extremely organized. That feels great, but then you’re getting to the end. You’re trying to make sure that you’re aligned morally, emotionally, and everything because this is your company. I thought I was. One thing I’ve never realized is I’ve always helped my clients until that paperwork’s signed.
When the paperwork’s signed, then the transaction is pretty much over because now the business is no longer the clients. It’s now the new companies and they merge over. That’s what we did. We were all absorbed into a new company. Our company was purchased as the flagship company to start this new accounting firm that was doing what my firm was already doing. It was an asset purchase. They purchased my team, clients, and assets.
Did you stay on?
I stayed on as president and co-founder. It’s a terrible mistake on my part. The reason being I’m not a president and co-founder. I’m the CEO of my company. What I’m doing is I’m coming into something that has a brand-new vision.
Whatever vision you talked about prior to signing goes out the door once the money is exchanged.
I tell people, “If it’s not in writing, it’s not going to happen. I don’t care how much you love somebody. I don’t care if it’s The pope. If it’s not in writing, it’s not going to happen at all.” I’m not saying this happens, but in general, I’ve seen it. They will tell you whatever you want and then, you’ll decide, “It’s okay if I sign this agreement because I’m never going anywhere. I’m staying with this new company forever.” You’re probably not and you don’t know that.
Don’t give things up that you would second guess because you think you’re going to stay on. You may not. They may be getting you over in transitioning and then they have every intention of letting you go. When I moved over to ours, it was hard for me and for the team. We were a very close team now. I am no longer in accounting. I’m in business development. Almost my entire team ended up leaving. I ended up exiting pretty soon as well. My team started leaving within a month. This was a completely different way of style management.
Not that one is right and one is wrong. It’s just different. People have a hard time with change. One day it’s my job and I’m doing one thing. The next day, it’s my job. I’m doing the same thing but in a completely different way. A lot of people stayed on until I exited. When I exited, everyone did as well. It makes sense.
I had a nervous breakdown right in the middle. About five months into it, I was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t sit here and watch this.” I can’t help anybody. We’re trying to move into this new way of doing things and I’m getting used to a board and people making decisions that are based on shareholders and equity holders and it’s not the world I came from.
What do you think’s the biggest learning lesson of when you exited and sold the firm, that you would want to share with someone that might be going through it besides making sure everything is in writing and coming up with what you want in your wife or husband list when it comes to the acquisition of your firm?
Make sure you have a good lawyer for these contract negotiations. Make sure you have somebody that can keep you stabilized, somebody who has the experience, which is what I do now. It doesn’t have to be me. Someone could be someone like me, somebody that can say, “Let me sit on these calls with you. Let me keep you grounded. Let’s look at that paper that you wrote. Is this in line?” and keep you in real-time because what’ll happen is they put these numbers in front of you and you’re thinking, “I can retire.”
Now you’re focused on that. You are already spending that money in your mind. When you’ve already made your spreadsheet of paying off all your bills, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to invest in this,” you’re in and you’re not getting out of it. Even as they go through, they could start dwindling down that number and you’re like, “It’s okay. I can still do all of this.” You’ve emotionally stepped out.
Don’t stay on. I don’t care what anybody says ever. When your firm is acquired, give them at most 90 to 120 days, and make sure you have a specific SOW as a contractor of what you need to do to ensure that there is a smooth transition. Immediately, the first thing you do is take a week’s vacation. The day that the dotted line is signed and the ink is dry, take a vacation.
If the money hits your bank account, go take a vacation and just celebrate and decompress, because when you come back, it’s going to be rough. Let them start dealing with all the internal stuff and undoing your processes, and deciding they’re going to do different software because they brought somebody else because it is hard to watch. Your team comes to you going, “Wait,” and you can’t do anything. Take a vacation, come back, and have that specific SOW that you’re paid for as a contractor. Do that only. Don’t get involved in other things and then go start something else. Do nothing, but don’t say on because once you sell it, it’s not yours. It’s done.
What do you think the lesson learned is on the acquisition price? I don’t know if you’re able to share that and the multiple you got or the total structure you got for your firm.
Everything depends on what you’re selling and how much IP you have in your branding. Are they buying your branding or client base? When they buy your client base, “Are they in contracts? Are the contracts transferrable or do you have to get permission?” Mine were not transferable and they were month to month.
In a situation like mine, they’re like, “We can transfer. You get exit close, but we need to make sure people come over.” The balance of everything is paid at the end of the quarter to make sure people stay on. To try to avoid that, you got to make sure that people are in unless you don’t care. You have to make sure your clients are in some contract and agreement and make sure your agreement is transferrable.
This is an important element for those who are onboarding new clients. Your future is to sell your firm. I started working with a new client. She has an accounting firm, but not that many clients. Her exit strategy is to sell in five years. For someone like that, making sure that your engagement letters include terminology that the client is transferable at any time and that it’s an annual contract will be more valuable in the future of the sale.
You assign the contract to them. We’re talking about this like clients don’t matter, which of course is a whole other topic. Now we’re talking about it like a contract, which is what it is.
At the end of the day, it is. You’re staying focused on your three keys to success and clients appreciate when you communicate with them, you’re consistent and you follow through. If you focus on that and then you find a buyer who has the same alignment and moral standards, then the transfer and the annual contract will probably be a smoother transition for your client. I don’t think you would want to pass on a couple of hundred clients to some bozo.
No, because you’ve had relationships with a lot of those clients. You’ve had drinks with them. You’ve maybe gone to their house for their Christmas parties or they text you. They are going to be the very first ones to be like, “What did you do?” You can’t do anything except go, “I’m sorry, but I’m on a beach. Sending you love from Maui,” then what? You’ve ruined that. There are a lot of elements to it. You have to be prepared that something like that might happen. As long as you set it up for success, there’s only so much you can do. I hope that nobody expects someone to work forever just because they don’t want to lose them. That’s not how it works.
You’ve learned a lot of lessons through this process. You sold the company and grew it to$2.5 million from $70,000. All in all, are you happy with what you did?
I am happy now. It was an emotional struggle. It’s a lot of things that I thought I knew that I didn’t, but I’m happy now because I’m a person who thinks no matter what you go through, it’s always a learning experience, learn and grow. I was able to learn and grow and now I’m so passionate about helping people to not ever be in the position that I was in. There’s just no reason.No matter what you go through, it's always a learning experience. Learn and grow. Click To Tweet
If someone is looking to help on an exit of their accounting bookkeeping firm, how can I get in touch with you?
My website is GlassWalletVentures.com. Everything is on there. My LinkedIn and Facebook. We’re launching a community. I’m excited about that. We have a bunch of courses going live. I’m going to do a little bit of one-on-one coaching with select people, probably in the beginning. I don’t know how long I’ll do that for. I want to focus on more mastermind groups and one with many so I can help more people at the same time. I’m involved in a lot of education, conferences, and speaking. I don’t want to get spread too thin. I’m running to accounting firms, so I don’t want to spread too thin. My poor husband comes in every night at 6:30. He is like, “Are you going to come out soon?” I’m like, “Yeah.”
“I’m still growing. I’m still looking to sell things in the future.”
He’s like, “You just did this.”
Thank you for being here, sharing your wisdom and the lessons you’ve learned, and the areas to focus on. It was an honor to have you here.
It was great meeting you and I appreciate you inviting me on. Thank you so much.
Thank you all so much for joining Sharrin and me on another amazing episode. It’s always an honor to be here, especially with amazing guests like her. There are many golden nuggets to learn from. If you are planning to sell your firm as part of your exit strategy or retirement plan, you might want to read this one more time. For those of you that are looking to increase revenue, increase profitability, increase your base fees by more than 3X, collect AR, and never have AR moving forward, always get paid upfront, maybe spend as much time with your family every tax season, and not have to worry or stress about it, then I’ve got something for you.
I’ve got a masterclass that will show you the four shifts to charge higher fees and double your revenue without having to work harder or take on new clients. You can end the resentment and end the 14 or 18-hour day grinds. You can get started by signing up for free over TheAbundantAccountant.com/Masterclass. I look forward to seeing some of you there. Have a beautiful day and I’ll see you in the next episode.
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About Sharrin Fuller
Sharrin Fuller is the CEO and founder of Glass Wallet Ventures and is a managing partner of two growing accounting firms. After successfully starting, scaling, and selling her accounting and bookkeeping practice A Simple Office Solution, Sharrin developed the Scalable to Saleable System and Remote Team Roadmap to help accounting firms position themselves for growth and eventual acquisition with maximum productivity from their teams. She specializes in consulting on business strategy, human capital optimization, partnerships, and entrepreneurship.