The Abundant Accountant | Adam Lean | Accountants Trap

 

Escape the accountant’s trap, escape the mundane, elevate your firm, and transform your client relationships! Today, Adam Lean, co-founder of The CFO Project, will reveal the secrets of escaping the accountant’s trap. If you ever feel overwhelmed by tax season and want a more satisfying job, this episode is for you. Adam shares his journey as a CPA for 25 years. He openly shares his experiences of overcoming imposter syndrome, escaping tax season stress, and earning more money in six months than ever before. More than that, Adam also exposes the untapped market for CFO services and explains why business owners need this type of support. Ready to break free from the accountant’s trap? Then tune in now!

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How To Escape The Accountant’s Trap With Adam Lean

In this episode, we have a very special guest. He is a former accountant turned two-time entrepreneur who built scaled and sold two businesses. While helping other business owners, he realized his passion was teaching and providing tools to business owners to make them make more money and have more peace of mind. He runs The CFO Project, which is a training company that trains financial professionals on how to offer outsourced CFO and business advisory services.

Before we welcome our special guest to the show, if you’re an accounting tax or bookkeeping firm owner and want to double your revenue but you’re still trying things like getting more clients, sending out quotes or proposals, and never hearing back from your clients, you continue to negotiate to discount your fees or you even price your services based on what your competitors are charging, then dreading tax season every year, it doesn’t work and it’s going to leave you burnt out with an empty bank account and not enough money to get by.

The simple fact is our clients use the proven process to not only raise their fees, double their firm revenue, get paid first and upfront, and have zero accounts receivable going forward but they do this all while working fewer hours and only with the right clients that they want to work with. If you want me to show you exactly how to do this, go to TheAbundantCall.com and book a call with me and my team. Let’s welcome our special guest, Adam, to the show.

Welcome, Adam.

I’m excited to be here.

Thank you so much for being here. This is your first time being here on the show. It’s wonderful to have you here. I’ve already done your intro but so other people know and you can share it directly from the source of mouth, share who you are and what you do. We’ll then dive in.

I’m the CEO and Cofounder of The CFO Project. Essentially, we’re a training company that trains accountants, bookkeepers, CPAs, and enrolled agents to offer an outsourced CFO or business advisory service so they can escape what we call the accountant’s trap where accountants are not getting paid for their value. Instead, they’re working long hours for high-demanding clients for little pay. We suggest, “Why don’t you offer an outsourced CFO advisory service, offer your value, and get paid handsomely for that?” That’s what we do.

I can’t remember who introduced us. Maybe it is Steven Gainer. I was like, “This sounds exactly up my alley.” I’m always looking for those experts in the field to help the firm owners escape the trap. “I don’t want to go through another tax season. I can’t keep missing my family. I’ve missed my children’s younger lives because I’m stuck at the office. I’m overwhelmed. I’m buried in work. I’m underpaid and underappreciated by my clients.”

What you do in teaching and being able to share with firm owners how they can do outsourced CFO services, how they can add the business advisory, and be able to get rid of that low-value work is key because it goes hand in hand with what I do, which is teach them how to sell these services to get paid a lot of money with confidence and have that enrollment conversation. It’s very different than selling compliance work and transactional services. I’m very happy to have you here.

Other firm owners want to get out of compliance. I hear it all the time with all my clients, other guests that I have on the show, and firm owners that I meet at different conferences. They’re like, “Michelle, that’s my bread and butter. I can’t get rid of that right now. I have to make ends meet and take on all the clients that I can get.” What would be the first thing of firm owner needs to do to say, “I want to get out of compliance. I want to escape the accountant’s trap. What do I do?” What’s the first thing that you advise when a firm owner comes to you at The CFO Project?

We get that all the time as well. Accountants or bookkeepers say, “This is what I’ve been doing. This is who I am. How do I transition out of that?” The first thing I would suggest is to honestly ask yourself if you want to hold on to tax or bookkeeping compliance work or hold on to some steady income. A lot of people don’t necessarily care about doing compliance work as much as they like what they’re comfortable with and they know that it’s going to provide a steady paycheck for them.

The Abundant Accountant | Adam Lean | Accountants Trap

Accountants Trap: Honestly ask yourself, “Do you really want to hold on to tax or bookkeeping compliance work or do you want to hold on to some sort of steady income?”

 

If you think about the accountant and a CPA who’s been working for twenty-something years, that’s what they know. They’re comfortable in that. It’s scary to think, “I’m going to abandon what I know so that I can help other business owners grow their businesses. That’s not even my expertise. Why would I abandon what I know to help them do something that I’m not necessarily an expert at?” It is scary. The first step is to ask yourself, “What am I scared of? Am I wanting to hold on to the tax work,” or which would I think is the case, “Am I scared of losing being in my comfort zone and earning a base, even if it’s not a great salary but earning a salary and abandoning all that for the unknown?”

What do you recommend during that transition period? Let’s say there’s a firm owner. We’ll call her Susie. She’s like, “I’m ready to abandon my compliance work but I need to have this revenue until I replace it with something different.” What is it that you recommend during that transitional period where they are committed to getting rid of the current, which is what I’m used to processing, that you’ve been doing every single year saying no, “I want steady revenue, higher value, and higher-paying clients. I have no idea how to get those clients. I don’t feel I’m an expert in CFO accounting services or advisory services yet?”

If you decide, “I would like to pursue being an advisor. I’m not sure what that means yet or if I’m qualified for it but I would like to do something other than compliance work.” The second thing to do is to not abandon what you’re doing. You do need the income coming in. What we recommend is to essentially up-level each of your clients.

The Abundant Accountant | Adam Lean | Accountants Trap

Accountants Trap: Once you decide that this is something you want to do. The second thing is to not just completely abandon what you’re doing now.

 

In other words, if you have a 100% book of business that’s compliance-based, slowly over time, get that number down to 90% compliance-based and 10% advisory work. Get it from 90% to 80% and 80% to 70%. Eventually, over the course of 1 year, you’ll have maybe 20% compliance work and 80% advisory work. You’re slowly but surely taking your existing compliance clients and replacing them with higher-value advisory clients.

In our experience, an accountant or bookkeeper will structure their firm in 1 of 3 ways. The first way is they’ll enhance their existing compliance work. They’ll enhance their tax or bookkeeping service and make it better by adding on an advisory component. That way they could differentiate themselves from all the other accountants or bookkeepers out there. Their service is a better bookkeeping or tax service than everybody else.

The second way that a lot of accountants in our program structure their firms is they’ll have a program or an advisory service where they can upsell their tax and bookkeeping clients to a CFO service. They’ll then delegate a lot of that compliance work to somebody on their team. The practice owner themselves will become the CFO for each of their clients. The third structure that we see a lot of practice owners do is over time, they’ll get rid of all of their compliance clients and have a book of business that’s advisory clients only.

There’s no right or wrong way. It’s whatever you prefer. Those people out there that are concerned about abandoning what they’re doing, that they’ve been doing for the past decade or so, you don’t have to. We suggest you slowly but surely up-level each of those clients so that you’re making more money per client and a much higher effective hourly rate. I’ll say one more thing about the effect of an hourly rate. The average accountant’s salary in the United States is $73,000. That’s pitiful for all the experience and time that the accountant has.

The schooling and for those that are CPA, to get your CPEs every year and keep your license intact, that’s ridiculously low.

It’s very low. If you take into consideration the amount of hours you put in, your effective hourly rate is South of $40. I’m not sure what the exact number is but it’s low. If you can replace it with an advisory client, we recommend that you charge a flat fee for advisory services. The minimum that we think you should charge is $1,500 but it depends on multiple factors.

Let’s assume $1,500 a month. The average time it takes to spin on an advisory client is about four hours per month. That means you’re effective hourly rate is $625. That’s dramatically different. You don’t need that many clients to make good money. If you had 10 advisory clients at $1,500 a month, that’s $15,000 a month that you’re earning. $15,000 times 12 months, that’s $180,000 from 10 clients a year that you’re earning.

You don't need that many clients in order to make good money. Click To Tweet

I’m sure the firm owner reading is saying, “That sounds great but I don’t know how to find those clients.” There are all the things that are in the way. You’ve had a lot of success with clients at The CFO Project. You’ve got a few that we’re going to talk about too specifically. You can make up a name but the biggest challenge for most firm owners is they’re scared. Creatures have it. Who wants to make a change when you’ve been doing something the same for so long until you get fed up with yourself?

Once you get fed up with yourself, you can’t take it anymore, your relationship is on the rock, and you’re irate all the time with your family and kids, then maybe you’re going to make the change. For those who might be reading and who are feeling stuck and overwhelmed, I’ve been hearing about advisory at every conference. They go, “This all sounds great. I have no idea how to do it. I understand the first step I need to take is what you want to keep and then the second step is how you’re going to up-level the current clients you have if any,” and then figuring out the structure for your current firm as 1 of the 3 that you said.

What are some of the pitfalls that you saw in your 1 or 2 clients that you’re going to share? Maybe we can walk through that. Did they overcome it and get to the other side where they are averaging $625 an hour doing advisory of a minimum of $1,500 a month averaging about 4 hours per client per month? That all sounds great but making that transition is daunting for a lot of people that might be reading this.

One of our members, Sam, is a CPA. He’s been doing this for many years. All he has done is taxes. Every year, he dreaded tax season. Clients are waiting last minute to give him all the information that he needs. He is spending 60 to 80 hour work weeks for a good percentage of the year. He’s not getting paid enough for it. He was miserable and burned out.

He knew he wanted to be transitioned to an advisory service but the number one thing that held him back was the concept of Imposter syndrome. “I’m not a business advisor or a CFO. I’m a tax accountant. What do I know about growing a business or advising? It’s not what I’ve been getting paid for. I don’t have any formal training in this. I haven’t been the CFO for a large company.”

The Imposter syndrome is a very real thing. I would argue that if you don’t have Imposter syndrome, something’s wrong. If you do have it, that’s a good thing. It means that you know that there’s a lot that you don’t know out there. The way that Sam got over it with our help was he joined our program. In 2022, he finally sold all of his tax clients to somebody else. In the first six months of 2023, his very first year, without having to go through tax season in decades, he has made more money in a full year as a tax accountant. The number one hurdle he got over was the Imposter syndrome.

How did he get over it? How did Sam get passed the Imposter syndrome?

A couple of things. 1) Realizing that Imposter syndrome if you have it is a good thing. There are studies that have shown that doctors who spent years specializing in one particular field feel like they are imposters in that field as compared to first-year medical students. These doctors who have expertise in this field are no way more than almost 99.99% of the population, yet they know that there’s a lot that they don’t know about that subject. Their confidence level goes down. Whereas a first-year medical student who is being exposed to this training, their confidence level is high.

Realizing that impostor syndrome if you have it is a good thing. Click To Tweet

Why do you also see a bunch of 22-year-olds on YouTube promoting life coaching services? The fact that you have Imposter syndrome is a good thing. You know that there’s a lot that you don’t know but I guarantee that you know a lot more than you think you do as compared to the average small business owner. Think about it. The average small business owner, let’s say, a roofing company owner, got into their business because they have experience or expertise in the construction or roofing traits.

A dentist started a dental practice because they’re a dentist, not because they understand numbers, strategy, or business. Ninety-nine percent of all businesses in the country need somebody to help them because they are skilled in one particular area. It’s almost always the area that the product or service of their businesses is in, not numbers, strategy, or financials. They need somebody in their lives who can guide them. They don’t necessarily need a high-level complex CFO that can help them make multi-billion dollar decisions because that’s not what they need. They need somebody who understands the numbers and can guide them toward having a growing successful business.

Part of the training we did with Sam was to help him understand that even though you’ve never been a CFO, the clients that you’re going after don’t need that high-level CFO help. It’s overkill. They do need something else. The thing that they need is guidance on having a successful business. You are certainly qualified to do so. Here’s how you do it. We train them on how to be a CFO and the actual steps to go through each month with a client. Once they understood a system to provide a CFO service and once he got over that all-important Imposter syndrome hurdle, you were off to the racist. He couldn’t wait to sell his tax clients and start taking on clients.

Congratulations to Sam. Kudos to you. Are there any other pitfalls that you see that you can share so a firm owner reading this doesn’t feel alone? They think the Imposter syndrome and that example were beautifully explained. This is what everyone goes through even if they’re brand new. They’ve never started their firm yet or they’re just starting and they want to quit their 9:00 to 5:00 job. They’re ready to make a shift. What would you share with them as far as another pitfall or hurdle that you’ve seen a firm owner be able to overcome?

My answer is the exact reason why we started The CFO Project in the first place. A lot of accountants, bookkeepers, enrolled agents, and CPAs want to transition, do something different, have a bigger impact on their client’s lives, make more money, have more of a work-life balance, and get away from the compliance work but they don’t know how to do any of that. At the same token, to learn how to do a certain skill, you could watch a course or read a book but until you do it, it’s not going to make sense.

We could teach you all day long how to ride a bike by watching some videos on YouTube on how to ride a bike. It will conceptually make sense but until you get off the couch, bike, and ride, it’s not going to make sense. The reason why we started The CFO Project is because we wanted to create a program that got results for accountants and bookkeepers. In other words, we didn’t want to just put together a course and say, “Watch this course and now you know the theory on how to start the CFO service. We want you to start a CFO service.”

You could watch a course or you could read a book in order to learn how to do a certain skill, but until you actually do it, it's not going to make sense. Click To Tweet

We’re realists and we know that you are busy. You’re running your firm. We’ve created an environment where you get a little bit of training at a time and more importantly, you get somebody on what we call a CFO Roundtable. It’s a weekly mastermind that meets for an hour led by a trainer who will help you put together a specific plan of what to do every single week to stay on track to successfully transition your firm to where you want it to be. Usually, it takes about 6 months for our members to get 3 clients. That’s the magic number in our view. Get 3 CFO clients and charge at least $1,500 a month. That means you’re making $54,000 a year from those 3 clients.

Now that you’ve done it three times, you can scale that dramatically. Whether you want to keep all your bookkeeping and tax clients or get rid of them all, you have options but the most important thing is you got 3 clients in 6 months. You’ve succeeded. You’ve done something, which is more than what most people can say. We want you to get results. It’s taking action. Taking action doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the form of community and accountability. That’s exactly why we structured our program the way we did.

When you see that the average is that your new students get 3 clients within a 6-month span, they get that confidence, they are not just thinking about riding the bike but they’re on their bike, and they have that confidence to scale, do you see that from brand new firm owners who are starting in addition to the ones who were maybe at a firm that has been in business 25 or 30 years, and then now they want to make a change?

It varies across the board. We’ve had people that start brand new and don’t have a client. I could think of one particular member of our program. He didn’t have any clients. He was a full-time W-2 paid accountant. He started our program. Within six months, he replaced his salary and is making double what his salary was without any clients. There’s a lot of upside to somebody who doesn’t have an existing client base because they’re not burdened with the tax compliance clients already. They can start fresh by taking on advisory clients.

That’s what I did when I started many years ago. I didn’t have any clients because I previously sold my business. I used to be an accountant and then I started a business, sold that business, and realized that I took for granted the fact that I understood my numbers. I started working with other business owners. That morphed into a CFO service because I was focused on the advisory first, which is what they wanted. The business owners want the financial person in their lives to be their advisor. If a business owner didn’t have to look at a tax return or a set of books ever again, they’d be happy. They want you to advise them. That’s what I did and that’s what several people do.

The Abundant Accountant | Adam Lean | Accountants Trap

Accountants Trap: The business owners want their financial person in their lives to be their advisor.

 

If you have an existing book of business, you also have something very valuable. You have trusted loyal clients who will do whatever you say. That is huge. If you have, let’s say, 30 bookkeeping clients or 100 tax clients, if you call any one of them up and say, “I was looking over your tax return. I saw a couple of red flags and a few opportunities that I see for growth to have a growing and successful business. Can we hop on a call to discuss this,” I guarantee you, Bob will reply because he trusts you.

Bob trusts his accountant. If his accountant is saying, “Let’s hop on a call so I can review these red flags and opportunities for growth,” Bob’s going to do it. Who would say no to that? They trust you. If you have that type of conversation with a client though, it’ll be no time before Bob becomes an actual CFO client of yours. If you have conversation enough time, you’ll be able to replace all of your tax and bookkeeping clients with advisory clients.

It’s back to the first step, which is to ask yourself what you want to hold on to in your firm. If you don’t have clients, what do you want to create? Do you want to create high-volume compliance and get inside the trap or are you trying to escape the accounting trap like you had shared? Thank you so much for sharing, Adam. Is there anything else that you think would be the next valuable step?

It’s something we hadn’t mentioned that you want to share to help a firm owner escape the trap so they can remove themselves from the grind, headaches, and resentment that they have for their clients so they can enjoy their life and not be paid like the average accountant getting $73,000 a year, and double and triple that, to be paid like a doctor or neurosurgeon. Is there anything else that you’d like to share that maybe we didn’t touch on yet?

If you are on the fence about starting an advisory service or transitioning, I want you to know that most business owners are craving this type of service. They don’t just want it. They crave it. As we talked about in the last example, if a business owner was approached by a financial professional that they trusted, they’re going to listen to what they’d have to say because most business owners trust their financial professional. They want their financial and professional lives to guide them in having a growing successful business.

There’s a giant market for these services. I’m speaking to the choir because you do this every day, but the problem is business owners don’t know what a CFO surface is and they don’t think that their business even needs one. They think, “Coca-Cola or Amazon needs a CFO. My $6 million construction company doesn’t.” They don’t understand. Once they do understand and you have a relationship with the business owner, a trusty relationship, and you are able to explain what you do, they will raise their hand and pay whatever you command.

There’s a giant need for this service out there. Business owners need you. Imagine the impact you’ll have on your clients’ lives if you can go from being the recorder of the past to being somebody who can help them out of a successful future. If you think about it, 50% of all businesses fail before they reach their fifth birthday according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Every single one of those doesn’t have a CFO or part-time CFO.

What’s worse is they all had accountants.

They’re doing all the historical things and not looking at the forward picture or helping to stay in business versus letting them fail.

Business owners would rather you spend your time helping them have a successful business than simply recording the past and not caring whether or not they make it or not next year. It’s like being the accountant on the Titanic. Who cares? The Titanic is sinking and the accountants are thinking, “I did my job. I recorded the books. I close the taxes.” The captain of the Titanic is thinking, “I don’t care. I need help figuring out how to not make my ship sink.” If you could be the person who helps not make your client’s ship sink, they will pay you whatever you want.

That is brilliant and a lovely way to wrap up. Thank you so much for being here. If a firm owner doesn’t want to let all of their business clients fail and turn into the Titanic but is clueless about the CFO services business advisory and they have Imposter syndrome, how do they get your help?

If you go to TheCFOProject.com, at the very top, there’s a link that says Free Training. Every Thursday, Jeff, my Cofounder and I do a training called How To Start A CFO Service? For an hour, we’ll walk you through this step-by-step.

Adam, thank you so much for being here with us. It was an honor to have you. I’m looking forward to maybe having you back again in the future.

Thank you so much for the invite.

Thank you all so much for joining us here on the show. It’s always an honor and a pleasure to have each of you reading. Think about how you want to serve your clients in 2023. How do you want to do things differently so they don’t end up like the Titanic? I love that analogy that Adam shared towards the end. When we allow Imposter syndrome to get in the way, or allow our fears and doubts to stop us from moving forward, we are doing a disservice to our clients. They might end up like the 50% of businesses that fail in the first 5 years. We don’t want our clients to end up like the Titanic. Keep that food for thought.

If you are a smart hardworking tax bookkeeping or accounting firm owner and you want to change the way things have been going so you can work with clients who pay you premium fees and also be able to ethically double or even triple your fees in your firm by using a much newer and far simpler method that I’ve created, then make sure to go to TheAbundantCall.com and book your call with me and my team.

We will dive in to see how you can get paid first and upfront. Double your firm revenue while working less, have total financial security and more disposable cash, and gain the freedom that you’ve always wanted in your firm. If you’re ready to make that change and start creating the firm of your dreams, be it with advisory services, CFO services, or whatever advisory services you choose, head on over to TheAbundantCall.com to get started. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

 

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About Adam Lean

The Abundant Accountant | Adam Lean | Accountants TrapAdam Lean is a former accountant turned 2-time entrepreneur who built, scaled, and sold two businesses. While helping other business owners, he realized his passion was teaching and providing tools to business owners to help them make more money and have a peace-of-mind. He currently runs The CFO Project – a training company that trains financial professionals on how to offer an outsourced CFO and business advisory service.

 

 

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