Getting a good grasp of the value that you can deliver to your clients and actually charge for it is the most powerful thing that you can do for yourself as an accountant. When you undervalue your work, your clients will too and you will end up chasing every bit of dollar that is not worth your time. How do you know what your worth truly is and translate that into a fair price tag? For this Abundant Accountant case study, Michelle Weinstein brings in Dave O’Brien, an independent accountant who works with construction companies and consultants to develop and enhance successful project strategies. For years, Dave has struggled because he has constantly undervalued his work. Through Michelle’s coaching, Dave understood his value and he learned to say no to clients who take advantage of him. Join in the conversation to learn more of Dave’s progress!
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Abundant Accountant Case Study: Knowing Your Value With Dave O’Brien, CPA
We have a special guest. Our special guest is a client at The Abundant Accountant. He has completed the Sales Mastery Course and has been doing coaching as well. We’re doing a case study-style interview. He is a solo practitioner and he has a firm in New Jersey. He also has an assistant who is his daughter and has overcome a lot of challenges, his wife being ill and still being able to power through. I’m excited to bring our special guest, Dave O’Brien, to the show.
Before we invite Dave to the show, if you’re like Dave, an accounting professional, he was feeling frustrated and was stressed all the time taking on every single client he could. He couldn’t say no to anyone because he was desperate for the revenue. He wanted control over who he worked with, how much he could charge. He didn’t have a system. He didn’t have anything to rely on to get these clients in the door to do all of what he wanted to do.
If you’re like Dave and you’re interested in learning how to detach from the emotional side of the sales process and maybe want a paradigm shift in this area. Also, see those objections like the client saying, “You’re too expensive or I’m price shopping,” or any of those objections. If you want to see those more of an asset to your business, then I invite you to have a call with us. Let’s get to the root cause of what’s going on in your firm, sales process and sales conversations. You can do that by booking a chat with me or my colleagues over at TheAbundantCall.com. We’ll take a deep dive and see where we can support you. If we can help you, we’ll talk about that, too. Let’s welcome Dave to the show.
Thank you, Michelle. How are you?
I am wonderful. I want to say thank you for taking out the time to join us on show to share your journey and story and be possibly an inspiration to many others. What you did took a lot of courage, strength, grit and getting comfortable being uncomfortable, if that makes any sense. Before we dive into this episode interview, Dave is a student and client of mine. We’re still working together. We met in May of 2019. Can you share with all the readers where you live, what your firm is all about, the services you mainly focus on offering and maybe even when you started your practice and what your sales were prior to our meeting?
I have a practice in Northern New Jersey. I’m a sole proprietor. I have one associate and an assistant who also has happens to be my daughter. What I have been doing over the last couple of years in trying to successfully do is getting away from the compliance-based traditional accounting firm. My accounting firm a couple of years ago was your typical small firm. I do tax returns kind of thing. I also would be one of the rare people that you would run across that not only did I do tax returns as a sole proprietor, but I also would do some type of attestation work.
I would be doing either an audit or a review of the clients that I was working with. That was the focus of how I was conducting my business and trying to get business. As any one of your readers’ clients will say, “That guy is usually a necessary evil and nothing more.” All I was doing was putting numbers into little boxes. The writing was on the wall. For those of us who have been looking, that side of the industry is all going away. To stay inside that box, I saw myself. Not only was I a dinosaur but I was going to become extinct shortly.
When did you start your firm?You can be a great accountant and yet be a horrible businessperson at the same time. Click To Tweet
I had partners in a firm that I started back in 1989, and that lasted about 21 years. In May of 2010, I began my own shop.
In May 2010, you started your shop. You realized that the writing was on the wall and you’re going to be a dinosaur and be extinct if you focused on, “I do tax returns. I’m the small firm.” That came to a shift in your career, firm and business. What were some of the biggest challenges for you, Dave, back then when you started to say, “I’ve got to do something different. The writing is on the wall. I can’t be an extinct dinosaur and still be able to take care of my family and do all the things that I wanted to do.”
The biggest issue that I had, and a lot of accountants run into this is, I’m a great accountant, creative and smart. I can do a great job of putting numbers into little boxes. At the same point in time, I was a horrible businessman. I had partners previously and those guys seem to have referrals coming to them all the time. That might have been personality. It might have been who they knew or whatever it was but I did not know how to sell accounting services. Even worse than that, the first time I spoke with Michelle about sales, she asked me the question, “What’s your closing rate?”
I was like, “Every opportunity I get that comes across my desk, I make that sale.” She said, “Do you get your price?” I had to think about that for a minute because I never got my price. I always ended up doing it for what the customer would do because I was desperate. I wanted desperately to build my business and I was taking on lousy work for people that often were certainly not people that I’ve been doing business with now. I would end up in a place where I was delivering work for the sake of cashflow and it was the worst possible place I could have been.
It probably felt like you were getting taken advantage of all the time, plowed over by clients and they were calling the shots. The energy sucks and not even enjoying the work that you do anymore. Not only are you the guy in a small firm that does tax returns but you were also the goodwill of tax returns almost. I know a lot of people sometimes even gave it away for free to friends and family and they drove you nuts. What was the paradigm shift for you, the wake-up call, the a-ha moment when you’re like, “I got to do something different. I cannot be an extinct dinosaur and keep going the way I’ve been going.” What was that shift? How did that come about for you?
It came about through me doing an internet search. This was the starting point. I did an internet search for some type of automated tax plan and I came across a solution for that. I was excited about it. I jumped onto a plane and got down to Washington, DC to attend a seminar. The guy that was running it was talking about the artificial intelligence solution to accounting and tax returns. I sat there dumbfounded with my jaw on the table thinking to myself, “In a couple of years, this is all going to be gone.” I’ve always said to my clients, “I can’t compete with H&R Block. I can’t compete with TurboTax. There’s a reason that you need to come to me.”
I was sitting at a seminar doing all of this soul searching because it hit me like a ton of bricks that I always say that to my clients. In looking at any one of my given clients, they don’t need me. I was thinking, “How does that work? Most importantly, how can I change it?” I worked for the next couple of weeks on putting together a basic plan of becoming a specialist in the thing that I liked most, which is construction accounting and the people I enjoyed working with most, which are construction contractors. I said, “How do I make the move now to become the go-to guy that these people need?”
As I did that, the first thing that I did was I realized that the guy that was doing the presentation wasn’t going to work for me. I ended up with Dominique Molina. When I sat in on a webinar that she had presented, I immediately thought, “I’ve got to sign up for this.” I sent an email and I got a call back from this woman named Michelle Weinstein. She told me, “This is the deal. This is the way it works. You can either pay this money upfront or you can pay more money.” At the time, it was considerably more money if I wanted to do it on a three-month installment. I didn’t have enough money to pay for the course I didn’t have enough credit to even put it on a credit card.
I even forgot that.
I was strapped. One of the things that you had asked me during the phone call was, “Will you commit to doing one hour a day toward getting this goal?” I was like, “I don’t know who you are but this makes so much sense. I’m going to make this commitment not only to you but to myself.” When I did that, that changed the whole game.
It was January 2019. At the time, you had 56 business clients that you support on a monthly basis.
By the way, I don’t have half of those anymore because I fired them. I flew out to San Diego to attend the tax planning seminar that Dominique offers. While I was there, you were there. I remember I was saying, “I’ll talk to Michelle at the next break,” but you were leaving before the break so I chased you out to your car. I introduced myself. I need to talk to you. I signed up for your classes quickly as I could. It was a life-changing experience.
Let’s transition into the class. We met and you enrolled in the eight-module Sales Mastery Course that has the coaching element to it and a ton of work. Can you share your experience? You went through the first transition. Back then, your goal for 2019 was $150,000 in revenue. What was the revenue you did in 2018? Do you recall?
I closed that year with $210,000. The changes that I started making paid off right away because I sold three tax plans that year. I got immediate hits after taking Dominique’s course and going through the sales class with you that year.
In 2020, you did $316,000 in revenue. Let’s talk about the revenue transition and the complete 180-shift that you did. You fired half of your 56 business clients. I know ten of the largest ones you had were about 80% of the revenue at that time. You think about the whole sales thing that had you run out to the parking lot to talk to me. I do remember that exact moment. It was at the Marriott in Mission Valley in San Diego.
For those reading, some of us don’t even know we need a sales process. You start an accounting firm, you’re a solopreneur and maybe you have a couple of people that work for you. It doesn’t even dawn on you that’s even something that you should probably have. It’s not like you signed up to be a 24/7 salesperson. You meet clients and you offer work. What was that for you, Dave, that got you to say, “I’ve got to do something different. I feel X and I’ve got to get to Y.”The biggest obstacle you may have to overcome is you undervaluing your own work. Click To Tweet
The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome was that I was undervaluing my work. As I was undervaluing my work, I also realized that my clients understood that my work and my time were cheap. When I started working with you, we went through a whole conversation of what would your realizable rate be, what would your ideal engagement be and things like that. When I realized that I was giving away my work, I had to tackle the problem of like, “What work could I offer my clients that I could say to them or in good faith be able to show them, ‘This is something that I do that is a necessary evil part of my work. What I can show you how to do and what I’ve been trying to steer you toward are what do your job cost reports look like? Do you know how much money you’re making on your contracts? What are you doing about your labor burden rate? How are you going about negotiating your insurance contracts and things like that? What do your systems look like?’”
As I started going through this with my clients all the time, my largest client over New York City turned to me one day and he said, “I like this new Dave.” It works. He’s a cornerstone of my business in a lot of sense. Most importantly is he has a lot of resources for me to be able to say, “Let’s look at this system,” and he’ll say, “I’ll at least give it a try because Dave said I should do this.” A lot of the things that I’ve put him into with respect to systems and coaching with all of these other solutions that he’s gotten in front of him, the large majority have come from me and he appreciates that. He never ever hesitates when I say, “It’s going to cost this much.” There’s a check in my hand a minute later.
Not cost. He’s going to invest this much.
We can quibble over terms. The key is that if I say, “John, this is what we need to do,” I can count on it being done. He deliberated about it a little bit but if he says that Dave says this, then I know it’s true. The thing about that is this was a place that I was trying to get to for the longest time. Because I was such a bad businessman, I was standing in my own way of being able to accomplish this. What it all came down to was you taught me the value of my work.
It’s a game-changer.
It completely changed my mindset because there were two things that you taught me. That was the real big game-changer. The other thing that you taught me that empowered me was the ability to say no. It’s like, “No, I’m not going to do this. I don’t want to work for you. There’s the door. Here’s a resignation letter. Don’t call me again.”
The confidence to be okay letting someone go who doesn’t see the value in your work. A lot of us are attached to getting anyone we can and trying to work with everybody. Now, you work with the people who do see the value of your work, who pay you premium top dollar for that and you don’t have to work with as many people. You’ve had some huge success in those years that we’ve been working together. You did class and you’re in the ongoing coaching but financially, your 2020 results were $316,000 in revenue unless it was a little higher. If that’s not the final number, let me know.
I know you have a hefty goal of getting around the $500,000 mark and you are all by yourself. A lot of people think, “I’ve got to have a team, do all this stuff and have all these clients. How do I manage it all?” I know you have a unique story where you had to step away for a few months. Can you share with everyone what you wanted to create for yourself previously and what’s happened? You’ve done all this. You got the confidence and the ability to say no. You’ve generated the confidence to put a value on your work, stick to it and never let anyone walk all over you ever again. You’ve done it fantastically. Even with revenue growth with what you went through, it’d be impactful for the readers to know.
A couple of years ago, my wife became ill and we thought that she had epilepsy. About a year later, we found out that she had was lung cancer. She got sick from the treatment for lung cancer and as a result of that, she ended up in a hospital in New York City on a ventilator in the middle of this COVID issue. It was the scariest thing of my life. Thank God, she’s great now and she’s recovering well. One of the things that happened during that period of time was I had to step away from my business for almost two months.
If I was in this situation or had not made the changes that I made a few years ago and started putting those into play, I would not have a business now. Chances are, I would never have been able to have stepped up the way that I stepped up to help out my wife. I don’t say that lightly. I’m married to her. She’s the love of my life and I would do anything. As I always say, I’ve learned how to walk on water for this woman. If this was me a few years ago, I would have probably buried my head in the sand and tried to deal with it the way that I was. I had gotten so much confidence going through this process of rebuilding my business successfully that I was on top of everything from the minute that she got sick. I found her the best specialists in New York City.
As luck would have it because of the stupid COVID issue, we were able to go in and out in New York City every day of the week to get her treatment, which normally would have taken me about four hours’ worth of driving a day. It was unbelievable. All of the efforts that I put into building my business, I didn’t miss a beat during that two-month absence that I had. I would go home, answer emails and things like that. I was still closing deals while this was all going on. Not only was the work getting done but I was bringing on new clients.
That took a lot of determination and you were brave to step outside of all these comfort zones and the grit that you had to put into it on the front end. This then happened and you were financially stable.
The thing about that was that came quickly. I was astonished at how quickly I was able to successfully put your sales techniques into place especially since it took going through the course, preparing for it and everything which I did a lousy job of. At the same point in time, I paid attention and did everything that you told me to do. It was amazing how quickly I was getting the price that I was asking for jobs. These were from existing clients because one of the things that we didn’t talk about is most of the growth that I had in my practice was from upselling clients.
We haven’t talked about that. Do you want to touch on that? Most people think, “That’s one of the biggest things I hear, Michelle. There’s no way I can raise the fees to my current clients.”
Nothing could be further from the truth because all you have to do is start asking questions. I see this with my larger competitors all the time. They’re going in to provide accounting services or tax services and they’re never once asking, “What keeps you up at night? How can I help you with this? These are services that I can offer.” One of the greatest things that I did with respect to my small business owners, I still have a handful of what I call my legacy clients.
Our clients that own small businesses, I call them up one day and say, “I’ve been looking at the way we’ve been preparing your tax return for the last couple of years and we’re missing some opportunities. It might take a little bit of work and it would have to be a separate engagement. There are probably ways here that I could save you some money and maybe we could work things differently. It’s not going to take you as much effort to do what you’re doing. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in handling?”You have the ability to say no when the client is not good for you. Click To Tweet
They’re all like, “Sign me up.”
I’ll go back to what my client, John, and said, “I like the new Dave because everybody likes this.” Everybody likes you asking them, “How can I help you? What can I do to serve you?” That was the thing. When this whole COVID thing happened, I was on board with PPP before anybody else was. I was talking to my clients and my clients were saying, “Let me call up this guy and ask him if he knows what you’re talking about.” I’ll get a phone call saying, “Can you explain to him what’s going on because he hadn’t heard about this?” “His accountant is not up on top of this.” When I did that and I started exactly what you had challenged us to do like, “Keep in touch with your clients and make sure that they’ve got this information. Stay in constant contact with them all the time.” As I did these things, not only was it lucrative but it became fun because I was helping.
People like me, we don’t know all this stuff. I do because I have a lot of great clients and friends like you. Most business owners are busy in their business. Like how you were overwhelmed, working so much, buried and figuring out how to make ends meet so is every business owner and that’s why they hire smart, intelligent, genius people like you. Do you remember how much of the $316,000 in 2020 probably came from upsells?
Probably about $100,000. The first thing that I did to improve my practice was not tax planning. That will fill the need that I had and I’m still working on blowing that up. The one thing that I had been involved in was Profit First. When I got involved with Profit First, that’s the way that I started upselling because I was telling people right off the bat like, “I’m going to send you this book and I want you to read it. Give me a call. This guy discusses some great ways to manage your money. I know that I’ve talked to you about some of these in a simplified form but this is a whole system that I’d like you to do.” Son of a gun. Everybody that I spoke to that I sent this book to was like, “Let’s talk more about this. I like these ideas.”
You help people bottom line in getting the profit first.
Some of the people that I deal with, I have conversations and talk to them all the time about things like this, but I didn’t realize to the level of which they were scared about this challenge. COVID came along and they were terrified. There was Dave O’Brien coming along and saying, “You don’t have to worry about this. We got this. We’re going to continue down the road and everything is going to be good.” Everything has been good. Going back to what I was versus what I am now, I probably would have lost most of my clients not because of the personal situation but because I wouldn’t have been the guy who was proactive. I wouldn’t have been the guy that had a solution for them to show them how to do all these things. When I showed up with all those solutions, the conversation and the calm voice telling them everything was going to be okay, I have people that tell me all the time that they are indebted to me.
That must feel liberating and freeing like you’re on cloud nine. I loved Care Bears when I was a kid, Dave. You’re like the Care Bear jumping from cloud to cloud so kudos to you for putting in the hard work, doing all the right things, reaching out, running and chasing me and listening to what I had to say. Even though I know a lot of it was probably terrifying at the time for you, too and frightening like, “Is she crazy?”
I know. I’ve been told that by a few of you guys now. Is there anything that you would love to share with the readers about your experience or any other last words of advice? You’ve shared so much and it’s been an honor to have you here sharing your experience and all of your growth and challenges. This isn’t easy. This is not for the birds. These are drastic changes. Is there anything else that you would love to share before we wrap up?
The one thing that I would encourage anybody that either has not gone through your system or is currently going through your system is that you’ve got a system that’s proven, trustworthy and you can rely on it. There were many things that you talked about and taught me during this whole process. I violated my red rope policy. For those of you who don’t know what your red rope policy is, you have a set of standards that says, “I will only do business with people that can meet these standards and expectations.”
Those are the ones where you feel confident you can say no to. There was someone who you did not say no to.
I brought on a client because it was a recommendation from a long-term client and a guy who’s a good friend of mine now. He said, “This guy needs your help and he needs a good accountant.” Dumbbell Dave jumped out of the box and said, “Sure. I can help this guy.” It was a nightmare. The guy calls me names and accused me of things because I told him that he owed the government money. When I trust your system and I do everything that I was taught through your fifteen-step process, it works.
It not only works but I’ve got it ingrained in me that I have to often go back and look at my fifteen-step process because I realize I’m skipping over steps that I should be doing all the time. Things that might come back and bite me in the butt later. If you’re going through this process or you’re considering going through this process, what I would tell you is you can trust this process. It works and it works well. It makes you uncomfortable.
There are things that you’re going to do differently. There are a lot of questions that you’re not going to be happy asking originally. I don’t know if you can tell that I’m from Brooklyn, New York. Sometimes, it comes out and sometimes it doesn’t. People from Brooklyn have a way of speaking in a way of particular jargon that they do. A lot of the stuff that you were telling me to say is like, “I’ve got to figure out how to say this differently.” I said it the way you told me to say.
It is a lot of work. It is not that easy. It is uncomfortable even for a Brooklyn New Yorker. Thank you, Dave, for being here with us and sharing everything and your stories. It was an honor to have you and it’s an honor to have you as a client.
Thank you, Michelle. I appreciate that. It’s an honor to work with you.
Thank you all for joining Dave and me on a great conversation on the show. I haven’t done a case study in such a long time. I always tell Dave, there are many other accountants like you who I talked to all the time and getting a grasp and a grip on the value that you can deliver and bring to clients. To charge for it is the most powerful thing that you can do for yourself. It’s probably the biggest gift that you can give to yourself because having the value of your work known and clients saying, “I like that new Dave.” It brings the level of confidence even to the client’s side.
Dave’s education has also increased, but the confidence is the part that speaks the most. His ability to say no to those clients that no longer serve him and drive him crazy. He did share how he violated his policy that he put into place but quickly went right back to it. There are many lessons learned. If you’re feeling a little stuck like Dave and you’re about to be extinct like the dinosaurs, I invite you to head on over to TheAbundantCall.com. Also, if you are looking to detach from that emotional side of this whole sales process meeting with clients and want to have control over who you work with and how much you charge.
Maybe you don’t believe it’s possible and that’s okay too. That’s completely normal. You are not alone in that. I do complimentary coaching sessions for about an hour to see what’s possible for you and your firm. If you’re frustrated, stressed and what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore and you’re fed up, head on over to TheAbundantCall.com. Let’s have a chat and get to the root cause of what’s going on in your firm. Thank you for being here. It’s an honor. I will see you in the next episode.
About Dave O’Brien
Dave is a CPA who works with construction companies and consultants to develop and enhance successful project strategies that minimize taxes, increase profits, and eliminate the stress often associated with the project accounting process.
Having spent more than 20 years in the industry, he understands many of the unique business models and challenges that confront general contractors trying to monetize their assets and provide the necessary people and resources to execute the strategy.
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