How do you go about overcoming objections? How are you different from other firms? When people understand their numbers and systemize their processes, they can grow their firms and have create a massive impact. Mom of three, and Of Course Bookkeeping CEO, Serena Shoup, is a CPA on a mission to mentor bookkeepers and accountants so they can leave the stress of working an 8-hour job behind. Serena sits with Michelle Weinstein to talk about the importance of knowing your numbers and overcoming objections to help set your firm apart from everyone else’s. Stay tuned as Serena spills the secret resources and tools you’ll need to run your own successful practice and live life on your terms.
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Standing Out And Overcoming Objections With Serena Shoup
We have a very special guest. Our special guest is a mom of three. She’s the CPA on a mission to mentor bookkeepers and accountants so they can leave the stress of working their 9:00 to 5:00 behind. Our special guest is Serena Shoup. She provides her students with the necessary resources and tools to run their own successful bookkeeping practice, so they no longer have to miss out on that precious time with the family and kids and can live their life on their terms and not on anyone else’s.
Before we welcome Serena to the show, it is crazy that so many accountants think that increasing your fees will lose you clients and result in lower revenue, which we are going to talk about with Serena. You could discount fees, get as many clients as possible, send out a proposal and another one, and want to increase your firm revenue by working harder but slowly realize that it’s a lot of work and a big struggle.
The simple fact is that the clients that I work with triple their base fees, get paid first and upfront without ever having to chase down clients for payment or having accounts receivable ever. If you want to see how other accountants, EAs, CPAs, tax resolution experts, bookkeepers, tax planners are doing this, then register now for my brand new master class at TheAbundantAccountant.com/masterclass. It’s an investment of 48 minutes that will provide you with a lifetime of increased revenue without working more hours and having to get any more designations or qualifications. I look forward to seeing you there. Let’s welcome Serena to the show.
Welcome to the show, Serena.
Thank you, Michelle. It’s always a pleasure. I’m glad to be back. Thanks for inviting me.
I am very happy to have you back here at the show. You exude abundance in all areas of your life with your personal life, kids, and family, and how you still have fun. That’s what everyone here strives for. Before we dive into our amazing episode, make sure to grab a pen and paper. Serena, can you share with everyone real quick who you are in case they have not heard you yet?
I’m Serena Shoup. I am a CPA, although I run a bookkeeping business from my home most of the time. I also have a tiny little office in town to get some quiet time. I also have three kids at home. I run my virtual bookkeeping business as well as mentor other bookkeepers and accountants who are looking to start their own business or in the more beginning stages of their business who are maybe in that transition from corporate or side hustle to taking a full-time.
That’s a good segue into what we are talking about, like why setting yourself apart from other bookkeepers, accounting firms, tax planners or other tax resolution experts is crucial for coming across that objection you might hear from a client. “How are you different than XYZ bookkeeping, planning or the CPA firm that I use now?” Our conversation will be important for each reader because none of us here wants to be seen as a commodity. I have heard that a million times, “Why does everyone call me Michelle and ask me what do I charge?” It’s like, “That’s how you have trained us.”
Serena is going to share four different ways to set yourself apart and eliminate that objection in the future because if we do a great job on the front end, we eliminate objections at the end when a prospect might ask you that. I’m very happy to have you here. Let’s dive in. How long have you had your firm?
It has been about a couple of years now.
If you go back a couple of years ago before you started, what was it like for you when you had a new prospect come in, and you are like, “I’m going to talk to them and see how this goes?”There are a lot of things that you can do once you're in an engagement to set yourself apart. Click To Tweet
I came from a corporate accounting department, and I didn’t have sales skills. We don’t learn sales in our Accounting degree program because they are not expecting us to graduate college and go in into entrepreneurship or work in a sales role because you have an Accounting degree. What they are expecting you to do is be able to interview for a job and work for a company, Big Four or whatever the general path is for your degree program. When I went out on my own, I had all that corporate experience. I was good at interviewing and getting accounting jobs. I was like, “My sales or discovery calls are interviews.”
I learned trial and error that when I showed up to my calls as I would for an interview, I became treated more like an employee and a commodity. I started teaching myself about sales. Unfortunately, I haven’t found you. I learned all that I could on my own, reading some books, watching webinars, and things like that. I started slowly testing things out and changing the way I showed up to those meetings. It’s funny because there are things that you can do once you are in an engagement to set yourself apart but you have to be able to prove a little of that.
You need to get the engagement first before you can do the engagement.
That’s where I focused my attention and was able to showcase my talents and strengths in that discovery call and built trust so that they would expect a good experience. You have to follow through with that on the back end.
That’s the execution of the work. First, we are trying to get past how you meet with them, and the client says to you, “It was nice to meet you, Serena, but how are you any different than the other accounting CPA firm I’m with?” What’s the number one thing for someone reading that worked for you since you did everything half-hard before trial and error, and it didn’t work? Before we dive into the four things, how much money did you maybe lose out on because you were doing this trial error thing and didn’t have this part solidified? Did you lose out on any revenue opportunities?
I did because all of this is intertwined. I was underpricing myself because I didn’t realize what I was bringing to my clients, and I couldn’t communicate it that well. That’s all part of building your value and setting yourself apart starts in that discovery call. The other effect of that is I was landing engagements but I was vastly underpricing myself because I didn’t realize that what I was giving them was such huge value. It was this vicious circle. It’s probably thousands of dollars if we are honest.
It’s important that we are honest. Everyone here is like, “I’m in the right place. I have been justifying my fees. I have been undercharging. I show up to the client meeting. I’m thinking in my head I’m going to charge them $500 a month for bookkeeping.” All of a sudden, it goes down to $100 just so you can get the client, and you wonder why you feel burnt out later on because we are underpaid for that work, and you are putting in all this effort. You are starting. You want to get referrals. You want to get other clients but it’s like a vicious cycle. What’s the first thing that you changed?
The first thing that I changed was I stopped trying to prove myself in those job interviews. Although, now what I know about sales, I would also approach my job interviews completely differently but let’s go with how I was trained before in interviews. I would stop trying to prove all my skills and value in that respect. I would flip it over and start asking the client good questions. Number one is to ask good questions in your discovery calls and be interested in what they have to say.
When you show up to your client meetings, and you are like, “I’m going to come with good questions.” Did you think of them on the spot?
Do you prepare in advance?
Preparation is key. Sometimes, you can over-prepare and get yourself worked up. There’s a balance but to not only prepare but practice when you are not in preparation mode, too. I would practice asking certain questions to myself on a Loom video or in the mirror. It sounds funny but you are going to be in an uncomfortable situation anyway, so you may as well get uncomfortable when you are by yourself.
You could practice all the questions you come up with on your kids. How long do you spend preparing for a meeting?
Now, I don’t spend very long at all. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes but that is the product of me having lots of discovery calls already and practicing on my own. This is a side tangent but I also worked with a speaking coach. I still work with her. It helps my communication altogether with family, friends, and clients. That’s a side if you are serious about up-leveling yourself. There’s always something like that. There are coaches for everything.
I always say, “You can pay a coach to help you get there a lot quicker or you can fiddle around and figure it out on your own.” Like you, you missed out on thousands of dollars of opportunities but there are books, podcasts, me, and Serena. If you are opening up a bookkeeping firm and want to do it the right way, she has already messed up everything for you. She has already put in thousands of dollars and mistakes to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes.
There’s always going to be a little bit of you have to go through things on your own and figure them out but you don’t have to do that with everything.Building your value and setting yourself apart really starts in the discovery of what you can bring to the table. Click To Tweet
In the beginning, when you were preparing for your meetings, how much time did you spend? I know you are down to 15 to 20 minutes but for those that might be starting, what do you say?
If you do the homework before you start having a bunch of meetings, you can cut down that time, and if you group things together. If you say, “I’m going to practice for a couple of hours every week on the questions that I want to ask.” Part of practicing, too, is writing things out and writing your own scripts, so they are in your language but also saying them out loud because most of us don’t write the same way that we speak. If you put in that homework and practice outside of preparing for discovery calls, you can reduce the time that you are preparing before each meeting.
In the beginning, prepare between 45 minutes and an hour looking at their website and things about their industry. The more you niche down, the less of that research you have to do on each client because you already know the industry and the type of client you are working with. It’s more about getting to know them specifically. There are all things that play into this that benefit it.
As you said, the more practice and the more repetition goes into one of your other points that you mentioned like systemizing it and having a process around your meetings. This sets you apart from other bookkeepers, CPA, accounting or EA firms because some of the EAs can’t call themselves an accountant. That’s one of the biggest things to not only set yourself apart from somebody else but how to overcome that objection if you even hear it at that point. That is something that will differentiate you from the other firms and experts that are out there. Share with us a little bit more on the systemization of the meeting.
For discovery calls, I have a flow and agenda but I also do the same thing for my monthly meeting once you land a client. That’s 1 of the 4 ways that I set myself apart from other bookkeepers. My team and I meet with our clients every month, and that’s included in every single package. It’s non-negotiable. They can either use the meeting or not. They can schedule it or not but it’s in our pricing, and it’s there for them. That’s what I tell them too on the discovery call.
If someone were to ask me what sets me apart, that would be the number one thing and they are usually like, “My last bookkeeper told me that QuickBooks was ready for me to look at,” or maybe if they were lucky, they would get emailed their reports. A lot of bookkeepers I have found are going in there, doing the work, and sending a message that says, “Your books are done,” which is mind-boggling to me. To hear that from a client was what got me thinking, “I need to showcase this on my calls when I’m meeting with a potential client.”
That’s crucial to setting yourself apart and having that exact experience they have never had before. That’s the other crazy thing. You helped new firm owners, and you have worked with others that want to fix their process. What have you seen as far as people that have this front-end process solidified and figured out?
Most of the students I work with are more confident once they are lining up meetings and getting leads. They are like, “I’m confident that I know what I should be talking about on these discovery calls and my monthly meetings. I do have the knowledge to serve them.” They go into the discovery calls with more of an abundance mindset because that’s what we talk about, too. Part of it is tactics but part of it is your intent as you go into those meetings and your energy. I’m getting a little woo-woo.
It’s so important. You could do all the tactical stuff. You could prepare and do this for 45 minutes but if you are still like, “They are never going to pay me $500 a month, $1,000 a month or they are never going to do this.” You have those thoughts, and the intention is not, “I get to help a client that had a horrible experience over the last couple of years and never had consistent monthly meetings with their bookkeeper,” or whatever it is that you have heard most of your clients complain about to you when you first meet them. That’s what the opportunity is.
You go into those meetings with a mindset of serving and not worrying about, whether you get the client or not. You are most likely going to get the client because people pick up on that energy. When you are anxious around a dog or something, they pick up on that energy, and people are the same. They will pick up on your energy of desperation and will feel like it’s a sales call.
All of the clients that I have worked with have said like, “That didn’t feel like a sales call at all. I didn’t feel like you were pitching me. That’s also very different from the other discovery calls I have had with different bookkeepers. I always felt like I was being sold to.” I’m like, “It’s only an invitation. You can take it or leave it. I would love to help you.”
Before you changed the mindset and went with this approach, when was one time where you completely blew it where you are like, “I need the client?” I’m sure we have all had those moments that you could share with the audience because they might be in that stage now where they have payroll, three kids they have to feed, an office, and personal expenses, so they need to take the distribution or get paid. Share with us that client story or that moment where you are like, “That will never happen again.”
I still ended up getting the client.
Give us a name. You can make it up like Bob, Joe, Susie, or whatever.
We will go with Joe Schmoe. I went into the meeting, and this was the first time I had tried to sell an advisory-type package. Naturally, I’ve got all of it wrong. I did a few things right because I still landed the client but I allowed my fee to be negotiated down. I ignored red flags because I was like, “I want this advisory engagement, so I can hammer out this process and take this to future clients type of situation. If this engagement goes well, it will be a great case study. The money when it comes, it will be a lot.” It was not an ideal client to be working with. When you go into that desperation mode, it ends up being more of a drain on you. It would have been easier to pick up for other clients to equal that monthly fee and still less of a mental drain on me.Having an experience that others have never had before is crucial to setting yourself apart. Click To Tweet
It was exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically. Those ones suck the life and energy out of you. You have had the firm for a couple of years now. When was that client meeting? What year were you in?
It was before the pandemic. It would have been towards the end of the middle of 2019. I ended up letting that client go in the middle of 2020.
You let them go after all of that. Isn’t that interesting how it comes full circle? You knew at the moment that you probably should not be doing any of the stuff you are doing, and you wanted this advisory client. You wanted to figure it all out with this client but when it came down to it, it still didn’t work out, and you still let them go.
What also happened with that is that it damaged my confidence in being able to deliver advisory packages because it didn’t work with that client. I was let down and was like, “Should I even be doing that? Maybe I will go back straight to bookkeeping.”
You are like, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” To quantify, you had him from 2019 to 2020. Let’s say twelve months. How much did you end up discounting or donating your fee? What was that monthly amount?
Here’s where it gets ridiculous, and maybe someone else has gone through this and is like, “I made the same mistake.” Hopefully, you can avoid this mistake. They were in a startup phase. Even though I had told them what my minimum advisory fee is, they ended up coaxing me into, “Since we don’t have revenue yet, let’s do a different structure once we get all this lined out.” I created their forecast and their budgets to help them figure out where the company was going to go. When I do those budgets, I was like, “If they make this money and I get a percentage of their revenue, I will make up for all that free work I did in the beginning.”
What did you end getting?
In the end, I made $2,000. It would have been $24,000 if they had hit their goals when they said that they were going to. Granted that the pandemic happened and that put a damper on things but it wasn’t a great client personality fit-wise. I was like, “I’m going to cut my losses.”
Do you think the total loss then was $22,000? If they were to pay you what you wanted upfront and not coax into any crazy percent of sales situation, you would have generated $24,000 on this client. You’ve got $2,000, so you were in the negative $22,000.
That’s a part-time salary. It was a lot of hours and was draining. I learned a lot from experience, for sure.
Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure those opened up some little wounds that you are like, “I didn’t know I was going to talk about that, Michelle,” but it’s important. That was the $22,000 lesson. That’s a very expensive lesson. Serena has already been through the lesson for you all. What’s your third thing that a bookkeeper, accounting, EA, tax resolution expert firm owner or whatever your specialty is, should set themselves apart to eliminate the objection of, “How are you different than other accounting firms or my current CPA?” What would be the third thing?
Have a way or a method that you take clients through. This one was hard for me to establish something because we are so close to the things that we do. We think it’s like second nature, and there isn’t a way to break it into a method. I’m sure your program has a method that you take people through like a four-step, whatever method to keep things simple like a framework.
There are different names for it but to have a framework that you take your clients through, it takes some time to work that out, sit with it, think about what you are going to call the different steps, and all that stuff. There are books that will help you create frameworks. I can’t remember the one off the top of my head but you would probably google it and say like, “How to establish your framework?” Start thinking about the process that you take your clients through because you do take them through some type of process.
Even if it’s as simple as showing them like, “This is how we work together when we sign you on. We take you through an onboarding process, and this is what happens in onboarding. We start to get you into a monthly rhythm, and this is what you can expect with that like your monthly meetings.” It can be pretty broad and basic or it can be a little more detailed. That’s up to you. It is to have an established process that you take your clients through to get the results.
Do you show up to the meeting with the process in place or do you figure it out as you go?
It’s in place, and it’s something that we do every time. That’s why I’m saying read a book and think about what you want your process to look like. This is going to make your client experience a lot better too because they know what to expect every step of the way. There are so many different ways that you can present this to clients. You can have it as a video on your website. You can talk them through it on your sales or discovery calls, and you can continue to show them where they are in the process as you are moving them through your onboarding.
It could be broad or basic, or it could be detailed and everything else. I’m sure you are very consistent, Serena. Consistency in your client experience is key because that’s how you will start to be known. This is how you will be able to also solidify the differentiating factors between you and other firm owners. People recognize it and understand the experience. I love that. What’s your fourth thing?Stop trying to prove yourself in a job interview and just start asking good questions. Click To Tweet
We talked about asking good questions, meeting monthly, and having a process. I spoke about this in the asking good questions but this is a continual thing. It was communicating often and showing interest in the client as a person personally and their industry and company. That’s one thing that I was not doing at the beginning, and I’ve got called out by one of my clients.
What happened? What did they say to you?
They had hit a goal and were super excited. They were like, “We hit this goal,” and I was like, “Cool.” I have a poker face. I have been told this, too. People are like, “I can’t read you. You always have a poker face,” but inside, I was excited for them but I wasn’t expressing it. Now, I make it a point. It is now on my monthly meeting checklist to celebrate something with the client, however small it is. Some of us have to be reminded, so I have a part on my monthly meeting checklist to celebrate everything you can.
Celebrating is important. It goes for me, too. I was on this trip to Spain. It was a couple of years ago with a business girlfriend of mine. I was getting new clients and doing all this stuff. She’s like, “You go about your day like that wasn’t a big deal. That’s a big deal. Let’s do this or go shopping. Do you ever buy yourself anything?” Celebrating is crucial but it will also set you apart from all the other firm owners because no one is doing that with their clients. My CPA never says anything like, “Good job, Michelle. You did better than last year.” That’s a big deal.
If we have a random meeting in the middle of the month for something, it’s probably a very focused reason. For their monthly meetings, part of prepping is looking at their financials and finding something that we can celebrate, whether their profit margin was up 2% this month over last or it was up 20% from last year. Whatever we can find like if they are reducing their credit card debt, we will celebrate them.
Even if it’s only by $500 or spent less on their credit card than they paid down on it because some of our clients do that. They are floating their cash. Every month, we make it a point to open a meeting with a celebration and ask them if there’s anything on their mind that they need to get out immediately and cover.
Do you do anything special in your celebrations or is it more of an acknowledgment, bringing it up, and congratulating them?
It’s more of an acknowledgment and congratulations. If it was something big, we might sign them a little gift or something like a little bottle of champagne. Generally, it’s an acknowledgment in the meeting. Some people, their love language is words of affirmation, so those types of clients appreciate that.
They never hear it, especially from the numbers people, which is all you, their most trusted advisor. You are that cheerleader on the sidelines saying, “Keep going.” You see their bank accounts, credit cards, taxes and financials. That’s a big deal.
The other part of that too is celebrating things they are doing right, even if it’s not financial-related like, “We can tell that your podcast is doing well.” We will follow them online. We will listen to their podcasts if they have one. We subscribe to their email newsletters. We get into their world, so we know what’s going on with them, and we can celebrate other things that we noticed.
One of our clients bought a house that she posted on social media. We would not have known about that because that’s a personal finance thing. We don’t cover their personal finances. We made sure to bring that up at the monthly meeting. We were like, “We noticed you bought a house. Congratulations. That’s a huge deal.”
Thank you so much, Serena, for sharing all those four things to differentiate yourself so you can handle that objection with a lot of power and abundance on, “How are you different than my current CPA or how are you different than this other CPA? I’m meeting with three others.” Being able to confidently share and have them also experience why you are different through your front-end process. Is there anything else that you would love to share with the audience that we didn’t cover that popped in your head or anything else as we wrap up?
Trust yourself. I know there’s a lot of confusion about what it means to be an advisor and how to even get started. You are likely already doing a lot of it. You need to make it into a process or a method. Do it consistently across all your clients. If you are in a position where you know your prices are too low and you are looking for a way to increase them, it’s hard to only increase your clients drastically without providing extra value. Add that monthly meeting in.
Celebrate, and they will gladly pay you more. Thank you, Serena, so much for being here with us on the show. It’s always an honor to have you here. I’m sure you will be back soon and have a lovely rest of your day.
What an amazing show with Serena. She always has so much great stuff to talk about. I’m all about not having you all lose out $22,000 like she did with Joe Schmoe or that advisory opportunity that she had with a startup and said, “I’m going to charge a percentage of sales,” and got coax into doing that. Also, for each of you to think about how much time can you set aside to create your process or framework. I’m not sure what book she was referring to but you could google it or you have it in your head.
It’s creating and setting out the time to create that experience. My dream car was years ago. They sent me an email that I’m in the third year of my lease now. It’s a Tesla. The client experience they created was flawless. You don’t even have to go and haggle with anybody. You don’t have to do anything. Even the paperwork when you pick up your car was three pieces of paper.
You signed your lease agreement, which was one page. You sign that you are picking up your car, and it’s your own responsibility. The other beautiful thing in California is they have insurance too through Tesla. I have never had a more smooth and clean process but I promise you that Tesla had to think that went through when they are going to deliver a car to a client or you are going to go pick it up at one of their locations. They do walk around and teach you how to use it for about 30 minutes because it’s like a big iPhone.
How can you create your version of a Tesla experience in your firm, so you can get past that objection or client question that you hear all the time, “How are you different than my current firm? What are you going to do differently that I’m already doing or not getting?” There are all different ways that you might hear that question. How can you set out three hours to create some framework or process so that not only you do have a Tesla experience meeting with clients but also don’t lose out on any more revenue or get coaxed into some deal on a percent of revenue with a startup like Serena did, and lost out on a year where she could have filled her firm up with 5 or 10 other clients?
Think about not only the lost time she had but those $22,000 of lost revenue she had, so that doesn’t happen to you. If you think that increasing your monthly revenue by three times is difficult or increasing your fees will lose you clients and result in lower revenue. I get it. Everybody thinks that. If everybody thinks, “If we discount our fees to our clients, they will come to me but if I increase them, they are going to leave me.” It’s simply not true.
If you want to see how the clients that I am working with are doing it, register for my brand new masterclass at TheAbundantAccountant.com/masterclass. It’s an investment that will provide you a lot more increased revenue without working more, having to get another few letters after your name, and having to justify why you are charging, discounting your fees or getting coaxed into something like Serena did. I look forward to seeing some of you there. If you don’t show up there, I will see you on the next episode. Have a beautiful day.