Are you feeling burnt out? Do you take on every accounting client prospect that comes your way?
It’s time to stop the hamster wheel and step into high-end, premium offerings for your accounting clients.
In this episode, Peter Freuler joins us on The Abundant Accountant Podcast to share his story of taking on every single client that came in the door, to recognizing that narrowing his focus and only serving a specific niche, will help his topline revenue.
Peter started his firm 13 years ago, and for years he believed that the best way to serve his clients was to offer every service under the sun. This led to problems, Peter’s bottom line wasn’t growing, some of his clients would leave and disappear after the initial meeting, and Peter couldn’t find qualified staff for everything he wanted to fulfill on for his clients.
When Peter finally decided to zero in and focus on a specific type of client, in May of 2018, his revenue increased about 20%.
It might be hard to believe, but by creating a sales system that all prospects must go through, you are saving yourself time by not working with less than ideal clients, and you’ll be able to start charging top dollar for your services.
Peter shares his personal journey from having NO sales system to a high-functioning, ever revolving sales system, THAT WORKS!
If you’re ready to work with dream clients, only do tasks that you enjoy doing, and increase your revenue, then this episode of The Abundant Accountant Podcast is a MUST LISTEN!
Are you sick and tired of offering every possible accounting service out there? Are you ready to focus on the high-end premium offerings? Then THIS BLOG POST is a MUST READ!
Here are a few key secrets we talked about in this episode:
- Michelle introduces Peter Freuler.
- Peter introduces himself and shares a little bit about himself and his firm.
- When Peter first began his firm, he did not have a sales system in place. He followed the method, that if someone called them to work with his team, they’d take you on, no matter what your needs were.
- Peter’s and his team had NO way of identifying whether someone was a good client for them or not.
- It took Peter 10 years to begin making changes with his firm. He was fearful of losing what he had, by making new changes in his business and not taking on any and all clients.
- Peter and Michelle discuss the effect a scarcity mindset can have on your accounting business.
- Peter’s and his team went through and analyzed different industries, personalities of potential clients, and profitability to determine what kind of clients they wanted to work with.
- When you work on and focus on your value and your worth, you are more likely to stick to the boundaries you set for yourself and your clients.
- Peter talks about what it’s like to turn clients away, once you identify who you should be working with.
- By narrowing their niche, Peter and his team are now able to bring in their ideal clients and charge a higher premium price for their services. Being a one-stop-shop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
- Peter provides 3 tips that newer accounting professionals can use to avoid the mistakes Peter made.
- Accounting professionals tend to think in systems and in getting the work done for their clients, they don’t often think sales are integrated with running the practice. Peter explained how he made the shift from this way of thinking.
- Taking a potential client through your sales process is SO important, to ensure they’re an ideal fit.
- Peter shares the sales process he and his team use.
- When Peter put a sales process in place, his business completely changed. He went from being able to just offer commodity type services to offering premium high-priced services. The same would be true for you and your firm!
- When Peter and his team redid their sales process in May of 2018, they’ve seen a topline growth of $65K, as of his interview in August of 2018.
- If Peter had made the shift to a sales process sooner, his revenue would be more than double what he is making now.
- Peter shares one last quality piece of advice. Tune in to hear it!
Learn More & Connect With Me Here!
P.S. Do you jump and work with every prospect that walks through the door? Or, do you take the time to take them through a sales process? By narrowing your focus and working only with those ideal clients, you’re more likely to be able to start charging premium prices. Click here to read this blog post!
P.P.S. Have you have ever felt like you give away too much information for free or are you tired of not being paid what you’re worth? Then you’re possibly like many accountants who like they are on the cashflow rollercoaster! & we have a solution for you!
Join us for our Abundant Accountant Masterclass to learn how to communicate your value, collect higher fees with confidence and be paid what you’re worth so you can work less and make more money.
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Why Accountants Should Have A Sales System With Peter Freuler
In this episode, we are talking about why you should have a sales system. I am joined by a very special guest who is a Certified Public Accountant in Florida. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a Master’s degree in Accounting from the University of Central Florida. Let’s welcome Peter to the show.
Thanks, Michelle. I’m happy to be here.
Thank you so much for being here with us on the show. I’d love it if you could introduce yourself real quick to everyone who’s reading. Where’s your firm? How long have you had it? What do you do? What do you specialize in? Feel free to take it away.
My name is Peter Freuler. I have a CPA firm in the Orlando, Florida, area. I’ve had the firm since 2005. Our staff size, we’re about nine accountants, including myself. We’ve grown tremendously, especially over the last several years. Our focus is more on tax planning versus your general compliance type of work. What we tell our clients is that, first and foremost, we’re problem solvers.
We want to help them solve the problems they’re running into, whether it be, “I can’t understand why my taxes are too high,” to, “I feel like I’m spending all this time trying to run my business and I can’t do the things I want to do.” We obviously try to deliver solutions. Some are more bespoke than others. What we tell our clients is we’re unique from an accounting perspective because we’re not here to deliver reports to you. We want to make things easier, solve problems, and help you grow.
I’m so happy that you’re here on the show because a lot of clients have come to me asking about, “Should I have a sales system?” I think when you start an accounting firm, and you can we’re going to go into this, you don’t have a sales system or a process. I think this is a great question and topic to talk about. Hopefully, this episode will help you figure out maybe what’s the best solution for your business or maybe what you are doing right now that maybe you’re missing out on opportunities. You’re missing out on future revenue. Peter, for you, when you first started your firm, did you have a sales system in place that helped you be the problem solver that you are now?
We did not. That has led to a lot of problems down the road that we’ve tried to fix, we are fixing, and some of it has been fixed. My first approach was if you called us, we would work with you. That was our sales system. That’s great from a client acquisition standpoint, the problem is it essentially may be the equivalent of firing a shotgun pellet in the air and it spreads out into various different pellets. Whoever we hit, they’re clients.
We had growth using that. I’m going to call it a system, even though it has no elements of a system. The problem that we ran into with that is that we would get 10% of the clients were awesome. They were ideal clients. We have 90% who took up space, were difficult to work with, and we felt here we’re running this treadmill or this hamster wheel where we’re going round and round. We’re not getting anywhere.
We’re triaging whatever problems call in that day. We didn’t have any way of identifying during the process, like, “Is this a good client for what we want to deliver, or is this a person who’s going to pay us something for some work that we’re going to do?” I think there’s a big difference between those two choices. Initially, you don’t think about it. You just want to get some money in the bank account.
How do you get off this hamster wheel going round and round? You said 10% of those clients were awesome, but the other 90% were not so awesome. I think a lot of accounting professionals, CPAs, and EAs, this is a very tough problem to have and a lot of people have it. I’ve talked to hundreds of accountants and this is a traditional problem. How long were you running around on the hamster wheel, Peter, when you first got started?
I hate to say this, but it was almost ten years. For me, the resistance was I don’t want to lose what I have, so I’m hesitant to make a change to get things that are better. I know from a logical standpoint, having a scarcity mindset that you can’t lose what you have or why should I turn this down? This is “easy work.” It took, unfortunately, running to a point where it’s like there’s no capacity whatsoever before you realized that maybe I shouldn’t be doing this type of work for somebody or this client doesn’t value the expertise that I can deliver. They want a bank reconciliation done or they want a tax return prepared, but they’re not concerned that we are capable of saving them thousands of dollars on the tax return.
What we did is we went back and started with who is it that we want to work with. Who fits us? It’s not so much any client over a certain dollar amount in terms of income works. It’s not the case. We went through and evaluated industries, personalities and profitability to a degree, and we started this process with who should we let in and who should we try to keep out.
At least, that way, we weren’t flooding the system with incoming work, but at the same time, we wanted the clients to see us as more than producers of reports. We needed them to buy in at the beginning that they were going to be getting something different and not somebody who’d be willing to do the work for a reduced price or somebody who could get the work turned around within a defined period of time.
Did you do that after ten years of taking on everybody and anybody? Was that a more recent switch for you?
It’s a more recent switch in terms of being very rigid with the acceptance. It was a process that we started years ago and it came about because internally, our team at the time was like, like, “What are we doing? We’re going back and forth.” It’s funny to mention, but if I go back to a few years ago in terms of what we wanted, those clients now won’t make it through the door. I think it’s a revolving process. It’s not something that I’m going to spend an afternoon writing all of this down and we’re all going to vote on it and we’re going to say, “Yes, this is the way forward.”
I think it’s something that you have to evaluate as you go through time and as your practice develops. We’ve gone to the point where we were scared to make any changes to now we’re not so much worried if we tell somebody who says, “I’m interested in these things, but I only want to work with you as the CPA. I don’t want to deal with your team.” For us, that’s a deal breaker. There’s no way we’re going to be able to deliver results for that client. We’d rather that client find somebody else to work with than try to come on board and we’re frustrated after six months.A sales system is something you must evaluate as you go through time and as your accounting practice develops. Click To Tweet
I completely agree and it’s awesome that I talk about when your value and your worth increases and you stick close to these boundaries of who you’re going to let in and who you are not going to work with, those opportunities, you start to turn away business and you’re not coming from the scarcity mindset anymore.
Do you have a particular story, Peter, that I’m sure other accountants are probably thinking like, “How did he turn these people away? It’s so difficult.” One in particular that you said, “Thank God I did not work with that client because it could have been a catastrophe?” You probably did turn away a lot of revenue, but in hindsight, now you see it as a big win and a big positive. Do you have anything like that that happened in your practice?
I’m going to give you a generic example. We see it more frequently now than we did a couple of years ago because we were taking these types of clients on board. Generically, we’ll get a call from somebody and they are behind in filings or we have an IRS issue that needs to be resolved. We get them on board. What we find is that we never make a ton of progress with them in part because once they come on board, they disappear.
We understand from a client’s perspective, sometimes they select you as a CPA and they go, “I’ve crossed that off my list. I don’t need to do anything else. This is your problem now and now you got to fix it.” Whereas on our side, from the accounting professional standpoint, we’ve got a client that won’t give us information, expects us to determine our own answers, and then they’re upset when the results don’t come in.
What we end up finding is that we can quote a fee on it that seems like it’s worthwhile, but if we don’t have a client that wants our input or a client that cares enough about trying to stay within some degree of compliance, we’re going to have a headache on our hands. We’re very careful now in terms of selecting clients that are behind on filings.
It’s not something where somebody’s on extension or we concerned, but if somebody comes in and says, I haven’t filed for two years, that’s generally when we stop and say, “Our firm is more forward-focused. We’re not here to clean up messes but we need somebody that wants to work going forward to prevent problems, not somebody who you can call because you’ve been given two weeks before a bank levy’s going to be executed.”
We don’t try to go down those paths. It’s funny because, at one point, I had this philosophy that I could do pretty much anything a client needed to do and we could be a one-stop shop. Now, it’s almost very narrow-focused where one of our selling stories to clients is, “This is what we do. We do tax planning, we do it well, we’re very efficient and we want to save you money on taxes. In order to do that, I can’t do your IRS representation work on this issue. I’m not going to be the best person if you’re looking for bookkeeping.”
As a side story, what we do now that maybe we didn’t do years ago is, “I know of a great firm that focuses on bookkeeping. I know a great firm that does excellent IRS representation work. We don’t do that but let me make an introduction to you to that firm. What we do is tax planning. If you know of anybody that needs tax planning help, if you don’t mind providing me with an introduction, that would be fantastic, but let me get you in the right hands.”
I don’t have to be confrontational on the rejection. It doesn’t turn into a, “Your website says you have experience on this,” or “I called you because I thought you could handle this.” It’s now, “You found me another solution to my problem.” Believe it or not, we get referrals from that conversation, which it’s mind-boggling to a degree. At least we’ve defined ourselves for our niche and what we do well and we’re not dealing with clients that are going to delay the process for those that do fit the model.
Knowing what you know now and if you were to go back in time, what would you have done differently? For the newer accountants or people who are a little frustrated with some of the “sales systems” that they don’t have currently, what are the top three things, if you had to sum it up, that you would do differently now than you would’ve done years ago?
The first thing I would’ve done is I would not have gone down the path of trying to provide a long list of services to clients, but I would’ve focused those services on things that you can charge a premium for and that you can deliver and deliver well. That doesn’t necessarily have to be tax planning. You may be an accountant that does good financial analysis, and so you can provide some value-based CFO type of work for a client. It’s just you’re not going to be able to deliver that if you’re dealing with 600 1040 returns that you’re processing in eight weeks in the spring.
It sounds counterintuitive at first because when you first start your practice or you’re first getting started, you’re more concerned about making sure that the paychecks don’t bounce and that you got money left over at the end of the week or the end of the month. What ends up happening is you end up being flooded with work that may not be the work that you want to do or the work that you’re going to be paid a premium to do.
Nothing is worse than being in a position where you’re undercharging on services or on your potential, but you can’t get to it because you’re too busy dealing with the volume. I guess to circle back to the answer, I wish I had sat down and said, “This is what I want to do that I know I can charge enough to keep my doors open, but I want to do it well. How can I do that? What team members do I need to accomplish that?” That works you through how do you want to present your expertise to clients or potential clients and then how do you move them down the sales cycle so that they become clients, but then they also fit into the other systems that you have for processing work.
What’s the second thing you would do?
The second thing I would do is I would establish basically revenue expectations that I would want from the practice and how I would get there. I think that comes into more holistic firm planning. It also counters into what type of staff do I need in a supporting role in order for me to deliver on the services that I want to deliver on. I know I’ve gone through the different staff for different reasons and I never felt until I had an idea of what services I wanted to deliver about what staff I needed.
I would hire because we had work that wasn’t being done, but was I hiring the right staff? That comes down to the same selection of clients. You need the right staff that can deliver the right results for you, but if you’re trying to deliver everything, you’re going to have a hard time finding a staff member who can do everything.
What is the third thing?
The third thing I would’ve done is I would’ve evaluated my pricing. I think it comes back to the systems, but the biggest headache I had initially is I was so happy to get a sale. I wasn’t concerned about the dollar amount associated with the sale, and I had in the back of my mind that I could become efficient at certain things and so, therefore, it would be okay or acceptable to not get a premium or a high enough revenue number to make it work. What I ended up discovering is that the only person in the office that had the expertise to do this was me. I shouldn’t be working for less than market value.
I think a consideration on what you’re charging for the price and why you’re going to justify it outside of I deserve it is critical. All of these things are things that eventually they crescendo into a big enough problem. You have to address it. I wish I had dealt with it years ago. I’d have fewer gray hairs and a lot less wrinkles.
What do you think is the key that’s brought your firm to where you are now? What do you think that one thing is for you?
For the longest time, I didn’t consider sales to be integrated with the running of the practice. As CPAs and enrolled agents, we tend to think in systems in terms of workflow and processing. We have a bookkeeper, the bookkeeper needs to do a bank rec, the accountant needs to review the bank rec and we fill out a checklist and we go. That’s designed to provide consistency in terms of the quality of the output.
If you don’t have a similar approach with the sales cycle and who you’re selecting for clients, the output suffers and you’ll never get the consistency that you want. For us, it was going back to, “How can we get clients who are okay with us working remotely versus clients that want to come in and hang out for an hour and a half to show us their W-2s and 1099s? How can we train our clients not to call us every time that they have a question and expect that somebody’s going to stop their work, pick up the phone and talk to them for twenty minutes because they want to ask whether they can deduct their pet’s health insurance?”
I’m being sarcastic, but these are problems and it doesn’t do anybody any good if, between the hours of 10:00 and 4:00, you can’t get work done because there’s a stream of interruptions or we’re having problems getting any of the workflow out. We looked at our sales process in terms of how we start with a client to how we get them on board and say, “Is there any way that we can use this, number one, to try to weed out those who aren’t going to fit?” Secondly, is this a way that we can train them? We utilize technology, work by phone or video and will be able to answer all of your questions and show you value. You don’t have to hop in your car, drive an hour and then complain to me for the first fifteen minutes of the meeting about how horrible traffic was and you didn’t realize it was that bad?
I think your counterparts are probably laughing right now like I am because that’s what your clients all do.
Worse, they expect you to get in your car, deal with the traffic, and then waste half a day going to see them meet for an hour and fifteen minutes.
Peter, did you get paid for that time?
Absolutely not. I’m not as crazy as to try to bring a laptop in the front seat.
I’ve done that before.
You’re braver than I am. The idea is that if you bring a client through the sales process, defined for them how you work and you’re consistent in it, they should be comfortable when you make the handover to a staff accountant or we bring them on board that, “You’re on the North end of town, we’re on the South end or whatever direction. Just because we’re not right down the street doesn’t mean we can’t work together and we can’t get this done.”
I find that a lot of my clients appreciate the fact that we’re available, but we don’t require them to be inconvenienced to work with us. Typically in the back of their mind is, “I got to go make an appointment with the accountant in March and that means I got to lose half a day. I got to get all this paperwork ready to send them. What happens if I’m missing a document and we got to come back again?” It doesn’t have to be that difficult.
What we do initially is when we get an incoming message that somebody wants to be a client, we send them out an email and we’re working on making an adjustment to this of including a video message in the email. We outline what the steps are for coming on board or learning more about us. We require that they complete a five-question survey.
The surveys basically tell us what you want out of your CPA. Tell us about your business and if you’re comfortable with certain benchmarks or criteria that we have internally. We ask if they’re comfortable dealing with various members of the team as long as they get a professional answer. We make sure that they’re comfortable working with us remotely. We ask, “Is this something that you’re coming to us because you want your bank recs done correctly, or do you want advice and help?”
If they answer those in a way that we’re not comfortable with, we generally stop the process or try to clarify with the client before they move forward. The idea is I’m trying to set the expectation level, one, that this isn’t something where you’re going to come in and we’re going to beg for your business. We want to work with you, but we got to make sure it works for both of us.
Number two, I want control over the process. By outlining the steps, they know that there’s a structure to this. This is not a never-ending consultation. We’re trying to deliver to them that we can bring value and they’re going to want to sign up with us at the end of this. Three, most of the clients that we deal with, and I mentioned being a problem solver at the beginning of the show. Most of the clients that we have a problem with. They don’t know how to solve it. They’re looking for someone to take leadership of the problem and fix it.
If we present a defined system for working together, it provides an element of relief to them that, “These guys are on top of it. They know what we’re dealing with and they have a way that we’re going to bring this to a conclusion with a resolution.” I think that’s powerful. On the first face of it, you don’t think of it that way, but it’s helpful in that respect that you’ve outlined a path to getting where you want to go as part of the sales process, which means that they’re going to be more willing to follow your path when you’re on a maintenance type of approach.
I love that and I see that the sales system and for each person reading, it does evolve over time and it’s constantly changing, but you’ve got to stick to it. I love that you’re adding the video message. That’s awesome. Peter, can you share with each person reading, how implementing a sales system in your firm helped your top-line revenues? Everyone wants to grow their firm, get into a six-figure firm, have more revenue and have a more abundant life. Abundant life and an abundant amount of clients that you love to work with. Not all of them, just the right ones.
We redid our sales system back in May of 2018 and it’s now August 2018. We have seen top-line growth of around $65,000 over that time. Not everyone signs up and is on board, but we’ve found that we’re able to better understand our clients, which is critical for this because they may be coming to you and asking you to do their tax returns, but maybe the real problem under the surface is that their current CPA has no solution for the problem of paying too much in tax.
It could be that they don’t understand what they’re doing or they need a little bit more guidance and help to get this done. If you don’t have a sales system to picket those problems, or at least identify them, all you’re going to be is providing a commodity-type service. That’s not going to allow you to hit the revenue numbers to achieve maybe what you want to achieve.
We try to emphasize that we’re going to go over in one meeting, talk about what you’re doing and make sure we understand what’s going on in the background but part of that is we’re here to try to get these problems resolved. To give you an idea of the big thing that’s led to me having the revenue growth if I annualize that over what we did the previous year, we’re looking at close to 20% growth. That’s with a handful of clients, so it’s positive.
I think the thing that would make this difficult for me without the sales system is I would’ve taken basically a transactional type of work, so I would’ve done tax returns. Maybe we would’ve done a little bit of planning, but not for the fees we were able to command. What will make you distinct and different and allow you to hit higher revenue numbers is you’re going to be the only one that ever asks questions about why are you doing this. What are you trying to achieve? What’s causing this problem here that we can help? Most other CPAs don’t think that way. I’m one of them. I’ve been somebody who wants to get the prospect off the phone as fast as possible, so I can get onto something else. You missed so many opportunities is probably the major point.Being the CPA who wants to get the prospect off the phone as fast as possible so you can get onto something else will make you miss many opportunities. Click To Tweet
How many opportunities do you think you missed prior to May and tweaking your sales system? I think it’s important. We come from the scarcity mindset before, where you’re like, “I have so much work to do. I don’t have time to talk to new clients and prospects.” With this shift, if you were to think about the opportunities missed, if you were to quantify it, or if you had to guess in a twelve-month period, what do you think you did miss because of that?
If I went back for a couple of years, my firm’s revenue would be close to double if I had been doing what I’m doing now if I started it years ago. It’s a combination of things. We took on clients we never had any real strong way of solving the problem they had, or maybe we took on clients that were the wrong fit. I also think that we’ve missed out on clients who have had problems that we could resolve because we didn’t ask the questions to find out if we could fix it, or we were so busy with other volume work that we missed the opportunity or didn’t see it in front of us.
I know that sounds like a large number to say our revenues would’ve been doubled if we had been doing this years ago, but I can tell you what we’re commanding in terms of revenues now versus what we were at the beginning of 2018, and they’re not comparable. It’s positive. Nobody wants to sit around and cry about spilled milk and what’s in the past is in the past. I think there’s an avenue going forward where we’re like, “We’re not going to miss out on this.”
It’s not that we’re going to have 100% client acceptance if they go through the process, but what we want to do is we want to make sure we’re commanding a premium for the services we’re providing, then we also want to make certain that we’re going to have the quality of life that’s going to allow us to be problems fixers and not basically pushers of documents.
Thank you, Peter, so much for sharing with us on the show. Would you like to leave everyone with one last piece of advice before we depart?
The main thing I would recommend to everybody is don’t be afraid of losing what you have. I would be more concerned about missing what’s going to come your way but you’re not able to capture it. I know that sounds very frightening and very bold, but what I’ve discovered as part of some of these changes with the sales system is that they’re swimming by all the time. You don’t want to be hesitant to make a change because you’re fearful of losing something you have. I would embrace trying to capture what you don’t have that’s better.Don't be afraid of losing what you have. Be more concerned about missing what's coming your way but not being able to capture it. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much, Peter, for joining us. That’s a wonderful way to end. It was an honor to have you and keep rocking. Keep up with your sales system.
What an amazing episode with Peter. He had so many great nuggets for you to even if you can do 1 or 2 things and put them into action, and maybe it’s putting a list together and starting a sales system for yourself. Think about the five things that he mentioned. Who do you want to work with? What industries do you want to work with? What is the personality profile of the clients that you want to work with? Who do you want to let into your firm, and who do you want to keep out of your firm?
Those are a few points that you can start with, but I do want to talk about the missed opportunities and how he was mentioning at the end the amount of missed opportunities. If he had a sales system earlier on in his firm, he would’ve doubled his revenue. There’s this one video, and I’m not sure if any of you have ever seen it, but it’s on YouTube. I think you can Google missed opportunities or something like that, but there are all these people passing a basketball on a basketball court.
In the middle, there’s this thing that comes across the basketball court. If you’re paying attention to count how many times the basketball was passed to each person, you don’t even see what that thing is that comes across the screen. I don’t want to totally give it away to you, but that quantifies how many clients we miss when we’re focused on the volume work, which is equally to passing the basketball in a basketball court and counting how many times it happened. We miss revenue all the time. In order to not do that, we have to remove some stuff off our plate so we’re not bogged down with the amount of work we’re doing or that high-volume work.
I will leave it with that. Thank you so much for being here with us. If you have a quick second, please leave me a rating and a review on iTunes and subscribe to the show. I always like hearing from you. One last thing before I let you go. If you want to learn the three proven strategies my accounting professional clients use to easily build their accounting practice with premium clients who eagerly are willing to pay you what you’re worth, then you want to sign up for my free masterclass at TheAbundantAccountant.com. You’ll learn how to communicate your value, collect higher fees with confidence, and be paid what you’re worth so you can work less, make more money and have that life of abundance. I would love to see you there. Thanks again for reading.
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