Learn how to streamline and transform your transactional practice to create a proactive practice with these PowerSHIFT strategies from The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals, Dawn Brolin, CPA, CFE, and Sean Duncan, CPA, Founder of SMD Consulting & Accounting, LLC.
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Dawn Brolin 0:01
Hello everyone and welcome to the DM Disruption. I’m the host Dawn Brolin. I’m a certified public accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, and the author of The Designated Motivator. We’re here to help motivate you to take your practice to the next level.
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Hello, everybody, and welcome to the DEM disruption. We’re here at Scaling New Heights live very exciting times this week, and I’m here with Sean Duncan, the owner, CEO, President, you name it. He’s it at SMD Consulting and Accounting, and one of my very best friends who’s my conference boyfriend, which I think is totally fine to say!
Sean Duncan 1:07
Hey, my wife said it’s okay.
Dawn Brolin 1:09
We got permission, I mean, it makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. It’s all good. So we’re excited here to today we’re gonna talk to you a little bit about how you can go from somebody that’s like a tax practitioner, and move yourself into advisory. And so Sean is is leading the way. When it comes to advisory work with clients. I’m still dying over this lady over my shoulder right here. Because I can see it’s almost like we’re connected. We’re like, twins that are connected. But that’s something different. Anyway, so excited to talk to you, Sean. So Sean, your story is amazing, because you didn’t start out wanting to be an accountant. Nope. What happened to you?
Sean Duncan 1:44
Oh, my God. Talk about shock when I was a child, no. So I originally went into accounting because I was going to go into the FBI. Now, that really wasn’t the original journey. I was lost, not sure what I was gonna do for a career. But the FBI struck me as a calling. And that’s an important thing, because it wasn’t just I want to go do a job it was calling. And law, language and accounting are the easiest three ways to get the bureau. So I happen to be sitting in an accounting class, congratulations. I’m an accountant. I’m the first kid my family to get a college degree. And so I’m certainly the first to get a master’s degree. And so fast forward 2003, I’ve got my final interview scheduled with the Bureau, I’m going to fly up to Kansas City, Missouri for those interviews. I’m gonna head down to Austin, do my physical fitness test, Dallas coordinator says Shawn, you’re my best candidate. Just go through the motions in the next three to four months, you’ll be in the bureau, you’ve made it. And then the second epiphany, the first epiphany was I was going to go into the bureau, second epiphany, unfortunately, 10 years after college and all the stuff like I’m, I’ve done it, I realized how badly I wanted to be a husband and data. And so this is the weird moment is like if I go into the bureau and I go pursue hostage rescue team, which is their SWAT cuz I’m kind of a dumb meat head. I wasn’t gonna be around. Your investigations, you’re traveling. And it just my my value proposition for that declined immediately when it really struck me how much I wanted to be a father and a husband. So I turned them down. And so here I am, 30 years old. And I have a master’s degree in accounting that I don’t want.
Dawn Brolin 3:17
I don’t want it!
Sean Duncan 3:19
I mean, come on, who chooses accounting. No, seriously, guys, I didn’t intend to be a CPA in the traditional sense. I wanted to pursue this dream, the CPA, the accounting that was all part of the path. And then no joke for two years completely lost. I was in lost soul. I was depressed. I had no clue what I was going to do. Do I go back to school? What do you do? My wife is amazing and supportive. In that journey of the two years, it occurred to me why the beer was so compelling. When I was looking at the career, it was about how the job matters. When I’m doing what I’m doing the job actually has to mean something when I’m laying on my deathbed 400 years from now because I I will be part robot. I want to make sure that when my old Tron self looks back and says, Did it count, right? All the hours we spent I mean, we all spend a lot of time at work. Are you doing something that fulfills you and adds value? And that was it. That was the moment and I realized I had all these skills that help business owners that help individuals and helping others achieve success? Well, that’s it, it doesn’t have to be the bureau, it just has to be something that has meaning. And that actually was where SMD consulting and accounting started. I wanted to lead with SMD Consulting and Accounting. It’s named in order on purpose because we wanted to be that CPA advisor that actually gave advice to small business owners because there’s brilliant practitioners out there. But it’s hard to do advice if you don’t know where to start. And that was where my skill sets were and all the career that I built. So started the firm and I wanted to go do that. So that’s the FBI piece of it is focusing on how we add as much value as possible to people and their families.
Dawn Brolin 4:57
And so, in addition to that, Your whole thing was like you said, like, I want to, I want to be a dad. I want to be a family, man. And you knew that that path wasn’t going to be there for you. Now, fast forward after that. You became a tax man.
Sean Duncan 5:14
Yeah, I did. I did.
Dawn Brolin 5:15
And you did tax work. And you did tax work, tax work, tax work. And what were you able to do? Like you were just tied down? It was almost like you were in the FBI, but in the tax world…
Sean Duncan 5:25
Okay, so there’s these epiphany moments that keep having these moments, right. I’m sitting there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in my office, and I got the window seat, and it’s like, two in the afternoon, and I’m working on a return. It’s 75 outside. And I get a text from my wife again. Sunday afternoon. Yes, it’s tax season, of course. Her and my wife is texting me pictures of her and the kids at Six Flags. Wait a second?
Dawn Brolin 5:50
Oh, I want to go on that roller coaster!
Sean Duncan 5:52
Yeah. And so I turned down the FBI, before I had kids. Now I have them and I’m not with them. And it was, it was absurd. I was just one of those. Okay, this is clearly not working. And oddly enough, we’re sitting at scaling new heights, in scaling new heights. 2017 is when the final kind of bridge got into place. The camel’s back. That was it. I’m sitting at the conference. And it dawned on me, I don’t have to do taxes, my skill, our team skill, the value proposition is advice. Let’s just do the thing we’re amazing at because unfortunately, the dang tax returns are taking us away from the families not not just me. It was taking us away from our club, my employees, families, it was taking us away from the advice on the client. I mean, if you’re a client, and it’s April 14, and you go, Sean, I’m going to sell my business for 10 million bucks. Oh my God, I need help. My answer was awesome. Can we talk in May? Exactly. That’s not and we can. We were staffing up like crazy. I’m my office is in Frisco, Texas, one of the fastest growing cities in the US a phenomenal city. We were the largest firm in town. So we were successful. Unfortunately, our success was keeping me from my success. My success was to be the best husband and dad, my employees, I wanted them to spend time with their family. I wanted us to give value to clients. Because again, that’s why we started the firm. And we were disappearing from our clients taxes were getting in the way of achieving achieving our definition of success. And so I said enough’s enough. And I literally fired all the textbooks. off he went. And now we all we do is advise we do bookkeeping work, because the bookkeeping gives us the data that we need to do the analysis. But we focused on advice and then had to completely create a whole brand new model. And it was it was a journey.
Dawn Brolin 7:37
It’s a journey, and I want to talk about that journey. Because with every with change comes pain, just know that’s gonna happen. But you know what? That success is that you have after the fact that you have today in here and now, way outweigh those pains. But absolutely. There were pains and I want to hear, give me if you want 123 however many you want to give me pain points that you had when you were transitioning from tax to advisory.
Sean Duncan 8:04
Well, Dr. Dawn…
Dawn Brolin 8:07
Lay down on the couch! It was one day! I was crying!
Sean Duncan 8:16
I screwed up so many times. I screwed up because I was creating something completely. Again if y’all are accountants, you know what it’s like, you know, our industry have a pattern. This is the way it’s always been done. And here I am saying no, we don’t do tax prep, we just do advice. First pain is I underpriced now that’s a common theme here. We don’t charge enough. Well, you don’t, I was creating something new. So I kind of looked like I was beta testing on everybody. Right? And you can’t leap into the feet I could have. But and I should have I foot I went into low. And then scope creep happens in things that that hurt revenue dramatically because I had taken a big giant meaty seif to two thirds of my revenue. Yes, again, I was killing it.
Dawn Brolin 8:57
No guts, no glory, buddy.
Sean Duncan 8:59
And so when in of course, there’s the financial pressure, you’re trying to juggle and make ends meet. And so I had to be very clear and confident. And I will say that cutting all those clients, I never had doubt that that was the weirdest moment is I mean, if you can imagine you’re going to go to your firm and say, we’re getting rid of two thirds of the revenue. Let’s do this. It’s a terrifying Oh, absolutely. And I I never had doubt. And we’ll talk maybe if we had time about what vision plan and goal and and how I worked backwards in my strategy, but it was never a question that I was making the right choice. I was now seeing my family more and I was doing the things we need to do. We were helping people with more meeting but mistakes, absolutely underpriced and that that really created a whole new pressure.
Dawn Brolin 9:40
So underpricing of advisory work?
Sean Duncan 9:42
All of it.
Dawn Brolin 9:43
Sean Duncan 9:44
Everything, especially the advisory because it was really trying to feel out where the market was, who was on I was going to serve and how that works. Second, we we tried to be customized like, John, what do you need because what you need is different than what Nick needs but Nick needs something different. So we created this own ellaborate checkbox system of all this terrible, terrible, no one knew what we did because we did try to do everything. We then brought that down to the good old Mark wicker Sham, you know three choices of versions right I got the bronze silver platinum, because I skipped gold, who needs gold?
Dawn Brolin 10:16
Who needs goals? So overrated?
Sean Duncan 10:20
Well, we, that was too much, right? Because then clients were looking at well, I thought I signed up for this here, and you can show them the contract. So then we had to boil it down again. I mean, no joke for two plus years, we were trying to invent the methodology and just kept screwing up. But there’s an old Chinese proverb that says, You’re going to fall down seven times get up eight. And that was it. It was the resilience just kept getting up. So I kept screwing that up. And there were lots of other different things like the the challenges that we have with communication, making sure the client really gets it. But there were, there were a lot of hurdles, a lot of hurdles the market is still isn’t ready for you. I mean, imagine all the people that come in and say I need a tax return. Okay. I don’t do that. But I can save you $100,000. Yeah, but I need a tax return.
Dawn Brolin 11:06
I need that done. Well, in order for me to refinance my mortgage, or whatever it may be.
Sean Duncan 11:10
I’ve had somebody that we’ve modeled out and said, if we do these three things, we will save you $100,000 This year, yeah. But if you’re not gonna do my return, well, we can find you somebody that’s amazing at preparing, we’ll build the strategy. And they’ll prepare. Yeah, I need it all in one roof. And they go to the other person who doesn’t give advice. And so they’re the smartest thing, they’re happy to pay the 100,000 in taxes for that convenience. So we have to solve for that and make it as frictionless as we can. So it’s, it’s a journey in the key to this really, for me is, this is what I wanted to create for my clients, for my employees, and honestly, selfishly for myself. Sure. And so we were creating what we believe to be right listening to the marketplace as much as we could, but it was, it was rough. Some moments, you’re sitting there going, am I just the dumbest person in the world. But then you knew we knew we were adding value, we knew we were helping, we knew we were lifting up. And I knew that this is where the industry is going. I mean, we’ve talked about this off here a lot, oh, my gosh, where our industry is going, you must be advising. Now. That’s how I chose to advise. But a lot of people will do advisory live and stuff like that. So I can tell you all kinds of terrible stories..
Dawn Brolin 12:12
Well, I’m sure but but really, at the end of the day, okay. So the successes don’t necessarily happen through the journey. And the because the journey always has the bumps and bumps and bruises. And you know, you get your butt kicked and stuff like that. So because a lot of listeners, we talk about advisory all the time, right? So it’s advisory advisory, you’re like, well, what the heck is that? Really? So So can you out for me? Can you dumb it down for me to say, these are the types of things, pick a client and say, This is what we do from an advisory perspective for this client. So any client, you think you’re not to mention their names and like that? Or if they have a family? We don’t care about that. But just what do you what is your process? So I come to you? And I’m like, Shawn, I’ve got this business, and I need help. What do you what do you say? What do you do?
Sean Duncan 12:57
We start with a lot of fact finding, we got to find out who you are, because what your pain is different than somebody else’s pain. So we’re still listening and customizing. We have a standard pricing model and methodology because the more the more you standardize it, the simpler it is, I understand. But I gotta know what you need. Because I actually may walk out of that meeting and say, You don’t need me, you’re good. You know, we’re giving you two pieces of advice that go with the challenge. And this is really the hurdle we run across a lot advisors and and I’ve had, I’ve actually had people stop me at scaling and engage in other conferences, and say, How do you know what to tell somebody? I will say this to the audience. Y’all are really smart people. You know what you’re doing, you know how the entities your work, you know how the books work, you know how to do tax savings, you know, that mileage is a tax deduction. I know that sounds rudimentary. But clients don’t know that true. And so it could be just as simple as scanning the tax return and going to did you know, you can write off your cell phone, boom, there’s $1,000 tax deduction. It’s the simple stuff that we take for granted, the client in the public doesn’t know. So actually honestly start there. We look at what’s going on and going, Okay, let me hit the low hanging fruit that creates an immediate value. And then if I’ve got to look at something more complex, I go into kind of the arsenal of whatever I’ve got in my head and I start analyzing entity formation, or do you have a will we do full estate planning? So it gets into even more elaborate if we need to? What does Dawn need what is Don’s pain? And this really comes back to the heart of it is what is success for you will almost always ask, What do you define success to be is what your success is, is what we should be working toward? Not some contraption that I come up with. I’ve had plenty of clients that like they just want scoreboard, I want to make as much money as possible. Sure, cool. Nothing wrong with that. I want to take as many vacations as possible. It’s a different model. And so we’re listening to how we can create the solutions and honestly, you just help. If you go in and help. Yeah, you’re making them better. You’re adding value. Congratulations, you’re an advisor and you’d be shocked. The things that a client will value would be the stuff you’re like, well, that one was obvious, right? Wait, wait, so I can I can write off that conferences. business expense. Yeah. That’s why you went right. But if so, so is all the alcohol the conference, okay, that might be maybe sorta oh, what kind of conference was it?
Dawn Brolin 15:18
It depends on how much you…no…we will get into those things but, another thing too that I find interesting. And a great maybe a good example is 2021 and 2022 meals and entertainment well, meals no more meals are 100% deduction. How many of you that are listening right now have told your clients? Hey, guess what, go spend money at the local restaurant because it’s 100% deduction? Yep. Like that’s, that is advisor. That’s advisory services right there. If I’ve ever heard of it!
Sean Duncan 15:45
Or just telling what the new tax laws are. We don’t know what the new tax laws are. But you have an inkling? Sure. That’s proactive. Okay, by the way, you guys are I have lots of real estate clients. I have a lot of position clients. Hey, real estate client? Did you know the 1031 exchange is possibly at risk? Yeah, maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But if you’re giving them the heads up, they can start thinking it and they’re telling their friend Oh my gosh, my CPA or EA told me this. And if it doesn’t pass, you celebrate the victory and say, Hooray, we don’t have to worry about it. But if it does happen, they knew it. And they’re not feeling like they’re blindsided. So sometimes you’re you’re telling them information you don’t even know. You’re there to share and help. And that’s what and honestly, that’s where I get a little selfish is I love helping. I love that fulfillment. I know you guys do to everybody. The accounting profession is full of people that are people pleasers, and they want to help and you said this in your session. We want to help people be better. Yeah. And if you just have this information in your head, and you’re not sharing it, it doesn’t do anyone any good.
Dawn Brolin 16:40
Well, I think part of it too, is that what we’re doing is we’re getting, we’re getting them what they need a tax return, we’re getting them what they need their books reconcile, we’re getting them what they need. But with those things are not giving them that vision that they need to plan ahead and be ready for what’s happening in the future, not behind you. And so I want to transition a little bit to of course, we’re sitting in the ADP booth, because we love ADP. And so you know, one of the great parts about ADP is their accountant Connect portal, because your talent your set, we’re gonna we’re talking about how can you advise your clients? What tools can we use simple tools to advise our clients, reasonable compensation, you know, go Google that there’s a billion different ways you could go, there’s no definition. It’s just like, what? And so, you know, ADP gives us that information through accountant connect. And I mean, personally, accountant Connect is turning into an advisory hub, it really is. It’s amazing. I mean, between between what they already have in benchmarking industries, you know, in various industry reports, and now the strategic partnerships that they’re doing with Gerard and, and biz equity and things like that, where they’re, hey, listen, guys, we’re opening our API to give the information to these third party vendors, if you will, because we’re all playing in the same sandbox. So if you’re sitting here, you’re listening, you’re like, Well, you know, everybody talks about advisory advisory advisor, I don’t know how I can start with advisory, how do I do that? You know, what you could take step one, take one client that you currently service, and start to do more than reconciling, do more than on, you know, a tax return, or whatever, and say, You know what, I’m going to take this client to the full end of the earth. And I’m going to actually start advising, it doesn’t have to be, we don’t have to go so extreme, as Sean did immediately, and I’m selling tax, and I’m going over here, and but you know, what you can start with the clients you already have. But you’ve got to have access, the key is you have to have access to the tools that give you that information to be able to advise. So if you’re out there, and you’re like, oh, yeah, I’m logging into five different payroll services. And so I’d have to gather that information to be able to give insights, well, you know, you might want to think twice, right? And that’s a one example. But, you know, I think for people to get started, is that a good start? Is that a good suggestion?
Sean Duncan 18:58
And actually was really funny, I didn’t tell you this earlier. I just realized that here at Scaling, I’ve had no less than three different CPAs come up to me from prior conferences and thanked me about the advice and tips I gave them on the change how it changed their business in their lives. And I’m like, I this was the stand aside of the booth. And we’re chit chatting, right? Love that. It doesn’t have to be big. And this is really, really, really important. Okay, so let me roll back to advisory. What is advisory and you can be this intimidating umbrella of the universe of I got to get their entities, right. And I’ve got to tell them the right technology, and I got to tell them apps stop. When you do a tax return. Do you stop for five minutes and go? Is there anything else I see they can do here? That’s advisory. Now some of you do that. Some of you don’t. We all know plenty of practitioners that just go and throw it out. And they say, Well, if there’s a did you miss something? It was like they didn’t give me the form. So I don’t know. Well, that’s not who we want to be. Pause, look and go. Do you want to do a retirement account? Hey, did you have mileage just Take a moment. That’s the incubator for an advisory. Then when you go, you know what, guys, it’s been two and a half years now and you still have never done a retirement account or you’ve never written off a vehicle or you’ve never done the Augusta rule or whatever you want to say whatever you think. Tell them how they can do that this year, you switched it to Proactiv. You know, great software, you hate that software, you love this software, and you tell them why you’ve advised them on software, you have all this wonderful insight, just start telling them, just start finding a way to help them now if you bill by the hour, it’s really easy. You set a meeting, you discuss it, you build, we do a fixed fee service, we do a subscription service, and we do project stuff. So we have a different pricing model, but it’s whatever fits what you’re trying to accomplish. And I would then say before you go completely nuts and try to give all the advice and Accountant Connect is amazing. The tools that are out there, you don’t have to even use a tool. Now we do we love going into accountant connect and noodling up a number and saying, Hey, all this metric. But it’s, it’s just using knowledge and sharing it with your client to start with. And then as you get going, and this is extremely important. You talked about this in your session is who’s a good client? What’s Who are you trying to help? And Who you trying to serve? If you want to help everyone, you’re really helping No one. Who are you best suited for? Do you happen to have accidentally have a ton of knowledge in trucking? Go help truckers, it’s Who do you want to help? You know, I really like beer. So I think I want to help some breweries. Breweries man, great. I love helping physicians. I love I know what the impact they make in other people’s lives, how many lives they literally save how hard they work, they make good earnings. So don’t get me wrong, it’s still there’s a business model. But it’s if I help a physician be more successful, they can be in practice longer, which then can help other people. And it has this extrapolation effect. So we’re working on building a model where we can coach and teach CPAs this business advisory, not there yet, hold tight. But we’re trying to we’re trying to build our procedure manual in a way that we can give it to a CPA and help them and my theory is and this is my big angle version. If I help one CPA in my career, started advising all of their clients. How many clients that guy have look at that report? 300? Yeah, I helped 300 families by helping one CPA. Absolutely. That comes back to my mission. My mission is, if and you we’ve talked about this before, if I’m at work, it has to matter. What’s my barometer of matter? If I’m not with my wife, and kids, it pet her freaking count. Yes. And so if I can go in and help, that’s why I speak that’s why I go on stage, I can help 500 people, it’s not because look at me, it’s right. I’m in a room and I can help 500 people in one shot. That’s impactful in my work matters.
Dawn Brolin 22:50
That’s world changing. You know, at the end of the day, that ripple effect goes hard.
Sean Duncan 22:53
Oh, yeah. And you could be you stood up in front of the room ago, did you know short term rentals are actually considered active income? Wait, what I thought rentals were passive, not subject to the passive loss rules. Did you know that? Did you not know that? Guess what, you know what? Now, you can use that to tell someone. And it’s this constant little cycle of learning. And it’s again, I get excited about it. Because every time I learn a little gem of something, I’m thinking about who needs to know that it’s advisory. That’s all it is. It’s not it’s not this massive project. Just start helping people. And you were an advisor. Congratulations, you’ve graduated to advisory because he gave somebody suggestions.
Dawn Brolin 23:31
Sean Duncan 23:32
Dawn Brolin 23:33
Advisory, I think came from the word advice.
Sean Duncan 23:36
I believe it’s from its Latin roots of ad-vice…
Dawn Brolin 23:38
Advice. That’s the that’s the acronym for the whatever. So anyway, yeah. So So with that, too, I would imagine what’s really nice being able to do the adviser people, putting clients in the best position you can help them be in. And for us, we were at people, it’s all good. Doesn’t matter. But for us, I mean, I don’t know about you, we’ll just talk for a hot second about rev share. But I don’t know about you, Shawn. But listen, number one, I don’t want to deal with payroll. Some of you that are listening, love to do your own payroll, you’ve got your own payroll service going and you love it. And, and I love that you love it. And that’s fine. But for people who are more driven on that advisory work, or, you know, just want to ship their business, and I’ve talked to some people here who are I don’t want apparel anymore. Great. I look at it that listen. I’ll refer clients to them. I would still want my hands on it. I want my eyes on it still, but I don’t want to do the actual technical work of the payroll. Not only that, but ADP will pay me to bring them clients and customers. Now for me. I love that because when a client calls me and says or sends me Hey, Brolin, I got a notice from the Connecticut Department of Labor which by the way is so freakin far behind in the filing I chugged my choke them out. And so I get the notices from Canada. I get it from my own payroll, but I go in and I go and enter that service requests. But when I do it for a client, I don’t charge them for that. Right? It’s not it’s not that’s not a value added service to deal with that. So ADP pays me referral fee for for bringing them business and that covers any of that extra work I may need to do. And it also can help you buy a boat! I don’t know if you knew that.
Sean Duncan 25:19
Apparently it is!
Dawn Brolin 25:20
It’s an alleged thing!
Sean Duncan 25:21
A little extra money seems to be available to use for whatever you choose to do.
Dawn Brolin 25:25
Whatever you’re just it’s so weird, like, I don’t know.
I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Feel free to visit DawnBrolin.com in order to motivate you to improve your practice. Wishing you all the best. Have a great day.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai