Katie Lilly, Owner, and President of Lillyfield Accounting Solutions has grown her bookkeeping firm from herself to a band of seven in under two years. One of her powerful secrets is knowing where to get highly qualified referrals.

Well, today, she will pull back the curtain on how she’s grown so fast (and expanding soon).

In this episode of the Growing Your Firm Podcast, David Cristello and Katie Lilly dive into:

  • How Katie Lilly made the jump from self-employed bookkeeper to full-blown firm owner
  • Katie’s unheard of strategy to find the best bookkeepers to work in her firm
  • The #1 place to locate highly qualified referrals


From Self-Employed Bookkeeper to Firm Owner: 

Katie Lilly, once a sole practitioner, found herself overrun in her Tallahassee, Florida. She was overrun with more and more clients. Katie loves doing ‘clean-up’ work for businesses, meaning she gets client’s books ready for tax returns.

She couldn’t do all the work alone. She raised three kids and found her time was stretched with her current client base. Her work was consistent each month and systematized. Katie had it done but realized she needed to grow or businesses couldn’t get the help they needed.

But that wasn’t the biggest reason she made the shift to firm owner.

She read “E-MYTH REVISITED” by Michael Gerber. In that book, Katie read that if she kept up her current workload, she’d burn out. Instead, in the book, it recommends working “on” your business and not “in” the business. Katie needed to find bookkeepers to take the day-to-day work off her plate.

That’s when she hired her first bookkeeper.

The Unique Way to Find Top-Notch Bookkeepers:

Katie’s bookkeeping team (now six working under her) work on maintaining clients’ books. They all work from home and interestingly only work 30 hours max per week. Katie believes in family-time and doesn’t want to be like other firms who tout ‘family-friendly’ firm only for the employees to work 70-80 hour weeks.
She also caters the work around what the bookkeeper wants and not vice versa.

The ideal client for her firm is a service-based business. (no retail or contractors). The firm has tiny clients and large ones. Bookkeepers get to choose their own adventure in terms of workload and time commitment. It’s one of the most flexible firms I’ve ever heard of.

But that’s not what’s the most unique thing surprisingly. The most unique thing is how Katie hires new bookkeepers. According to her, hiring is actually ongoing. Interviews happen at any time even if there is no position open.

Whenever Katie hears about someone who is organized, detail-orientated and interested in accounting, she introduces herself and gauges interest. Again, there might not be a job open but if the person keeps in touch with Katie, she knows they are truly interested.

To get them tested as a suitable member of the team, she then gives them a trial run of work.

DAVID’S TIP:If you give a trial project, make sure the project is as close to the work they’d be doing on a regular basis as a member of the team. That gives you a full picture of their skills with no gray area.

As part of her commitment to following Michael Gerber’s advice, recently she promoted one of her bookkeepers to “Quickbooks Manager.” This person is now doing the managerial reviews of the books that Katie used to do. This frees Katie up to do other things.

Being the owner, she makes it a point to touch base with each team member at least monthly. She also has monthly calls with her new QB manager and the business manager to go through ‘big picture’ projects and the future. Finally, around 3X per year, the entire team meets together in one place for 4-5 hours. They typically go through some training, have lunch and catch up on firm business.

Her most recent training ties into her secret strategy to bringing in highly qualified referrals. That’s what we will go into now.

How to Bring in Highly Qualified Referrals into Your Bookkeeping Firm: 

Back to her recent training. Their last one focused on the “Chart of Accounts” in Quickbooks. As it turned out, each of the bookkeepers used different terms for different items on the P&L and Balance Sheet. This would cause coding inconsistencies.

So, in their latest meeting, the entire team will go through each line item and classify each. It will bring up the best practices for each bookkeeper to follow.
Here’s the kicker — they will align the Chart of Accounts as close to a Schedule C on the tax return as possible. 

This makes it much, much easier for the tax accountant doing the tax return to file the return. Katie and her team do this so well, they are getting referrals from tax accountants hand over fist. They love the work Lillyfield Solutions does because they keep the tax accountant top of mind. 

What an easy source of highly qualified referrals for your bookkeeping firm! Keep the potential referrers top of mind and if you make another business’ life easier, that’s a win-win that will pay dividends.

Due to this growth and the referrals, Katie expects to grow her firm out of her Tallahassee town and into the Panhandle of Florida.

Right now she admits she only spends about 7% of her time on business development. It’s recommended for the partners to spend around 60%. Katie is pushing to get more ‘high level’ in the firm and out of the weeds as Michael Gerber recommends.

The big thing holding her back === FEAR. The fear her oldest and most reliable clients will buck this new trend and not want to work with another bookkeeper in her firm. However, Katie realizes if she wants to make the complete shift from ‘freelance bookkeeper’ to ‘firm owner’, she’ll need to make that shift.

If you have any questions, want to thank Katie or offer your thoughts, email her at katie @ lillyfieldsolutions.com



  1. How to Ask a Client for Referrals (Without Feeling Uncomfortable)

  2. 2 simple techniques to get more referrals for accountants and bookkeepers

  3. Creating Smart Referrals Systems for Your Firm

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