Mike Widdis, Founder and Partner of UpSide Accounting, found himself in construction when his mother, a self-employed bookkeeper, desperately needed help offering great service to businesses. From there, Mike saw the opportunity to build and start an accounting firm from scratch.

This was in 2012, and now Mike merged his firm with another small firm and continues to grow staff and revenues.

In this episode of Growing Your Firm Podcast, David Cristello and Mike Widdis discuss:

  1. How Mike found his first clients without any connections
  2. Growing your firm through merging firms
  3. What Mike sees as the future in the accounting industry

Disclosure: Mike is a customer of Jetpack Workflow. You can setup your own, 14 Day Free Trial (full features) here



How to start an accounting firm from scratch summary

Building An Accounting Firm From Scratch

Mike Widdis broke out of the construction industry to set up an accounting firm starting from his kitchen table. His mother was a successful self-employed bookkeeper for multiple years. Her workload filled up quickly as more and more business owners struggled with their taxes and books year-in and year-out.

A lightbulb turned on in Mike’s head — an opportunity to build his own company. He had read the popular entrepreneurship book, “Rich Dad Poor Dad“. The inspiration that starting a business creates a better life pushed Mike to open UpSide Accounting.

Finding His First Clients:

As with any new entrepreneur, the first question that creeps up: “Where do I get my clients?”
Those first couple of years as a business owner can be stressful. Mike felt the same nervous feelings in his guts as most entrepreneurs, after all, he needed money to pay his personal bills.

Mike took the first steps by joining an entrepreneur network. To better integrate, he also rented an office space to meet the other startups and creatives who also gather there. After plugging away in the group, the owner of the space became one of Mike’s first clients and advocate to other business owners.

The first seeds of his firm sprouted as his first few clients in this entrepreneur network spread the word. Even today, Mike still enjoys working most with startups and creatives as the first stages of a new business are the most exciting.

On top of that, Mike attended regular conferences and events from associations, such as the Professional Bookkeeping Association.

It’s all about the people you meet and opportunities will come your way.”

– Mike Widdis

Through networking and conferences, Mike built an influence circle where referrals develop. At a conference, he actually met one of his team members who works with UpSide as a full-time employee.

Merging With Another Firm In Order To Grow:

At a networking event, Mike bumped into Phil McTaggart. Phil, like Mike, trotted out on his own after working in various financial roles. He had started it as a side-job, and in 2015, went full-time. He was looking for clients as was Mike.

After many great discussions, Mike had another lightbulb moment. Why not merge the two firms and create a large firm?

Mike’s firm didn’t dwarf Phil’s firm as they were similar sizes. To keep everything simple and amicable, they both agreed to a 50/50 split.

Right away, Mike’s firm doubled. They decided to keep Mike’s brand, UpSide Accounting, and the firm continued to grow in its fourth year. As the firm boosted their client size, the looming need for employees crept in.

Mike, as stated, then met a current employee at a conference. It all started with a random sit-down at a table and a conversation. A major problem with any new hire comes from the catch-22:

  • Hire slow when you don’t have the cash or clients
  • Wait until you have clients but need to hire fast

Mike already felt the sting of losing a team member to a larger firm due to compensation reasons. But, he understands that he learns from these experiences.
The other side of the coin is uncovering the right candidates. Networking and conferences proved helpful for Mike. What might work for your firm?

DAVID’S TIP: Ask everyone you know “Who do you know?” Even ask in the unlikeliest places, people such as your Quickbooks Intuit rep — “Who do you know?” You never know where your next great employee may come from.

Mike and Phil meet each month to go over various client and firm questions. These partner meetings are a critical foundation piece for these hiring decisions and growth strategies.

Future of Accounting Firms:

As technology continues to grow, many firm owners might not think any changes will come. Mike believes differently.

Data entry and coding will definitely get automated by robots, Mike says, but there will always be a need for someone to monitor and advise the financial side.

Robots cannot take that away.

Many startup business owners and creatives will not want to do this, so Mike thinks his firm will always have a great core client base — his ideal clients!

If you had to start all over, how would you build or start your accounting firm from scratch?

Disclosure: Mike is a customer of Jetpack Workflow. You can setup your own, 14 Day Free Trial (full features) here

Related Articles:

  1. The Accounting Firm’s Blueprint to Creating A World-Class Team (Without Recruiting)
  2. Automate Your Accounting Firm to 1500% Growth with Heather Pranitis
  3. Create A Tech Ecosystem And Implement New Accounting Applications

See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.
Rowboat teamwork

We’ve talked about how to hire accountants and accounting staff and how challenging it can be. But the often ignored, yet critical step to success, is how these new team members are on boarded.


In this article, we’ll discuss 5 steps to remember when on boarding a new team member.

Step 1: How they will be measured

First things first, the new team member needs to know how they will be measured. Too often we say “do an exceptional job”, but never outline what that means. This is where target metrics and value communication is important. Ideally these should also be mentioned during your recruiting phase as well, but if not, be sure to mention them to the new team member.

Here are two critical points to remember

  • Does the new team member understand the company values (and example of how they’re used during work?). For example, if a company value is “go above and beyond”, do you have a story to share of someone on the team doing that?
  • Target metrics: What are the core metrics you measure your firm success by? For some accounting firms, that’s profitability. For others, that might be month over month growth. Or turn around time for your workflow. Does your new hire understand these metrics, and the goals they’re expected to reach?

Step 2: Communication Expectations

When setting up a new team member, you must communicate how the team communicates. Is it ok to “pop in” to an office. Is email preferred? Or a chat tool? Or a phone call? Or request a meeting for bigger questions?

Here are common communication expectations they need to be set:

  • When you have a question
  • When you see something broken
  • Contributing to the team

Step 3: Meeting Cadence

Meetings are a core part of your firm or practice, but are these “surprises” for new hires, or did they have an overview of the meeting cadence, as well as what is expected during those meetings?

For example, daily stand ups are supposed to be quick, 1-2 minute updates. Weekly 1-1’s are 30 minute meetings, where they get 10-15 minutes to talk about anything on their mind. Monthly meetings are metric and goal based, to see how the team is doing from targeted vs actual. This high level meeting expectation (and cadence) should be communicated upon the new hire coming on board

Example of meetings to communicate:

  • Daily Huddles / check ins
  • Weekly 1-1’s
  • Monthly Metric and team meeting

Step 4: Education:

While this is a step 5, this is a very common mistake firm owners make as they onboard a staff or team member. There is little to no education. The owner is busy, the team is busy, and the team member is set to “sink or swim”. For the majority of new hires, that means they sink. And them sinking costs your firm significant time and money.

You need to have a process to educate the new hire on your way of doing business. This is as simple as answering the phone, emails, or connecting with a client, to completing monthly books or yearly returns. Clearly we’re biased, but having a written checklist and/or process to complete work is critical, and housing it inside a workflow software for your accounting firm is needed to properly scale your firm.

For education, here’s a common framework that helps with larger, service based items.

Process for on boarding new hire (especially if they’re inexperienced)

  • I do, you watch
  • I do, you help
  • You do, I help
  • You do, I watch

Step 5: Understanding and having Frequently Ask Questions (FAQ) documented

Finally, remember to list a resource where team members can do to access common (but critical) questions they need answered.  These are often overlooked questions that, when not centrally located, comes up as another distraction during your day. You want to free up your time so you can focus on the places where you add value, not admin roles and simply Q&A. As such, grab a google doc or put in your process software a place where your team can answer common questions such as:

  • Payments & Paychecks
  • Common tools we use (and training for them)
  • Benefits, insurance, PTO
  • Company Holiday’s
  • 1 pager for mission, vision, and values
  • 1 pager on how to pitch the firm

Remembering these 5 points can be the difference between a success hire and one that leaves after 90 days (and costing your firm tens of thousands of dollars in lost time and opportunity).

Are you setting up new team members in Jetpack? Be sure to connect with your workflow specialist to access your team training programs! 

See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.

Richard Clayman, Founder of Cloudwalker Videoworks, found using video is the fastest way to get a prospect to trust you and get your messaging right.
Building a career in the movie industry, Richard discovered a simple, but effective way to stand out from the competition.

In this episode of Growing Your Firm Podcast, David Cristello and Richard Clayman dig into:

  • What a prospect is actually thinking when they first find your business
  • The fastest way to get a prospect to trust you and want to work with you
  • Ideas to make your accounting firm different than the one down the street


Building a unique company:

Richard Clayman, Founder at Cloudwalker Videoworks, specializes in helping accounting firms and other companies get their messaging right through compelling corporate videos.

He started off with doing Los Angeles Rams games (before they moved to St. Louis) when he was just 21. Immediately, he was struck by the power of production and video.

Still in his mid-20s, he became head of production for a company and got to work with all the top networks. He oversaw classic shows such as: “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Facts of Life,” and many more. As the years progressed, he produced for a variety of companies and wrote scripts for theater and film.

On the side, he ran acting workshops and did acting himself. One rehearsal, he played a lawyer, a role he felt confident he nailed. As he strutted onstage, the director stopped the rehearsal and told Richard essentially, “Your non-verbal communication isn’t projecting your character correctly.”

He couldn’t just “be a lawyer.” He needed to be an individual who happened to be a lawyer.

The light bulb flickered and Richard formed the idea to create a video production company for corporate professionals.

What a prospect first thinks when they hit your firm’s site:

The idea for Cloudwalker Videoworks was important because you, as an individual, must garner trust before you can become a professional to the prospect.

We are all in the attention business” — Richard Clayman

Richard worked in movies which is all about attention (hence, the crazy, thrilling trailers). Although not coming from a suit and tie corporate-type environment, Richard knew he was better than others at creating interesting videos.

Coupled with his script-writing abilities, he could grab attention with videos he creates for businesses.

A client first hits your site because you grabbed their attention, the next step is to build trust. When a prospect first encounters your business, they aren’t thinking about

What services do you have?” That comes second.

First, they think “Can I trust this company to help me in the best way possible?” The WHO is more important than the WHAT.

Are they tough enough to tell me the good and bad? Are they human enough for me?”

That’s why they say “first impressions are everything.” You must project trust. But, that’s only one piece of it.

To build trust, you must be an individual, and that’s the fastest way to starting a conversation.

The fastest way to build trust:

Clients don’t want to work with the smartest people, necessarily. They would rather work with someone who they feel is a trustworthy HUMAN. When a prospect evaluates an accounting firm, they will most likely sign with the firm who has the staff the client best gets along with and relates.

This is why Richard created his company. He found too many accounting and firm professionals who wished to just project a “professional” image. Well, everyone projects themselves, most of the time, as a “professional.”

If you want to build trust, you need to differentiate yourself from the preconceived notion already going on in a prospect’s mind. A prospect expects an accountant to be a dry, numbers driven, person. They expect a lawyer to be fast-talking and opinionated. A car salesmen to be pushy and not a good listener.

When you present yourself as a human, an individual with your own likes and dislikes, a prospect will be attracted to you.

It all boils down to self-awareness. “How does a client see you?” Are you merely an accountant? Or, do you have other pieces to you?


Richard had a lawyer client. Most lawyer videos talk about “closing the case, getting it done, etc.” Those are standard, but the client needed to differentiate himself.

The lawyer projected a “normal lawyer” — clean cut, very intelligent — but, to differentiate himself, the video starts with him talking about gardening with his daughter in his spare time.

Suddenly, he isn’t in the “standard lawyer” pile anymore. He’s the intelligent lawyer who loves gardening with his daughter. He’s now become a real human.

Being a professional remains important, just add more to yourself on top of that.

Ideas to make your accounting firm different

We talked already about how you can’t just act the stereotype of your profession. You need to be different.

Clients need to feel comfortable with you to open up their personal life and struggles (including their finances), when you come across as more human and a “suit,” it changes the dynamic of the relationship.

Start with making your office your own personal “portrait” of your life. Put up things you like to do, pictures of your favorite movies, sports teams, etc. This makes the client more comfortable. Also, it makes the accountant feel more at home while at work.

On top of that, make sure you understand the lives of your clients. Answer the “unarticulated questions” they have in their mind. For example, when you walk on a car lot, you’re thinking to yourself “I want to walk off this lot with a car under budget, but I really want.” Every question you then ask is around this thought process. If a car salesmen addresses these two pieces to you, you feel more comfortable.

Assess who you are and what is true for you and reinforce that over and over. Look at the counter-balance — how are you different than the accounting professional down the street? You do the same tasks, sure, you do them better, but that’s not what the client wants as much as someone they trust and see as an individual.

How are you different and portray that to your clients?

Related Articles:

  1. How To Make The Switch From Employee To CPA Firm Owner
  2. The Core Elements of an Accounting Client Lifecycle
  3. What is the Trusted Business Adviser Mindset for Accounting Firms

See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.

Greg and Jessica Daley built their accounting firm, Xcelerate Business Solutions, while they needed to scrap together $10,000 to adopt a new child. Their revolutionary use of contractors under “results-based compensation” will change how firms pay their workers.

Their practice has been called a “Firm of the Future” by Intuit.

They’ve found a unique way and win-win for contractors and firm owners to build a better, healthier, faster-growing firm where everyone is motivated.

In this episode of Grow Your Firm Podcast, David Cristello and Greg and Jessica Daley discuss:

  • The way results-based compensation works
  • How to make contractors and employees highly motivated to grow the firm
  • Building a virtual team and helping them mesh even when they’re all over the world


Building a practice out of a need:

Greg and Jessica Daley worked regular jobs and had a beautiful 6-year old to round off a great family. They decided it was time to expand their family and sought to adopt.

The problem?

It cost $10,000…Money that wasn’t easy to come by back in 2011.

Jessica was an employed accountant at the time and decided, like any “kitchen table entrepreneur,” to start an accounting firm from her house. It was how they were going to hit their $10,000 goal.

At first, she ran a simple, hourly-based bookkeeping practice, and quickly hit their $10,000 goal. They kept going.

As a full-time, employed accountant, she had to travel to various clients and it cost her time and efficiency. She wanted to be there for her 6-year old and newly adopted one.

When she opened up her practice, her sole focus was building a business around her, a “Full-time Mom.”

Her first clients was her church. There, she received referrals and got leads through the ProAdvisor site at Intuit.

In 2011, they had 2 large clients. By 2012 + 2013, they had bolstered their roster to around 12 clients. Today, they continue to multiply each quarter thanks to their team and the focus on efficiency.”

Unique hiring that worked:

As Greg and Jessica mulled over how they could expand without having to get an office like a normal, same-old firm, they thought about the reason they built the firm again — help their family.

The light bulb flickered and they decided to work with a virtual team comprised of other “Stay-at-home Moms who need the flexibility of time but able to put in the work.” Great contractors not bound by a rigid schedule, because of their scrambled schedules.

They hired two ladies after a couple years, and the practice grew.

At this point, Greg and Jessica came to the conclusion:

If we keep doing hourly pricing, our payroll is all over the place, plus, in order to grow, we would need to hire more and more.

To combat this, they started with value-based billing for clients. This allowed them to have predictable revenue.We had to be willing to lose clients…” in order to be more efficient in the practice. Efficiency was the key.

They held onto all their clients even with the radical shift. Now, they needed to reign in on the erratic payroll. With hourly compensation, it posed two problems:

  • They couldn’t budget compensation as it could go up and down depending on the time of year.
  • The workers, as they became more efficient, would get paid less and probably quit. They would have the temptation to “take their time,” with the work in order to increase their billable hours.

That’s when “Results-based compensation” was born.

How it works:

The clients pay a flat-fee per month (based on value billing), and each “Accounting Specialist” [(as the bookkeepers are known internally) get a piece of that fee based on their work.

As the Accounting Specialists got more efficient and found better apps, they could dramatically boost their hourly rates.

It works like this:

  • Greg and Jessica determine “The client work should take X amount of time/effort. We are charging the client $X per month. With the time allocation, the Accounting Specialist gets XX% of that revenue per month.”
  • The Accounting Specialist keeps their time in TSheets not for billing but to make sure Greg and Jessica estimated the workload correctly. They are happy to adjust if there’s a major discrepancy and compensate the Specialist more if the bid was way under.
  • As the Specialist gets more efficiency, they can open up their capacity to take on more clients and thus getting more work.


If Xcelerate charges Client ABC $1000 per month for work. Xcelerate estimates it will take a Specialist 20 hours per month. Xcelerate calculates at $15 per hour, the Specialist will get compensated $300 for their work.

If the Specialist gets more efficient and does the work in 10 hours, they will still get $300. The 10 hours they saved can then be invested in a new client where they can make another $300 on a client, and so on.

Why Results-Based Compensation works:

For many, this might sound like a hybrid hourly and salary based compensation, and they could be right. It takes out the worst in both.
Hourly — If you get more efficient, you lose money because it takes less time.
Salary — As you take on more work, you don’t get paid anymore.

Results-based compensation solves this. In addition, Greg and Jessica added a “profit-sharing” element to the picture. As Specialists get better, they can take advantage of the profits they create and see bonuses. Even though they are contractors, Greg and Jessica see them as “stakeholders.”

As the Specialists gain more efficiency and make more money, they are motivated to continue to get better. With salaried work, “you get paid regardless of how you did that month.” With Results-based compensation, if you start slacking off, your pay drops.

It keeps workers motivated to grow, learn and help the firm.

Better virtual teams:

As all their contractors work remote, it can get tough to build a cohesive group. Working virtual is becoming more and more common and accepted, but the growing pains still exist.

Greg and Jessica set up monthly calls with all the Specialists. It’s not for a “meeting” but pure discussion. New topics, problems, points of interest, ideas, and more are all available to tackle.

They’ve instituted “Accounting Specialist Leads” to peel off some of the review work and compliance from Greg and Jessica and put on other Specialists. This allows them to interact and learn together plus solve issues. This build a closer team.

Greg and Jessica want to help YOU:

Greg and Jessica built their firm learning from other owners who spent years building their practice. It wasn’t easy and some firm owners even shut the door in their faces when they simply asked for some advice.

They live their motto in the business “Helping Families Thrive,” and they do this by giving their time to firm owners like you and giving their time and money (when they pay-out profit sharing percentages, they match the percentages given and donate that piece to charity).

They are happy to talk to you and give you help as you grow your practice. Greg and Jessica believe your business should center on creating a better life for you. To do that, you need to work ON your business and not IN your business.

They received these tips and much more from one book…”Making Money is Killing Your Business” by Chuck Blakeman.

Will you try results-based compensation in your firm? Let us know in the comments.

Related Articles:

  1. How to Start an Accounting Firm From Scratch
  2. How can I communicate the ‘advisor’ to my accounting clients?
  3. The Core Elements of an Accounting Client Lifecycle

See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.
Implementing Workflow Software by Jody Padar, Radical CPA

Transitioning to Workflow (from someone who doesn’t keep time, track time or bill for time and never will again)

Workflow is the most underutilized software in the accounting world and part of it is due to traditional firm management by timesheet.

Now even though I hate timesheets and believe you do not need them to run a successful firm, what I do think is missing from most practice management is workflow software.

Time and billing is not workflow software.

Too many firms believe that is all they need to run a successful firm.


Workflow software will give you much better insight into the actual work that’s getting done in your firm.

Don’t worry. This post isn’t going to be about killing the timesheet. We can save that for another day.

Instead, I want to focus on managing without a timesheet or with one for extraneous information, if you absolutely won’t trash it.

One of the most important firm management tools then becomes workflow software.

At my firm, New Vision CPA Group, we have been on the path to find the perfect workflow software for almost 10 years and have tried many of the different products out there. I’m sure many of them have evolved since we have tried and shelved them, just because the world has evolved as well.

But why is workflow so important to a firm that doesn’t track time?

Simply put, because it tracks work.

It tells you where everything is, at any given moment.

Hello, management of work…not time. Isn’t that what our focus should be on?

Well, that and deadlines.

Add in a remote worker and now you can actually run a firm based on outputs, not time spent.

In the old days, you could walk around the office and see who had the biggest pile of files on their desk or floor. Today workflow software gives me the exact same insight without being a helicoptering managing partner.

Believe me, my team really appreciates this.

Now, I can do it just as discreetly like when you used to snoop around after your team members went home. I can see exactly where the piles are collecting and the bottlenecks are happening. And I can follow-up appropriately – especially when this person is a remote worker.

All a timesheet does is tell the partner the team member who spent too much time on a task, it doesn’t highlight what they are currently working on or what’s on their plate to finish. This is why firms need to adopt workflow software.

We currently use CCH Axcess Workstream for tax workflow management, and Jetpack Workflow for pretty much everything else: bookkeeping, quarterly reviews, and payroll. We chose to keep our tax workflow connected to our tax returns because in suite connectedness to prep, review, and e-file is important to me. However, we needed an additional solution for everything else and Jetpack fit those needs well.

The transition to utilizing workflow software is a fairly easy learning curve.

Think about it: it’s makes sense.

However, setup is critical to get the most out of your software. But more on that later. In the meantime, if you are looking for a better way to manage a firm and possibly getting rid of your timesheet, pick a workflow product to support managing work, not time. You’ll be better off in the long run.

Not yet a Jetpack user? Start your free trial here

See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.
Integrations tab screenshot

This week we’re excited to announce our integration with Outlook.com and Google calendar!

You can now pull in Outlook.com or google calendar events into Jetpack Workflow.

This is powerful in a few ways:

  • You can now have a 360 view of your upcoming week, all appointments, tasks, and jobs
  • If you schedule a time for a networking event, lunch, coffee, prospecting meeting (anything), you can pull that into Jetpack Workflow, then create a workflow using the templates to make sure you follow up with them appropriately
  • If you use a calendar scheduling tool like Calendly, Scheduleonce, Acuity, etc., any event that a client or a prospect books through that portal will auto pull into your Jetpack Workflow calendar
  • For Google Calendar users, you can click into the event to change the date or time, and move back into Jetpack’s calendar (unfortunately Outlook.com did not give us permission to have this functionality)

You can add your calendar by hovering over your name, and clicking “Settings”, then clicking “Integrations”.



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See Jetpack Worflow In Action

Get under the hood of Jetpack Workflow’s accounting workflow and project management platform. See some of the top features and how it helps your firm standardize, automate, and track client work more efficiently.