How To Create a Sellable Accounting Firm: The Sandi Holst Interview
We are excited to release our interview with Sandi Holst, the President of Fiscal Integrity Group. In this interview, we dive into how to gain clients rapidly through referrals and how to create an instant “WOW” factor that allows you to create a sellable accounting firm.
In this interview, we chat with Sandi Holst on
+ How she used the “accounting firm model” to build and create a sellable accounting firm scalable (and sellable) business
+ How she created instant “WOW” Factors for her clients and referral partners
+ Her approach to building referrals
+ and much, much more!
Click Below To Listen
There is a question that tends to be avoided by most CPA firms owners, though, with the right answer, it could propel you into building the firm of your dreams. So what’s the question exactly?
Is your firm sellable?
This topic is the focus of today’s podcast. We’ll be hearing Sandi Holst’s advice on how to determine if your firm is actually sellable.
Plus, if you reach the conclusion that your firm is not sellable, Sandi provides you with the knowledge as to how can you start adopting the mindset that one day you might sell it (even if you don’t… you’ll be a lot happier and calmer when heading out to your next vacation).
As always, before we get into the technical, juicy parts, let’s dive into Sandi Holst’s background where we discover how she established, grew, and then sold her own bookkeeping firm using the power of referrals and how she “WOWed” her clients.
Let’s do this.
The Background: Holst Equation Bookkeeping Firm
Sandi was motivated to start her previous firm, Holst Equation, over a decade ago. Competition for good, available jobs was fierce in a weaker economic environment at that time.
Realizing her value and potential as a tenured bookkeeper, Sandi decided not to compete for just another freelance bookkeeping role.
Instead, Sandi differentiated herself by starting her own freelance bookkeeping firm, employing staff and growing it to scale in hopes to sell it eventually.
Start With The Mindset of Selling Your Firm…Then Work Backwards To Build It
Sandi believes that when starting a business, it is important to think early in the process about selling the business down the road.
Her mission was to run Fiscal Integrity Group, or “FIG”, like an accounting firm. So she structured the team led by bookkeepers and supported by staff responsible for data entry.
Then Sandi leveraged her years of experience working as a freelancer at other firms to apply her knowledge and know-how toward developing her own firm.
“One great thing in bookkeeping is when you are a bookkeeper for multiple clients, you get to see the good and the bad, how owners operate, and you take the good little pieces of the good as you go along and you build them into your system.”
Before embarking on her business, Sandi wanted to be comfortable that her skills were solid enough and agreeable to her future accountant clients. Also, she wanted to set up her own systems and establish quality control measures before she brought on additional staff.
Not being a certified accountant, Sandi realized her value-add was to create alliances with her accounting clients.
“I consciously said to accountants out there, I will not step on your toes on what you do as a service and I know you don’t want do what I do, so how about we have an alliance, and that has worked so well for many, many reasons.”
Her clients did not have the time or the desire to do their own bookkeeping so they outsourced to Sandi. In return, they received quality service and a letter of guarantee from Sandi promising that she would not poach any of their clients. She decided it was time to create a sellable accounting firm.
How To Build and Create A Sellable Accounting Firm: The WOW Factor
Sandi’s key marketing tool was her “WOW” factor to her clients. She aimed to ensure that her firm’s work was of quality and accurate.
Remember that the WOW factor is a tangible product.
Holst Equation’s WOW factor was delivered at year-end as a binder produced by Sandi her team. The binder includes all paperwork and background information on the work performed. There were no grammatical errors or spelling errors, and it showed all details.
The WOW factor was a professional product intended to impress the accountant client.
Sandi’s intention with her WOW factor was to earn trust from the client. Seeing her accurate work, the clients would continue to outsource their bookkeeping to Sandi and not to the competition.
Building Her Business – Finding Alliances
One of Sandi’s early business development steps was to join a local business-networking group. She joined a Business Networking Institute (BNI) chapter and gained a new client right away.
Their business relationship started off slowly as a test run, as a way to gauge the quality of her work. It was a success and she gained more business as a result. Over the next three years, her revenues grew.
“My first year I think my sale was $60,000 and then the second year sales went to $120,000 and then the third year sales went to it just under $200,000.”
According to Sandi, her business development steps are as follows:
- Creating alliances
- Developing a good rapport
- Assuring that she would not take business away from her clients such as performing tax services
In Canada, where Sandi is located, bookkeeping is not regulated. Anyone can take a course, buy an accounting software program, and freelance. Sandi was able to capitalize on this phenomenon as she differentiated her company through the quality and accuracy of the work.
“There are some poor skills out in the field,” Sandi believes.
She advises to those who want to freelance to:
- Have stellar skills that are above the regular standards
- Provide an excellent product
…and “you will never ever have problem having referrals and finding clients.”
There is a huge value to being a bookkeeper. “You will always have a job and you will always have clients.”
Actually, up to 25% of Sandi’s revenues over the 11 years running Holst Equation consisted of cleaning up and catching up from previous bookkeepers’ work.
Turning a Bookkeeping Practice Into a Training Program
After Sandi sold her company, she dedicated her time to teaching bookkeeping courses.
She saw an opportunity to capitalize not only on improving the quality standards that were lacking in the industry, but also on the absence of real-world information taught in fundamental accounting courses at college.
Her teachings were focused on understanding real life situations, how to troubleshoot, and how to fix issues.
To anyone who wants to be a good freelancer, Sandi urges people to be strong in the ability to find issues and fix them.
“Then you become a true advisor…if you can uncover those things and fix them for the business owner who did not know about them in the first place.”
Sandi knows that her clients are too busy to do their own bookkeeping and so many want to only see the end results. But they should be in a position to make informed business decisions based on the information in their books.
Unfortunately, some accountants are not aware if their bookkeeper is doing accurate work, if their records are in good shape for a potential audit, or how strong their cash flow situation is.
That is why a solid, trustworthy bookkeeper is critical for success.
Sandi created her new company, Fiscal Integrity Group. The aim of FIG is to provide support and education materials to the freelance bookkeeping community.
“The whole idea of FIG is to increase and strengthen businesses,” says Sandi
As in the name, Fiscal Integrity Group, Sandi wanted to highlight fiscal responsibility and business integrity through accurate bookkeeping work.
Sandi is having a great time educating and supporting this freelance bookkeeping community. A stronger freelance bookkeeping community, in turn, will create better accounting businesses.