In this Growing Your Firm Podcast, CEO and Founder of Jetpack Workflow David Cristello interviews Geraldine Carter. Geraldine has been on the show before and came back to talk about her experiences with business coaching and provide examples of what plagues CPAs/accountants. Many elements of life hold back firm owners—money, sense of value, where to go next, etc. Clients and the mental mind are two perfect examples of what holds back CPAs/accountants. If you don’t listen to your clients and find your interests through their struggles, you might never find your niche. It’s also easy to become your own worst critic. Geraldine explains both of these examples more below.

Meet Geraldine Carter

Geraldine Carter is a business coach who aims to help CPAs get the life and business they want. She runs her own website and is the host of the Business Strategies for CPAs podcast. She has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Cornell University. Besides business coaching and working with accountants, Geraldine enjoys mountain biking, trails, and raising her family. 

Through her experiences with coaching CPAs, Geraldine has a lot of information to help you move forward with your practices and your firm. 

Listen to Your Clients

At the beginning of the interview, David and Geraldine discussed Balance Bikes. The purpose behind Balance Bikes is to help ease parents’ fears when it comes to teaching children how to ride bicycles. Other bicycle products created anxiety in parents because they didn’t have the precautions that would keep their children safe in case of an accident or injury. 

Companies took note of this strong sense of parental safety and, instead of trying to come up with their own solution, they interviewed their buyers. Bicycle companies asked consumers, “What kind of bike would you like to buy? What type of bicycle should we make that will make you feel more comfortable buying it?” From there, the Balance Bike was born based on answers and surveyed information from buyers.

Geraldine related this scenario back to bookkeeping and accounting firms. For a long time, firms have been doing things the “old-fashioned way.” Yet, there is much room for firms to grow in new and fresh ways. 

Geraldine encourages firms to interview their clients and ask questions like:

    • What do you need from us?

    • What are you looking for?

    • What outcome are you expecting?

If you can find what your clients are looking for, you can start over and design the solution they want based on their feedback. For example, the Balance Bike is still a bicycle. However, the Balance Bike is making new outcomes that consumers enjoy. To achieve this level of reaching new solutions, you need to take different approaches to solve problems. What is your version of the bicycle you need to fix? The bicycle’s wheels are too slippery, it constantly falls over, it’s rusting. What problems do you see in your services that you can change?

Clients and businesses are going to continue to grow. If you grow with them, your clients will stick with you and trust your practices. Interviewing your clients will:

    • Figure out what you can do to help

    • Ultimately, make your business practices an easier process

You don’t want to ask your clients what services they need because they don’t know! You need to help ground them and figure out what service(s) they need to solve their problems.

For example, you’re just starting off and taking on business. You take all kinds of clients—it doesn’t matter what kind of problems they have. Take this opportunity to learn from your clients. By helping them and understanding what they need, you can find what industries you like the most. Is it inventory? Service-based? E-Commerce? As you find your interests in your clients’ requests and get a sense of what you enjoy more, you can start heading in that specific direction.

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The Fear of Being Different; The Fear of Being Better

Once you get into your niche, you won’t be generating so many customer reports for your clients. Eventually, you’ll ground yourself and find the clients you really want to help. That being said, Geraldine says that you don’t have to write a full report for your clients. Your clients aren’t looking for a long, technical report that they don’t fully understand. They’re looking for money and value. They want information that will help them sleep better at night—a brief email, video, or bullet-point list of details can do the trick.

When asked her opinion on what’s stopping people from writing a bullet-point list in an email, Geraldine answered that accountants have two fears: the fear of being different, and the fear of being better

The fear of being different stems from a feeling of isolation. You’re doing something that no one else is doing. You’re alone in your process and your thoughts. If no one else is doing what you’re doing, is it bad? Should you stop? These questions are the thoughts that invade our minds when we try something different. It’s normal to have these thoughts—trying new things is a common, scary phenomenon. Pushing through these thoughts and accomplishing what you want, though, is the most challenging part of it all.

The fear of being better consists of finding success and sadness at the same time. What if this new thing you’re trying out works? What if you’re successful? If it is successful, why have you not done it earlier? Why were you holding yourself back for so long? That anxiety of feeling like you’ve not been doing the right thing the whole time creates this fear of being better. 

Another valid reason for this fear is what you think people may think of you. For example, accountants in smaller towns might feel that their community is judging them all the time. Since the community is smaller, people know each other better and have a bigger capacity for caring for one another. If you decide to disengage some clients from your firm, what will your community think? Will they be mad? All you’re doing is branching out—should you really let what others think of you?
In reality, only maybe one, two or three people will have negative thoughts about your practices. Most people will see your methods as “trying to branch out” and move on. You can’t self-sabotage yourself forever—you need to make that next step. Don’t optimize your life to three clients who would be mad. Grow the way you want to grow. Make the decisions you want to make that will help you flourish in your industry, and don’t let your anxieties get to you. In the end, you will make the decisions that will help you achieve something wonderful for your practice.

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