Jason Blumer, Chief Innovation Officer at Blumer and Associates and Founder of Thriveal CPA's, helps build entrepreneurial firms practicing value based billing.
It's no surprise from his picture, Jason packs a great personality in his work. I was excited we could bring him on, and it was worth it.
On this episode of the Growing Your Firm Podcast, David Cristello and Jason Blumer cover:
+ How and why Jason moved away from the traditional firm model
+ How he implemented a paperless process in his firm
+ How he picked his niche (and smart strategies to get new clients without being "compared" to other firms)
+ How to implement value based billing
+ Jason's approach to productizing services in his firm
and so much more. ADDITIONAL LINKS:
Part 1: Jason's Background, going paperless, finding clients in his niche, and more
Part 2: Value based billing, "flat" CPA firms, and more
The Creative Accountant:
Jason Blumer, podcaster and CEO of Blumer & Associates, started out in a CPA firm with his father. Quickly, he learned he couldn't use his creative juices. Jason prides himself on making clients feel comfortable.
He's a laid-back accountant who doesn't take himself too serious...note his profile picture.
However, in his father's firm, this type of behavior is normally taboo in the CPA world. Jason started browsing online and stumbled on other like-minded accountants who had his same creative tendencies.
That's how his company and podcast, Thriveal, was born. It's a community of accountants (mostly firm owners) who look to redefine what it means to be an 'accounting firm.' Old vs. New:
OLD: Button-ups and ties ::: NEW: shorts, jeans, etc.
OLD: Meet people in person ::: NEW: Virtual CPA/client relationship
OLD: Price by the hour ::: NEW: Value based billing
OLD: Internal processes done manually ::: NEW: Technology runs your processes (that's what Jetpack does)
OLD: Hierarchical business ::: NEW: Firm run as a business ---Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)
Begin Implementing The 'NEW' Firm:
The first question you might have is: How do we start implementing the 'new' way to run an accounting firm?1. Own your own firm: Firm owners change their firms (it's much harder as an employee) 2. Make goals to move everything to the cloud (even the phones). Changing this can be hard when you have a larger firm. In this case, start with small changes and work up. 3. Get onto value based billing. Stop charging by the hour. That way of life has passed. It's not efficient and not profitable for your accounting firm.
Before going into value based billing, let's quickly discuss the goal of these steps. Essentially, you're trying to build a firm where you improve your lifestyle as priority #1. Funny enough, you do this by putting the client first.
See, when you implement a ROWE environment, you get better client relationships and better employer-employee relationships. Because what ROWE means is simple: Serve the client on your time, but in the best way possible.
Forget about 9-5
Work in your PJs and get the client work done at home/on-time
Your employees can buy homes and cars...they don't need to ask for time-off like a kindergartner
Give freedom and autonomy i.e. a better quality of life. This is what your employees value. What they also value...a growing company to take care of them.
Value Based Billing Mechanics:
You've heard about the importance of value pricing over billing by the hour. You get paid more for your results, not how many hours you sit in a chair. That's just one reason.
The question remains: Why don't more firms adapt it?
Easy. It's hard to do. The conversation's are tough with clients. Another reason: Value based billing requires onboarding every client different. Because every client has different needs and pains, thus you price each differently. Steps to implement value based billing: 1. Adapt a niche: Saying "yes" to a niche means a "no" to others. Now, more than ever, this is important for building your client base.
2. Start new clients with a "value conversation:" Questions like: How do you invest in yourself? What makes a new financial professional a good move? What do you see in 2 years with your business? You need to take the prospect to a 'loftier' place than you would with questions like "Do you have last year's tax return?" Let the prospect dream with you. You're tapping into the human behind the business.
3. Stop selling. Start aligning your team into finding the "right clients" rather than just "clients." Expect when you implement value based billing you could see clients head for the door. The 'price shoppers' if you will. Value pricing is usually more expensive, but you're positioning yourself as adding value that matches your price.
4. Give price options: Never just give one price to your prospect. Prospects love choices (as you do). Have at least three options for them to choose from. 12 value pieces for $X price. If not, 7 value pieces for $Y price. etc. Value added pieces you could add (examples):
Transformation retreat on site
Journey together through coaching for 6 months
One half-day business building session
As you find value adds, email them to your client asking: "Is this valuable to you?"
The important thing to remember: you can't do too much at once. Your team and clients won't respond as fast as you do. Start slowly. Explain what you're doing. Explain the value-add.
Getting your team on-board is the first, most important step.
David: Welcome to Growing Your Firm podcast. The podcast for ambitious accounting professionals who are ready to accelerate their growth presented by Jetpack Workflow. Hey everybody, David Cristello here from Jetpack Workflow. Today I'm so excited to have Jason Blumer on. He is the Chief Innovation Officer of Blumer and Associates. He is the founder of Thriveal. He has multiple podcasts in and outside the industry. Chances are if you're online going through social media, you've heard his name. I also want to give him a new title of Most Interesting LinkedIn Profile Picture in the industry. Jason, welcome to the show.Jason: Thanks David for having me. Yeah, I've been slammed for that picture on LinkedIn that's why I'm going to leave it on there. It raises eyebrows so I'm good with that.David: That seems to be you know you certainly don't shy away from putting personality in everything that you do. Is that correct?Jason: That's true. Well, yeah you know that's kind of a core do in good business. I think people want to do business with people they know which is kind of cool which is what you guys do at Jetpack Workflow. You know trying to talk to real people on your podcast. I think that's really cool. People wants to know what real people are doing I think.David: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We've heard your name so many times. It's really exciting to have you on. I know, you know, typically I do a longer intro and I know you have a lot of things going on so you know for somebody just hearing about you for the first time, you know, where do you come from? What are you working out? What are you doing? What are excited about? You know, give us the Jason background story.Jason: Yeah, so I started by just running a CPA firm with my dad 11 years ago and as I wanted to do more strategic creative things in a firm, really I was told you couldn't do that so that didn't make a lot of sense to me. So I started meeting, you know 5 or 6 years ago, started meeting other CPA's on Twitter and things like that. And really, just was, I was dumb founded to find out that there are other people that are also trying creative things which you are not supposed to do "in a firm." And, so we started just hanging out just a little bit more, conferences, and then finally, probably coming up on 4 years ago, I just officially launched Thriveal, the community. So I've always had my firm. I've had the firm for the past 11 years. It's morphed and changed so many times it's not even funny. The firm, my CPA firm is virtual. It's very narrowly niched towards the creative web start up kind of development world, that's who we serve and kind of exclusive. We won't serve anybody else. And then Thriveal is just the other entity I work out of where, you know, we're building a community there with about 70 new members, 70 members now over the past four years in four different countries that are really the entrepreneurial creative accountants that know it takes some risks to run a business. So they don't shy away from these things. They're virtual, you know, they love technology. They use it and so through Thriveal, we're building some cool stuff to give people platforms to change their firm. So we do coaching and consulting through Thriveal for firms. So those are kind of the things I do and then the podcast. I have a podcast for Thriveal. So it's called the Thrivecast and it's, we've had that for over three years now. Greg Kyte and I, he's my co-host. And then I have a podcast, I'm a co-host on called the Businessology Show and that's really for the creative profession. So I do that with an agency owner in Pennsylvania, in Philly. So that's kind of the gist and the rundown of kind of what I'm involved in now.David: Awesome, well let's go back to, you know, you brought up you wanted to do these strategic creative initiatives in your firm and everybody said that you couldn't do it. I guess going back to that beginning, what are some of the things just to give people some context or examples. What are some things that you wanted to do and wanted to explore and you really didn't see anybody else doing it or even people said well you can't do that.Jason: Yeah, you know, so there's a lot of different areas. So one might be how you talk and dress. You know there is an understanding that you have to wear white start shirt and if you want to do business in the financial realm you got to shake people’s hands to do that so obviously virtual was off the table. You know, other things like how we price. That's a very disruptive discussion to have in the accounting profession where you want to move away from hourly billing but a lot of people hear about value based pricing now. It's becoming very popular. It's a very difficult but a very strategic thing implement in a firm. So pricing issues were different and then, you know, just starting to think about internal processes and how to run those better, how to really start leveraging technology, you know the, I mean, you know probably 5 or 6 years ago when we were really focused on being paperless, and you know, focused on the cloud. You know, it was kind of a big deal back then. Now, it seems like the cloud and things like that are just table stakes. Those are things you got to be focused on now but unfortunately I think our profession is still struggling with do I go paperless and do I move my files into the cloud. They’re still worrying about these things. They have been they have come and gone, they’re alright, they’re safe. It’s time to move on and start offering some value added services, being more strategic, you know, running your firm like a business and less like a hierarchical firm with this management structure. You know, so you know it’s just a lot of those different issues and even most recently some things we’re working through over the past couple of years are implementing a row into our firm which stands for results only working environment, that’s ROWE, and that’s really where our management structure, it kind of doesn’t exist. The team is fully autonomous. They do what they want to do. They’re even paid on the percentage of the revenue we bring in. They’re still employees, so it allowed me as the owner to step away from managing people because I don’t believe I have to do that and instead hiring the right people and supporting them. You know, empowering them to have all that they need to live their life as well as serve clients well. So those kind of issues, I think our profession, generally is still really struggling with and a lot them which say you can’t do that.David: Absolutely a lot, I mean there are so many things you just mentioned each one could be an hour long discussion.Jason: Yeah, it could be.David: Yeah, you know, if we’re looking at things, just some notes I’ve jotted down, around dress code, or price, or going virtual, building a process, and then more recently and I do want to discuss this one for sure, results only work environment because that’s what I really don’t hear about and I’m assuming, you know, as we continue to move forward in the industry it’s going to come off more and more often, but in those early days you know, I imagine each one had its own challenges and if somebody’s listening and they say, you know, this sounds great, you know, having a virtual firm and value based pricing and you know, having a great process and I would love to, you know, show up in shorts and sandals. I guess, I don’t know, does it come from a mind-set perspective or is there a way to prioritize how to implement, you know, things like this, you know, for the firms that are looking for at these couple of lines that we just mentioned. Where is the best place to start?Jason: Yeah, well, good question David.David: Yeah, I asked all the heavy ones up front, right?Jason: Well, you know, I guess, let me just make a catty on and put people that may listen into two categories. People who are firm owners and people who are not, so Thriveal was started for firm owners and the reason is here is the belief that firm owners are the ones who can change their firm. so if you’re listening and you work in a firm if you work for somebody else and you want to wear sandals and shorts to work then you have to ask permission and that’s why Thriveal, they are, we are entrepreneurs because we own our own business and that’s key so if you want to make any changes, you’re eventually going to have to make, take a step and own your own company, take a risk. Now that’s a risk for people, it’s a heavier risk for some than others, right? Some have a family and that makes the risk heavier, some don’t have a family, maybe they’re younger, they’re just out of school. So the risk is not as strong, they could starve for a little while, while they do it. So I would say before I answer that question, I want to talk to a firm owner, and if you’re not a firm owner, I really, Thriveal is all about wanting you to be a firm owner. If you’re the creative entrepreneur that needs to be running a firm, Thriveal would say, the message from Thriveal would be, you need to leave and you need to become an entrepreneur and run your own company and it would say, we know it’s scary but then we would want you to step inside of Thriveal because that’s a private community and we will support you through those changes because we’ve all gone through and we’re here to help you do those things and you know we don’t use the word competition in Thriveal, we’re just here to help. So, the first place to start is, own your own firm. That’s how we’re going to change our profession, it’s the creative entrepreneur need to go run their own firm and then the leverage and the power you have to change things is huge. In fact, you can begin changing the lives of the customer you serve, we can do that, an accounting firm, which is weird to say, but it’s true. If you’re locked down and you’re held back into an old mind set and hierarchy of these structures and companies that are typically normal in older firms, then you got to get out of there. That’s the first thing I would say to, maybe David you want me to mention a practical thing.David: I do like. I do appreciate the mind-set shift that has to go on because I think we’re always drawn to tactical things, you know, we can do and of course I think we’re going to dive in to an example in something tactically a firm can do and majority of listeners will be firm owners that are looking to grow and evolve, you know, their business. But it’s interesting just from what you said, how important accountability is, how important having the right community is, and you know, just to be clear, you know, I don’t have any affiliation with Thriveal. But just hearing about it, you know, Thriveal or you know, whatever other avenue you want to go down, I think having a community of life minded individuals of accountability, of saying hey, I’m one or two steps ahead of you, you know, this is what works for me, this is what hasn’t, this is the way, you know, to accelerate faster, and then again from a mind-set perspective saying you know, listen the way you’re thinking about the evolution of your firm or the way to implement things is kind of a different ball game if you’re going from big floor you know, to just you and a spare bedroom of your house or something like that. Yeah it’s important, so I’m happy you mentioned all those things.Jason: Cool, so but you know and then of some of the things I mentioned earlier, some of the easier things to do are really, you know, paperless and moving all your processes to the cloud. I think there’s a lot of value in making an attempt or goal in a firm to move every single process you have to the cloud. I mean we even moved our phone system into the cloud and what we knew that it’s going to allow us to do is number 1, it’s going to give us full freedom to do really anything we want and number 2, this was not necessarily the goal at the time, was to go into a virtual firm, was to run a virtual firm eventually which for me and again it doesn’t work for everybody so virtual is not something everybody should do but for me it was perfect and how I live my life. I have a home office, so I had a place to work, I had a place to go, my kids are older, so I didn’t have to worry about smaller children, you know, banging on my door when I’m working with clients and things like that, but so there is a range of things to implement in a new type of firm, maybe a new generation firm and maybe paperless and going to the cloud or some of the easier things but when you get into implementing a ROWE structure or going into value pricing if you’re used to hourly, those are more strategic, more difficult, much more disruptive to the business model of a firm. So there is a range of things that are hard and then I would say changing those things is harder or easier depending on the size of your firm, if you’re brand new, if you’re all alone, the number of people, your client base, you know, is it ready for this change? You got to consider all these things if you’re seeking to make changes to your firm. Does that help in any way?David: Absolutely and I think the one that I would love to dive into here in a second is how to think about value pricing because I think conceptually I’ve seen a lot of people, just thought of you know message for the LinkedIn groups, look to make that transition and what would be the proper steps. You also brought up a really interesting point which is you know, the goal for your firm really sounds like meet your lifestyle, have freedom, it seems like you know other people might say to, you know, make us much money as possible. Now we’re all on business and casual support obviously but what has become really clear to me just as you’re talking about your firm is you have a destination that you want to get to, you value things that create freedom, it sounds like.Jason: Right, oh yeah.David: Other firm owners, that works well for you and then others might say well I want the 50 person firm with the big office, you know, whatever and it’s just important to I guess set that up as early as possible, what are you going to be driven by.Jason: Oh yeah, totally. Yeah and I think maybe it’s the stage of life right now that I’m in, you know, I’m 43, my kids are a little bit older, I’ve been doing this for a while, I know what I’m doing so freedom to me is just a huge goal to achieve. You know, I’m even working in my firm really over the past 3 or 4 years to kind of move out of my firm, really to vision the things in my firm but not have to run it and I’m kind of almost there you know and probably my next step is partnering with somebody that can kind of come along and kind of lead the technical or execution side of the form while I go write and speak and coach. Those are the things I add value with and things I should be doing so yeah you’re totally right, freedom is huge to me. Somebody else might say I want to make a lot of money and you can do that and value pricing is a way to make a lot of money but the caviar is the value pricing, it is much harder to implement because you are basically saying I have to on board every single client differently because what you’re doing is you’re going to price every single client based upon what the client perceives as valuable and what you can offer them and so you’re going to find yourself a lot of times offering a lot of different things to a lot of different clients and you know what, you need systems like Jetpack Workflow. If you don’t have processes built, especially if you don’t have cloud based processes built and tools that help you run these things, I mean you’re going to blow up your firm because every client starts to look different, you start to treat them different, every price is different, no prices are the same and it’s really hard to run a business model on that kind of firm where an hourly billing is easy, right? You can work for anybody and you can start work in 5 minutes. All they have to do is walk in the door and you just have to hit a timer and start working but when you do value pricing you have to say are you right for me? Do you match our firm? Do we have, you know, the capabilities and competencies to serve you, you know, are we aligned and now if we are, let me give you a price. Is this the price you would want and then we do it typically with three options and if they accept it then we have the team serve them in that way so on boarding one client into our firm takes about 3 to 4 weeks and that’s one client and so you can imagine what that does to a business model and more dangerously what it does to cash flow, right? If you go, yes I’m on a value price, well you know, your cash is going to come to a halt because now you’re going to start the important processes of on boarding, aligning, you know, determining a price, and these are the thing that are coming up, you know, in my e-book, it’s coming up pretty soon. It’s about how to do these and the importance of these intimate things that you do with customers when you value price them. So was that too much info? That was a lot of…David: No, I love it.