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Case Study

How One CPA Created an Outsourced CFO Lifestyle Business From Her Tax Firm

Goals Goals

  • Discover how to do more than tax returns and bookkeeping
  • Model how other successful firms sell and deliver services
  • Find out how to make internal operations and procedures easier

Key Benefits Experienced Key Benefits Experienced

  • Doubling revenue year over year since 2017
  • Built a more enjoyable and rewarding business
  • Increased advisory services clients while decreasing tax return clients

“I will never go back to difficult $300 monthly bookkeeping clients.”

SHAY JAMES, CPA

Shay James is a licensed CPA in Reno, Nevada. Her “firm” consists of herself and two team members, which she jokes about, saying, “If you’re looking for a team of accountants in fancy suits who take themselves very seriously and speak in fancy accounting language, you should probably Google for another firm to do your books.” Ms. James likes to keep her business smaller, concentrating on a select group of clients as a boutique outsourced CFO service provider. Here is the story of how she went from an everyday tax firm with no niche to the interesting, profitable accounting firm she’s now running.

Liberal Arts Major with No Experience in Accounting

Ms. James went to college to get her English literature degree, which she now admits “had no value for a real-world job.” She and her husband became entrepreneurs by owning a small retail bike shop, and that became her first experience with accounting because she had to do the books. “I learned accounting by doing it for myself in my own business, it was learning the alternative way,” she laughed. 

As they moved on from the bike business, her husband worked elsewhere while Ms. James decided to get a job with an accounting firm. She soon realized she didn’t want to work for someone else, so with the goal of going into business for herself, she went and got her CPA

By 2014, she officially started her own business, picking up monthly accounting clients and doing tax returns. Her first client was a $300 a month bookkeeping contract she secured from Craigslist. It was a small, sleazy day-rate motel. The books were always a mess and the client was difficult. She didn’t enjoy it all. Meanwhile, the tax returns weren’t too fun either, and during tax season it became a stress on the family and even caused some marital tension. 

She took a break from the business for nearly two years as the family grew through adoption, with two great kids from the foster care system moving in. Time was needed to make the adjustment and care for the additions to the family. By November of 2016, she was ready to start back up, but knew in her mind she’d like to start doing things a bit differently, but was not sure of the mechanics of how to change her business model. 

Tax Firm Shifts to Begin Offering Advisory Services

Ms. James invested in the 7 Figure Firms program in May of 2017. She ended that year with over 3X the revenue she previously had done in 2014. Today, in 2020, she is on pace to more than 3X her revenue from 2017. What changed? 

First off, she began to offer monthly recurring outsourced CFO engagements rather than just bookkeeping or tax returns. Her firm has evolved now to provide business “blueprints” that include cash flow forecasting, which is much like a roadmap for small business owners. Tax returns are still a natural byproduct of servicing her clients with her main product offering. 

“Tax returns are the least interesting thing I do, and now I’m rolling almost all my tax clients into advisory services. Tax prep is no longer the foundation of my business, but a natural offshoot. This is because of the ideas I’ve gotten through being invested in the 7 Figure Firms program.”

During 2018, Ms. James began to shift from hourly billing to value billing. Almost nothing is billed hourly now. “7 Figure Firms helped me figure out my pricing strategy, and it’s really helped me get my mindset right about the value I provide clients as well,” she noted. 

Ms. James realized the first time she secured a $3,500/month client that she could do more, that pricing truly is based on value and not on what other CPAs charge. “I used to make $24 an hour as a staff accountant. When I started my firm, I began to charge $60 an hour and thought that was pushing it. Since being in the 7 Figure Firms program, I increased it to $250 an hour, but even then realized it’s better to just value price and sell packaged services.”

Benefits of New CPA Business Model

Able to call her own shots as an entrepreneur while building a lifestyle business that suits her needs, Ms. James added, “Once you work for yourself, it’s almost impossible to go back to being an employee.” Her business lets her focus on being a mom when she needs to, but also to be more than just a mom—she has balance in regards to family life and work. 

Since being in the 7 Figure Firms program, I no longer see myself as just a CPA, I see myself as a business problem-solver,” Ms. James explained. She continued that the program for her has been a way to “outsource innovation”. All the materials and ideas inside 7 Figure Firms help her expand her mindset on how she can improve her accounting firm.

When I see a model I like, I take it and make it my own. When someone in the 7 Figure Firms community gives a new idea, I ask myself how I can implement it into what I’m already doing. It’s a great program to continually improve your firm at your own pace.”

By focusing more on overall small business owner problems rather than the compliance work they need done, she has opened herself up to finding better clients. “Whether it’s an accounting problem or a tax problem needing to be solved, I know I can help them with the basics, but more importantly, now I can help bring value to their business by developing a plan to grow their income and get out of debt.”

Ms. James continued, “One of the biggest values of 7 Figure Firms is the good ideas I receive and the systems in place to incorporate them. For example, I haven’t started yet with the LinkedIn marketing process, but I know it’s a good idea and they have step-by-step processes for me to follow should I choose to start doing it. That’s why this program gives me the power to evolve my business on my terms. I don’t want to do $10M in revenue, I don’t want the hassle of managing a bunch of people—but this program gives me the ability to build an asset and deliver a service in my own way, and that’s why I’ve stayed in 7 Figure Firms.”

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