With Brandon Hall
On Episode 92 of The Unique CPA, Randy talks to Brandon Hall, the Real Estate CPA, about his modern approach to building an accounting firm: Results-based work tracking with no hours or hourly billing, a fully remote office staffed by accountants and tax advisors from all over the country, revenue targets reached through creative, content-based marketing, and more.
Hi, this is Randy Crabtree, your host of The Unique CPA podcast. We’re participating in Accounting High’s ABC March Appness, the Accounting Bracket Challenge, and we need your support to make The Unique CPA a winner. You can nominate and vote for The Unique CPA by going to bracket.accountinghigh.com, or you can text ABC to 33339. Thank you for your support, and enjoy the show.
Today, our guest is Brandon Hall. Brandon is managing partner of The Real Estate CPA, which is a CPA firm that works exclusively—niche, obviously—exclusively with real estate investors on tax and accounting issues. Brandon himself is a real estate investor, so he brings not only his knowledge in tax and accounting, but his personal knowledge of investing in that industry. Brandon, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Thanks for having me on, Randy. I’m excited to be here.
Yeah, I’m excited to have you. I feel like I know you, even though we met face-to-face for the first time about 15 minutes ago, but I have been following you on Twitter for—well, I’ve been active on Twitter, really, for the last six months. I’ve been on Twitter a lot longer, but I got active.
Me too. I’ve had my account forever and I just started, like, actually tweeting I think in February of this year.
Well, that’s pretty good, because I look today and you got like 2,200 followers or something, or connections or whatever they call it—I don’t even know what they call it there. So yeah, so people like your content, I guess, which is nice.
Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t.
I don’t think I’ve responded to anything you put out there. But that’s not how I work on Twitter. I gotta get better at that. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. But Twitter is an interesting platform for sure.
Alright. Well, we can talk about Twitter, because we’ll probably talk about marketing, and I’m sure social media is part of what you do. But before we do that, let’s just talk—give us a little background on The Real Estate CPA, just briefly when you started and then we’ll dig into the whole growth plans you have.
Yeah, so my firm is Hall CPA, PLLC. The Real Estate CPA is kind of like a personal brand that I spun up. I’ve got a team of 40, myself included. I started the firm in 2016. So we’ve built it since then. And before jumping into my own firm, I was working at PwC and EY—I was on the consulting side, so I actually didn’t have a background in tax. But as I was going through the CPA exam process at PwC, I was testing my skills—or testing my tax knowledge—on an online forum called BiggerPockets. And BiggerPockets is basically just a huge website, like a central landing spot for new landlords to come and learn about investing in real estate. So I had found BiggerPockets because I was relatively disgruntled as a brand new associate working at the Big Four and just did not want to do the big corporate career, or the big public accounting career. And so I was looking for a way out, found rental real estate, and then found BiggerPockets as a result of that. So I was asking my own questions on BiggerPockets, but then I realized people were asking tax questions—landlords were asking tax questions—and nobody at the time was really answering them.
So kind of just a whole lot of things sort of lined up for me. I didn’t really—I wanted to run a business, but specifically did not want to run a CPA firm—because they are hard to scale. Service firms are hard to scale.
But I sort of just ended up falling into it and realizing, “Okay, I can go and be a content creator, I can be the person that has the best knowledge on specifically this niche, this landlord real estate investing niche. And maybe I can scale this thing relatively quickly.” And so “relatively quickly” was, you know, seven years. But we are here, we’re probably on track to do I think 6.1 million in revenue this year. My goal is to do 10 next year, and ultimately scale to $100 million, and kind of shake up the accounting industry a little bit. I think that firms run on very antiquated business models that aren’t necessarily that great for all the employees that they bring on. And so my goal is to not necessarily revolutionize it, but just add a modern twist to it—working virtually, not tracking time, hopefully increasing salaries and across the board because we’re running at a more profitable clip. Yeah, that’s that’s the goal. That’s the goal. But the goal is to get big, so that the other firms kind of pay attention, right? Because that’s something that I realized. If I’m running a $500,000 firm, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that my goal of getting, you know, kind of changing the industry, you know, the large firms just they’re not gonna care. So if I’m $100 million, they might pay a little closer attention.
No, I agree. We talked a little offline beforehand, but we’ve built a pretty decent sized firm—we’re at a revenue point, that’s I don’t know, it’s gonna be 20 to 25 million this year. And I probably should know that, but I don’t really pay attention to that anymore. But honestly, I personally, and the business, gets a lot more attention, the faster we’ve grown and the more we’ve grown. So I agree with that completely. It is definitely “size matters” when it comes to the tax or consulting firm that you’re dealing with.
Alright. So let’s talk about this. Because you mentioned already: 6.1 this year, on a goal to hit 10 million, you actually, I think, have that sitting on your name on Twitter that that’s the goal to build the firm to 10 million of revenue. Was the revenue goal there from day one? Is that when you set out in 2016, you said, “Okay, here’s what we want to do?”
No, it was not. So when I set out in 2016, I set a goal to make $500,000—gross $500,000. And at the time, I thought that was big, big, big money. And you know, you kind of like, get desensitized to money as you prepare tax returns for people that are like, netting $2 million a year.
But it’s actually good, because you, at least for me, I started realizing, “Oh wow, these people, I don’t feel like they’re that much smarter than me necessarily, so maybe I can elevate my own game.” And you start getting connected with a bunch of entrepreneurship communities, and you learn from people that are scaling businesses fast. I always went outside of the accounting world to kind of get education and information on how to be an entrepreneur. And so I think that really helped with my thinking around how to scale a firm.
But no, at the beginning, it was just 500k. And then I hit that in 2017, I hit like, 620 in 2017. So then it was like, “Alright, what’s next?” and it was a million. And when I hit a million, it’s like, you know what, I remember, I was talking to a current partner, but a future partner at the time. And I was like, “We should really try to hit like $25 million. I think that would be sweet. That’d be a really like, great accomplishment.” And he was like, “Why not 100?” And I was like, “Why not 100?” So then 100 just became the new thing. And then it sort of, I started like realizing, like, you know, if I was $100 million firm, all these other firms will start paying these big firms will start paying attention to me at that point. And, and so that’s where the target went to. So there wasn’t anything like scientific about it. Honestly, it was just “Alright, we hit this goal. What’s the next one?” And “We hit this goal. What’s the next one?”
Well, that’s what I wanted to ask about—all the science behind this. And so now you’re just telling me there’s no science. I’m sure there is a science. Are you going to change your tagline on Twitter to building a $100 million firm from 10? Is that coming soon?
Yeah, I had it on LinkedIn for a while. And then I was like, “You know what, let me hit $10 million first, and then I’ll update it, so.”
Alright, well, I think I think that’s an awesome goal. I personally have just been awful at setting goals, and I know it’s important. Our managing partner now—I gave up that role five years ago—he came in, and he is goal-oriented, and sets numbers every year, we have projections in place. That’s why I don’t pay attention to those, because they bore the heck out of me. But—he’s done a great job every year. We hit that, except I think once in the last five years, and then we blew it out of the water I think the next year, so setting those I think are great. And so just having that mindset you have that the 100 million is where we want to go. You’re living that, and I could see that definitely happening.
So when you went from this—let’s go back to this now. You went from 500, then the next year, you hit the 600 after the 500 goal, and then you set the million. So you said it’s not scientific, but there has to be a game plan of how are we doing this? And, you know, one is the niche, which I think is great. And we could talk niche all day long, probably, and I think we understand what your niche is, but you are the expert in this area. You already showed that on BiggerPockets, probably you started replying, I’m assuming that people who were posting on tax questions, I’m guessing that was a big way that you were able to start connecting with people. Is that one of the ways that the revenue started jumping?
Yeah. Well, so let’s back up. So the strategy on how do you actually achieve your—I mean, I can pick any arbitrary goal. But what matters is the strategy and the tactics I’m going to be using to execute that goal within the timeframe that I want to achieve it within.
See, we’re already getting the science here you lied to me! There is science!
The goal itself is arbitrary, but everything else after that is definitely scientific. Have you ever heard of Grant Cardone?
So if it’s somebody that wrote a book, I probably didn’t because I’m terrible at reading business books, but tell us about him.
Alright, so he is in real estate, very much a, like, kind of influencer business real estate type of guy, one of those polarizing figures where you love them or you hate them. One of the things that I love about his mindset, he said something that’s always stuck with me, it’s—he coined it the 10x rule. And the way to think about this is if I have 1000 Twitter followers, and I say, I want to get to 1,000 Twitter followers within the next 12 months, you know, I’m just gonna keep pedaling along, do my tweets. But if I have 1,000 Twitter followers, and I say, I want to get to 10,000 Twitter followers in the next 12 months, I’m probably going to do things a little bit differently. I’m going to be testing things, I’m going to be trying to see what gets high engagement, what goes viral, I’m gonna be paying closer attention to my analytics, I’m going to be trying to double down on what works, I’m going to be testing different hooks, rather than just throwing tweets out there, and you know, hoping it randomly sticks.
So if you think about the 10x rule, and you can also say I also, internally, I say it’s the 10% rule, how can we do things in 10% of the time? The goal is to just, I think, it’s not to be realistic, right? The goal is to just get you thinking way outside of the box on how would we achieve some ginormous goal like this.
So with our revenue goals, I’ve always like, when we hit 620k, my next goal was like, “I want to hit 1.5 million in 12 months—how do we add $900,000 of business in 12 months as a new CPA firm?” And it makes you really kind of step back and think about, “What is our outreach strategy? Do we need to invest in paid ads? Do we need to double down on certain types of content? Do we need to start a referral program?” But it makes you think about that, and then put the actual building blocks into place, rather than just sitting back and waiting for referrals to come in the door. That’s the difference.
Being proactive, yep. And then so, what are those marketing strategies you use to not wait for business to come in?
So it’s all content-based. I go where the people—I go where my niche is hanging out. So at first, it was BiggerPockets. So I was in the BiggerPockets forums, answering questions all day long. I would write blog articles for them, I was on their podcast two times. So I’m just going where the clients are, where my leads are. And that was a huge initial driver to our growth.
But at some point, we outscaled that. And the marginal time that I would spend, the marginal minute that I would spend writing on the forums, wasn’t producing the ROI. So we had to kind of rethink how do we—and that was about that 620k mark, it’s like, how do we get another $900,000 of business in the door? So we started our own podcast. And that podcast today is in the top 1% in the world, it’s 100,000 monthly downloads, but it’s specific for real estate investors. And what we did to grow the podcast is we would pull influencers on in the space, right? We would pull our clients on, and we would pull influencers on in the space. So when BiggerPockets did a podcast with somebody, we would pull them onto our podcast, too. Because what is this person going to do? They’re going to jump on our podcast, they’re gonna say, “This is great, and I’m gonna go share with my audience,” and we would give them little clips to share and stuff, make it super simple. So now we get access to their audience as well. Now their audience comes and listens to us.
So it was, we basically just kind of looked at, how do we create long form, pillar content that people will come and digest information with, and then want to learn more about what we do. So we really invested a lot of time in the podcast, we invested a lot of time in YouTube videos, and really just kind of like, the BiggerPockets posts and in the forum, activity and stuff.
We don’t do the BiggerPockets stuff anymore. We have a Facebook group that we basically wanted to create our own community. So we created a Facebook group, and over the span of the last two and a half years, it’s grown to 12,000 people—and it’s all landlords, or most of them are landlords. But it’s great, because they’ll ask tax questions and our team will jump in there and be like, “Hey, here’s what you should check out. Here’s some education on it.”
So just kind of trying to figure out like, how do you get in front of as many people as possible? A lot of firm owners that I talked with will like spend time—and it kind of depends on who you’re targeting, right?—but they’ll spend time networking with CFPs and going to the chamber events and all that. And I just always thought, you know, I could spend two hours going to these events and doing these networking events, between the travel and all that, or I could spend two hours writing banger blog posts that get shared 10,000, or gets viewed 10,000 times over the next three years, right? What’s more valuable? And I always went the content route. And eventually it, it, you scale it out where it does become like an evergreen lead generation machine. I don’t have to put any more effort into our content today, and I’m still going to land 200 to 300 leads a month. And those 200 to 300 leads a month, I know that I’m going to land at least 30 clients a month. And when you know, that you’re gonna land 30 clients a month, or even 10 clients, whatever it is for you, it doesn’t matter, but when you know, with certainty—and I know, it’s 100% certainty. It’s not like 95% certainty or 50% certainty, because I know that I can get the 200 or 300 leads in, right? Every month. So I know if I can get those in, that I’m gonna close 30 people every single month.
And when you have that certainty, it de-risks a lot of your business changes. So I can go and blow up my services, and I can test new things, I can increase my prices, I can say “I don’t want to do tax and compliance anymore, I just want to do advisory, let’s see how that goes.” We can roll out accounting services and go hardcore there. But it just, it de-risks a lot of the, you know, fears that we have when we try to increase prices on legacy clients and try to get them onto our new services, and stuff like that. I’ve got 30 new people coming in, that I know are gonna come in. All of a sudden, I just go to my legacy clients, I say it’s the new way or the highway, right?
Well, that’s what I was gonna ask. So when you do have this pipeline that you know, is there, what does that mean to the existing clients? Is this more services when you bring in a new client, and all of a sudden this new client is, you know, I don’t know, $10,000 client on average, and I was charging 8,000 to these other ones. And now what do I do with these clients? Do I tell them, “Hey, our new fee is 10,000,” do I bring them up? I mean, how do you handle that from a billing standpoint?
Yeah, so I think that is something we’re actually still trying to figure out. I don’t know that we’ve nailed that perfectly. But the way that we’ve done it is, in the past, we had all sorts of different service offerings, because I mistakenly—this is not what you should do—but I would roll out new services, like every six months to try to test different things. But my problem is, I would roll it out to the entire firm, rather than to like, “Maybe let’s just pick 10 clients and start there.”
So that was a learning lesson. But as a result, we have a lot of legacy clients a lot of different like things going on, and we don’t anymore. Finally, last year, I was just like, look, we need to have a minimum for tax preparation. And anybody below that minimum, they have to have advisory. Otherwise, we’re not going to do their tax prep. They have to have advisory or accounting, outsourced accounting, or we’re not going to do their tax prep.
And I think we set the minimum to be like $2,000. So we reached out to all of the people that were below to $2,000, it was a couple hundred clients, and we said, “Look, we’re changing how we’re working, you need to either get on the advisory plan, or you need to peace out.” And I think about 70% of them ended up turning over they didn’t want to—eh, that might be a little high. Actually, I might have had that backward, I think 70% ended up staying.
So 70% is irrelevant, but I’m not sure which way it goes. But regardless, it didn’t impact us. from a growth perspective. We’re still growing fast. This is one of our fastest growth years. And it’s because we’re bringing on higher quality clients, better prices. And the way that—I struggle with this affinity to our clients. Like I feel like I owe them something, like, and I think that that’s just me being, I try to be fair.
But at a certain point of scale, you kind of have to zoom out a little bit and look at your business almost as if like you were going to acquire it. Like, if I’m a private equity company, I’m going to acquire it, what would I do? And when you can zoom out and take that perspective, you start seeing what the business choices would be now whether or not you actually you know, make those choices and can kind of put your emotions aside, that’s something that I’ve always struggled with. But you can only see the business choices and the business choices are always going to be get rid of the clients that are dragging margins every single time.
But I think sometimes we’re just a little scared to it’s like, when you have that pipeline coming in, yep. Makes it a lot easier to to pull the trigger on something like that.
Do you do any kind of projections year to year okay, we expect you know, a million dollars in new revenue this year, we know we’re gonna lose 200,000, we want to grow by 1.5, so now, you know, we got to add additional services to our existing—I mean, is this part of the whole process you go through?
It is now it wasn’t really in the past. I had a rudimentary way, a very like kind of high level way of trying to figure that out. But now we use Giraffe. So we’ve got forecasting, it’s legitimate, and we can see like, like this year, we’re probably going to end the year around 6 to 6.1 million in revenue. Next year, we want to do 10, and we expect to lose about one, just through like raising prices and forcing people into different plans. So we’ve got to add 5 million in revenue in 12 months to hit my goal, and then it just becomes a question of well, how do you do that? How do you add $5 million in revenue in 12 months?
Right. And is part of that one off projects to clients, is that a common thing or uncommon with what you’re working in?
Pretty uncommon. I mean, we sign people up for annual advisory packages that include a number of calls, they include email support. Email support for everybody listening, should not be free, by the way, you know. And if you’re not including it in the package, you’re giving it for free, ‘cause that’s what I used to do, and realized I would never actually bill or send the invoice, you know? It feels weird to send an invoice for point one, email, point one time for email, right? Six minutes. But anyway. So I include email support, a certain number of calls, we’ll do some, you know, like reviews of different documents and things for clients and these advisory plans, we have different tiers, we give them access to like a client-only networking group and stuff like that, that kind of makes it makes it a little bit more sticky, adds more value to that plan. And then we have outsourced accounting services that are monthly. So really, the only one off projects are going to be those tax returns just once a year, tax return’s done, send them back. We don’t really do like one off, you know, consulting.
Is the tax fee in that monthly fee already? Or is this an additional fee at the end of the year or tax time?
It’s an additional fee. I don’t package it together because I want—for two reasons. One, I want it to be very, very, very, very simple for us to understand the economics of each service line. So tax compliance is a very different service line than advisory, and I want to break those apart.
But two, I want the client to understand what they’re paying for too. Like, I don’t want to muddy it up. Because in my experience when you muddy the waters of what is the client actually paying for, it just creates more admin work and pain on the providers, and on my end. So I actually, I don’t even, I don’t bill monthly either. I do—unless it’s monthly accounting services, then we do monthly—but for advisory, it’s you pay the entire fee upfront to start the engagement. I don’t do them monthly.
I used to do monthly but clients, I found that clients, kind of like your Netflix subscription, if you’re not watching Netflix on a monthly basis, but you go five months, and you’ve paid every month, you’re probably going to cancel the Netflix subscription, or you’re just going to watch so much content to get your $20.
Right, That makes sense.
I stopped charging monthly for those reasons.
Alright, well, that makes sense. And I think you mentioned it, but do you have then for that advisory? Is there a tiered pricing? Or how do you do that?
Yep, yeah, there’s tier pricing, we have three tiers, low, middle high. And it’s kind of just like, you know, you got coach, you got first class, then you got the jump seat next to me in the plane, right? And that’s how we sort of price it.
Do you have it set to kind of steer them to one of those three?
Not No, not intentionally, we’ve implemented a lot of pricing theory, and we’ve thought a lot about it, but we don’t try to push them in any one direction. I mean, if there’s clearly a fit in one direction, we will push them or we will just take the other two options off the table, and we’ll just say this is the option. Like on our outsourced accounting line, we have transactional controller CFO, and if we know that somebody needs outsourced CFO work, we’re not going to propose transactional or controller work for them, their only option is going to be CFO.
Okay. I think I can keep going down this road forever. But I think, let’s transition a little bit, because one of the things we talked about this building the modern CPA firm, I think that’s what you say, right? And we talked about that already some. Part of that modern is no timesheets, right.
I think are you completely virtual as a firm as well?
Okay. Yep. And what other definitions do you use when you’re talking about what a modern CPA firm is?
Honestly, I think that’s kind of it. We’re just a remote firm. We don’t track time. I would say the one thing that we do that is maybe a little bit different is we price in scope—everything upfront—and that allows us to project capacity upfront, which allows us to hire that capacity upfront.
So this year was the first year where we finally kind of figured out how to improve, preload the capacity requirement for tax season. And we had a couple people in the firm that still work pretty crazy hours, but it was relatively smooth from me—from more of a macro perspective, it was the smoothest that we’ve ever had. And so we’re just going to double down on that methodology going forward. Basically, we were able to project pretty much exactly what we need for tax season, and we hire a little bit more than that. And it just smooths everybody’s busy season out a little bit. So there’s those types of things that we’re doing. And yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.
Yeah. No, that makes sense. What about from a hiring standpoint? Are you—do you use the entire country for your pool of potential employees?
And when you look at that, are you looking for CPAs? Or it doesn’t matter? Or a real estate investor? Or both? Or what’s your key employee you’re looking for?
Typically, you don’t have to be a CPA—a CPA is strongly preferred. The reason it’s strongly preferred is because our clients think that they need to work with CPAs, right? So in the client’s mind, a CPA is the golden standard. And so as a result, we want to try to hire CPAs, to put them at ease. It also makes transferring client relationships very easy. You know, that’s a big issue with firm owners. I’ve got 200 clients, how do I possibly transfer these clients to somebody else, so that they can work on them, and I don’t have to, and I can work on firm growth opportunities? Well, if you’ve got a bunch of CPAs that you can transfer relationships to, that becomes a lot easier to do.
So we do look for CPAs—you don’t have to be a CPA, but it is strongly preferred. And we have run into this thing where we’re landing employees who have rental real estate, or want to be a real estate investor. And I didn’t do it intentionally. But it’s kind of like turned into this thing at our firm. So now we have internal training on how to buy rental real estate. And I’ll put it on, and then my partner, one of my partners has over 100 units. So we have pretty large portfolios, and our clients love it. Because they, you know, they’re able to say, they say, “Oh, cool, my CPA can help me on taxes and accounting, but also, they can talk to me on an investor-to-investor level because they’re doing it too.”
So we ended up with applicants that have a strong interest in being real estate investors themselves, and we encourage it, we have this financial independence like, training thing that we do internally. It’s employee-run. But my whole thing was like, you know, I heard—and it was a couple years ago—but there was, it was some like, conference or presentation that was going on, and the person was basically like, “Yeah, we want our employees to have mortgages, because it makes them, it forces them to have to continue to work here, right? They can’t just leave.” I thought that was so backward, you know, I was like, why wouldn’t you want to empower your employees to sleep well at night, build wealth and then choose if they want to stay here or not?
Like, I’d much rather somebody be financially independent and not have to have a job but choose to continue showing up here every day. That’s much more powerful. So we spun up this financial independence, like, kind of group internally and made it employee-run, and that’s been really cool to see, a modern approach.
Nice. My son’s a big advocate of that.
Yeah, it’s all like budgeting, you know, the simple moves to buy rental real estate, credit card type stuff, and now it’s just the, how much to put in your retirement accounts what what people are doing in the firm.
That’s great. So that is modern. So one, there’s a lot more science behind what you’re doing than I originally thought. And then two, there’s a lot more “modern” as well.
So one other thing I want to talk about with—well let me ask one more thing on employees. Turnover-wise, do you think you’re better than most firms with that? Are you having turnover issues? Or do you have problems finding people, or do you think your retention and finding people is better in this modern firm?
Yeah, I would say we definitely find people easier. We do not have a big problem finding people when we put job applicants out, we get a few hundred resumes every job applicant, which is really cool. The turnover piece—yeah, we have good turnover and bad turnover. Good turnover being turnover of people that we don’t want at the firm, either they’re not performing or they’re just not a good culture fit.
Yep. I wouldn’t even count that. I would just count the ones that you didn’t want to leave. So yeah, yep.
Right. Yeah, the bad turnover, I would say this year we really only lost one or two people that we really didn’t want to lose. So, but we had an instance where we did our pre-hiring last year. So we over-hired for our capacity needs, and we had two people quit—one quit two weeks into the job, I think the person went back to the prior firm that they were working at, and another one quit three—six weeks into the job. So it’s, but I don’t know if that was good or bad turnover yet, because I didn’t know if they were going to be great. But, but that’s good, though, because they self-selected out of our system, that’s the—so I’d rather they self—select out of the system than try to like, you know, make, claw along. It’s just our worlds a little bit different. You can’t just track your time and like, like, hide time anywhere. You know, if you work a six hour day, then you work a six hour day. You can’t work a six hour day, and then bill another hour to some random account. And we track results, right? So we have like, basically internal lists, and we make them transparent. Everybody knows where they stand, and you kind of see across the board who’s producing and who’s not.
And that can be a little bit of a culture shock for people that are coming from firms where you are tracking time, because it’s a little bit more intense, and if you stay and succeed, it’s great, like people that stay and succeed love it.
But it can be a little bit of a shift in thinking and operating when you’re coming from a firm that tracks time and is a little bit more kind of just chill. I think that kind of shocks people every once in a while.
No, but I like everything that you’re that you’re saying and talking about and the way you’ve grown your firm, you were further advanced than I was—well, I’m not sure of your age, but I’m a lot older than you. That’s great to see.
So one other thing I wanted to touch on, and we only have a few minutes left. But one thing I want to touch on, because you and I talked about this before—I think it was before we started—if we talked about it, we’ll cut it out now after this. But I think before we started recording, is that you’ve basically transitioned to your whole responsibility is the firm now, not client responsibility. So you want to touch on that a little?
Yeah, yeah. So I do very little client work today. By “very little,” I mean, maybe less than five or ten hours a year. It’s yeah, I mean, it’s really just work that I want to do, right? Like maybe I’m helping the team with some CFO analysis for a really, really large potential client. So that’s what I kind of consider “client work.” I don’t really jump on calls with clients and you know, go through tax situations anymore.
The firm, actually, you kind of, I’ve gotta give you credit, because you said it at the beginning of this, “the firm is my client.” And that’s a really great way to put it. I’ve never, like never said those words. But that’s exactly what it is—the firm is my client, right? So I look at it as, I’ve built a machine, I have people that are operating the machine very well. And my job is to continue feeding opportunities into the machine and keeping the lights on. So I go and source opportunities, I do a lot of leadership, a lot of coaching of staff, bringing new leaders up through our organization, helping people solve problems. And I do a lot of the marketing and sort of just the strategic marketing stuff, like the content creation, new sources, that type of thing. But that’s pretty much my job.
And it wasn’t—this is the first year it’s been like that. So last year, 2021, we did 3.8 million in revenue. And I mean, I had to roll my sleeves up and get back into tax prep and sling tax returns. So I definitely did some client work last year, but I got a VP of operations in place at the end of last year, and he is really crushing it. He’s really running the entire firm at this point, pretty much top to bottom, and he has removed me from the day to day. And we were joking, Randy and I were joking before the podcast started. I called my business coach up in January. And I was like, “Hey, what is the CEO supposed to do?” Because my VP of operations was doing such a good job that I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do with my time and, and what I realized really was I was just a COO—I’d been the COO for my business for the last six years. And finally, here I am with an opportunity to be the CEO, set real visions, execute real strategy, develop opportunities, and develop people. So it’s been a real fun transition for me. And I think that it actually helps us accelerate our growth even more when you can get that managing partner out of the client work.
Yep, I think so too. And it’s it’s, I think an important thing to realize, and I don’t think every CPA firm owner knows this: That their business is a business, and there is something behind there that needs their care. I’ve talked to a lot of major partners of very large firms that have told me that—that their client is the firm. And at $6 million, I think you’re way ahead of the curve, and that’s really going to help you get to that $100 million goal, the way that you look at this. So I’m really impressed. That’s great to see.
Thank you. I appreciate that. I think, for small firms, it’s rare for smaller firm owners, it’s really hard to want to jump into, like, the content marketing and the sales systems, and scaling, because you’re so in the trenches, you’re doing all the work yourself—you’re not really trusting your people, or that you can hire people to do the work. And so what happens is you kind of get into this almost toxic sort of thinking style, where “If I add the next 100 clients and grow, that means that I personally have to do the next 100 clients’ worth of work, tax returns, advisory, whatever,” and I just I just try to encourage people to think about scale. If I can add 100 clients, or if I can add 100 clients over the next 12 months, maybe I go ahead today, take the cashflow hit, hire somebody really smart and great to immediately start working on those new clients or take my current book so that I can work on the new clients at the higher price points on the advisory. You have control, to rework how you build your firm, sothat you do not have to do the next 100 tax returns.
Yep, yep. I wish I would have known that twenty years ago when I was running my firm. I know it now!
But alright, so that was great. This conversation, I could do this—we could go another two hours because I really enjoyed talking with you. This is awesome. But we need to wrap up for the day. Before we do that, one final question I ask everybody is alright, we know what you are. You’re the Real Estate CPA, we know that, what you do, dealing with clients in the real estate industry. What do you do outside of work? What’s your passions outside of work? What do you do for fun when you’re not real estate-ing?
So I have a family. I have a three year old son and a one year old daughter and I’ll kick the soccer ball, take them on bike rides—I’m a big cyclist. Well, sometimes. Big cyclist kind of depends on the week. –
But I love road biking. So I’ve got a trailer hitch that I tow them around in. And yeah, I mean, that’s pretty much my outdoor activity is cycling. I hit that several times a week.
Alright. And then before we do close out, if anybody wants to hear more from you, where can they find you or get ahold of you?
Yeah, so you can hit me up on Twitter, @BHallCPA. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Brandon Hall, CPA on LinkedIn. I actually don’t know if I put my CPA letters by my name on LinkedIn or not. But yeah, LinkedIn or Twitter is probably the best way to connect. I write about the things that I’m exploring and learning and doing and losing, and I like to talk about my failures with growing a firm too—it’s not all rosy.
I was going to ask about those, but we ran out of time. It seems like it’s all been success to me, which is awesome. But I guess failures—it’s, everybody has them.
Yeah, it’s an overnight seven year success story. Yeah, definitely a lot of grinding that went into it, a lot of grinding, and a lot of mental health challenges that I’ve started talking about a little bit more openly. Yeah. But yeah, follow me on Twitter, hit me up on LinkedIn, connect with me there, and just, yeah, follow along.
Nice. Well, you and I are going to have to talk further at some point about mental health, because that’s a big topic. I’m out on the circuit talking about actually presenting at conferences and on podcasts about mental health issues as well.
Oh, cool! It’s important.
Yeah, oh, for sure. You and I will need to talk again shortly, but for everybody listening, this was an extremely informative—at least in my mind—discussion with Brandon. I mean, you can learn a lot if you’re starting to grow a firm, even if you have a large firm that you’ve already grown. Look at what Brian is doing in the way they’re doing it. Niche is huge. The modern part’s huge. The remote, I think, is huge. People get scared about “Are we going to have this interaction between employees with remote.” Obviously, it’s working, you’re on a huge growth path. So all this out there that Brandon has discussed with us today has been awesome. And again, I just want to thank you for being on the podcast today.
About the Guest
Brandon Hall, CPA, is the founder of Hall CPA, which he started in 2015. He is also known as The Real Estate Investor. He started my firm to merge his interest in real estate investing with his skills in tax and accounting. As a result, he and his team has significantly reduced tax bills for real estate investors across the globe.
Brandon co-hosts the Tax Smart Real Estate Investors Podcast, which enjoys top 1% popularity in the podcasting space. Prior to founding Hall CPA, he worked at two of the Big Four accounting firms. Brandon earned his BBA in Accounting and Finance at East Carolina University, graduating in 2013. He’s licensed as a CPA in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.