With Tina White
Randy welcomes Tina White, the founder of Panoramic Academy, on Episode 107 of The Unique CPA. Tina started her career in the public accounting world, then transitioned to ownership of an HVAC servicing company, and now runs Panoramic Academy, which specializes in coaching business owners to improve their financials and make their companies self-sufficient. She discusses how important advisory services are in the accountant / business relationship, the human element of that connection, and how important it is for any business to tighten up every aspect of its operations.
Today, our guest is Tina White. Tina is owner of Panoramic Academy, which she’ll give us an explanation of what that is. She’s had a storied history coming through public accounting and going into industry, got back to accounting, and now Panoramic Academy and I’m sure things in between. But, Tina, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Yeah, no, I appreciate it. And we were talking a little ahead of time and trying to get an idea of what the topic is here today. But when I mentioned you’ve had, you know, you’ve been through a few different things: business owner, working in public accounting, even doing what, some IT project management as well? So you’ve had a varied history in business. And now Panoramic Academy. I don’t know I have a hard time saying “panoramic.” There we go. Panoramic Academy. Yeah, right on your website, you talk about people plus plan plus process equals profit. So before we get into Panoramic Academy, why don’t you give us a little bit of the background of this history that you’ve been through to get to where you are today?
So I’ve been through a variety of different versions of a career. I started out with audit and tax in public accounting. I decided I didn’t like tax season all that much. So I left to go to the private world, I was the controller for a real estate development company. I didn’t like being overhead. So I went back to public accounting. But one of the cool things that I picked up on the way was a great accounting software that I became an expert in—I passed the certification, and I became a certified coach or a teacher for that software. And then I decided in 2010, I was just kind of tired of the whole thing. So I started as CFO outsource type of service. And in 2015, I made the most logical next step, I bought an air conditioning company. So what could go wrong? I don’t know how to fix air conditioning, but I was really good at the business side.
And so we were able to sell the business in 2021 to a private equity firm. And so now I’m going back to the accounting roots. But instead of providing one-to-one service, like I used to, I really feel called to help business owners understand the business side of things. One of the biggest things is understanding that money is not just for the accounting department. Everybody in your business is making money decisions every day. And so instead of just letting the money stuff go into the accounting department, I’m really helping the business owners understand how all those decisions by everyone affects profitability and cash flow.
Alright, so now with Panoram, Panama, having hard time saying that word. So now with Panoramic Academy—can you change the name here business please, just for me?
Thank you! So I have a few words I have a hard time saying; “panoramic” apparently is one of them, although I’m getting it now. Entrepreneur just sounds like a weird word to me. But I say it right, I’m almost certain. And then “inaugural.” I don’t know why. “Inaugural” never sounds right to me. So back to the regularly scheduled program and talking about Panoramic Academy.
So with Panoramic then, you are dealing with the business owners, not with the CPA firms—you’re coaching the business owners, you’re coaching them on the whole the P’s that we talked about at the beginning of the people plan, process equals profit, Is your goal to be in or not your goal, but as they do they have certain ways that they engage you? Is this a monthly, a daily, a yearly, a one shot deal? How do you engage with clients? And what’s a typical, I guess, engagement look like?
It’s primarily through training classes, and then also through group coaching, where one of the cool things about my trainee programs is I provide the training and the big picture overview for the business owner, but then I’ll also give them an accounting kit. Because I understand that the business owner does not need to understand that an asset increases with the debit. I’m not trying to teach them all that stuff. So I give them an accounting kit where I give it to them and I’m like okay, this is what you need to ask your accountant or your bookkeeper for. Here’s an example of the report. I’ve taught you how to read the report, so the two of y’all just need to get together and really understand what that means.
So some of my training on my website does help accountants just so they can—because one of my big things is making the switch from the tax viewpoint, or even GAAP, to a truly operational type of viewpoint because that’s what business owners need. I know accountants know how to do that, it’s just sometimes we get a little bit stuck in the compliance and the deadlines, we kind of forget that there’s a lot of other different financial viewpoints out there. And the entrepreneur, the business owners, they need that operational viewpoint, because that’s where all those daily decisions are really impacted. And so I’m assuming that there are some accountants that maybe don’t remember that from accounting school, and so they can take this little accounting kit, use it as a refresher, and really help meet that business owner in the middle where they are able to work together and collaborate and, you know, answer some of those really vital questions where the business owner knows exactly where the problem is.
Because one of the biggest things is, business owners think, if they don’t have money in the bank, they need to sell more. Well, that’s a problem. Because we all know that zero profit times any number is still zero. It’s just basic math. And so really just helping kind of bridge that gap and helping the CPAs and accountants lean more into that operational side, and then helping the business owners elevate their business knowledge to where they’re not just trying to abdicate and all that money stuff.
Right. So what you’re trying to do is bridge this gap, then, between the taxpayer and the CPA, or the consultant or the advisor, or the EA or the accountant or the bookkeeper or whoever’s working with them, and almost you’re looking to maybe put words in your mouth, to teach the CPA to be more of an advisor, which is huge. I mean, right now, CAAS and tax advisory and, you know, Client Services and Client Advisory Services is a big key word. I don’t think anybody really knows what that means. I think everybody has their own definition of what Advisory is. And so I’ve kind of started to hear what your definition is. But do you actually have a written out definition of what Advisory Services should look like on the CPA side?
To me, it’s just where you become that partner to the business owner, and you really listen in and try to—like if a client asked you where did the money go, instead of just printing off, you know, a list of their expenses from the general ledger? That’s not what they’re really asking. They’re wondering, why did I sell more? Why am I busier than ever? Why do I not have anything to show for it? Like, really dive down and ask five more questions. Become that partner.
And it doesn’t mean you have to go to their office for one day a week. You can do a lot of this type of stuff from the […] tax return. You know, you can just go through and say, hey, wait, why did the loan balance go down, but interest expense went up? Like just do a little bit of a, like on the audit side, you have that Management Summary Report, do a little version of that, from a tax return standpoint, and just give them three different big dollar amounts. Hey, I noticed this just start that conversation.
And accountants, I think part of it is they’re a little bit fearful that they don’t have all the answers. Because if you stay in the compliance world of GAAP, and tax, historical information is, I mean, you can still get creative, but it can be a little bit more factual. Whereas in the advisory role, you’re sharing your opinion, and that can be a little bit nerve racking for some accountants. So I would just advise you to say, hey, I noticed these things are a little bit out of whack. Is this surprising to you? Would you like for me to dive a little bit deeper? Can we have a conversation with your bookkeeper or whoever’s on staff? And just really kind of have that dialogue. Accountants don’t have to be industry experts, but they do need to be financial partners to help raise that awareness, raise those questions, and be willing to roll up their sleeves and help dive in and figure out what the answer is.
Yep. I agree. I think you said a lot of awesome things that I agree completely with there. I think CPAs in general—and I know I say CPAs, And I always mean generically, tax preparers, EAs, whoever—but I am wearing my Unique CPA shirt today. So I have to go with the CPA. You said it, we’re afraid we don’t have all the answers. And that’s why I think sometimes we just don’t start. And what you said is, you know, start with these three things. Just pick three simple things to go on. And let’s dig deeper into that. And then we’ll build from there. I think it’s important. I think it’s what the clients want, even if they don’t know how to say it. It’s what they want, is this advisor. Because they’re constant. I mean, in public accounting, you’re preparing a tax return. The biggest questions someone asked was, well, did we do everything we can? Is there any way to get this lower? Well, yeah, I mean, that’s Advisory. But after the fact, like you said, just on the compliance mode, it’s not as easy to do as ahead of time, if you meet on a monthly quarterly even once a year basis before the year is up, you have a lot more opportunity to do that advisory.
So then let’s let’s talk about that then your role in the business and communicating with the CPAs—and I know that’s not the gist of what you’re doing. But how are you bridging that gap between both, or just educating both of them that this is how you need to work together?
I’m just really, YouTube videos and training classes, just trying to get the message out so that way. So I worry that a lot of accountants, they don’t need that they’re not aware that there’s even a problem. They think that they’re supplying all the needs of the business owner. And then the business owner, they are banging their heads up against the wall, wondering who can they talk to about this. And especially if the tax accountant is the only accounting professional in the business owner’s world, and all they want to do is talk about tax returns, there’s a whole lot of other money issues going on that the business owner has.
So right now I’m just on a mission with videos and training, just trying to get the word out to really help bring awareness to where the disconnect is, but then also try to simplify it. I’m not interested in breaking everything down to the foundation, we don’t need to change the chart of accounts. That has not solved anybody’s profit problem that I’m aware of, and just really helping, it’s kind of like what are those three biggest issues? Let’s prioritize and fix those. And then let’s move on to the next one.
And you just actually, you just mentioned on one thing where you said, you know, the tax accountant or the business owner asked the tax accountant, hey, have you done everything you can? Well, part of that is the business owner needs to be aware that that’s a cost of doing business. And that’s one of the things that I’ve noticed, depending on the tax structure determines the viewpoint that the business owner has. So if you have a C corporation, that income tax is deductible, when it shows up on the profit and loss statement. It doesn’t show up on all the other ones that are passed through. Well, that creates a mindset issue that hey, it’s not it’s not a cost of doing business, it’s almost like a penalty. And too often these business owners don’t consider that in their pricing. And so then they’re stuck trying to figure out at the end of the year, how do I pay for it?
There’s only three ways businesses generate money: loans from banks, investments from the owners, and then sales from customers, which is driven by price. So if that income tax, and the owner’s pay, are not considered in those prices, the bank account will never have the money to pay. So there’s a lot of, like, mindset that goes on not only assuming that the money stuff belongs to the accountants, but also just really understanding the big picture. Because a lot of times they ask where did the money go? Well, I’m making the argument, it was never there, because your prices didn’t include it.
Right. So one of the biggest things then is, so that looks like you can add another P to the people, plan, process, profit, you gotta get pricing in there, too. We’re gonna see how many Ps we can add to that equation here today. So price, we got another one on the plus side, plus price people plus plan postprocess plus price. I can’t say any of those words either apparently, equals profit.
Alright. So now when you’re talking to taxpayers, and you have this, you know, we have the tax standpoint, what you were just saying, and they’re not taking into account taxes are part of this expense and everything. So how do you look at things from a managerial accounting standpoint versus tech standpoint? How do you educate them? What do we do from there?
One of the biggest things is helping them understand that there is another viewpoint. So from an operational or managerial type of accounting standpoint. And it’s not like cost accounting, where you walk around with your clipboard, and you look for ways to reduce everything by 25%. That’s not what I’m talking about. Managerial and operational accounting is where you really understand how money flows in and out of the business. And one of my favorite ways to start is to look at the customer journey. So when the business owner, when they think they’re very focused in on that customer, because most business owners either started out as a salesperson, or they delivered the service that they’re selling. And so then they thought, hey, I can start my own business. So if you kind of meet the business owner where they’re at, they’re thinking about marketing, sales, and delivering that service or their product. They’re not at all thinking about profit, cash, or money in any way, because they’re just focused on that customer. And so when you think about it from an operational standpoint, how is the money coming in? Is there a quick seamless way for turning a lead into a sale? And then how is that proposal turned into, you know, an order of where you’re able to deliver what you promise?
Oh my goodness, one of my pet peeves is when business owners say “I’m too busy to send invoices. I’m too busy to collect money.” That’s a major problem. Because you’re not closing your business cycle, like, oh my goodness, you spent all this money on marketing, and sales, and delivering the service, but you’re too busy to actually invoice and collect money. So that’s a really big problem. And I think that’s where the operational accounting side can really help shine a light on, this is where the money is getting stuck, you’ve got to carve back just a little bit, you got to save a little bit of time every week, business owners where you can make that a priority, and help that accounting department out for sure. So that operational viewpoint is super important to really pinpointing where that money is hiding in the business.
Yep, in fact, some CPAs even have that issue that they don’t even realize sometimes that their firm is a business, you could probably do the same consulting you’re doing for the taxpayer, which a CPA is a taxpayer, but at the CPA firm level, too, because I think they need that a lot of times they need that operational consulting just as much as an HVAC business or something else. So you might want to expand into consulting with accounting firms as well. It’s a strange thing, when I’ve talked to people and said, you know, you have a business there that has a value, right? You’re not just there for your clients. So you’re there to turn this thing into a profitable well run business that at some point in time, you either are going to sell, merge, bought out by your partners, there’s a value there that that you need to be able to determine. And I’m assuming that’s part of what you do, too, when you go in when you’re talking to businesses is like, hey, what’s the final outcome here? What’s your plan? Are you going to retire someday? Is the family going to take it over? Are you going to sell somewhere else? Do we have private equity coming in? Do we have this? Is that something you get involved with as well?
Yeah, it was really cool to make the move from accounting to the air conditioning world. Because even though I am licensed as an HVAC contractor, I am not the person you want me to fix your air conditioner. But one of the cool things for me to see the difference, you know, in the accounting world, I can do the work. There’s a book called E-myth by Michael Gerber, where he talks about technician versus manager versus entrepreneur. Then the technician is whether you are you know, doing the accounting work, the air conditioning work, the plumbing work, the janitorial, it doesn’t matter—if you’re actually the one putting your head down doing the work, you are considered to be that technician. And you’re very focused in on the day’s emergencies, or the responsibilities. And how there’s a lot of entrepreneurs that try to make that jump to actually be the boss, but they like to kind of stay in the technician role. And they kept trying to skip some of the other responsibilities.
So it was really cold to kind of own that air conditioning company where I cannot repair an air conditioning system, I had to rely on my team, and my managers to take care of that. And so, you know, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword that accountants have, where you can do the work, you are the backup. But I really like for people to you know, the partners need to hang up their little calculators, their little ten keys, and you know, trust and delegate and teach their staff accountants and their managers how to do it.
That actually took me quite a while to figure that out. But you’re completely right. I’m at a point in time right now where I don’t touch anything that doesn’t have to do with recording a podcast or doing a webinar or writing an article. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a billable hour in 15 years since we started Tri-Merit. Not that we build by the hour either. That’s another thing. It’s more value-based billing. But still, I’m not the one generating the business. And I think that’s important. I think there has to be—and I’m not the person that runs the business either. I tried to for 10 years, that wasn’t my passion at all. It took me a while to figure that out. My partner who I started Tri-Merit with took over, and I started doing this, and man it’s like that I think you mentioned before we got online here, Jim Collins it’s like right person, right seat. I guess he found his right seat as major partner I found my right seat is I guess, face of the company and then for us it’s it’s proved out pretty well. Anything else that I missed out on that key things that you’d like to bring up today before we wrap up?
I think the main thing is you know, in order for your you know, if you’re thinking about selling the accounting firm or making it to where it’s attractive for future CPAs to buy into, you’ve really got to think about have you created a job, or have you created a firm that has value that sellable? You know, my air conditioning company worked without me, without my daily involvement, or delegated decisions, the person that answered the phone had the ability to give refunds. I was not bogging down the systems with a whole lot of immaterial things.
So I would encourage your audience to really just think about do I have a job? Or do I have a firm that’s worth money that I can actually sell down the road? And if that’s not what you want it to be, then you still got time to actually make those changes. Because it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to start making those changes now, to make it attractive for when you are ready to sell or retire, whichever you’re interested in.
No, I think that’s great advice. And I honestly think that you need to be into accounting firms to do consulting as well, unless you already are and I missed that whole standpoint.
I’m not yet, but I would love to. I am interested in any service company that primarily sells thor time. I believe my model will work for it.
Alright. Well, that’d be awesome. So a couple last things before we go: One, and we have to do this. And I showed you before we get online. And I think I have to mention John Garrett every episode now. So I will. I showed you the book, What’s Your “And?” before we started recording, but this is something I’ve always asked our guests before I even met John Garrett, is tell me what you do for fun. When you’re not working with that consult with businesses when you’re not before we put the HVAC and before you sold it? What’s your passions outside of the work? What do you enjoy doing?
Well, I definitely enjoy a good nap. I love to read business books and to travel and recently I’ve started enjoying hiking now that the weather’s a little bit more comfortable. I’m really enjoying that as well.
And where are you located?
In Birmingham, Alabama,
Birmingham, Alright, so we’re not—I’m outside Chicago. Hiking is not great here. But my wife and I head out of town for about two and a half months every winter. And we always go to a place where there’s hiking. So we’re going to be doing some hiking this winter as well.
Alright, if anybody wants to get a hold of you and learn more about—see if I can say it right—Panoramic Academy. I did it. If anybody wants to get more information about Tina, or Panoramic, how would they get ahold of you?
Well, I’ve got a page dedicated for accountants. So you go to PanoramicAcademy.com/accountant. And then that’s got a really good starting place. I’m always adding more training to that webpage. Right now it’s a little bit new, but I am adding more and more resources to it. Because I’ve noticed, the accountants need to be able to complement the the training that the business owners are receiving. And so just I’m of the opinion, accountants are from Mars, and entrepreneurs are from Pluto. And I’m trying to help everybody kind of get at least in the same space, so you can really help each other.
And I just pulled it up. It looks great. Actually, I would recommend everybody go take a look at that page, for sure.
Well, Tina, it’s been great. I appreciate you being on here. I apologize. I had to postpone it twice, I think in the past, but thank you for being patient with me, and had a great conversation.
Thank you so much.
About the Guest
Tina White is the founder of Panoramic Academy, which aims to transform businesses and their practices through high level training courses and coaching sessions. Unique sessions are targeted at business owners, their teams, and specialised courses for bookkeepers.Tina previously served as owner of Brown Heating and Cooling, an HVAC servicing company, between 2015 and 2021. She sold that business to a private equity firm.
After receiving her accounting degree from Georgia Southwestern State University, Tina worked as a tax manager, controller, software consultant, and more for a variety of firms.
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.