Universal Success with Dawn Brolin
On Episode 114 of The Unique CPA, Randy gets together with Dawn Brolin, CEO of Powerful Accounting and author of The Designated Motivator. Dawn discusses her journey of coaching a college softball team during tax season, the experience of which led her to write her book. She details how technology and relationship pricing models have helped her reduce her hours during tax season and provide more value to her clients.
Today our guest is Dawn Brolin. Believe me, I’m really excited about this episode and you’ll hear why when you hear Dawn start talking here in a minute, but Dawn is the CEO of Powerful Accounting. She is the author of the book The Designated Motivator and The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals. She’s been doing this for a while—she is really known for her innovative collaborations within the accounting profession, both with her clients, other practitioners, and her technology partners that she calls “Team Brolin”, that’s her starting lineup. She gets a lot of recognition. She has been in the Accounting Today’s top 100 for multiple years, she was a top Niche Practice Pro Advisor for Insightful Accounting. She was just this past year, one of the—the Top Presenter Award she received from CPA Academy, I could go on and on. But let’s let Dawn talk. Dawn, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Oh, Randy, I’m so excited to be here. As always, I mean, you’re like a brother to me, and I love your sweatshirts.
Dawn has a Unique CPA sweatshirt, which they are very comfortable. Everybody that has received one so far, which I think is only six people. So you are one of only six people in the world with this sweatshirt. They’ve all said that they’re very comfortable.
So as we get going today: a little history you and I met in June for the first time at the Intuit Tax Council meeting. And man, that was a lot of fun. We had a great time. It was like I had known you forever from the first moment that we sat down and talked. And that was your first tax council meeting as well. It was my first, and it was yours as well, right?
Yeah, we’re freshmen at the Tax Council. And yeah, we didn’t know each other from Adam. But we shared an Uber. We went, I mean, it was just like, because if we’d known each other for forever, it was weird. But awesome. Like, I was like, I gotta know this guy. Hey, you would like talk about all this fancy things that I had no idea about. And so it was just you were just so cool. We just we could hang out talk about anything.
Well, and I got to touch the ring, the championship ring that you have for playing softball in college.
I’ve let you touch it a couple times. And I’ve been think you’ve even put it on your pinky because it’s—
I did. I think I did that night. And at one of our dinners for sure. So well, well, let’s talk about a few things here today. I mean, we can go anywhere. And you and I could probably go for four hours, we’re going to cut off a little less than four hours. But I mentioned that you wrote this book, The Designated Motivator. And I was thinking about this. And I’m like, okay, should we talk about this as your other persona? But it’s not. This is who you are. It’s not like there’s a separate Dawn Brolin who is the motivator, you are the motivator. This is what you do. So why don’t you give us a little history of the designated motivator where that came from, how you came up with the idea to write this book?
Yeah, well, it’s really interesting that you—something just came to me as you were saying that it was kind of strange, like, Why did I write this book The Designated Motivator? And originally, like, what I’ve always told people is an experience that I had in 2019, coaching a college softball team during tax season, and what the impact of somebody who is a designated motivator, and the impact it can have on a team—whether it’s a sports team, whether it’s a office team, a work team, you know, friend group, whatever it may be. And what the impact can be when you have somebody who is so, so just genuinely interested in caring about an individual. And when you do that you have care and concern for the individuals, when you bring them together as a team, they all feel that ability to rise to the top, everybody ends up winning. So that’s really great.
But it just came to me—it’s not just that, the designated motivator—I was motivated in some way shape or form to make the decision to coach college softball and volunteer coach college softball during tax season. And I never really looked at it that way until literally this moment, Randy, for real.
Well, you know, the whole story is around how we went from a team in 2018, who was 12-26 to a team came in third in the country the next year.
Yeah, that’s awesome.
Like that’s the underlying story. Right? And and the philosophies that we teach these kids and we believe in. And simple philosophies like the win philosophy, what’s important now, it’s not about winning, it’s about paying attention to where your feet are, what is important at this moment in your life. And I think that a lot of ways, Randy and you know, I talk a lot about this, the mental health aspect of accounting, and thinking about, we hold the world on our shoulders, and we have anxiety, every one of us has anxiety over various things. Maybe not, you know, not absolutely everybody, but the bulk of people have this anxiety. And so when you stop, and you say, and I do this with my daughter all the time, I don’t practice it myself. But I’ll say to her, she’ll be call me, and she’s freaking out over what X, Y, or Z, and I’m like, Emily, let’s slow down. Let’s take this one thing at a time. Let’s break this back down. Let’s not look, you know, a week out or a month out, let’s decide we’ll work look a day out or even maybe an hour. Let’s just be right here and say, okay, what’s important right now, what do we need to focus on, right? And so that win philosophy is so important.
And the mindset of simple things like an Etch-a-Sketch, and life is an Etch-a-Sketch, the great part about it is that you can start a story like you start your day, and then you’re like, This day is going like crap. And then you take the Etch-a-Sketch and you erase it all you say, I’m gonna start over as of this moment for it, right?
Yep. So well, you just said there is something I’m gonna start using as well. Every time I do one of these podcasts, I steal—I borrow the knowledge that I’ve learned this podcast. I love that analogy there. Because this is one thing you and I think have in common, is we just want, maybe everybody but in general, we want our profession to be better. We want other individuals within our profession to be better, we want them to work less, we want them to be more profitable, we want them to, you know, have less stress, we want them to avoid burnout. And that’s why I always have such a good time talking to you. Because we feel like we’re on the same page with that.
Yeah, we are, 100%. And you know, like for years, Randy, I wanted to write a book, like, I mean, if you’re a speaker, if you’re anybody who’s educating and teaching, it’s like, you’ve gotta write a book, you’re like, oh my god, well, about what? Like, I mean, there’s things I like, but I could probably only come up with a paragraph, so I don’t, how am I going to write a book. And, you know, this background of that book is literally from a situation where I decided that I was going to coach during tax season, I made that decision, for probably one of the first times in my life, selfishly, in a way.
This wasn’t about my clients. It wasn’t about my employees. It wasn’t about my family. It wasn’t about my friends, it was this one thing that I’m also just realizing, see, when I talk to you, I realized what it was about me for once, right? And that’s it. What’s what’s interesting about that is we all struggle with, well, we always want to please other people. And Emily Rose, beautiful, beautiful letter for Christmas and said, Mom, you always put other people before yourself. Always, always, always. And I wanted to say but not always honey, because in 2019 when I coach that was about me, that was like probably the only thing, because I don’t listen.
Think about that. What are the risks? There are there are risks, and there’s, you know, the loss of opportunity and the gain of opportunity. And there’s these different concepts of when you make a decision, you’re you’re giving something up, period—whether it’s money, whether it’s staff who are jealous, because you’re not in the office 24/7. And that definitely was a stumbling block for us in 2019. And, you know, at the end of the day, I believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m good with that. Because now it’s just three of us. And the ground rules have been set. This is what I’m doing. If you don’t like it leave, I don’t care.
And I don’t mean that in a mean way. I mean that in that I am that passionate that I know, I can help change. Not maybe not all of them. But even if I can get one of them to learn a life lesson by working with me and helping them like, hey, listen, let’s slow down what’s important. Now let’s do that. and mentor them as best I can as young women, and even not just women, but any of the athletes at Eastern, I mean, I go and talk to the soccer team. I go talk to the volleyball team. It’s like, I want it to be about everybody winning, not just Eastern softball, it needs to be all sports in all colleges. I’ve spoken to Barry College down in Miami. I did a Zoom talk to their team. I mean, that’s about all of us helping other people.
Yep. I think that’s great. I got I was fortunate enough. Well, when my legs stopped working, I was able to start coaching basketball, and man that is just so rewarding just to see whatever it is, like you mentioned a life lesson doesn’t mean we had to win the game. Although we had to win the game that was important. And we did win a lot. I think I actually just mentioned this podcast a few episodes ago as well. But we did win a lot. But just little things that you would see life lessons that kids were learning. And it was like that was just so rewarding to me to see.
And so then in 2019, you selfishly, which I wouldn’t call it that, but you, you did. So you selfishly decided to coach softball, which I think is awesome. Which the practice, the season begins during tax season, correct?
That’s correct. And runs right through it.
Alright. And then that was what gave you the motivation to write the book, what you learned from that. And then so then how did you convert this book into—I don’t know if conversion is the right word—but to motivation for accounting professionals? Was that the original idea? Or did that come later?
Yeah, no, that came later. So it was it was actually during COVID, that after we had experienced the 2019 season, and then we’re like, oh, my goodness, we have the whole team coming back, plus some freshmen, obviously. And we’re like, we’re going for the whole thing. Like, we’re going for the Monty. And we’re practicing and we’re fired up, and we’re pumped, and it’s now three days before we’re leaving for our softball spring trip, and we’re jacked up, pumped. And they say, COVID, everything’s over.
And I have, we have videos, we have pictures from that last practice of the crying and the reaction. And all because we were notified that there was potential, it was like a couple of days before they made the announcement, of two or three days before that, you know, and I remember like it was yesterday, they put the diagram of the curve and how we had to flatten the curve. And I remember the kids like, you know, Julie’s like everybody, we just have to get it to do this. And they’re thinking we can get this under control and like a week, so we can keep playing. And then a couple days later, right during practice, coach gets the call. This is over, everyone go home.
And that was really impactful to watch. And this is probably one of the things that fires me up the most, I’ve watched these kids who had this glow in their face, and they were just like brand new people. And then all of a sudden to have it just come down crumbling on them. And so now when I talk to the players, and sometimes I may harp on it too much, and I don’t care, because I just have to do it. It’s like people that and I know every kid on the team right now, were all impacted by that by COVID losing their season, and I get all that. And I try to bring them back to that moment to say, why are you acting selfishly? Why are you behaving the way you’re behaving knowing it could be ripped away from you today, tomorrow, in a moment, in a second, you don’t know. And I try to bring them back to that to say, hey, remember? Remember how crushed you were? You now have the ability to continue playing were those kids who, especially at college level, you’re done. High School, you still possibly have four years, or five, they give you five now, or whatever. I don’t even know when that ends. So confusing. But those college kids, it’s over for those kids. And so I always say, play for those kids who got it ripped away from them. But that doesn’t always happen.
But anyway, you know, it was just a phenomenal experience. So the your question was, why did I did I write this book first and then having the accounting professionals in mind how that transition happened? I just wrote the book about the 2019 season because I didn’t want to forget it. And I wanted other people to hear some of the different things that were done: the philosophies, and the bed checks that I did to put them to bed in a happy place where I would dress up like Melissa McCarthy, or I would put on my old uniform, and I would walk around and I would put my bra on the outside of my outfit. I mean, just crazy things that when they came to the door, they never knew what they were gonna get. But they had always had a smile on their face, right? And that’s how you put a kid to bed. That’s how you put a kid to bed is with a smile on their face. Don’t worry about what happened. Let’s let’s get a good night’s sleep and go back at it tomorrow and who cares, right?
So anyway, so that all happened, I wrote that during COVID, and then I paid a lot of attention to social media during COVID. A lot of paying attention. And I listened and I watched and I heard from my accounting peers because of the pressure and because of the PPP loans and the stimulus checks and the all of the unknown where the IRS would make announcements and then guess what? Our phones ringing off the hook because no one had any clue how we were going to track PPP loan stuff. Why didn’t I get my stimulus? I didn’t file my tax return. I gotta file my tax return so I can get my stimulus. Like people came out of the woodwork. And it was all, and here, we were holding up literally the entire world in some cases.
Oh yeah. Yep.
Certainly our clients. And that was extremely stressful for people and there were people in the industry who weren’t ready for remote, they weren’t ready to utilize the technology because they never had before. Now they had no choice. And I remember just listening to the stories and watching the stories on social. And I said, okay, hold it. If the designated motivator can take a team from 12-26 to third in the country, I might be able to save some of these accounting professionals from themselves in a little bit of a way of not letting them give up, let’s reassess what you’re doing in your firm, utilize technology. And here’s how to do it.
And that was the transition from The Designated Motivator to The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals. Because in my mind, I’ve gotten so much in my soul, from the accounting industry, from my peers, from my colleagues, from their stories, and their motivation and their inspiration, that I had to give back. And then, you know, as far as the technology partners and building the starting lineup, and all this, it happened in one year.
Like, it wasn’t what I planned, necessarily. But boy, are we reaching people and helping people and people will reach out to me and they’ll email me or call me and, and really, it’s not about me. But I’ll tell you what—what motivates me to do it is if I can help one more person and one more person and one more person, and their lives are better for it, then then I have done my job, and I can get buried in the dirt knowing I did the best I could. I’m not perfect. I don’t do it exactly right all the time. But I’m gonna give it 110% to make that happen.
And I can vouch you do—and you always are. And this is who you are. That whole story is amazing. I’ve heard it before. And every time I hear about this team that you’re a part of, it is so cool. And just to see what you did with that softball team. But not only that, now what you’re doing is a team with accounting. But before we get into the Team Brolin, I gotta ask, you and I are on video, people probably aren’t seeing this as they’re listening. Right now you’re wearing a bulletproof accounting cop vest, what is that all about?
So here’s the background of the bulletproof vest is kind of cool. I don’t think you’ve heard this, and most people have not heard this story.
This is a good one. So I have a really good friend of mine that we played, I call it fat lady beer softball, locally, and she and I became really good friends. And I knew her husband, since we were in high school. So whatever, we’re good friends, she was a state trooper here in Connecticut. And back prior to COVID, you could do what they call “ride alongs.” So you can actually go to the police, you have to apply for it, they have to approve you and all the rest of that stuff. And so I would go for ride alongs I did with her. And so when I would go to do the ride along, they would give me like the generic version of the bulletproof vest. Because they’re not going to get you know, small, medium or larges for the different people who want to do a ride along. Like that’s not their business. The first time I went I was like, oh, this thing is huge. It’s uncomfortable, like, what is going on here. So I went online, and I, I ordered one. So I’m just gonna get my own. And so that’s the origination of why I ordered this. But I said hold it. Even better than that. You can go online, and you can get custom made, the breast patch, they call it, I think that’s what they call it, but it usually says police on it. So I said, well, I’m gonna go make my own. And I’m going to have it called “Accounting Cop.”
And so I’m aware that sometimes when I get really fired up, and so last night, we had, we were going to talk about relationship pricing possibly in a little bit.
But we were starting to really get in depth conversations with clients that we never had before, because they don’t want to pay for it. So we were like, well, we’re just going to do the minimal, we’re going to do what they’re willing to pay for and whatever. Well, we’ve changed that tune. And it’s going amazing. So we had a call last night at six o’clock, with a client that we’ve had for a while. And we were looking at their payroll. And we were looking at we were asking him so who else is working for you now and because he switches people are like, what’s up? Oh, yeah, this guy here he was doing our certified payroll reports and the payroll. Oh, okay. Well, how much were you paying him to do that? Like, what was that? Are you 1099ing him? Is he W-2? Like, what’s the story?
And they’re like, um, I think he’s on payroll. And we go into the payroll, of course we use ADP. Go in, they’re paying the wife. The wife is being paid because I think the husband’s on unemployment.
But worse than that, worse than that, he was paying himself $35 an hour for 20 hours a week for the whole year, $42,000, to do certified payroll reports where the client has like four or five employees.
And if you’ve ever done a certified payroll report, and if you know what you’re doing, that shouldn’t let’s be crazy and say they’ll take you two hours a week. I’m gonna get crazy and say, You know what, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. And I’ll say, five, we’re talking four or five employees.
And, you know, an electrician at a school doing electrical work. We’re not we’re not trying to recreate, you know, a huge building in Hartford, Connecticut at the state house. I mean, this is like, not a big project. And I’ve done certified payroll reports before. So anyway, so now we’re gonna we’re so that’s where I put the book. My point is, this is where the bulletproof vest comes on. And I want to snap a picture and send it to the guy and let them know that I’m on it. Because I will not stand for for theft from small business.
Nope. So you are a Certified Fraud Examiner too, do I have that?
That is correct. I’m a Certified Fraud Examiner. And that’s usually what I lead with. When I say hey, Jeff, this is Dawn Brolin. I’m wearing a Certified Fraud Examiner hat right now we need to have a conversation. And you know what, it’s effective? Yeah, it’s effective.
So is this still in progress, then the resolution of how you’re going to handle this?
Yeah, so I always—you know, I don’t always—I historically, I would say prior to 2011 Pretty reactive, been a pretty reactive person. You know, I’d be driving to the guy’s house and dragging him out of his car and beaten up his wife and whatever. That’s the old Brolin. And now I’ve learned that being strategic is more effective.
And it’s better results when you’re strategic. So we had the conversation last night, we’re still I have a text right in front of me right now from the wife of my client. And they’re like, they don’t want me to do anything, because they’re nice people. And they’re like, let’s just let it go. It’s our fault. We should have known better. You’re right. You’re not—this guy is not the only one to blame—bBut there are two sides. And so anyway, that’s when the bulletproof vest comes on. And I get and I put sometimes I’ll even put eye black on. I was gonna wear eye black today, but I didn’t.
Man, do you have like a helmet too, or anything? Or is there no helmet involved with it? Well, you’ve got your whole brain cavity up there available for someone to aim at. So you gotta be careful when you’re wearing that bulletproof vest. Hopefully you haven’t had to use the vest yet.
I haven’t had to. I actually, there’s only one occasion that I have worn it.
So which is I think it was probably overkill, but it was fun. And I had it under my jacket, and everything. It was a fraud case where I was sent in by attorneys. And they were like, You can’t tell anyone there why you’re there.
Yeah, I was undercover, basically undercover. And it was exciting. I had a pistol in my backpack, because that’s what you do. I should have been in the FBI or in the IRS criminal investigation, I missed my whole calling. So I’m trying to make up for it through subtle movements of enforcement.
So just so you know, it’s not too late. You can always make a change. Well, it’s only your mindset that keeps you back.
They won’t give you a badge when you’re when you’re—you gotta go through the academy. And I’m too old for that they don’t. I can go be a forensic with the FBI. But that’s boring. Where’s the gun? Where’s the badge? Where’s the blue light for my car? That’s what I’m looking for. I’m halfway there.
That’s the important part. Well, that’s good. At least you’re living vicariously with the vest and the Fraud Examiner and going in, and you actually had, didn’t you have someone with there was murder involved with some kind of fraud case you’re working on?
Yeah, it was a fraud case out of San Francisco. And I was on the public defender side. And we were trying to prove—well, we did prove that inventory kills. And so you know, when you’re messing with someone’s commission check and shifting and adjusting inventories so that their commission’s lower, you might get tasered and strangled to death. And that’s real.
And so we were able to prove, at least that, throughout the course of a year of a PDF of an audit log from QBO—we were able to prove that there was an inventory adjustment once here, once there. And then on one specific day, there were like 25 inventory adjustments, which was the period in question from which the commission check was lowered. Okay? Well, then the defendant decided to steal some inventory. He’s like, screw it. You don’t want to pay me my Commission’s I’m going to steal the inventory. So then the owner got mad, because he stole the inventory, but didn’t care. The fact that he adjusted the inventory to decrease this commission. They got together, had an argument, one person’s dead. That’s what inventory adjustments will do to you.
Alright. So the sounds like another book, Inventory Kills. I like the title of that.
It can be stories of all your fraud examination or IRS representation or I think I think we’re on to something there. That’s excellent.
I think you’re right. I think I have enough stories to make a small book. It wouldn’t be a novel, but who’s going to read that anyway? But I’ve got some pretty interesting stories over the years. That’s for sure.
Alright, well, we took a veer there, which we tend to do. Let’s veer back into the storyline we were going with with the designated motivator in the book and now for accounting professionals, and you in general.
So in 2019, than when you started coaching, again during tax season, and you had to reduce your hours at work, and I’m guessing you were doing this prior anyways, but obviously, you’ve got to be very efficient to be able to do this and your tech stack, Team Brolin that you work with which I know, ADP and QuickBooks and, and all these and Tri-Merit is part of it, we’re very excited about it. So let’s talk about that tech stack, and the efficiency it created, is that part of the reason you’re able to reduce your time during tax season?
Definitely. Things are still happening while I’m not in the office, but the work and the business is still moving forward. You know, simple tools like bookkeeper where anybody that we have on e-commerce, those transactions are automatically posting, we’re never even worried about them. Sends me a nice report says everything’s cool for yesterday, awesome. Or every week. Typically, the report comes once a week, I don’t have to really be involved in that people are running payroll, payroll is post because they’re all using ADP. The payroll is posting accurately in QuickBooks, including, everyone sit down, officers’ wages for those who have S corporations and C corporations where you have to separate it on the tax return. Bookkeepers don’t typically care, they put it all in wages. They don’t understand that the taxpayer now if I if it’s all in wages, I gotta go get the W-2s for the officers and back that out. And I don’t want to deal with that. I want officers’ wages where it belongs on the P&L, separate from the regular wages. Because guess what, you also can do analysis to say what’s the percentage of your employees? What’s the percentage of income? So alright, our employees are 40% oh, is that too high? Is that too low, we can actually have a conversation about it.
So those types of things can happen while I’m not in the office. And that’s important. Administrative work can be done without my interaction whatsoever. I used to be a 60% admin person—through the use of technology and an amazing executive assistant. That is all gone. She’s part time. If she works during tax season. 27 hours, that’s a lot. So we’ve used the technology, and I think that’s gonna decrease because we’ve implemented a couple of other things. And she’s ready. I mean, I tell her, I’m like, I need you for another 10 years. And I know that’s not going to happen, because she’s ready to retire.
I said, Okay, so we need over the next three, let’s say, I’m gonna make you stay for five. So I’m like over the next five years, these are the things we have to do so that when you’re done, I don’t need to bring another person on.
Yeah, so technology could take that.
And that’s what it does for you.
Alright. So then you see this technology be more important, especially, especially as you’re losing and what’s her name? I’ve heard it before.
I call her Mama.
That’s right, Mama. So Mama starts to reduce her hours. And this technology comes in more. This has, I assume, been able to allow you in general to reduce hours. And so what is your tax season? I mean, what did it used to be, 80 hours? And now it’s 40? I mean, that’s extreme. But where are you falling in then?
Well, it’s not extreme, actually used to think 80 hours a badge of honor, like, look at me, I can be in the office. Really what it is, it’s being in the office for 80 hours doesn’t mean I’m working the whole time, because there’s less of a sense of urgency if you’re going to do the 80 hours in a week.
Makes no sense, though.
So what I’m doing now is typically during tax season, I’ll get out here between eight and nine. And I’ll start my day. And then I go until whatever the practice is, if practice is at three o’clock, I’m not coming back. If practice is at one o’clock, I’m going to practice one to three and and then I’m coming back for a couple of hours. So I’m working between I would say, on a heavy week, February and March, I’m probably working 40 hours and that’s a lot. Like that’s a lot for me. I want to be at the 30 hour until the offseason, I’m around the 30 hour workweek.
And so I like, ten to three is my wheelhouse. I may expand that to ten to four Monday through Friday and take Fridays off. But we’re because my whole goal is that we are so much more efficient in our bookkeeping, with our relationship pricing, the accounting that we’re doing the conversations, the tax seasons happening now like I wait, I’m like at the starting line. I’m waiting for the IRS to release and say okay, the forms already into it’s got the forms and I use Lacerte, and they say ready, set, go, and I have returns ready to start.
Really. You’re amazing!
Yeah, well, we are ready. And I’m like, I’ve got a schedule. We may not have their personal stuff, but we all, every business, we’ve got I probably have seven business returns ready to go. We’re waiting for the forums. We’re waiting for everybody else to catch up.
And I assume that that just imports from The QuickBooks Online to Lacerte, does that all set up that way as well?
I’ve not set that mapping up, you can do it. I’m still, I’m good with printing out my P&L my balance sheet, all my new assets and check check check, book to tax and an Excel worksheet, like I got my system. I can do a fairly—like I don’t do complicated returns by the way you I’m not doing C corpse that have all kinds of magical thing dust happening. That’s not my wheelhouse. I’m a pretty a basic business preparer, I’m not Hollywood when it comes to his tax returns. And so because I pass those over, I have two tax partners, I pass those over to them. I’m like, you got the masters and tax, you deal with this? I’m not doing this stuff. So I can typically do it, an 1120-S, a 1065, and even some C corps in an hour or two.
Yeah, it’s pretty easy.
Again, because they’re not rocket science ones.
Now, we don’t tell anybody that. Because they’re very hard. But it’s all the things you do during the year that makes it easy to come tax season.
So let’s talk about that. Because you mentioned it a little bit over the summer, you and I were at a conference together. And you had just announced at that conference that you had just set up relationship pricing with a few clients. And that’s continuing to expand. So why don’t you tell us what your pricing model—why you changed this and what this pricing model you’re using is.
So it was an interesting journey. I knew I needed to do more for my clients. But I didn’t know how—I didn’t know what that meant. What does that even mean? “I want to advise my clients,” what does that even mean?
And I think that’s probably the hardest once you under once you’re like, oh, I like once the light bulb goes off. You’re like, whoa, why wasn’t I doing this all along? So I decided I wanted to do some cash flow forecasting, budgeting more than just sitting pushing it into Excel, I wanted to do so much more. So I hooked up with Jirav. And I met them. It was a year and a half ago or so at scaling new heights out down in Texas. And I started talking to them, like I’m interested in this. I know I need to do more, but I don’t know what that looks like.
And so I started working with Mike Triantos from Jirav. And you know, going through the product was important, but more of the concepts of, why are you not doing this, whatever he called it at the time, but three different levels of service that you’re giving your clients and package it all up, including, here’s where, you know, the cashflow analysis, if you’re looking hindsight, you’re looking in the past, this is one level, if you’re kind of looking now and maybe a little bit in the future, but if you’re someone who’s looking like I want a 2, 3, 4, 5, year plan, now that’s at the highest level.
So he and I worked together so much. And then I heard Ron Baker talk about, he talks subscription pricing. So I knew that what that did for me with Ron, validated what I was thinking, it gave me confidence that I was going down the right path, and really Mike Triantos is who got me there. He’s the one who helped me start to understand it. And then Ron validated it. And so rather than he calls it subscription, I call it relationship. And this has gone, this has transformed our practice.
Just on that story. I told you about the payroll fraud, we would have never known that even today. This guy paid himself the last two weeks, and he’s done nothing. What has he done over the last two weeks? Nothing. So he’s still paid himself. So it’s like, but I would have never known that if I didn’t say, Hey, you’re a subscription pricing client, we need to have a call with you every month to talk about what’s going on. If we weren’t doing that, we would have been doing the same thing over and over again, that would have lost another 42 grand this year.
Right. So you can actually show the savings that I’m sure that that they’re paying you less than what you just saved? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe not?
100%? Yeah, we just covered our fee for the whole year.
Right. So that’s the other thing then. So this relationship pricing, explain why this is just like a monthly bill and all inclusive? Or how do you work it?
Yeah, so what we did was, there’s three levels. And so we start off with the hey, listen. And we we told the client where they felt we didn’t let them choose. In some cases, we were like, which do you want, but understand that if you choose a lower level, your lower priority, and that’s just life. And so what we did was we analyzed the clients, who we were doing the bookkeeping for, the clients that we were only overseeing their bookkeeping, because either they were doing it themselves or they had a bookkeeper or whatever. So we have the lower level of oversight, we’ll do your personal and business tax returns, and we evaluated what they paid over the last year. And we said, Okay, our levels and I just the pricing is out on my free resources page at Dawn Brolin. So, I’ve shared this with everybody, anybody that wants to see what I’m doing, whether it’s right or wrong, I probably underpriced myself, but it’s the first year, believe me it’ll all go up.
A work in progress.
Right. Work in process. I said, okay, $750 for the first level, that’s nine grand a year, then there’s $1,500 a month, that’s $18,000 a year, and then $2,500 a month, that’s $30,000 a year. And so we took it in that we looked at the billing from the previous year, okay, this person was only paying us $5,500. Let’s get them to nine. Alright, this person was paying 12, let’s get them to 18. This person was paying 12. Let’s get him to 30.
And so there were variables. But I think that this is important. There are variables. Is this person a pain in the ***? Or is this person not? So because of what we’re doing with the relationship pricing at those different levels, what it’s done for us is stabilize our revenue. So those clients, and there’s 18 of them, there’s 18 total, 336,000 a year is where we’re at. I’m able to go to Nicole and say, how much money do you need to make? She tells me, we got you covered, Mama’s covered, the operations are covered, and I’m covered.
Now, my mindset is anything that happens outside of the relationship pricing work that we do, is like bonus. So if Nicole does like a special project, we got somebody who reached out to us, was using Gusto, and their quarterlies and their W-2s are all jacked up. That’s not, that’s just, I’m preaching the facts. So we have to go in, we gotta amend everything and fix it all. They’re not relationship pricing, but I’m like, Nicole, if you want to do the work, I’ll tell you what I’ll bill for it, and I’ll split it with you. So if it’s a $2,000 bill, you get a grand and I get a grand. So now I incentivize her if she wants to make more money, she can. But if she’s like, You know what, I’m happy, I’m already busy, I don’t have room for it, we can just push it away, turn it away, I’m not gonna do it.
So. But the tax returns that are outside relationship pricing, all of those returns, I want to do them, I want to make more money, I have a lot of clients I still like. I fired a bunch in the fall and ones I don’t like. And so, you know, it’s just given us the ability to stabilize our firm, know what work we need to do and actually dive deeper into these clients. I’ve been doing a more reasonable comp analysis. I mean, I just learned about it six months ago. And now I’m doing that, I’m doing that everything we did last night with that client. And like, we’re just figuring out where these owners need to be and make sure that we don’t have exposure.
So it’s really gotten it’s brought us to a point where I feel this is awesome. I feel like I’ve been a loser all this time. Because I haven’t been doing these things and being proactive with the client. Because we’re all in the stigmatism people don’t want to pay for it? Well, it’s because you’re billing by the hour and I and that’s one of the other things Ron Baker, I didn’t like his value pricing, I went to his face and said, “Bro, I was not ready for any of this. That’s not you, that’s on me.” And we had that conversation. But it’s like, a lot of times we make assumptions about what our clients want and don’t want. And that’s one of the things I try to tell people when you’re discussing onboarding. Don’t make assumptions what your clients are going to like, and not like, because you have no idea.
And so as far as I’m concerned, I’m in control of my firm, I know what needs to be done, they have no clue what needs to be done. So I’m gonna run it the way I know what needs to be run, to protect them, to protect me, and to protect my team, and getting things done and being productive.
I think that’s awesome. I think that’s everybody can take a huge lesson, listening to what you’ve done and what you are doing. Because this is, as you kind of said that earlier, we as a profession, have this mindset that we have to help everybody. And that’s what our job is. And we got into this. And I think you’ve said it before we got into this to help people. And so that’s our mindset, and we forget to help ourselves. And by taking control of our business, it’s better for our clients, and it’s better for us.
So one other thing I want to talk about then with that relationship pricing, or just the relationship building that you have is that you also build collaborations with outside expertise, like Paul with Reasonable Compensation and things you’ve done with us with Tri-Merit. How does collaborating with these outside firms help you and your clients as well? This is an important part of what you do, I assume.
I think that’s something that is another, this is how it’s always been in the industry where people are worried about people taking their clients, right? And so for me, the collaboration and that and that may not be the case with you guys, because Tri-Merit’s doing the ERCs and the R&Ds, and I know there’s new tax law coming out about the 179D and all this stuff—I did the all-day tax update yesterday. Oh my lord, from 10 to 6, they give you five minute breaks and a half an hour for lunch. It’s just unbelievable.
But anyway, they talked a lot about that. I love that I get that overview and that’s really what the updates are for is kind of like the overview of these things are happening, but it is absolutely 100% not something I’m going to do. But what it educates me enough to say is that, okay, do I have contractors who are doing something that maybe, you know, around those topics. Or I start to think more about that. And then I have your resource guys—Tri-Merit. You know? And so we’re really excited about being able to partner with that we had the conversation last night for ERC is with our client, and how we’re working with Haley over at Tri-Merit, we’re going to send her over to you. And then yeah, RC reports where you and I spent some time with Paul on the phone a few weeks ago, so great, what a wonderful human. And having those conversations or talking to people like Jason at Bookkeep and Tom, who was great, but Jason being able to say, hey, listen, you got a bowling alley. And they’re hand keying journal entries, because it’s an old system, you know, bowling alleys, they’re not the most current when it comes to accounting. And he’s like, send me over one of those sales reports, and I’m going to write a code. So that Bookkeep can take that PDF, and dump the journal entry into QuickBooks so that the person is not manually entering it.
And I refer that out. And it’s, it’s Megan Tarno. Yesterday, I’m like, I got a nonprofit organization. I don’t want to do nonprofits. Hey, Megan, here you go. I’m gonna send them over to you like that collaboration and where you’re weak in an area—by the way, it’s okay to admit you don’t know it.
It’s okay to not know something.
And that’s been I think, for me, one of the biggest aha moments is that it’s okay that I don’t know, in these calls that I have with these clients. I It’s okay for me to say, you know, I’m not sure about that. But I know I can get the answer for you. And it’s not like, I think we as accounting professionals, at whatever level you’re at, feel like we have to know everything. And otherwise we’re not CPAs or we’re not EAs or we’re not bookkeepers, or because we don’t know something. And so we’re not, we don’t have any value, because we don’t know this. And that is exactly not true. People understand, right?
Oh, yeah, it was that I learned that years ago, when it came out of generalist, a realm of what I was, for the first year, whatever, 20 years of my career in public accounting, and started Tri-Merit and became a specialist and realized that man, as a generalist, I was trying to do way too much. There was opportunities to outsource, you know, whatever it was, LIFO calculations to someone else, or whatever it was that I didn’t need to be doing. And man, when I saw that there was that out there that there was these experts out there that I could do—and even internally with me, I don’t try to do anything that one, I don’t enjoy, and two, that I’m not good at. And that took me a while to find out that I’m not good at managing the firm. I’m good at going out and talking to people and educating people on what we do and and just within the firm, knowing that I can collaborate with others that have skills that I don’t have. I’m not going to try to increase my skills on things that I don’t like and I’m not good at. There’s no reason to because someone else is good at them and like them, that’s what I do. So yeah, I agree with you completely.
Alright, Dawn, well, believe me, every time I talk to you, I am motivated. Two final things then, this was great. First off before I ask for contact information, which I think is going to be easy enough. One question I ask everybody who’s on the show is okay. Hey, we’ve been talking business, we’ve been talking, we already did get into your outside of work passions. But what I like to ask is, hey, when you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?
Yeah, I’ve been starting to get into pool a little bit more. So I’ve had a pool table, my dad, we’ve had a pool really nice pool table for a very, very long time. And I’m starting to get better. And so I’ve been paying a little bit of pool in the winter, there’s not too much to do so I’m playing some of that. I do like to play golf. My goal is this year I play you know, at least five rounds this year would be nice. And I only play nine holes around for me as nine holes I get bored after that.
But most importantly, my family obviously people say their family like you know my husband works a lot I work a lot we’re going to go away next week actually for a few days just to which we haven’t done in like five years just to get away and do nothing.
Oh wow, nice.
I love when we have the holidays and all my both my daughters are home and Kevin and we just kind of relax and have fun and laugh our brains out. And I do love to travel out to California to see my girl Emily and you know, she’s she’s, you know, the other half of my soul is what I call it, and she, so I love to do that. And I love to spend time with friends last night. I love burning stuff in my fire pit. I burned everything last night that I could put my hands on. I love to just make a nice fire and throw everything in.
Like client files?
Oh, I have my own box right here, everything goes into the fire box. And then that goes out to the fire pit and we burn it all. So that’s usually fun.
I’ve done that. Yep.
Yeah. No shredding for me. I’m not. Because if you go to Staples to shred, you gotta stuff them in this little slot because it’s locked. And I always cut my fingers. And so I’m not doing that. And then I’m not paying a shredding company to come here. So I’m just gonna burn it.
You got the fire pit!
Exactly. That’s what we’re doing.
Alright, well, that’s what Dawn is outside of work, then how about if people want to get ahold of you? Oh, so the one thing I didn’t bring up is that you—and it’s partly from The Designated Motivator, but I’m guessing you were doing it before this, but you are a sought after speaker you’re out at events all the time is, is this is this is something that you’re trying to continue to increase your speaking events, I assume? And how did this all come about? Because, believe me, I want to be you.
Go out and speak.
Careful what you wish for. Yeah well, you know, I started speaking for Intuit, that was like in 2010, I was doing the What’s New tours back when they would teach you what’s new, and QuickBooks and blah, blah, blah. And those were really fun and awesome times. And then I just realized, I love speaking, I’ve always liked to bring comedy into everything that I do. And, you know, I’m always got passion and energy, I’m sweating through the whole thing half the time. And so now it’s been I have a talent manager, who, you know, will will set up events for me to go speak at various locations and, and I did one for a dance studio in August, and I’m still doing—I actually just got another one reached out to me yesterday on Facebook Messenger another dance studios said, Hey, will you talk to my people? And so you know, I charge a small amount because I feel like you know, they got to have some skin in the game too. So I have, I do some speaking, Intuit sends me to places, puts me on panels, I went to a Tech Up for Women event. Now I’ve got two speaking engagements for two organizations. Some societies have been reaching out to me to do some speaking to theirs. I’m actually doing one Friday to fire up the Maryland Society of Professional Tax and Accounting Professionals. And I’m going to fire them up for tax season on Friday, virtually. And yeah, I want to build that area. Because honestly, I get so much from the audience, from the attendees. They give so much back to me. And you, as you know, Randy, you’re an awesome speaker, you have so much heart and so much to give and so much to offer. That’s what fills our buckets, I think.
Oh, I get so much out of these events. And when it went remote, it took a while to get used to it. And then I did but man when I was out in person again, it was just awesome to be out in front of those crowds, and know that you’re at least giving them some information that is going to help them in some way.
Alright. So I veered again going into that. But I wanted to talk about that because I got to see you speak in Vegas in December at QuickBooks Connect and I was thoroughly educated and entertained and so appreciate that.
Yeah, gotta entertain a little bit.
You definitely do. Anybody out there you need to see done speak for sure.
Alright, so now we are officially wrapping up. The last question is, if people want to find out more about The Designated Motivator, you, Powerful Accounting, Rollin’ with Brolin, Team Brolin, how do they get the whole idea?
Yeah, easy, breezy. Just go to DawnBrolin.com. For anybody who’s looking for like free resources, or you liked the conversation about the subscription, relationship pricing, I’ve got all of that in a spot called “free resources,” “get free resources,” we go to the homepage in the upper right, push the button you gotta you gotta you don’t you got to answer a little survey, it’ll take you 30 seconds, and then put your email address in there, you’ll get the book, you can get digital copies of both books. There’s my price list on how I price my tax returns. There’s my relationship pricing is all in their templates that I have for organizers and other things that I just share. If you’re not sure where to get started on certain things, at least it’s a start. They’re all in words, you can edit them all yourself.
Obviously I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, I guess I have an Instagram, I don’t even know. But just check those places. You’ll find me, I’m out there. And I’m just always willing to give back and you know, that’s the best way to get in touch with me either through LinkedIn Messenger or Facebook Messenger. Tweet at me, whatever you want to do, and we’ll get back on it.
Alright, awesome. Well Dawn, I appreciate you being here today. Again, it was a lot of fun. I had a great time and, and I didn’t say this, but this is technically the second time you’ve been on The Unique CPA because you were in the live version we did in Chicago.
That was awesome.
Thanks for being a repeat guest. Oh, it was awesome, wasn’t it?
Yeah, definitely. I want to thank you so much for having me on. And I love Tri-Merit, they’re solving all my ERC problems—I don’t even have to think about it. It’s beautiful.
About the Guest
Dawn Brolin is the CEO of of Powerful Accounting, LLC. A Certified Public Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, Dawn has built Powerful Accounting into a nationally recognized accounting, tax, forensic and fraud, IRS and State Agency audit professionals as well as a QuickBooks consulting firm. She is the author of The Designated Motivator and The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals. She is an internationally-recognized motivational speaker, trainer, and educator.
Dawn’s list of professional accomplishments is extensive and includes working with prestigious companies such as Intuit, TSheets.com, Fundera, MSNBC, The Woodard Group, and many more. She was named “Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting” 2012-2021 by CPA Practice Advisor, a “Top 10 Managing Partner Elite – Great Accounting Firm Leader” in 2017 by Accounting Today, and selected as a “Top 40 Under 40” by CPA Technology Magazine in 2009.
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.