A Niche Model for Niche Industries with Terrell Turner
On Episode 57 of The Unique CPA, Terrell Turner returns to discuss the fractional CFO concept with Randy Crabtree. Terrell discusses recent honors he’s received, strategies for businesses who are looking for fractional CFO services, how his firm provides those services using a tailored pricing model, and his passion for helping business owners make the most of what they have.
Today, our guest is Terrell Turner. Terrell is a CPA and co-founder of TL Turner Group, a fractional CFO firm. Terrell is also a repeat guest on The Unique CPA. In fact, I think he might be the only the second full session repeat guest, so I’m glad to have him back. He was on Episode 38, did a great job on that, and if you have an opportunity, I would really go back and listen to him on that episode.
He also is the host of his own podcast, the BusinessTalk Library, and I think about 20 other podcasts as well. I think we talked about that last time. But he has a whole, it seems like, media conglomerate out there. The other thing, though, with Terrell since he and I talked, and I think it was probably March or something of this year—I’ve seen him everywhere. I mean, he is getting recognitions, he is getting awards, he has been—the people are noticing the great work he’s doing. He recently was listed in the New York Times in a section called 100 Black-Owned Businesses You’ll Love, which was awesome.
In addition, just recently, I think a month or two ago, I think it was October, he was in the inaugural 40 Under 40 Black CPA Award recipient. And this award goes out to recognize individuals who are “outstanding leaders across the country and who are advancing diversity and inspiring change in the profession.” That’s awesome work too. Terrell, welcome to The Unique CPA for a second time.
Oh, thank you, man—It’s a huge honor to be, you know, one of the very few that have come back as a returning guest.
Man, when I saw this stuff coming out, it’s like, I gotta get you back on the show. And so I guess my first question is, obviously, you’re doing great work. I could tell that when we’re talking before, but how did these recognitions come about? And congratulations.
Thank you. Thank you, I will say, I think the, you know, as we talked before, with the having the media company along with, you know, providing accounting and fractional CFO services—like having both of those gave us a chance to really put the word out about the ways that we’re actually helping business owners. And I do think, you know, one of our core markets are restaurants. And everyone knows restaurants have been hit really hard. And the way we’ve been able to help restaurants and come up with some creative ideas, and I think it really allowed us to get more recognition.
And I think we’re just really focused on “how can we help as many people as we can?” which makes our job even tougher. I mean, when you’re managing a service business, plus, you’re trying to help people as much as you can, even those that aren’t your client. I mean, it’s just been a whirlwind. But it’s been great to see the recognition and be able to share that with the team.
Yeah, and this—the the 40 Under 40,. I was reading about then I heard about that before, even though you were on the list. Number one, I saw you on the list. I was like, “Okay, yeah, he definitely deserves that.” That was put out, and this was the first year, in recognition to the 100 year anniversary of the very first Black CPA, correct?
That is correct.
Alright, that’s pretty awesome. And is this going to be an ongoing award now, I assume?
You know, I’m not sure if they’re planning to do it as an ongoing award, or they’re gonna do like pick pick special anniversary years?
Like I said, I mean, this was the first one. And I mean, it was definitely a pretty awesome award to receive, and I think, you know, one of the things that they did at the award ceremony—that they did it all virtual, but you got to hear some of the stories of, you know, some of the CPAs that were like, you know, number 30 in the list—and it’s like, you’re the 30th Black person to become a CPA. I mean, it’s like, there’s already enough, you know, I guess you’d say “standards and excellence” that you have to uphold as a CPA. And then when you’re able to really look at and identify like, you’re even a minority within a smaller group, to where I think just that honor, I think of being recognized, hearing their story. And I mean, it’s something that let me know, it’s just like, “Hey, you have to really continue carrying this legacy and, you know, shining a light like I said, driving diversity for, you know, the accounting profession.” And I mean, it was humbling, and a huge honor.
Well, that’s great. And I think that’s something really needed in the industry. I go to a lot of conferences, and I often think we need a lot more diversity in this industry, and so to see this award out there and seeing that recognition, and seeing what you do—that’s great.
So let’s pivot for a second and let’s talk about one thing you mentioned. You know, you have this fractional CFO business and you built this business as really a niche business. I know on the website, you talk about three industries that you deal with: law firms, restaurants, and churches. And a niche—building a niche practice is something that I’m very passionate about, having done that with Tri-Merit.
But the one of the niches you have, I think, let’s expand on that more, and you started to with restaurants—but the last year and a half, the last two years has been really tough on restaurants. Let’s just talk about the unique situations you found yourself in, in the last year and a half with restaurants and the things that you had to do, you know, to help them navigate this pandemic. And in reality, you know, this is not something to stop. The restaurant industry has changed, I think, forever now. And just how has, how have you been able to deal with that?
Absolutely. I mean, when it comes down to restaurants, you know, it’s very interesting to really, you know, think about that industry, because a lot of the people who go into the restaurant business—I mean, a lot of times, they really like to cook, they’re really good, you know, they’re a really good chef, or they really like a certain style of food that they want to bring. They don’t usually go into it, because they’re like, “I’m just super excited about the business side of it.”
And so, I, you know, for me is one of the things that, you know, a lot of, you know, a lot of people kind of approached it, and which was a challenge in building a niche business around bookkeeping and CFO services. Most people when they think about a CPA, they’re like, “Oh, I only need to call you for taxes.” And, you know, that was a really big hurdle for us—and a scary hurdle—for us to get over. Because what we really had to help people understand is, you know, there are a lot of opportunities in your numbers. And you know, and I laugh about it now sometimes, because it’s like, you’re having a conversation with a restaurant owner, it’s like, “There’s a lot of opportunities.” Oh, yeah? Point one out!” “Well, I got to look at your numbers first!”
But I think you know, and really building that trust with them, and one of the things that we really enjoy doing is like, doing like a gross margin analysis of their menu—and really digging in and saying, like, “You know, are your prices, you know, right, for, you know, what, you’re actually—what your food actually costs you?” And every time we did that with a restaurant, what they started realizing is, “Oh, that’s why it’s so important for me to make sure my people are following this recipe.” I’m like, “Yes, for continuity of flavor. And also on the business side, you want to make sure that you’re keeping that in mind.” And things like, you know, really looking at their menu and saying, you know, “Let’s start adding things to the menu that have common base products, so you’re not throwing away a ton of food.”
And really, when we started looking, it really helped them realize that understanding the numbers better, helping them learn how to operate the business better, and it really did, really open their eyes more. Because even as some of them are trying to embrace technology, like using third party apps, like DoorDash, and UberEATS, what many of them didn’t realize is, some of these applications are, you know, charging like a 30% commission. So if your prices stay exactly the same, and you’re now having to pay a 30% commission, the margin you thought you were making drastically goes down.
So I think them having to be creative about that, where some restaurants, what they started doing is, there were certain items that they would have on the application, or some of them, they would have to raise their prices, if you bought through like a DoorDash or UberEats. But if you came in the store, you came to pick it up yourself, that was a lower price, because the cost structure is a little bit different. So I mean, that those are some of the things that we were able to specifically help them think through and understand because it’s just not common knowledge.
Right. I think that’s a huge thing. Because those apps, like you said, take a huge chunk of your profit, and building that additional cost into the delivery, you know, increasing the cost that you’re offering that for on the delivery, makes a lot of sense, but this probably something nobody would have thought about, because as you said their passion is not the finance side of the business. Their passion is the food side of the business.
How about just in general. Were you—the more I think about this too, your niche, two ways, you’re niche industries and you’re niche practice. I mean, you’re this fractional CFO—that’s a niche as itself. Then you’re niche from industries. In this restaurant niche, were you—and I don’t know if you were or not—were you helping them with things like the Restaurant Revitalization grants and the PPP loans and the Employee Rtention Credits and all these things that were very important to those industries?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that the Restaurant Revitalization was very essential for like several of our clients. We, you know, with our clients, we processed I think it was, you know, over $1.5 million in grant funding for our clients to get them access to the Restaurant Revitalization, and then even more when we thought about the PPP loans, of them really, really being able to think about their business that way. And I think part of it was, is helping businesses start to think about the cashflow aspect of their business. Because, you know, for some of them, they’re just kind of like, “Well, we just need to get more customers in.” And, you know, it’s like, “Yes, that’s true. But there are some unique opportunities, like Restaurant Revitalization that came up that, hey, we need to, not only do we need to apply for but hey, this is another reason why, you know, getting your bookkeeping in order, so when it was time to apply for stuff like this, we had your paperwork in order”—because I think a lot of you know, people in the restaurant industry, because like I said, they’re so focused on just, you know, serving their customers and the product, that sometimes when you think about things, like, you know, getting your finances in order, and having some of those back end things, they aren’t the high priority.
But you know, opportunities like Restaurant Revitalization came up, and even as I start talking to them about, “Hey, you know, they got the ERC credits,” which we don’t necessarily do directly. And one of the things I tell people is like, “Hey, Tri-Merit has webinars out there,” I’ve definitely told several of my clients, “Hey, you guys need to check them out on what they’re talking about the ERC, because those are opportunities that are unique to restaurants and you don’t want to miss this window.”
Oh, no, for sure. Restaurants have been hard hit. But there are a lot of opportunities out there for them.
So let’s concentrate a little more and niche in general then, because, you know, again, I said that before—this is a passion of mine. I think it’s very important. If you can become an expert in a certain industry, they’re gonna look to you, and people are going to look to you for this. So is there a reason restaurants became one of your niches? Did you have a passion? Did you grow up around the restaurant industry? Where did the restaurant niche come from?
You know, it was something that really started from, a friend of mine was wanting to start a restaurant. So as I was, early on, I was thinking about like, “Okay, I want to leave my corporate job and go into starting, you know, an accounting firm.” And, you know, I talked to a lot of different accountants, you know, in my city, and one of the things that I consistently heard was, like most of them said that their biggest challenge was around marketing and networking and stuff. And so what I did, I spent a lot of time really observing what they were doing, and said, “Okay, all right, how can I improve on this?” And in doing more research on marketing, I realized that, you know, it becomes a lot easier for you to grow a business when you are very—you are more specific about the types of problems you solve.
And I had a friend that wanted to start a restaurant. And as we started kind of working through it, I realized a lot of the, you know, from a CFO perspective, the things that we talked through, they reminded me a lot of my days when I worked in General Electric: of really looking at gross margins, kind of looking at almost look at, you know, the kitchen operation as like a production line, of really started looking in bringing some of those concepts to that process. And I realized, like, “Hey, you know what, I know this process.” I didn’t necessarily know it for food specifically. Some of the food-unique things I learned more along the way. But I’m like, “I know the business side of this.”
And so that’s where we really started to dive into really understanding that more and say, “How do we take what we’ve known from major big businesses, and bring those same concepts to an industry that you don’t really see a lot of people touching that industry?
No. And I think that’s awesome. Because restaurant pricing in general—you couldn’t even, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how a restaurant meal is priced. And I’m guessing a lot of restauranteurs are not even sure either. They just pick a number, it’s like, “Hey, this is what everybody else is selling it for.” So you going in and breaking that down, breaking it down by the ingredients, and then the components—and I loved what you said earlier, just taking common products, common parts of a meal, and being able to reuse that, or use those same ingredients in other meals so you have less waste, I mean, that’s amazing stuff that you’re working on there.
And then the interesting thing, I’m guessing for you, now, you are the restaurant CFO expert, and you have marketing out there, and social media and things and people recognize. So from your standpoint, you end up becoming the go-to. You’re getting the reputation, and that helps just with marketing, I’m assuming, right?
Oh, it definitely does. I mean, because one of the things that I learned from talking to, I probably talked to maybe ten different, you know, CPA firms, in you know, the surrounding area of Charlotte, North Carolina. And one of the things that a lot of them talked about is that you know, your network and getting referrals. And as I really started to think about it, I’m like, “You know, what makes it difficult to, you know, give someone a referral is, you don’t really know what to tell them while you’re referring them.”
But what I realized is if I had a niche, every person who knows a restaurant owner now is like, “Hey, this guy works with restaurants,” and it becomes a lot easier. And so what we did is we even took it a step further on our website, where we have a page where we put a video specific for restaurants where helpful tips. So now it’s like, “You don’t have to necessarily have to direct them directly to me, just send them to our website, so they can get some free tips. If they like it, then they’ll reach out, they’ll connect with us, you know, to do business with us. If not, they got the free tips.”
But I think that having that niche allows, you know, your referral partners or people who want to refer someone, it allows them to be able to refer with a specific, you know, message in mind.
Yep. And speaking of referral partners, who are your referral partners? Where are you typically getting business from? Are CPA firms a referral source for you?
Yeah, so where we usually get and see them are, one is other restaurants. Because, you know, as we start putting out different resources. Like, today, I was thinking through, I’m gonna create like the, I guess I call it “the holiday special,” where we’re just going to create videos of hey, “Here, with the restaurants we’ve worked on, here are some ideas to help grow your business.” And I think a lot of other restaurant owners see it, and then they tell their other restaurant friends about it.
And then we’ve also had some referrals from payroll service providers, where different restaurants, you know, they probably will think about, “Hey, I need to get payroll set up,” before they think about getting a bookkeeper. And then as they’re getting a payroll set up, you know, the payroll company is asking, “Okay, how do you want the, you know, the general ledger of this stuff to go?” And they’re like, “I don’t know,” so it’s like, “Well, you probably should talk to a bookkeeper.” Well, how do I find one? So it just becomes a great opportunity.
The way we kind of looked at is we, you know, we took a step back, and we said, “You know, when it comes down to restaurants, who do restaurant owners listen to for advice? And how do we develop a relationship with them, so that when it comes up, and there’s a need for an accountant, like, our names are one of those things that come up?” So I mean, it was definitely like that, thinking out of the box of how do you develop a relationship with the people who have influence on our target audience?
Restaurant is not your only niche. It’s the niche I knew of. But now I know that you have a law firm niche as well. So is this newer? And how did this come about?
So, this one came about as I got connected with a coaching business out of Seattle. A lady that, you know, she ran a law firm, legal background, she grew her law firm, and she figured out, you know, how to double it even more. And then she sold her practice. So she got into coaching law firms. And her and I got connected, because she saw some of my content.
And one of the challenges she was saying is that a lot of lawyers didn’t understand the finance side of their business. “You do a good job in your videos and your content of making finance seem less scary.” And so we collaborated, did some stuff together, she asked if I’d come on and coach some of her, you know, law firm clients. And so after coaching about, probably, seven lawyers, what I realized is, “Oh! Some of the same bookkeeping and financial problems they’re having—I already know the concepts very well from some of the other industries, I mean, from like, some from restaurants—it’s very service-based. And so like, I already know some of these concepts, and I can really add value.”
So we started working with more lawyers. And we started seeing that, hey, those concepts and the way we could simplify them for them really helped them out a lot. So we started working with more lawyers, and really seeing them make some great progress forward as they were trying to understand and learn how to manage the business side because they went to law school, they were trained to practice law—not trained to run a law firm. So we’ve been able to help them out a lot with that.
Yeah. And I think you and I talked about this last time, but yeah, they went to law school to be a law firm. They didn’t go to law school to be a CFO. They didn’t start a restaurant to be a bookkeeper. They didn’t start a restaurant to be head of payroll.
And so you and I talked about this, I think you have the same philosophy as me—is bring in somebody who’s an expert to do the things you’re not an expert at. You are an expert at CFO services. You personally, Terrell. And so now, as a restaurant owner, I’m just going to be so much better off by bringing someone in who’s gonna do these things that have to happen that are going to make me more profitable. It’s just not a necessary evil—you are adding to their bottom line by coming up.
And so I think the way you’ve done this is come in, come in and build a business niche practice, becoming an expert in these certain industries, it’s something I talk about all the time. And I think you’re a great example of that. So congrats!
Thank you. Thank you.
And obviously, you’re being recognized for that, which is awesome.
One last thing I want to talk about and change subjects again, is because this is another area where I really want to start concentrating more on with this podcast is just pricing models. And I know you have a few different pricing models. How did you come up with your pricing models? And what are they?
Yeah. So some of it was a little bit of testing—trial and error. I mean, because, you know, none of us have a crystal ball. So we don’t know exactly what’s gonna work. But I think just having that entrepreneurial mindset of really focusing on “Okay, alright, what types of problems are we solving for clients?” and then also realizing, at different stages of business, you’re going to have, you know, different types of problems.
And so one of the things that we recognize is there were some common trends as we were talking to prospective clients, or even as we were looking at our existing clients, and we started realizing that not everyone needs our full CFO suite of services. Some, you know—just about everyone needed bookkeeping at some level. And then some of them, maybe we needed to do a CFO project where they get CFO analysis on a quarterly basis. But for the most part, bookkeeping would resolve it.
Then there were some clients that they were actively opening new locations, and they’re actively trying to bring in a leadership team because they wanted to operate more like a holding company of multiple restaurant locations. So they needed a little bit more of the ongoing CFO services. So we really started kind of reverse engineering it is, “What’s the solution that the client needs? And then how do we start to, you know, offer a, a pricing and a price structure that makes sense for providing them the solution they need?”
And I think, also, internally, as a business owner, you don’t want to put your CFO-level work, because it takes more work to give CFO services, then it does bookkeeping—but you don’t want to put your CFO resources on a client that only needs bookkeeping. I mean, it’s not the best use of your time, and it’s not the best use of the client’s money.
So that’s kind of how we started really thinking about coming up with offerings. And you asked a question about, you know, what are the tiers. So one of the things we came up with is knowing that, you know, we start our tier off with, I guess, you’d say, there’s a free tier where there’s a ton of videos, content, where we’re giving, you know, advice—it’s not specific to any individual company, but it is on specific topics. And so there’s free advice there.
And then we also have, there are some more specific topics that we offer kind of on demand courses on, that people, business owners, can get if they’re like, “Hey, I just need to understand this specific topic.” And then we also have kind of the quarterly kind of, you know, touch points where they may have a bookkeeper already, so we just do a quarterly CFO review with them. And then there are some that need ongoing like, “Hey, we need to talk every month.” So we have a package for that. And then there are some that are like, “Hey, we need to actually a weekly meeting with you guys, because we’re in hyper growth stage,” to where then we have offerings for that as well.
Okay, so it’s almost like a pricing menu, but then also pricing, almost tiers, you can get this, this and this with this one, or this one, or this one. And then I’m guessing there’s one off projects that are gonna be hourly rate as well, is that a common, or?
Yeah, we typically have some, like, you know, there’s a client that wants to, you know, they need a financial model designed. Like we’re working with a company that’s, you know, that’s working on a concept of, you know, a bottled water company, and they’re infusing it with different types of product, different types of ingredients. And one of the things that they needed was, “Hey, we need a financial model to present to investors.” So we were able to work on that, like that’s a one off project, we kind of charge on an hourly basis for project specific.
But for clients that need ongoing services, typically, we understand what it takes—and it’s usually a flat recurring fee for whatever the service is. And like I said, when you’ve done it enough, and we talked to enough business owners, you kind of know what it entails to provide that solution. And so we’ve come up with different tiers, and we typically assess every client and just tell them like “Hey, based on what you’re trying to do, based on where your business is, we think this tier of services and pricing would be best for what you’re trying to solve for.”
Nice. So not only are you the niche industry, or niche practice, niche industries, the tier model pricing—you got everything that is—you know, really client accounting services is part of what you’re doing too. Those are all like the buzzwords in the industry, and you’re there right now. So that’s great.
One thing before we wrap up here, and I do not remember if we did this last time—I probably should have listened to the show last time or not. I was doing this and stopped doing it. So I don’t know—do you know John Garrett?
Okay. So after I interviewed John Garrett on the show, for some reason, I stopped asking everybody what their passions are outside of work, because I felt like, “I’m stealing his thing.” But then I thought, “I was doing this before I met John Garrett!” So I’m going back to it again. And you and I may have done this when we talked last time, but I’m gonna ask you again. What are your outside of work passions?
No, I think that’s awesome. I mean, yeah, John Garrett and I are friends. I mean, he’s a fellow Notre Dame alum.
Oh that’s right, he is!
So yeah, I think it’s cool what he’s doing, I’m glad you were on his show.
Now, when I think about, you know, my outside of work passions, one of the things that I I find to be, I guess you’d say it is a passion of mine, of I think just, you know, exercise and working out. And one of the things that, you know, I grew up playing, you know, soccer and football growing up. And so I really tried to stay active. Now, as I get older, it gets more interesting.
Wait, you’re not old enough yet! You mean aches and pains and everything, or just finding time?
I think more so is just the recovery period!
…is a little bit longer. But I will say I am passionate about you know, finding something to, you know, to stay active with. Like, even sometimes when my wife and I, when we take vacations, you know, sometimes she joins me, sometimes not. I like to like, you know, at least find somewhere where I can get outside, maybe go on a hike or something or go for a good run. Like I love being on the beach, because it gives me that chance to get out, get some fresh air and do some type of physical activity. So that’s definitely one thing I am passionate about.
All right, before we wrap up, then: If anybody wants to get ahold of you, you’re everywhere. Obviously on the podcasts or the website or LinkedIn. What’s the best place for people to reach out to you?
Let’s say LinkedIn is probably still you know, one of those best places to reach out. And it’s Terrell A Turner, CPA. And you know, you can find me on LinkedIn. I’ve tried to be very responsive on LinkedIn. So if you send me a direct message, definitely you can find me there.
And like I said, if you’re looking for some of the content, you can check out our media company, which is the BusinessTalk Library, where people can see a lot of the videos, a lot of the stuff that we’re doing there.
Alright, well, that’s great. And I, again—congrats on all the awards and accolades and recognition you’ve received, and it’s well deserved. And I’m guessing I’ll see more of that out there. So thanks for being on the show.
Hey, thanks for having me. And thanks for having me as a returning guest. It’s a huge honor.
No problem. You’re just saying that, but I appreciate it! So no, it was great having you here, and thanks everybody for listening today.
Terrell Turner on LinkedIn
About the Guest
Terrell Turner is a Certified Public Accountant and managing partner of the TLTurner Group, providing consulting and training services to make accounting and finance less complicated for business owners and executives. He is also the founder and host of the Business Talk Library, a professional content show that features interviews with CEOs, executives, and Ph.D. researchers in accounting, finance, and various aspects of business.
Terrell was recently honored by being named as an inaugural 40 Under 40 Black CPA Award recipient from the Illinois CPA Society.
Prior to launching his firm in 2020, he served in several finance and accounting leadership roles with Ernst & Young, Navistar Inc., General Electric, and Passport Inc. in both North and South America.
Terrell earned his Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Lander University in 2007, and his Master’s in Accountancy from the University of Notre Dame in 2008. He is certified in accountancy by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of North Carolina.
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.