It is the one thing that could put you on the fast track to the top. A-list actors, international rock bands, name-brand athletes, successful business people and the uber-wealthy are the kinds of clients that turn your business into something special. Selling an actor’s home, consulting with the wealthiest people in the world and business planning with an athlete automatically changes the nature of your business. You are now working with the elite and that takes a proper mindset.

Having a name on your client list from the zeitgeist gives you instant credibility. People will want to do business with you when they know you work for a famous individual. Better still, once you manage to add one superstar to your client list it has a habit of growing into a larger list of famous names.

Brad Pitt in wax.

And the income isn’t bad either. Someone pulling $28 million a year needs more tax and accounting advice (using the author as an example in this post) and they pay more for it because much more issues are involved. In a way, having famous people on your client list makes you famous, at least in a small group comprised mostly of other superstars.

There are two levels to the process of adding well-known names to your client list. In the last twenty years my tax practice has added names from the NFL and other professional sports, rock bands even non-listeners would recognize, actors on the big and small screen and high net worth clients. Prior to that I had few rock bands and wealthy business people and professionals visiting me. Then something changed and my business was never the same.

The first level to dealing with superstars involves expectations, sort of like a list of do’s and don’t’s. Knowing this before you attempt to attract household names increases your chances of building a relationship with these uber-achievers and keeping the relationship for more than a month.

The second level is the behaviors necessary to acquire the desired client. Once you serve one household name it becomes easier, but only modestly so. These people work together and share information. They are looking for qualified professionals to handle their needs, same as you. It is hard to understand A-list actors struggling to find competent tax professionals, but they frequently do. And when they find a keeper they whisper among themselves. If you are game you will have an entire client list of wealthy, famous and successful people.

 

What Celebrity Clients are Looking For

Anybody can find a house for you or sell your home. Most tax professionals can pound out a tax return for an athlete. The basic service is a given no matter who the potential client is. Celebrities have needs well beyond these basics. In most professional services these clients spend more time consulting than in the actual process of the actual work. In short, I consult over 10 hours with a celebrity for every one hour I spend preparing their tax return. Sometimes more.

Some celebrity clients speak with me monthly; some once year at tax time. Celebrities are normal people just like you and me. Some want very detailed help while others want something straight to the point. The only difference is they are well-known due to their profession. Most of my celebrity clients speak with me 3-5 times per year outside tax season. The conversation lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on what is happening in the celebrities life.

Before you start your celebrity search (we’ll discuss that in a bit) you need to understand the unique characteristics of working with celebrities.

 

1. Confidentiality is of Vital Importance

Confidentiality should be common sense (and frequently the law) for professionals. This is also a two-way street. As an example: I had a famous family mention I was their accountant. Instantly my phone (I have a store front in my business so it isn’t hard to find my business number) and email exploded. People who could not contact this family through the normal channels hoped they could use me to get them a message. First, it is distracting as all get-out when someone does this (and unprofessional). And second, playing telephone between celebrity and the endless spam requests is a sure way to get fired.

Non-disclosure agreements are sometimes (always) necessary. I started using a special engagement letter with celebrities where I require the celebrity to not reveal publicly I am their tax professional. They can discuss the engagement with family and other professionals, of course. But stating on public television my position is a recipe for massive disruption in my office and so it is forbidden. 

Having celebrity clients does not allow you to use their name to promote (or brag about) your business! This isn’t about your ego; this is about serving a client with unique needs and with unique challenges. Don’t worry about missing out on new superstar clients. If you prove reliable and know how to keep your mouth shut and perform professionally you will find more referrals than you can serve.

Confidentiality also includes keeping a row of your client’s movies off the back shelf of your office if other clients can see them. Your home shelf is sufficient. A Realtor® listing the home of a famous person should consider asking the client to remove identifiers when the home is shown: family pictures, awards and other personal items that would reveal the current owner of the home. Realtors also want to consider an NDA and vetting buyers.

 

2. Celebrities are Normal People

Celebrities love when adoring fans acknowledge their work. Usually. The pressure of standing in the limelight can become tiring. And like all professionals, celebrities like to loosen the tie, sit back and test a cold one. 

Just because a lot of people know who you are and witness your work doesn’t mean you put your pants on any different than the next guy. (Okay, there is a story about this and it involves putting on pants a bit different than normal, but confidentiality forbids I discuss the details.) 

They talk normally; celebrities that is. They are interesting and interested in things. Believe it or not, they many times want to know more about you! How weird is that? But yes, famous people also like to work with people they like. Their public or stage persona is not what they are like behind the curtain in some instances; sometimes they are. Regardless, they are always genuine people with feelings, desires, fears and dreams. 

The worst thing you can do is act star-eyed. As said, celebrities love recognition. They don’t always like the endless demands of fame. As they say back at the farm, it’s all fun and games until somebody pokes an eye out. Well, the eye poke is turning a professional relationship into ogling. Respect your client! Treat them with dignity. You can admire their work and act professionally at the same time. And yes, they are a lot smarter than you think.

 

3. High Maintenance

Several years ago at a continuing education conference a tax professional said he hated working for doctors. He felt doctors were too high maintenance, always demanding things on the spot and flighty. I looked around the table as my peers broke bread. The entire group was nodding in agreement, except me.

I kept my mouth shut and kept eating. I love doctors as clients and have many on my client list. Sure, doctors have greater demands at times. They are under a lot of pressure and earn a large income in many cases. They need a tax professional who can be a powerful team member for them. 

Doctors are a lot like celebrities. Both earn a high income and are under constant stress. I would say celebrities earn more but that isn’t always true. I have more than one doctor cashing a seven figure income. 

Take this example: A famous client asked me to lunch and I accepted. I was in town so he picked the establishment. We never got a moment to discuss any business or even small talk during that meal as the interruptions were incessant. We conducted business in private afterwards. Imagine that kind of pressure in your life!

High maintenance is not a bad term in this instance. High net worth people, business people and entertainers, have more needs and a lot more to talk about. They like to get out, but need private time for mental health and to clear their mind. They relay heavily on their team of professionals to give their life a moment of sanity.

Taxes, money, investments and professional decisions take more time with celebrities. The numbers are bigger and the considerations more involved. Whereas, your friendly accountant typing this can live normally in the backwoods of NE Wisconsin, many famous people would have serious issues doing the same. Scam artists find the wealth of these people irresistible. Often times I am called to determine the correct course when something doesn’t feel right. Other than their attorney or fellow celebrities, I might be the only disinterested third-party they can count on to give an honest answer. And since I tell you exactly what I think, my advice is highly valued. 

 

4. Know Your Client

This goes without saying for any professional. In this case it goes much deeper.

Knowing your client when they are famous takes more time and effort than for other clients. Don’t assume they are what you see in entertainment outlets. Also, there are more celebrities than you can possibly have knowledge of. I have had several bestselling authors who I never heard of prior to them contacting me. In one case I still haven’t blocked out a week to digest even one of her tomes. 

I watch no TV. None. Actors who contact me need to know I have no idea who they are unless they are Brad Pitt, and truth be told, could not pick Mister Pitt out of a crowd. I’m not much of a stargazer which helps if you want several celebrities on your client list. When it comes to music I listen to Chumbawamba, a rock band long since disbanded. But it is great music to work to. . . for me. Every other rock star will have to accept I have no idea who they are (unless they were big around 1980).

This means I must dig deep, hard and long to know my client at the level required to do an extraordinary job. It requires time and several meetings before a full picture develops. And lots of questions, even some that seem really dumb (So that is a science fiction movie? No? Rom com? Ooooooo. I see.)

Knowing your client also includes expectations. I tend to check in with celebrity clients periodically to make sure they are okay. Normally they contact me more than typical clients. It is common for a celebrity to ask me to “just” prepare their tax return and before the first consultation is over they have 15 more things they would love me to help them with. 

Knowing your client means speaking with them and asking engaging questions. Taking an active interest is the best way to serve your client best.  Example: Once a celebrity is a client I watch them online, checking to see if there is anything they forget to tell me that would help them. I once got a big non-cash tax deduction for a celebrity for a trip he didn’t keep receipts for. When you are my client I take an active interest in serving at the highest level possible.

 

5. Part of the Team

Always know you are part of a team of very successful professionals. As an accountant I have worked with hedge funds (was hired to advise a very large one, too), investment advisors, attorneys, and yes, even other tax professionals. 

If a celebrity is on your client list know that you are not a one-horse show. There are other players and you need to work with the team. Also, the high needs of celebrities means they frequently need a referral. Recommending an investment house, attorney or doctor is not unusual. 

Celebrities can have very tight schedules. While some want more face time, many work remotely, communicating via email and social media messaging. For some celebrities it is a quick answer before they have to run. Don’t worry about it; it is nothing personal.

Always be clear and think out your answers. Your client depends on it. Celebrities can do strange things sometimes, but that is the world they live in. I have listened to tears and celebrated successes with household names. Every one of them is driven. That is how they became successful. They built a team that you are now a part of. Carry out your role at the highest level of professionalism and you will have a great client relationship.

 

Mrs. Accountant and I are standing with Mark Green (left) and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (right). In the lower right hand corner I’m shaking hands with Zig Ziglar, the motivational speaker.

 

How to Find Celebrity Clients

Now that we have a basic understanding of what celebrities need and want we can turn to the activity of adding these wonderful people to your client list.

 

1. Meet the Team

Cold calling is a brutal business at the best of times, but with celebrities you will starve before you land the account. Celebrities have people trying to contact them non-stop. I have a celebrity on my client list who decided to mention I handled her work and instantly my email and phone exploded with people wanting me to give the celebrity a message. That is not the way to do it. The gatekeepers are brutal (or fired). 

Depending on the service you provide determines how you approach the celebrity. Using my practice (tax, accounting, business and personal planning) as an example, the direct approach rarely works, especially if the celebrity is very popular. 

Sometime you can get face time with an acquaintance of the celebrity as a way to meet, but again, this is usually the wrong approach.

I find if you want to get a celebrity to take your call you need to work with the people they already trust and work with. This means they (the celebrity’s team of professionals) are the contact, not the actual celebrity. If you are interested in working with a specific celebrity you can attend an event they have informed the public they are attending. When the crowd crushes in to get an autograph or a few words, you stand back. Around the edges will be the team members supporting the celebrity. They are usually easy to spot. They stand just far enough back to be outside the crowd, but close enough to lend assistance if necessary and they are always watching closely. Your job is to strike up a conversation with one of these fine people because if you are hired by the celebrity you will need to work with them so you may as well start early. It is these professionals already working with the celebrity that can get you an audience with the celebrity.

 

2. Speaking Engagement

This idea appeals to me the most and works for the type of client I most enjoy working with: business owners.

But how do you get even a few seconds with some of the top business executives in your community? What I have successfully done many times is find a listing of where these high performing executives in the community meet. If the social event allows I will give a presentation. 

The nice part about this strategy is that the celebrity comes to you. Imagine you know several executives of a local business with nearly $1 billion in annual sales will be attending a community event. I will prepare something very social and community oriented for one of the sessions and speak with the organizers to get a slot. It doesn’t work every time and it does take work. If you are persistent you will eventually get the chance to give a 15-30 minute presentation. Bring your A-game! You can approach the high net worth executives, but it is always much nicer when they come to you after your presentation. They are already finding value in working with you before you even shake hands. It’s the easiest close ever!

The same works for entertainment celebrities. Large social events are difficult, but the community and non-profit events are different. These venues frequently love the extra help. If you can provide a powerful presentation for improving the community you have a better chance of getting a face-to-face with the entertainment celebrity. Professional sports players, popular music groups and A-list actors attend these events on a regular basis. It is part of their program to build their reputation and meet people to help them with their career. Be part of that and they will need you on their team. Which means you increased your chance of adding the celebrity to your client list.

 

3. Political Events

Back in the 1990s I wanted to take my practice in a different direction. I wanted fewer, but bigger, clients. A letter came across my desk that informed me of a political event in Green Bay, a 40 minute drive from my home. The Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, would be there. So would several starters for the Green Bay Packers and business leaders of the community.

This strategy did require an investment. The event was free. However, for $2,000 I would get a private meeting the Speaker of the House and several other leading political leaders of the republican party. In the same meeting were about a dozen people, including two Green Bay Packers starters, Mark Green (running for Wisconsin governor — he lost) and top business leaders of NE Wisconsin. I still have the picture in my office of Mrs. Accountant and me standing with Newt Gingrich and Mark Green (see image above). 

I still have a celebrity client to this day from that event. 

 

4. Small Events

The small event is the best of all worlds as it allows for more opportunity to speak with the celebrity. These can include religious or civic retreats. Many times these are several day getaways where you get the chance to work closely with the celebrity.

It is never a good idea to run up to a celebrity screaming how much you love them and then unload a business proposition. Remember, you might know who they are, but they have no clue who you are. Think how you would act if a complete stranger attending a social or civic event did that to you. Yeah, you would be just as freaked out.

Take your time. Treat the celebrity like a human being. They enjoy that. Celebrities are being sold at every turn. Acting professional and learning about who the celebrity really is instead of their public persona will work much better than the bull approach. A celebrity rarely hires you right out of the gate. It is a process. If they feel comfortable with you, that there is a fit, they will ask you if they can be a client. That is always preferable. I hate selling. If I can prove my value by providing it even before hired, everyone involved is happier.

 

5. Blog

This blog has brought in its fair share of celebrities. Speaking on podcasts has done the same. 

I’m not recommending you go out and start a blog, podcast or start planning an appearance on a podcast. That takes a lot of work and time. Without the commitment of a regular writing schedule a blog requires, you can write something for a social or civic event celebrities will attend. 

It’s always about visibility! The group you want to serve needs to see you. Be present where your desired clients gather. Celebrities are normal people like you and me, only with bigger issues to solve. They buy and sell bigger homes. Their tax returns have bigger numbers. But the issues are still the same. Celebrities are just as in need of good tax advice as the guy working at the mill. I hear this stuff all the time from household names. It blows my mind. How can these people struggle to find good tax, legal, or financial advice? But they do. And if you can provide the service in a professional manner you will be a lifelong friend and confidant. 

Yes, you heard that right. Celebrities are unique in that they want someone they can trust because they meet so many questionable people. They want long-term relationships. Forget what you read in the tabloids. When the curtain is pulled they just want to let down their guard and know somebody has their back. 

Celebrities are a unique challenge. They are also some of the best people I have ever worked for. With rare exception, I have found celebrities are the highest quality people you will ever meet. They are hardworking and smart. They are NOT an easy big commission check or fee. 

 

As we wrap this up, there are a few more things I want to share. Once you have a celebrity client or three you will get new celebrity clients by default just from their referrals. Celebrity clients are a lot of work because of the issues at stake. Don’t take on a new client just because they are a celebrity. It is your job as the professional to know if it is a good fit.

My client list includes NFL starters, a world top 10 ranked tennis player, rock bands, New York Times bestselling authors, actors and more. Every one of them is different in a good way. They are challenging clients due to their unique status. I am not a star-struck person. Most celebrities I work with I never heard of before they contacted or approached me. I watch almost no TV and only a few movies. I don’t listen to recent music releases or watch sports. My celebrity clients enjoy my business approach to their account without the fan behavior. My job is to protect and help these people when the world is always trying to crash their party. That is my goal, my job. To make a difference in the lives of the people who are forming the world we all live in. And if you want one of the few jobs in the arena you will need to follow the advice above.

I look forward to working with you serving our clients

 

.

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Don't check out and travel the world; check-in and change the world. Make a difference. Make the world a better place. #love #travel #help #success #friendsThe extended 4th of July holiday here in the states was a do or die situation in The Wealthy Accountant offices this year. Illness had plagued me for some time and became acute just as tax season got underway. The pain was exquisite and unrelenting. It was time to decide if I can continue doing the things I most love.

In July I published a late post letting readers and clients know where things stand. You can read the prior post if you wants details from the trenches.

Things have changed a lot in the last three months. Clients and readers should be pleased my health has improved enough that I no longer consider health issues an existential crisis. 

The second part of this post is an update on Camp Accountant. 

 

Check-in or Check Out?

My writing process requires time. Usually I have a good idea what I will write about days in advance. As I think about the topic I gather materials and scribble notes. This post is no different.

Where this post is different is the material covered. I always want to tell a story that engages, drawing the reader in. Repeating what I already published seemed redundant to me and since this post is really an extension of the post linked above I will pick up where I left off. 

 

Thinking about the nature of my illness caused ideas to keep flooding my mind. For the first time in my adult life I seriously had to consider retirement and an old nemesis returned: depression. I prefer discussions of solutions over complaining about the inequalities of life. 

Earlier this summer, I had to face the real possibility of life without purpose. What would I do if I no longer could do what I was good at? 

I visualized a life of leisure with stacks of books and nothing to do all day long. As much as I love reading and books I knew a life of accumulating knowledge I would never use or share was still meaningless. And longtime readers of this blog know my disdain for travel.

That is when this little verse popped into my head:

 

Don’t check out and travel the world;

Check-in and change the world.

 

I don’t know what you can do with that. It sums up my philosophy on life. Hopefully these words give you the motivation to do great things. 

When health declines strange thoughts enter the brain. My journey is not done. There are many things I must do; things that could change the world at least for one person. I now know this blog is only practice for a much larger stage. I also know, from this blog, that I do not handle the large stage well so I need plenty of practice. 

When the purpose is important enough you will find a way. Somehow God, life, something, just comes together to make important things come to life. Our worst moments of life eventually become the most important events of life. True value is impossible without these moments of crisis.

All I know is that I am not ready to check out. This blog and my accounting career have more room the run; things that must be done.

But there is one more thing I must do. Something so important (in my egotistical mind) it will change the world for the better for at least a few people. I wish I could flesh it out here and now, but you would not understand without the full context. All I can say for now is that it will start with a TEDx talk, a book and a larger public presentation. It will be the hardest thing I have ever done; the hardest thing I will ever do. And I have to stand in the light on a stage. And travel.

You see, I had to get well enough (and experienced enough) to complete these tasks. 

Before you think I flipped my rocker, let me say that my purpose will change the world for at least a small number of people. Not at the level of Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. No, my earth shattering world change may only make a difference in the life of only one. But for that one person it will mean everything. And the odds are good more than one will be served. Too much is at stake to be diverted over a simple illness.

 

What was Wrong with TWA

The short version of my illness is I had a sinus and lung infection that required several rounds of antibiotics to resolve. Recovery is still in progress.

The cause of the infection probably came from a serious issue with acid reflux. Several years ago I noticed reflux issues but thought little of it. Acid reflux is such a minor issue (in my mind) that it didn’t need attention. 

Jogging would cause coughing bouts. Even flying was an issue. (Maybe that is why I hate traveling so much?) As the reflux worsened I reduced my workouts to adjust and my diet declined. Weight went on and round and round we go down the drain.

The doctor said the acid reflux did not cause the infections (in her opinion). The infection just made the reflux more noticeable. I disagree. I would wake up at night choking. It was painful. It felt like it got in my lungs.

Regardless if the chicken preceded the egg, I ended up with a serious infection coupled with serious acid reflux. I was unable to talk and breathing was difficult. And I was in constant pain.

The infection is gone; the acid reflux is more of a constant friend. Diet and exercise improved after the infection was removed. (I gained nearly 40 pounds!) I can talk again to the chagrin of family and employees. I can even sing in church on Sunday morning, though I would not sit too close. I’ve been know to etch glass with my voice. Now we will see if my voice survives the upcoming tax season.

 

Where do We Go from Here?

There is no doubt I took the additional time allotted me while I healed to reflect on what life means to me.

I enjoy my work and always have. There is more work than any one man or business can handle. That is a hard lesson for me; the ability to say “No” when it is the right thing to say. 

Just because you can do something does not mean you should!

The tax practice lives on. Current clients stay. I will not say I will never add another new client. What I am saying is that any new client will probably be local. I can’t be everything to everyone, taking the most complex tax returns from around the country. (Refer to the point before this paragraph.)

This blog also stays. The once per week publishing schedule works nice and if I want to pound out a few other ideas I’ve been working on I can always have an extra post now and again. 

To compensate for fewer clients (some old clients leave and fewer replace them) I will focus on helping the largest number of people with a course on taxes tips. (News coming soon!) The same questions keep coming up again and again. With a course I can say it once and help thousands instead of one-on-one. A few other courses are also planned.

Consulting is still on. My consulting this year is way down due to that nasty loss of voice. If you contacted me on a consulting session you may hear from me soon. While consulting is still a go, understand I can’t consult with every request I get. There are just too many and I really do not want a relapse of the first half of this year. 

And then we come to Camp Accountant.

 

Camp Accountant

Yes, Camp Accountant is now a real thing! Use the link for details and sign up.

Several false starts have finally ended in a real Camp. Changes were important. In the past I was pushed to do a Camp by someone else’s rules and it kept falling apart. I finally decided to have the Camp right where I want it: a short walk from my tax office. (Sorry Colorado fans. The Upper Midwest also needs some love too.)

Camp Accountant: Where you go to learn the simple path to success, wealth and financial independence. #FI #FIRE #CampAccountant #Simple #Path #success #wealthI also decided I would run it my way. These things are a lot of work and I was expecting somebody else to do all the lifting. My contribution would be showing up. That wasn’t working.

Instead of the traditional FI and FIRE camps around the country, I settled on a one-day event. I brought in two speakers and all attendees get a Wealthy Accountant t-shirt. We also will tour my office so the proletariat can see how the bourgeoisie works in his natural habitat. Warning! You might be underwhelmed.

The morning will be presentations with guest speakers. I will share thoughts on the topic as well. After a nature walk to my office and lunch I will give a presentation followed by a Q&A. (Think of the Q&A as a consulting session without the cost.) If no one has any questions (that would be a first) I have an additional topic to cover. 

Camp Accountant should be fun and informative. It is for everyone looking to build wealth, reach financial independence and make a difference. CPAs, enrolled agents and attorneys get CPE, but this doesn’t mean only these people will benefit. We are offering the CPE so these professionals can get a tax deduction as they satisfy their continuing education requirements.

 

I hope no one was too worried about my health. People were asking so I thought it best to publish an update. Camp Accountant is something people have asked for as well. I am very happy this is happening. 

Now I am working to keep balance so I don’t relapse. I am grateful for the best clients and readers anywhere. This is important to me because I know it helps you. So I repeat:

Don’t check out and travel the world;

Check-in and change the world.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

20160308_124457

Clients are stacking up.

There is an interesting stream of questions hitting my mailbox. My recent suggestion to cut back and retire early has led to one interesting question. I recommended cutting back to a part-time seasonal job and enjoying all the free time. I used tax preparation as a business idea perfect to live the relaxed lifestyle. CPA’s and other tax professionals came out of the woodwork with the same question: How do you get clients?

Getting clients has always been the easy part for me; finding qualified people to help me with the abundance of clients is a different story. What I am sharing today is something I charge a minimum of $3,000 for a personalized plan to increase your clientele. For free I’ll share my business growth story and few example businesses to help you create your own growth plan.

In the Beginning

Starting a business is always the riskiest time. All the start-up costs strain working capital while you have the least community recognition and the fewest clients or customers. Advertising can be a budget killer which leads us to:

Keith’s Rule # 7: If somebody is selling you on a great advertising idea it rarely works and costs plenty, while your own cheap promotional ideas frequently work.

There are plenty of salespeople and companies willing to tell you how to promote your business. They are all expensive with no real thought on how it will drive business in your door. If I had a dime for every time I was told I’d be out of business if I did not advertise with their company I’d have, well, about thirty seven and a half bucks by now. It is still a lot of predictions of my demise and after 30 years of hearing it I am coming to the conclusion they don’t know what they are talking about.

We will start with my tax practice as an example of how to do it right. In all the examples I will assume a small to medium sized city for business location; the rules could change a bit for businesses in major city centers. If you understand my thought process I am certain you can duplicate the results anywhere.

My original intention was to retire before I started working. (More in a future post.) Tax preparation appealed to me due to the seasonal nature of the work. I prepared taxes for a few people part-time for years before going full-time so I understood the business in the way only a greenhorn can be confident in his expertise. I also worked for a year at the church where my wife went and where we got married. After a year of doing the Lord’s work I gave my tender for January 31st. Here it was, February 1st and I was in business as a real tax preparer.

51E+0IRE81L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_My plan was simple, everybody needs their taxes prepared and I have experience so if I hung a sign outside my house and put an ad in the paper so I was good to go. As I would explain to business clients decades later, “Everybody has to eat, but not at your restaurant,” I learned a valuable lesson. Here it was, April 15th, and all was quiet. I had a total of 48 clients, mostly simple, low-fee, tax returns. I stared out my bay window on April 15th and thought, Oh sh . . .

Let me share how bad it was. My revenue was $3,000. Sure, it was 1989, but $3,000? I had money packed away and was not in fear of starving. Still, I needed more income or I would eventually run out or my spending would stay permanently low. It was in this moment I learned a skill that has served me well. I learned failure is the best teacher in the world and desperation a hell of a motivator.

Expensive advertising was too much of a risk and hit working capital too hard. I decided I would spend the summer building a client base and even considered working during the summer doing bookkeeping, payroll or other accounting work. Several low cost ideas helped (business cards with my puss on it, business card magnets) brought in a few clients the following tax season and a few late filers over the summer. There was one more thing I did. I created a flyer on my own computer and printed out 2,000 copies. The local newspaper I noticed delivered the paper in these neat plastic baggies. The newspaper was willing to sell me a box of 10,000 for about $50.  Over the New Year’s holiday I stuffed 2,000 flyers into the baggies and over the next week Mrs. Accountant and I walked the street hanging the flyers on the 2,000 closest doors.

The efforts paid off. The next tax season saw a tripling of business to a few more than 150 clients. The average prep fee increased too. My revenue approached $12,000. Better, but not enough. I rolled up my sleeves and decided I needed a new approach. I owned a few rental properties at the time (how do you think I was living?) and joined the local apartment association. Each month the association brought in a guest speaker. Well, I had the perfect presentation for my fellow landlords. It was then I learned a massive number of organizations are hungry for speakers, the perfect venues to ply my trade.

For some strange reason apartment association members did not flock to my door when I sat with them in the audience. A few were clients, perhaps five. I researched and rehearsed my presentation for over a month in advance. I must have practiced that first speech 100 hours. It paid off. In less than an hour I had the audience eating out of my hand. I fielded question after question and answered like a pro or offered to find the answer after the meeting. That night I went home with over thirty new clients and they all owned rental properties, a higher fee tax return.

Speak Up

Speaking in front of a group does not bother me in the slightest because I think I have something important to share. Some people get the jitters when faced with public speaking, not me. The trick to speaking to a group is to treat it like you are talking with a group of friends that need your help. After that it is a piece of cake.

I searched out more speaking engagements the remainder of that year. The following tax season ended with over 500 tax returns and I had to hire Mrs. Accountant to help out. I hired a tax preparer for the following tax season and have been a job creator ever since. By my fifth full-time tax season I was knocking out over 1,000 returns and was forced to move to a commercial building I bought near my home. A few years later I pushed past 2,000 tax returns, and payroll, bookkeeping and consulting took over my life. Business was too big. By the year 2000 I started pruning the client list to keep my sanity and now enjoy a 900 return practice. The returns are usually much bigger and include a full line of business services.

There are a lot of ways to promote your business with a small investment. Speaking engagements are the cheapest and best. Sometimes you even get paid to talk about your business. Sweet! When I speak to a group I focus on an area of tax law that affects the group. Taxes are boring until is puts a bigger refund in your pocket. It is rare to speak and leave. More often I am surrounded by an eager group of people looking for answers. My business card is always handy and I encourage them to call my office and set an appointment.

But how do you use the speaking idea if you are a car mechanic? Or a restaurant? I would recommend talking to groups around town about better gas mileage or increasing the value of your car for resale. A restaurant can give a presentation about healthy eating or organic food. Never talk about you. Don’t treat it like a sales call. Talk about them! Give them value! When you do that they will ask to be your client. Talk about the ultimate soft sell.

51Cu7cH19PL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Keith’s Rule # 7: Never try to create opportunity; take advantage of the opportunities already there.

If someone is happy with their accountant I tell them, “Why change?” If they are unhappy with their accountant I am more than happy to welcome them into the company. There is no need for a hard selling style when you use my method. My way is easier, fun and people and businesses ask to be my client; much better than putting on a full-court press to snag one.

A Few More Ideas

Every business is unique in how it must be presented. Speaking works for most businesses, especially service businesses. I helped a small restaurant triple sales in less than three months with one simple idea: coupons. Not any old coupon, mind you. I had him get 250 flyers printed at a local print shop for under $100 and hand them out to the closest businesses to his restaurant. Each flyer had a coupon for a free cup of gourmet coffee and a simple $1 off a lunch item. The employees of the nearby businesses started to come in for the free cup of coffee. I told the restaurant owner to keep breakfast sandwiches on hand and breakfast sweets. When people got their coffee they bought a sweet roll, cinnamon role or egg croissant sandwich with it. The best part was his restaurant could not handle all the business, but since so many were carry-out it did not matter.

Then came lunch.  Think about this for a while. Employees are always looking for something good to eat for lunch. A dollar off a pizza or a sandwich is all you need to draw people in. Employees need something fast so they can get back to work. The restaurant was not only full for lunch, but take-out orders were massive. People don’t just buy lunch for themselves when they have a flyer with $1 off, or some other special, they buy for the whole office. Think of it. Here is a small, struggling restaurant with an average ticket sale of $10 and he now has people ordering over the phone with tickets sometimes over $200. Another bit of advice: Don’t take the coupon. Give the customer the discount and encourage them to reuse the coupon. People love it!

Do It with Passion

One final thought. Business is hard, we all know that. If you start a business I’m going to assume you love what you do or you are playing our Chump’s Game. And if you love what you do, do it with passion. Act like your clients are long lost friends. Have an up-beat attitude; share stories; make your clients feel welcome. When people think you care you will have more clients or customers than you can serve. And really care. No faking it. Remember:

Keith’s Rule #8: Too many customers is a good problem to have.