I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment. My dad was an accountant who had a small home-based practice. He worked with small businesses. I would play with adding machines while he was working. It was an environment that provided me with great entrepreneurial examples in my dad and his clients.
In 1998, my dad passed away while on business in Pennsylvania. He was 52. He was my best pal, so it was pretty terrible. I was working at the time as a controller at a staffing company that had 19 offices. The job gave me great experience working with remote offices, but it made it clear that I hated corporate. I had been driven to climb the corporate ladder, but it had been a goal that at some point my dad and I would do something entrepreneurial together. His death was a life-changing event that started the process that led to my opening my own practice.
Shortly after my dad passed, I joined a small CPA firm owned by a father and his daughter. The firm focused primarily on nonprofit audits and high-net-worth tax. Neither of those things was exciting to me, but I loved the family environment and worked there nearly five years. Staff were encouraged to find our own path, so I decided to become certified in QuickBooks. I sent out several thousand postcards advertising QuickBooks services to businesses in the area. That started a QuickBooks practice within the firm.
I started BMRG as a solo shop providing outsourced bookkeeping from the second bedroom in my condominium in Danbury, Conn. After six or eight months, my sister started working with me part time while she was in grad school, and I hired my first employee, a financial analyst for Pepsi who became my first outsourced controller. He’s still with us.
We were really fortunate to develop excellent referral relationships. One firm, in particular, didn’t provide outsourced CFO or ongoing accounting services, but focused on audit, tax, etc. I was referred to them by a mutual business contact, and we arranged a meeting where I gave a presentation to a couple of their partners. They sent us a couple of test clients, and that went really well. After that, they sent us a ton of work. We were able to grow really rapidly. We doubled our staff size—from five, to 10—shortly after moving into our first office in 2007. We’ve stayed between 10 and 14 ever since.
It was our goal from the start to provide bookkeeping services remotely. We attempted many server-based solutions and mocked up our own internal work flow to try to work with our clients remotely. But it was all extremely cumbersome and expensive. The big turning point came in late 2008 when I first encountered a couple of cloud-based products, Bill.com (accounts payable and online invoicing) and SmartVault (secure document storage and file sharing).
I changed our whole business model literally overnight. I have no regrets about the change in our model or with our clients. The big mistake we made was with our internal staff. I hurled the entire thing at them at once. We went through a really difficult year. There was a lot of turnover. One individual on our team said the changes we made “were the worst things that could have ever happened to the firm.” Only two staff members survived the journey.
With cloud-based solutions, I didn’t have to necessarily restaff in our building or even in our state. I had a lot of relationships with excellent professionals in other states. These were QuickBooks ProAdvisors or other professionals who had owned small practices and didn’t want to be on their own anymore. So I rebuilt our staff largely by choice of the best talent as opposed to the best talent we could find in our area. Each of the new hires worked at home.
Last June, our existing lease expired. I had to decide whether to renew. We had only two full-time and one part-time staff in our Connecticut office. Everyone else was telecommuting. There was no need for the office anymore. So we renewed for one year to give ourselves the chance to make the transition. We moved staff first and got them telecommuting and practicing to work out kinks. We officially closed the office on April 15.
—As told to Jeff Drew, email@example.com , a JofA senior editor.
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