The accounting industry can be a lonely and overwhelming place for many professionals. The high level of responsibility can lead to a feeling of isolation and an inability to focus on growth and expansion. However, one solution to this problem is recognizing the need for a strong operations person in the accounting firm, as Glenn Harper did after seeing the success of clients who had one.

Harper, who runs the EmpowerCPA business alongside his partner Julie Smith, realized that a common factor among his most successful clients was the presence of a strong operations person, whether it was a COO or a practice manager. He recognized that he, as an accountant, was not skilled in operations and needed someone who was process-driven and organized to help the company grow.

“The Julie” was born.




[0:00:00] Julie Smith: Welcome to another episode of Empowering Entrepreneurs podcast. Glenn, how are you?

[0:00:04] Glenn Harper: I'm awesome. Glenn Harper here for all that you guys want to know. How you doing, julie good.

[0:00:08] Julie Smith: We kind of switched microphone spots, and we're going to do something a little bit different today.

[0:00:13] Glenn Harper: Uhoh, I don't like change, and we.

[0:00:15] Julie Smith: Don'T like to give him any heads up either before we start. So this will be a fun episode.

[0:00:19] Glenn Harper: Didn't study for this. Yeah, it's very uncomfortable.

[0:00:23] Julie Smith: Yeah. Well, just wait. We have a lie detector test on you. We got it all. So we're going to really know the NIT and goody today. So today we're going to talk about the Julie role and kind of how we came about that Julie role and kind of what it led the path that it kind of led us down. And so, Glenn, before you found me, Julie, the Julie, what was happening inside your business? How did you know that you needed to look for someone maybe just a little bit different than someone who used a ten key very well?

[0:00:54] Glenn Harper: Don't be knocking my ten key.

[0:00:56] Julie Smith: I'm knocking myself. I don't know how to use one.

[0:00:59] Glenn Harper: I think the impetus for me was the fact that recognizing that when I work on a lot of clients, you can see their success when they flip the Smith from doing business to running a business. That really resonated with me. And I looked at a common factor that these clients had, and one of their common factors, they had a really strong operations person, whether that's a COO, whether it's the practice manager, whatever you want to call it. They had somebody that was empowered to do that. So I knew, how do you get one of those and where do you find one? And then it's more of like, what do you even do with one when you get one, right? Because nobody knows in the accounting CPA world. They just don't have that as a small firm. So that's really what I was looking for.

[0:01:49] Julie Smith: Right. And as we went kind of down this path and my background is kind of in corporate America, I do have an MBA, so kind of had that leadership background and wanted to be able to kind of facilitate, wanted to get out of the corporate world, per se. Even though I love what that is and what it stands for, I just wanted to have a little bit of a career change. And I think when I came to Glenn, it just happened to be the right time, the right place. For whatever reason, he never asked for my resume, and I'm still kind of held up on that one, but very highly recommended. As we kind of went through this, it became very apparent that there was chaos. And I oftentimes had coined that. I was the chaos coordinator inside the firm. And how did we kind of were able to kind of take that and make it something where it was very process driven. We were able to kind of take corporate America and what I had learned in there and my MBA and kind of what that looked like, to be able to run a firm of the future, essentially. And so I think as we've gone through that transformation process in our business, there's a passion and purpose that kind of came out of that inadvertently, I think, 100%. And in the beginning, I don't think we kind of thought anything about that, which I think oftentimes we just recorded a podcast, and I can kind of go back to that about you don't necessarily know your passion and purpose. Sometimes they'll hit you in the head with a two by four and you're going down and you think you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, and then all of a sudden something else comes out of that. So can you talk about Glenn, some of that journey and that transformation and how maybe it was hard to get out of your own way and it was hard to empower someone else, to be able to kind of do some of those things if you can reflect back on that journey?

[0:03:35] Glenn Harper: Well, it was a heck of a journey. And I think the big part of it is when you recognizing that accountants are pretty much we're very unique individuals, not quite as bad as engineers, but we like to do things our own way and we're very siloed. And so when you put a bunch of accountants in a room, they're all going to kind of put their own flair in doing it their way, which is impossible to work as a cohesive unit and try to have the rest of the team the rest of the staff be able to work with and be able to deliver a consistent product to the customer when everybody's doing it differently. And I recognize this, but you don't know how to fix that, right? And so when you came along and you're going kind of like, well, hey, I think we can do it like this, I reached that point where I'm like, there is no other time. I need to do this now because I can't just keep waiting. So for me, it was, well, what does that look like? And again, we figured out the term later, what is a Julie? What does the Julie do? And when you realize that it's operational control of Navigating, the kind of we'll call them the producers of the accounting tax advisory work with the client, making sure you have the tools to do that in a consistent way. And then at the same time, how does the support admin team navigate getting that information from the accountant to the client, and how do they get those tools to make that happen? And sort of you were kind of like, dropped you in the middle of that. And then ultimately, my job is to, again, I don't even know my job, really, but it's really to kind of lead everything. But it's more like the buck stops with me. But I had to be able to give up all that control, to be able to say, I got to empower somebody to take that role because I'm just not good at that.

[0:05:31] Glenn Harper: That's just not what I do. And then you were able to come in and basically do this little Jenga match everything up with who needs to do what and how they do it. And then the dreaded processes written down instead of in all my head and that debrief period to get everything out so we could understand what we do and how we do it, and then act more as not acting as an accountant, as a CPA, but acting more as the leader of the business. I had to change my mindset and the only way I have time to do that is if I can have somebody else empower them and trust them to go do those other things.

[0:06:04] Julie Smith: For me, when I think it was really important as we went through this journey was that, like you said, everything was in your head. And so ultimately we had to figure out a way, is how the only way you can empower is to be able to educate your team and to be able to they can all put their own flair on it, but what is our brand and how are we going to be able to execute on that internally? And so it was really, really important as we went through this, was to get everything out of your head onto a piece of paper, be able to have the conversation internally on that and to really be able to transform it from Glenn's world to the team's world. And you were really instrumental in having that mindset, I think, as we went through that, that you were totally an open book in regards to that and kind of allowed the team to kind of be able to do that. And I think that's really important because now you aren't the business. Now you're turned a little bit into being able to run the business and really being able to take a moment, not be so siloed and be able to do a couple of different things.

[0:07:05] Glenn Harper: I think the moment for me when, again, accountants were just weird like that. We think that the sun rises and sets with us and we're the authority on everything and we are to some extent, but for me, it was like I needed to empower everybody around me to be the best they could be in the office and the whole team. And the only way I could do that is I had to put it in a way that I'm leading, but they're empowered to do those things as well. And they can't go do it if they don't have any guidance, if they don't have their procedures, a process, consistent branding, all those things need to have happen in a firm. So again, we still deliver great products and services to our clients and we gave great services before. The difference now is that we're doing as a cohesive unit and we're doing it very consistent and that is how you kind of build a business versus just doing business. And for me that was a big change. I really wanted that to happen and.

[0:08:07] Julie Smith: I think you described it but you may have left the word out and that's leadership.

[0:08:11] Glenn Harper: Well again, I'm so busy doing the work and I still again, obviously do a lot of work but I do it in a different way and a different type of work.

[0:08:22] Julie Smith: But Glenn doesn't by the way, Glenn doesn't know his role because we make him do so many different things on a day to day task.

[0:08:29] Glenn Harper: It's a spider monkey every day. But what it comes down to, again, if you don't have time to think about the vision and what you want the business to be, how can you do it? So you were able to give me that pause or those meetings and made me sit down on them where we had to figure that out and then all of a sudden you start doing a deep dive into your firm, you start realizing oh well, this would be a way better way to do it. Where has that been my whole life?

[0:08:52] Julie Smith: Right? And I think as we've went through this and we've worked with other firms, it's been very apparent that the difference between the partner and the leader or the practice manager and the partner, whatever that looks like, they have to be a very cohesive team. And there's got to be that foundation of what is between us the trust, the respect, the loyalty that has been able to help us really empower firms and including our team. To be able to do that I think has been huge for us. And I think as you're looking for someone that's the Julie, and again, a little backstory on how we came up with the Julie is we'd be out in public and people would be like Glenn, how do I find the Julie? And so we kind of just coined.

[0:09:34] Glenn Harper: It the Julie, but she's right here, but you can't have her.

[0:09:37] Julie Smith: Yeah. So I think that was really important as we've gone through that. And as you go to look for someone is, hey, be aware of what your personality type is. Be aware of how you communicate. Have some sort of vision for where you want to go and how you want to go, because that person has to fit into that bubble, per se. You have to be able to kind of mesh together to become a bigger unit. And I think sometimes people in small businesses and especially in this industry just hire because it's a body. But if you could have some awareness and really think that through before. I think it would really set you up for some success.

[0:10:11] Glenn Harper: I think just recognizing a typical accountant and again, I'm a stereotypical, and it's okay. I mean, I got a pack of protector. I don't wear it all the time, but every now and again, I'll break it out in my tanky. But what ends up happening is the process and how you deliver your products and services. It's so driven to just, I got to get this thing done, and it's never, how are we going to do this thing? And not only that, but as an accountant, I want to hire accountants because I need accounting work to be done. But that's not what this role of the Julie is. It's the antichrist of the accountant. It's the exact opposite, because we can't have an accountant person in there because they're going to get stuck down the weeds and never get it done. You have to have an operations person, and that's a special individual. MBAs is key, but that real world experience of running a team, that's what you're looking for. So for me, I was fortunate enough to have one just kind of dropping out of the sky, and it worked out very well. But again, once you recognize that as an accountant, you're not good at operations, you're just not. You can do it for other clients all day long. You just can't do it for yourself.

[0:11:26] Glenn Harper: Once you recognize that it was an easy switch for me, and to just go, okay, tap out, Jill. You got this. Go with it. Let me know what you need. I support you 100%. Everybody, she's speaking for me. This is how we do it.

[0:11:38] Julie Smith: And I think that's what our journey is. That passion and purpose that I talked about earlier just really hit us square in the forehead. Especially me. Of I have enjoyed going out and helping firms make that transformation and have that AHA, moment themselves. And to watch them be able to empowering someone else, to be able to literally transform their firm into something that's a firm of the future, the firm of today, not the firm of yesterday. And I think the why for me is literally to watch that transformation and assist them in watching that AHA moment of, oh, my gosh, I didn't believe I could do it, but I did.

[0:12:14] Glenn Harper: And then they get it, and then they do it, and that's very rewarding, which, again, is the strangest thing about going down this journey of helping other firms. Accountants would never talk to other accountants. I was like, you would never do that. You just don't.

[0:12:30] Julie Smith: And I walked in Glenn's office, probably the second or third day coming from corporate America, and I'm like, so what groups can I join so that I can talk to like minded people? And is there lunch and learns? And he literally looked at me like, I had 15 heads.

[0:12:43] Glenn Harper: That's crazy.

[0:12:44] Julie Smith: Talk and said, we don't talk to anybody else. And I kind of chuckled and laughed. And we've been fortunate enough to be a part of a couple of peer groups, mastermind groups, whatever you want to call with like minded people. And that's really when it really was apparent to me that this position in the industry is what the future and the change of the industry needs.

[0:13:04] Glenn Harper: And I think that was the point that I was just going toward, is that, believe it or not, accountants are not really in competition with each other. I mean, you have your own thing that you do as an accountant and how you do it. We're just talking, how do you run a better business doing being an accountant, and nobody's going to come and steal your clients? The fun for me has been giving back to the industry. That has given me so much to be able to say, you don't have to struggle like this your whole life. You can do this a different way. Go put this thing together and grab a Julie.

[0:13:37] Julie Smith: And just like our podcast, it's a lonely world out there. I think the impetus of the podcast, too, was how lonely it felt in the industry. And if it feels like that, entrepreneurs, CPAs, accountants, feels like that in any industry. And that was really the impetus for the podcast as well as we've went through this journey.

[0:13:55] Glenn Harper: Well, I think as an accountant, too, you're getting it from both sides. Nobody understands the struggles that we go through, and I'm saying that in tongue in cheek, but it's true. I mean, we're accountable for our clients, every single thing that they do. There's no room for error. We're the final say on everything with all the agencies, with their employees. We got to do it all. And that's a very lonely place to be. And you have tremendous responsibility, and then some people don't appreciate what you do and how you do it. And so you kind of feel abused a lot of the times, and at the end of that day that you just got beat down. You're like, wait a minute, I can do this better. And then you figure out how to do this. And it basically comes to we're going to run a business, not be somebody's therapist session. I mean, we still do that, but it's a different way.

[0:14:43] Julie Smith: Correct. And I think you value the relationships that you have with the clients, and I think we've learned how to value the relationships with our teammates internally. And I think we both together have been able to kind of cultivate and lean on each other's strengths and weaknesses and be able to create those opportunities for the firm and now for other firms as well.

[0:15:05] Glenn Harper: Yeah, it's basically respect. We got respect for our clients. They got to respect us. We have respect for our team. Clients have to respect them. And we are not here to give a client crappy service. We're here to do a good job. And you try to execute on that every day. And if everybody respects that and has a little grace and tax time because it's anarchy during tax season, but again.

[0:15:27] Julie Smith: If you organized anarchy now, it's organized chaos.

[0:15:30] Glenn Harper: Yes, but it is pretty intense. But ultimately, if everybody just understands having a team doing everything the same consistent way, it sure does make it a lot better to go navigate tax season. I mean, it's still intense, but it's not just crazy. And again, I'd like to like to thank you for bringing that to the office because without it, I don't know where I'd be doing. I'd be still granting out tax returns and not bringing advice and helping clients and running a good business. So thank you.

[0:15:57] Julie Smith: You're very welcome. So, Glenn, I have a question. As you've went through this journey, and if someone's listening, that's like, man, I got to find the Julie. What advice would you give them to your early, young self before you were able to kind of do that?

[0:16:12] Glenn Harper: The best advice I can give you is that whoever's listening to this thing is you're going to know pretty quickly that you need somebody to act as a liaison between yourself, the owner, and the rest of your team. So I don't know if you're going to have two more people working for you, three more, four more, whatever the number is, at some point you have to recognize that there's a disconnect and you're just not doing it right. And at that moment in time, whatever it costs, whatever it needs to do, you got to go find that person because it's that moment in time. If you don't fix it, then it's just going to keep getting worse.

[0:16:48] Julie Smith: And then I'm going to push you to give a second one. So once you find that person and you're able to kind of see what that is, what advice would you give your younger self in regards to making sure that that relationship professionally is able to be executed?

[0:17:07] Glenn Harper: Well, first you got to do a thorough background check. And I'm kidding, like, actually get their resume right. Maybe you maybe should do that. But again, it's the hardest thing. People always say that you're not supposed to trust people because you could get burned. But I look at it like, I'm going to trust everybody right away and put them in a position to burn me immediately because at least I don't have to drag it out then. So when I trust and empower right away, I'm going to know pretty quickly if that person is going to take advantage or do something shouldn't be doing and put me in a position at risk. And if you do that and you just go all in on it, that is the advice I'd give. Don't hold back. Just like, okay, if we're doing this thing, let's do it. And that would be my second piece of advice.

[0:17:55] Julie Smith: And so my piece of advice going into that if someone's listening, that's going to be the Julie is to figure out how to communicate with each other. I think it's really, really important to be aware that Glenn and I don't communicate the same. We don't hear each other the same. But I think it was really important once that I was like, okay, I've said it 14 different ways. Why is he not understanding what I'm saying? Or why is he not getting this? It's really important to be like, okay, be self aware enough to say, okay, we don't communicate in the same way. Go take a personality test. Go take a test that makes you both aware of how you both think and then communicate. Because once I was able to do that, I can pretty much walk in the office, have a conversation and get what exactly we need out of it. And then I also gave him once I made him do that, I also gave him a clue into how I roll. And so it's been really complicated, really interesting about how we just now are very aware of how each of us think, act and communicate. And it's made that be able to get over some of those mountains per se and moving forward, creating change, doing all those things professionally, it's really helped us be able to be on the same page and not get stuck in the weeds.

[0:19:04] Glenn Harper: Well, remember, the way you talk to somebody that Julie is going to talk is way different than the accountant is going to talk to the staff because we're all about getting this task done and that's way different than how do we run an efficient firm. Those are two different things. So understanding that the communication gap, it's real, it's there. But again, I look at it from one way, julie, you look at it from another, but I understand what you're saying. And then I can ask those follow up questions. How does that affect how I'm thinking about it? I'm like, oh, yeah, go do that. But then there's some times where I'm saying it in a way that you just don't understand it because I'm saying it from a different angle and we have to communicate that to go. You're like, I know what he's trying to really get to, but don't give up. Just stay on it. And again, I don't think we ever got scared at one time to ever say what we thought. We had some heated discussions. But again, if you can't be just open and transparent on what you're thinking and how you want to do it, it's never going to work. And you got to be able to hand the baton over and say, julie, you got this, but I want to be involved, but I trust you. Just keep me.

[0:20:15] Glenn Harper: Tell me what I need to be doing.

[0:20:17] Julie Smith: And I think that Julie brings a lot of accountability to the Glenn per se because there's a lot of things Glenn studies wants to do and how he's going to do it, but he's just got too bogged down in the day to day and has been unable to execute. So I think the Julie really helps carve out the time to say, hey, you said these are your goals. How are we going to achieve these and how can we do it? Okay, what's our monthly goal? What's our weekly goal? What's our quarterly goal? Really break it down so that he's able to really see that we're moving forward and hold him accountable. To say, you said you were going to do this. And I think oftentimes Glenn got stuck in his own way because it was more important to finish something for a client than to work on his own business.

[0:20:59] Glenn Harper: A typical account. And myself, again, I still call myself one. I do have a green visor. He's very typical, you guys, but not really. But I can multitask on a client. Amazingly, most accounts I can see everything. It's like the matrix. I know exactly what's going on, but when I got to go over here and multitask with what's going on in the firm, it's just not the same. And it's not better or worse, it's just different. It's just not something that gives me a passion to want to do that because that's just not my thing. This matrix I really like, but not this matrix. So again, having a Julie that can take that and go with it and expand upon that mate, that was the deciding factor for me. That's really what it comes down to.

[0:21:45] Julie Smith: And I think we wanted to just have this conversation because I think as we talk to a lot of entrepreneurs on our podcast, but it's really about what was our journey and how did we get to where we are? And how did we find the passion for a podcast? How did we find a passion for empower CPA? And how are we able to kind of have all those AHA moments ourselves? Again, a lot of self awareness I think goes into that. But we just really wanted to have that organic conversation as the two of us have it a lot and are able to reflect on where we were, where we're going, where we are currently. And I think it's just a really important conversation, especially as entrepreneurs are having those maybe internal conversations with themselves, knowing they need to find someone, knowing that they have to do something a little bit different to get to the next level.

[0:22:32] Glenn Harper: Again, I hate to say it, but accountants were on this hamster wheel where it's deadline, deadline, deadline panic. Client needs something. Got to get this. The bank needs something. IRS gets a letter. It's this constant wheel where literally all you have to stand over there and just open this other door and you're in a different level. You're like, I didn't know this existed over here. And then you can go, well, I can do that over here, and this is way better over here. That's what it really comes down to is that we think we're drained to be in this thing over here. And it just is never ending. Just never ending. Well, what if you step back and you can do it in a different way? Your life would be changed. And mine was. Absolutely.

[0:23:11] Julie Smith: So we're going to sign off here. Doing it a little bit different. So Julie Smith signing off.

[0:23:17] Glenn Harper: Glenn Harper. Thanks for having me as a guest. I appreciate it.