Glenn and Julie Explore Accounting’s Evolution with Industry Expert Jim Buffington

Episode Transcription

Glenn Harper [00:00:00]:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another edition of the Empowering Entrepreneurs podcast. I’m Glenn Harper.

Julie Smith [00:00:05]:

Julie Smith.

Jim Buffington [00:00:06]:


Glenn Harper [00:00:06]:

going on, Julie?

Julie Smith [00:00:07]:

You stumbled over that that

Glenn Harper [00:00:08]:

thing where you I’m a fast talker to this. A second cup of coffee. I’m not sure what’s going on.

Julie Smith [00:00:12]:

But Oh, man. Our guest is in for a treat then.

Glenn Harper [00:00:14]:

Well, if he’s anything like his bio says, he’s probably amped up on from Red Bulls and coffee as well.

Jim Buffington [00:00:21]:

I’ve had my coffee.

Glenn Harper [00:00:22]:

My man. Alright. Well, let me introduce our guest today, Jim Buffington, the hardcore CPA with an MBA just because he wanted to have more letters after his name. He doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. He has ultimately found the sweet spot, which is advising accounts on how to bring advisory services to their firm and their clients as well as best practices to operate CPA firms more efficiently. He’s an advisory service leader at Intuit accountants. You might have heard about Intuit and QuickBooks. They run about 93.246 percent of all financial statement preparation software worldwide.

Glenn Harper [00:00:54]:

A typical CPA who ran his own firm and then discovered slash learned of the secret sauce, and that is on the road helping other accounts be the best they can be. Thanks, Jim, for being on our show.

Jim Buffington [00:01:04]:

Thank you, Glenn. It’s a privilege to be

Julie Smith [00:01:06]:

here. Well Definitely, you had to get in that very exact number. You guys were probably loving that as CPAs.

Glenn Harper [00:01:12]:

Oh, I honestly got I made that number up, but it’s probably higher than that number. I’m guessing, and I’m sure Jim will tell us later, but it it is that they are the elephant in the room. They are the ones that dominate the space for small business accounting. They’ve got great products. They used to be, you know, desktop stuff and now went to online, and they’ve got all the data. So they

Julie Smith [00:01:32]:

changed change in the industry and accountants. You’ve definitely had to, you know, deal with that elephant in the room.

Glenn Harper [00:01:38]:

This is the deal. Well, we like to do obscure facts and figure out some things about our guests because, you gotta set the tone here. And, I heard you just talk a skosh, but it definitely sounds like you grew up, in in Texas. You got a little twang to you. So is that a true statement?

Jim Buffington [00:01:57]:

Very true. Very true. I have lived in Texas almost my entire life, grew up in Fort Worth, migrated to College Station, Texas a and m. Whoop. I have 5 Aggies in my family. All my children went there and all have rings, so we’re proud of that. Then I spent about a dozen years in public accounting, and then when I switched careers and got into technology, I migrated back to the DFW Metroplex, and we live just north of Dallas.

Glenn Harper [00:02:25]:

You can’t you get sucked back in. Plano is a great suburb. I’ve been there. It’s grown like crazy. It’s the deal. You know, it says that you went to school at Texas A&M with an accounting degree, but like why did you wanna go to an agricultural mechanical college? Did you wanna be a commissioned officer in the US military, or was it agricultural mechanical? Which was it?

Jim Buffington [00:02:44]:

Yeah. That’s a great question. The truth is, that was my backup school, and, I was I’ve had great teachers and counselors in my life, and I’m I’m thrilled, for that. And my counselor made me have a backup. I was going to the Naval Academy, got accepted, was, you know, on my way, had my, nomination and everything. And then as things happen, you know, God had a different plan for my life. And, in the spring of my senior year, that didn’t work out. So then I looked around.

Jim Buffington [00:03:13]:

I was like, okay. Now what do I do? And and, my college counselor made us have a backup school. So, A and M was a fabulous place to land, and I started as a physics major and realized quickly after my 1st semester that wasn’t gonna work out very well. And, my roommate was flipping through the catalog, Brent, and, he said, look. You can get into accounting. You can use your, AP hours and still graduate on time. I said, fine. Sign me up.

Jim Buffington [00:03:41]:

And I I joked that, if agriculture had come before accounting in the alphabet, I probably would be an ag major today.

Glenn Harper [00:03:49]:

That is hilarious because it’s always wondering, you know, the journey had to be to be some sort of officer in in a in a in a branch of service And then to choose accounting after that, like, that just doesn’t happen. So that you definitely got the short straw on that one.

Jim Buffington [00:04:02]:

Yep. Yep.

Julie Smith [00:04:03]:

So when you started your classes, obviously, it doesn’t sound like it was even on your radar minus the alphabetic choice of of it. Did it intrigue you? Did it have a passion? Or were you just putting your head down, getting through it, gonna graduate, figure it out later?

Jim Buffington [00:04:20]:

Yeah. You know, it’s a great, great question. So I got my first job. We talk about entrepreneurs on this podcast. I got my first job when I was 11, and I worked, up through you know, graduated from high school. I worked 3 jobs in college to put myself through. And looking back, I I was 12 years old. I was really odd.

Jim Buffington [00:04:40]:

I used to keep a ledger of what I earned that month and then what I spent and what went into my savings account every month. So I was probably born to be an accountant. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Glenn Harper [00:04:53]:


Jim Buffington [00:04:53]:

fantastic. A a lot of closet nerds out there that would be fabulous accountants when they grow up.

Glenn Harper [00:04:59]:

I knew That might be one

Julie Smith [00:05:01]:

of my favorite stories.

Glenn Harper [00:05:02]:

I I get the whole ledger thing. I had one as a kid, a calculator watch. It’s the it’s the thing, and then you didn’t even know what one was until you became one. You’re like, oh, that’s how it all works.

Julie Smith [00:05:11]:

I can assure our listeners that I never did that, still don’t do that, and don’t even understand the whole calculator thing.

Glenn Harper [00:05:17]:

So Just out of 10, Keith, it’d be great. So one of the fun things is, you know, I had to look this up because I didn’t know this, but, you know, what is an Aggie? You know what an Aggie is, Julie? No. I’m not gonna put you on the spot. No.

Julie Smith [00:05:31]:

I don’t.

Glenn Harper [00:05:31]:

I had looked this up, but apparently, it’s just is what they call students that attend a land grant agriculture school. And I don’t even know how many of those are there in the US. Is there is it do you know is there a lot of those?

Jim Buffington [00:05:43]:

I think most, at least in the Midwest, most states, do have an agricultural land grant school. We have a couple of them in Texas. We have the University of Texas system. We have the Texas a and m system. Both of them land grants. And in Texas, we’re very fortunate that we had a lot of oil and gas revenue that funded those. So, when I was going to school, tuition was pretty reasonable. We were joking the other day that, football tickets back then were right around 4 to $6 a game.

Jim Buffington [00:06:12]:

So, we it was a little cheaper than when I put my kids through

Glenn Harper [00:06:17]:


Jim Buffington [00:06:18]:

Just a few years ago.

Glenn Harper [00:06:20]:

Yeah. Johnny, you, in Pecans, they made a really nice stadium there, so that that makes it makes it a little more expensive.

Julie Smith [00:06:26]:

Wait. I’m gonna take us back. So you talked about I’m I’m still stuck with keeping a ledger at 12 years old like that.

Glenn Harper [00:06:32]:

Don’t be. It’s just a thing. Yeah.

Julie Smith [00:06:35]:

Do did you ever did you do anything entrepreneurial growing up? Or were you always working for someone? Or what did that look like growing up?

Jim Buffington [00:06:44]:

Mostly working for someone. So we used to do, in the summertime, I would mow yards and do yard work. And then in the wintertime, we sold firewood. So it was a year round business, and I supported another family that did that for several years, probably like 4 years. And then I did other jobs and, I was a boy scout, so I worked summers doing camp counselor work and, then through I was very strategic in college. I, managed to get a job taking care of a handicapped student, so I got a big discount on my dorm room. Got paid very well for a job that nobody else wanted to do. And then my, one of my other jobs was I worked in the health center cafeteria, so I got free food.

Jim Buffington [00:07:31]:

Smart. And so I managed to cover a lot of bases and still have a little income. So I was always pretty thoughtful about, the jobs that I got that sort of fit into my schedule and, helped support me through college.

Julie Smith [00:07:42]:

Now in college, did you do anything entrepreneurial? I mean, obviously, you had those jobs for the university that were obviously very strategic and and good moves. But did you ever do anything on this side?

Jim Buffington [00:07:53]:

No. I would say, really my entrepreneurial, spirit sort of got unleashed in my public accounting days. So as soon as I became, as I graduated, became a public accountant, I helped, other entrepreneurs get started. And that was just a fabulous learning experience, learning how to take a businesses, and this was back in the days when we had, like, cable television and helping a very young 20 something take a bunch of video cameras and turn that into commercials for local television and ultimately selling that out to, what eventually became AT and T’s cable and turn it into a a very big business. That was, like, one of my first experiences working with entrepreneurs and helping them actually create a business that has structure and, then be able to market that and move that to the next level.

Julie Smith [00:08:49]:

So right out of college, you went and worked for, like, a regional CPA firm, small CPA firm, national c what did Yeah.

Jim Buffington [00:08:57]:

It’s a it was a very traditional firm. So, they had 3 partners, about 30 employees, and that experience doing traditional work, really shaped my view of public accounting and sort of where I wanted to take my career because they what I noticed is as a young person coming in, it was very easy for me to bring in technology. I brought in the first computer. It’s very easy for me to learn the new tax laws because I didn’t have to unlearn a lot of other tax laws. But I noticed that the other partners, the older they got, the tougher it was to learn new things and unlearn a lot of habits. And, while I was there, mister

Julie Smith [00:09:37]:

Wood was never change, do they?

Jim Buffington [00:09:40]:

You know, they don’t. And, while I was there, mister Wood was 66, and he died at his desk. He smoked 2 packs a day, and his son was a couple doors down in the office and probably destined for the same path. And I’ve I love accountants and tax professionals, and, I see this a lot that we learn how to do this really well and then we do this for our entire career. We create these deep relationships and it’s hard to separate ourselves from our work, and that becomes our identity. And so I I learned early on I love public accounting. I love helping entrepreneurs, but I don’t wanna do that my entire career. And so, I decided that at some point, I wanted to separate from public accounting and take a different path and try something different.

Jim Buffington [00:10:31]:

And, so about a dozen years in public accounting and got to do some fabulous things, I took a career change and jumped out to start a dotcom, went out and raised venture capital and put a team together and, did the tech startup thing, and, that was a great learning experience. It was a great team and, learned a lot. But at the, when the dotcom boom collapsed, we did not make it. And so that was an opportunity for me to kinda figure out which direction I wanted to go, and I realized I I still love technology and there were some parts of it, selling technology, helping customers embrace technology. And so I just combined my skill sets, my love for tax and accounting professionals with technology,

Glenn Harper [00:11:26]:

That would be

Jim Buffington [00:11:27]:

after That would be after.

Glenn Harper [00:11:29]:


Jim Buffington [00:11:29]:

Yeah. I probably get I probably earned 2 MBAs doing the dotcom thing. Mhmm. And then I actually went to school after that and got mine. That was a funny it was a fun time because I was doing night school and sitting across the desk from my kids doing their homework, And so it was a good, I took my time. It actually took me longer to get my MBA in than it did my undergraduate degree, but we had a great time doing it and my kids, got to see me graduate.

Glenn Harper [00:11:54]:

Well, then then you didn’t wanna make it look easy and you wanted to milk that a little bit. I get it. Right? That makes sense. You know, it’s funny up here in the north, we look at everybody in Texas is either rancher or oil person. It doesn’t sound like you were either. Your parents weren’t either. They’re just normal people doing what they do, so they had real jobs, so you never really got the taste of the entrepreneur thing, other than just hustling a little bit. But they had real jobs growing up, so you weren’t exposed to the entrepreneur thing? Or

Jim Buffington [00:12:21]:

They did. In in public accounting, it’s funny you mentioned that because my first firm that I spent 2 years with, we had a ton of farmer clients. We had a lot of farmer rancher clients, and and I joke I used to eat lunch at least once a month out at the auction house where they basically you get this huge stake and you go auction and they auction off cattle every month. And I joke that, you know, that was one of the best parts about working with farmers and ranchers is you eat really well. Mhmm. My second firm that I went to, we were in East Texas and had probably half of our clients had oil and gas. So spent a lot of time in oil and gas. And that is such a fun place because there’s so many neat tax strategies that you can do.

Jim Buffington [00:13:07]:

But it’s also an interesting type of client and entrepreneur. These are people that very they love risk. They love to, you know, take a huge risk, dig a hole, you know, pour a lot of money into it, strike it big, almost go broke, come so close to going bust, and then, you know, the money comes in. And just about the time you think they’re gonna put something in the bank, you know, they pour it all back down into another hole, and it’s just, it’s a roller coaster ride. And that’s, you know, that’s a very fun, exciting industry to be in, but it has a lot of nuances and things too. And, again, I think we were able to make a a big difference and help power a lot of prosperity in that space when when I was in public accounting there.

Glenn Harper [00:13:56]:

It seems like, you know, if you will work for a big accounting firm like, one of the national firms, you’re only there for say 3 years, you learn a specific task in a specific industry and that’s your breadth of knowledge in that little silo. But when you work for a smaller firm, you’re kind of doing everything for every business. That experience there with having the getting your MBA and then going to Intuit, now you know you speak the language, you know what the clients need, you know what they’re looking for, you know how to match technology, you’re probably way ahead of your peers because of that experience, or maybe everybody on your team did it the same way, but I suspect that give you a little bit of a head start from everybody to bring that technology because you understood the whole, you know, environment of a small business owner?

Jim Buffington [00:14:41]:

I I think, yes. And I think to, you know, we have a challenge in our really across all of, industries, but especially public accounting. Hiring or attaining young people in our in our space, and I talk to a lot of the early career folks who don’t enjoy that very focused, very narrow, just do this job, whether you’re in audit, whether you’re in tax. And they wanna make a difference in the world. They wanna get involved with clients. They wanna actually help those clients reach their goals, whatever those are, and and, b, more engaged with that client and that business to really see it come to fruition. And that’s, I think, a little bit more characteristic of this earlier, this latest generation than my generation. My generation, we were we were happy to work hard.

Jim Buffington [00:15:31]:

It was a badge of honor to work 60 hours a week during tax season, and, you didn’t get to see your family too much, you know, during that Q1. And there was something there was a certain amount of pride there. I think and rightfully so, I think it’s a good thing that younger generation doesn’t wanna work like that. They’d rather work smarter than harder. They’d rather make a bigger difference and feel like they are a part of something bigger. And so I think it’s it’s a great opportunity for our firms today, whether you’re the big four or whether you’re, smaller, to really think about developing and growing your talent. That’s what they’re interested in, in making a difference and growing their skill set and and making a difference. I was privileged that I don’t really ever know any boundaries, and I still even even here at Intuit don’t really have any boundaries.

Jim Buffington [00:16:23]:

So I’m never afraid to get involved with a client back then or with customers today. I spend a ton of my time today, learning best practices from accounting firms and then getting to share those out with the rest of our profession and helping share those best practices around. My passion is really helping them sort of automate more of the compliance work, the traditional stuff, tax, accounting, compliance work, bookkeeping, financials, all those things that have to be done that are required but not necessarily desired by our customers, and then creating that capacity so that they can get to that next level and really unleash their amazing financial acumen and coach those businesses that that really crave and need that extra advice, that coaching, that accountability.

Glenn Harper [00:17:13]:

Isn’t that funny that accountants will kind of, adopt their clients, not only financially, but totally emotionally. And we superimpose ourselves into their entire situation, their family, their business, and we look at it through a lens of how to help them be better and what they need to do. We advise them, we we nail it every time. When we look at ourselves as our own firms, it’s impossible for us to do that. For some reason, accounts just as historically have a hard time doing it, and I’m speaking from experience, right? Because you just, like, gotta get the work done, right? I don’t know where you’re working at 60 hours a week in tax season, but that sounds glorious compared to the 90 I used to work. But, hey, to me, they do things different in Texas. I don’t know. But now, you know, the ability to look inward with the advisory side and and helping CPAs run their business like a business, It also helps us identify different avenues for our clients as well, makes us better CPAs for our clients because we’re looking at it through a totally different lens now.

Glenn Harper [00:18:13]:

And, that’s that’s great for the industry. That’s great for everybody.

Jim Buffington [00:18:17]:

Absolutely. Absolutely. When we begin to look at our business and create a plan and really start to set goals and some of those are financial goals and some of those are other goals. I talk to firms all the time and there’s, you know, there’s the money side of it, but then there’s also the quality of life side. Some of these firm owners, they wanna create great employment opportunities for their team because they love their team. They wanna maybe create a 4 day work week instead of a 5 day work week. There’s lots of different things. But as we begin to look at our business and, be more strategic about how we run our business, about how we think about our team and our services and our workflows and the way that we deliver those and the value that we deliver to our clients, it looks very different, and and that’s a good thing.

Jim Buffington [00:19:11]:

And, again, most firms tend to be maxed out just because there’s way more work than there is firms and people available today. So it’s not a question of having enough work. It’s choosing the type of work that we wanna do and then making sure that we’re building processes that support that so that we don’t get overwhelmed or overloaded with just the compliance work.

Glenn Harper [00:19:36]:

Yeah. Accountants, we just can’t say no to our clients. It’s impossible. And because we wanna be there to help them because it’s just a stereotypical trait that we have, right? We just wanna help. But you look at you start off maybe at 10 clients and you’d spend, you know, 10 hours a month on all of them. Right? Next thing you know, 5 years later, those same 10 clients, you’re spending a 100 hours a month because they grew and you grew with them. But the client doesn’t look at it that way. They just think you’re always there.

Glenn Harper [00:20:02]:

They don’t realize that you’re bringing more value, more tasks, and they don’t understand. And we as accounts don’t know how to communicate that to our client to say, look, we got to up this engagement. They’re like, what are you talking about? And it’s just very hard to learn that. And that’s something we’ve been able to do over the years. And again, I think what you’re doing over at Intuit to just put the word out there for accounts, it’s okay to ask to to what you’re worth, and it’s okay to run your business like a business. You don’t have to do it just for everybody else.

Jim Buffington [00:20:32]:

Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. I think we do tend to give away a lot of services to our clients. You mentioned we care deeply about them. Sometimes we care more about their finances than they care about their finances.

Glenn Harper [00:20:44]:

Crazy, isn’t it? It’s crazy.

Jim Buffington [00:20:46]:

That’s not a healthy thing. Nope. I always like to I always like to say that, you know, our greatest value is not accounting, but it’s accountability. It’s helping them be accountable to whatever their goals are. And I think a lot of firms that have that are leading with advisory, there’s there’s taken a step back instead of just saying, alright. Look. Here’s the list of work we gotta do, income tax returns, sales tax returns, investments, all those kind of things. The they’re taking a step back and saying, alright.

Jim Buffington [00:21:12]:

What are your goals? Where do you wanna be in a year? 3 years? 20 years? Why did you start this business? What does this business mean to you? And as we begin to ask those questions, then we can begin to, document what the goals are for those clients and then begin to build plans and help them reach those goals. Those can be formal budgets. Those can be, targets. Those can be, you know, a little bit softer tied to goals, but helping folks reach their goals and be accountable to what they wanna get to. And when we understand what their goals are, it makes the planning and advisory go so much smoother. The clients enjoy those kind of conversations. Accountants, we spend a lot of time there looking in the rearview mirror. Hey.

Jim Buffington [00:22:07]:

We need to get last year’s books cleaned up. Hey. We need to get tax returns from 6 months ago, filed. Those types of things aren’t necessarily exciting, but when we can align with the clients and look in their direction, you know, present, start to address some of the problems and challenges they have in their business, and look forward where they wanna go, then it makes getting all that compliance stuff easier. And what we actually find is the firms who have flipped the model from just, client driven workflows where they focus on all this tax and accounting and other compliance work that has to be done, those firms tend to have 10 month tax season. They’re doing it all year long. They’re cleaning things up all year long. When you start with the planning, when you start with advisory, what happens is over a period of time, 6 months or so, those books become more real time.

Jim Buffington [00:23:01]:

Those books become more caught up, and there’s a lot more opportunity to just slide in a little more automation. Every time you’re meeting and you’re understanding some of the things that are going wrong, there’s probably another opportunity to fix something, fix some small area that can automate more of that back office work. And so over time, that stuff becomes more automated, more real time. The conversations are more about forward looking and goal driven conversations rather than compliance driven rearview, looking. And so what happens is these firms, when they get to January February, they can close out the books on their own. They don’t have to ask for anything. They can begin preparing those tax returns on their own, and a lot of them are finishing their tax season by April, which then creates 6 months of capacity that they didn’t have. Mhmm.

Jim Buffington [00:23:53]:

And now they can do more planning meetings, more advisory work. And so starting with the planning advisory actually helps solve a lot of the client driven workflows in the compliance tax season, accounting world.

Glenn Harper [00:24:10]:

You know, it’s funny the, you know, entrepreneurs, the typical small business, whether solopreneurs or whatever that a smaller firm would deal with, it’s literally herding cats. There’s spider monkeys everywhere because all entrepreneurs look at is opportunity. They just see something, but they they it’s really hard for them, at least the first time to get that infrastructure and the planning. They just see it and they go get it, And the accountant always has to come in and do cleanup work and fix whatever they did that they shouldn’t done in the first place. If they would just have the conversation or have the relationship where they can be, look at us as more of an advisor, not just the compliance person, it really does help the entrepreneur immensely. And and then what it does, it lets the accountant then flex and do what they’re really supposed to be doing for the client, not just clean it up messes. That’s just no fun for anybody.

Jim Buffington [00:25:00]:

Yeah. Exactly. And, you know, you mentioned earlier that, we we start out with 10 clients, and my experience is within about 3 to 5 years, each new firm is pretty well maxed out. If you wanna be, you’re gonna be maxed out. And and we we all start out as generalists. We took every client that knocked on our door and was a referral from another client. What I see with firms who flip this model and say, look. We don’t wanna just be the tax and accounting, payroll type firm and do traditional services.

Jim Buffington [00:25:29]:

We wanna start leading with planning and advisory. We wanna make a difference with clients. Those firms begin to identify what they’re really good at and where they have energy and passion and where their team is best invested. And so they they tend to be instead of a generalist, they start to focus on a certain type of client. Could be construction, real estate investors, maybe dentists. I talked to somebody the other day who is doing, grocery stores. There’s just all kinds of niches. I have no clue, you know, about most of them, but some people are passionate about different things.

Jim Buffington [00:26:07]:

And so over time, these firms begin to see what they’re really good at, and they begin to focus where their, expertise is and their energy is. And that happens over many years. So, I have a couple firms that I followed. One firm that I follow, Chris, I’ve probably been with him for 9 years. And each year, he keeps narrowing and narrowing and narrowing. And that means taking some clients out of the firm and moving them. You know, he has another partner that used to work with him that he just farms them over to them. They’re not within his niche.

Jim Buffington [00:26:42]:

He just moves them out so that he can continue to focus on his, niche and his specialty, and they deliver great services, tons of value. His fees have continued to rise. He’s got less employees now, working less clients, but higher fees and more time on his hands. And that is really sort of the the magic formula. I’m not saying that’s easy at all. It’s not. It’s a multiyear process, but it is very possible. And I I think this is such a phenomenal industry.

Jim Buffington [00:27:17]:

And I think for young people, if we can help create firms that really give them the opportunity to grow and develop, we can create just such an amazing place to help foster more entrepreneurs in the next, you know, decade, couple decades.

Glenn Harper [00:27:35]:

It’s funny as accountants, number 1, we’re already there might be a couple of stereotypes about us. I don’t know. You know? Some are probably maybe warranted a little bit. Some are just absolutely BS. Like, we would wear short sleeve shirts with a pocket. There’s no way we would do that.

Julie Smith [00:27:53]:

With the protector though.

Glenn Harper [00:27:54]:

Right. Well, that’s yeah. That’s that’s not a stereotype. That’s a fact. But I think one of the biggest fears that most accounts probably have, and it’s a very unfounded fear, but like, we don’t wanna not know something. And so if you the fear of going, well, I’m only gonna do dentists. Well, that means I don’t know anything about anything else. And there is some truth to the fact that there is accounting is accounting and tax is tax across all industries.

Glenn Harper [00:28:22]:

There’s those subsets in each industry that’s that’s where the money is being made for the advice. And as you build your team, you can still do multiple disciplines, but you gonna have to have experts in those things or you won’t be able to compete with a specialized company. Right? Because you just you just can’t do it. But it’s just so hard to just say, well, I’m gonna only just do grocery stores. Like, now I’m pigeonholed into this one little thing, and that’s not glamorous or exciting. Wait, I wanna get over and do some oiling over here, and I wanna go over and do some, you know, offshore, whatever. And that’s just a different thing, and it’s really I think it’s hard, and I think that’s probably what we’ve struggled with a little bit is who do we wanna be? Who what kind of client do we wanna deal with?

Julie Smith [00:29:01]:

But I think and I I think this goes, you know, all industries, all entrepreneurs is, you know, you said, you know, really niching down who your client is. But it doesn’t just, I think, don’t stay narrow minded in that sense. Because as you look at your firm and you look at your team and you look at what you can accomplish, you know, this goes for us, but I think we’ve walked into many firms that it’s been true. We’re just entrepreneurs that walk through our door, is look at your team and really take a deep dive into their strengths. Because you might have Joe who’s really good at grocery stores. Again, how did we get on the grocery store thing?

Glenn Harper [00:29:36]:

But Yeah.

Julie Smith [00:29:36]:

Joe who’s really good at grocery stores, and you help him build that niche with him, with what your firm has to offer. But maybe Jim is really good at dentist. And so it’s finding each person’s strength and being able to build on that. And, like, we haven’t talked internally. We’ve talked a lot about externally in regards to Intuit. But just have the processes and systems in place to support everybody to be able to to get their success, and I think that’s kind of what you were talking about is the young people want choices. Right? They wanna work towards something bigger than themselves. Now they don’t really wanna work as we’ve discussed, but that’s a whole different podcast.

Julie Smith [00:30:14]:

But how do you get them to achieve that with what your firm has? And I think that is the number one question in this industry, and it’s really looking at what are their strengths, what are their individual goals, and how do you support that with the infrastructure you have in place. And I think once you’re able to do that, the sky is the limit in regards to being able to scale your business.

Jim Buffington [00:30:35]:

Yeah. Absolutely. And, I think you touched on something too, Julie, is is niche doesn’t always just mean a specific industry. It can be a psychographic. So it may be, hey, you love people who are, you know, advanced technology. You only wanna work in a digital workflow, or you may have people who are startups. And, I I know one firm that works in startups, and and people who do startups oftentimes create multiple startups. And that may be an area that you really enjoy working in.

Jim Buffington [00:31:06]:

Other firms like businesses that are a little bit more mature. And so they may have other dynamics other than just industry that identifies who they are. I have a few who only work with women owned businesses, and they do a fabulous job supporting them because, let’s face it, women have very unique needs and skill sets and, parameters that maybe other businesses wouldn’t have. And so you learn to support those businesses in a much better way that a generalist firm maybe could. But I think to your point, as we as we look at the next generation and we say, how can we help them grow and develop and what are their strengths and where can we leverage those? I think that’s a different way than accounting firms have traditionally looked at their talent. We we typically hire talent to fill a specific job, and that may not be the best way to do it in the future.

Julie Smith [00:32:03]:

Well and I think the other thing in this industry that’s that’s changing and will have to fiercely change is everybody’s looking for the unicorn. Right? They want that CPA with 7 years experience. They will not, you know, that is what they want. Right? And they’re probably still hiring today. But you have to really look at your firm and think of the tangible and intangible characteristics that you need for your firm culture, your team, and your clients, and kinda hire that. It’s just a different way of hiring than the industry has seen before. And I think, like I said, I think it’s catching on. The change is happening.

Julie Smith [00:32:38]:

You know, what can you teach? What can you not teach? And really being able to to leverage that.

Glenn Harper [00:32:44]:

Yeah. I think the today too, the, the days of the closet accountant just sitting in the back corner, stacks of paper, grinding out numbers, that that doesn’t sound exciting at all.

Julie Smith [00:32:55]:

And It does to some people though. And so to that fact is, like We

Glenn Harper [00:32:59]:

need people like that.

Julie Smith [00:32:59]:

What are your team’s strengths? I mean, we have some people that, like, if you would say you’ve gotta get on a call and give a presentation, they would literally rather do so many other things. But then we have a whole group of people who are like, put me on there, on the spot. I’ll do it no matter what. And so I think to that, there’s the stereotypical, but it’s also like I just getting outside of that to say, hey, your strength is communicating. That is amazing. Hey, your strength is, you know, digging the data and giving us the the solution or the outcome. This person can go communicate it. And just really working on that, you know?

Glenn Harper [00:33:33]:

And that’s the whole team working together with the strengths and weaknesses of what it is to get the product out. But ultimately, somebody we all know in accounting, somebody has to have the relationship with the client where they can speak the language, they can read the client, they know what they want, they can communicate effectively, and that person may not know anything about tax and accounting. They might know everything about advisory and the strategies, but they don’t know how to actually do the data. And the person that loves doing the data wants zero interest in talking to the client. So when you can leverage a team to do the different pieces, that’s when I think when you get to that spot. But, man, if you try to make a duck and elephant and an elephant and a fish, it just isn’t gonna happen. Right? And we as a accountant, you gotta recognize that that not everybody wants to be in a corner working, and not everybody wants to go out and talk to clients. Is that what you see?

Jim Buffington [00:34:20]:

Totally agree with that. And, I think when you can build your practice and really sort of think about what is the value that our clients need, our clients want, and then be able to deliver that, from multiple you know, you got some people who are great at doing the data in the background, keeping all the accounting up to date and giving you all the information and, making those accountable reports and then others having the conversation and teasing out, you know, where they wanna go, that’s a an an awesome combination. I think one thing that’s applicable to both the firms and to entrepreneurs is, you know, we call our firms practices because when we start, you don’t know everything. You can’t know everything. Even today, there’s so much more compliance and regulation than there was just 5 years ago. Just 5 years ago. By the way, it’s gonna keep accelerating. And we don’t really get into the details of any specific problem until we have a client that asks or has a problem or we realize there’s problem, and then we begin to unpack it, and we’re great at problem solving.

Jim Buffington [00:35:23]:

It’s what we do. We go research it. We figure it out, and we practice on our clients. And we learn, and then we apply that to other clients. What we need to do is just figure out where is the value, practice on a few clients, and then begin to repeat that on other clients. One of the areas that I spent the last couple years doing is, building out a solution, into a tax adviser. It’s really focused on strategy. So as long as I’ve been in this for 35 years, we’ve always focused on getting the tax return done, focused on the liability, minimize the liability.

Jim Buffington [00:36:00]:

But we’ve never communicated to our clients how much are we actually helping save you? How much will this strategy make a difference in your short and long term plans? You know, this is gonna save you $30,000. This is gonna help you get to a $1,000,000, business or a $1,000,000 retirement plan or a $1,000,000 real estate sale, whatever. We don’t focus so much on the ROI or the benefit down the road of this strategy. And so this last couple years working with firms that are starting to deliver that ROI, to deliver, here’s what the strategy will save you. We’ve been working in that area. And so, what I find is it doesn’t take very many strategies to start communicating a very big difference to your clients with just, you know, a handful, a dozen or so strategies. And by the way, every tax and accounting professional knows way more than a dozen things that they could do with their clients. They just don’t necessarily think about delivering it or presenting it to their clients that way.

Jim Buffington [00:37:03]:

They can easily say, hey, we’re helping save you 25,000, $50,000 a year in taxes doing these couple of things. And so a lot of it is experimenting. Try it with a few clients, And if that works, can you expand that out to more clients? And then can you make that a full on service that you offer to clients? It takes a little bit of trial and error. It takes practice. And I say that for both tax and accounting professionals and entrepreneurs. We should be doing that in our businesses every day. You’ve gotta keep figuring out what customers need, what customers want, what customers are willing to pay for, and then how do you present that in a way that you can help deliver a lot of value and they can see that value and are willing to pay for that value. So that’s one area that I think most tax and accounting firms today would benefit from, but we’re moving very slowly.

Jim Buffington [00:38:02]:

We tend to be overworked already today. So trying to think about shifting services, it’s generally you know, it takes a lot of accountability and a lot of, work to get there.

Glenn Harper [00:38:15]:

Well, I I think, a typical CPA is they wanna be the hero behind the scenes, and we’re not necessarily got the swag, we walk a bob, we kick butt today and this is all the planning. We save you $50 this year. How cool is that? High five. Like, that’s just not a personality type. We know what we did. We just never communicate to the client. The client just gets this great product, but they didn’t even know how it happened, and we don’t tell them really. We just it’s just something we don’t talk about, like, which is weird, but that’s historically how accounts are and and it’s we shouldn’t be ashamed to say, hey, We helped you do this project or do this strategy, and this saved you a bunch of money.

Glenn Harper [00:38:55]:

How cool is that? Let’s celebrate that. Instead, we’re like, yeah, instead of owing 50 grand, you only owe 10,000. How cool is that? Here you go. Sign here and we’ll send it off. Like we just don’t toot the successes, which is strange, I admit. So I think to your point, we just have to figure out a way to communicate that better where clients don’t look at it like we don’t think that they’re looking at us like we’re being boastful. It’s just more of like, hey. Guess what? Here’s our scorecard.

Glenn Harper [00:39:21]:

Here’s how we did.

Jim Buffington [00:39:23]:

Right. Exactly. And that also helps get them more engaged in the planning advisory process. Customers, generally entrepreneurs, they love focusing on whatever their passion is. They don’t love focusing on, you know, the back office things, getting accounting done, getting taxes done, payroll, what you know, sales tax, things like that that are

Glenn Harper [00:39:43]:

Not sexy.

Jim Buffington [00:39:44]:

Required, but not necessarily desired. They know they gotta do it. And by the way, those are the things that oftentimes get businesses in trouble. So if they don’t do those things, that’s usually a huge contributor to the failure rate. And we know that about half of those, new businesses are gonna fail in the 1st 5 years oftentimes because they’re not paying payroll taxes or sales taxes or things that need to be done. So this is all important foundational stuff. We just gotta bring it to them in a way that helps reach their goals. It focuses on the things that are important to them, whether that’s growing their customers or, you know, being more profitable or having more time on their hands or, you know, automating more of their technology and their workflow challenges.

Jim Buffington [00:40:28]:

Whatever the things are that are important to them, we just need to come and present our the work that we do in a way that delivers value for them more than just that, compliance work that we all know has to be done.

Julie Smith [00:40:42]:

Well, I’m gonna pivot here because your journey is interesting in the fact that usually we’re getting the entrepreneur. They’ve done corporate America, then they become the entrepreneur. Where you kind of worked in small business, became the entrepreneur, and now you’re, you know, in in the corporate world. But if there’s a piece of advice that you could give our entrepreneurs out there or even our people that, you know, maybe have taken the same journey that you’ve taken, What’s a lesson that you’ve learned in your journey that our listeners would find helpful?

Jim Buffington [00:41:14]:

Yeah. So I’m super fortunate here in Intuit. I’ve been here over 20 years, and I get to reinvent my own job. And the work that I do many times, like, every 3 years or so. And I tend to work over the horizon. So I tend to work on innovation stuff that’s a little bit out there in the future. And what I’ve learned is never to be afraid of failure. Failure is just progress.

Jim Buffington [00:41:42]:

It’s just a step towards success, and I like to say I have more failures shared into it than anybody. I also have some very big big successes, but, one of the things that one of my mentors told me years ago, He was Steve actually developed one of the most popular accounting products ever, ATB. I don’t know if you weren’t familiar with it, but accountants draw balance was a very popular program years ago. And and Steve was one of my mentors, and he he told me, if you have a great idea, tell everybody. Tell everybody you run into your idea. Take their feedback. Continue to refine it and keep telling everybody. And eventually, your idea will come back around from other people and say, hey.

Jim Buffington [00:42:22]:

I have this great idea, and it’ll be your idea. And repetition doesn’t ruin the prayer. You should share your idea your passion with every person you come in contact with. Don’t hold those ideas. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs feel like they have some sort of secret sauce. Tell everybody. Broadcast it loudly. You want everybody to know about your idea, to talk about your idea.

Jim Buffington [00:42:47]:

I’ve never been concerned about taking credit. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a really big team that can help change the world, and that is an amazing thing. And so, I’m so privileged that I’ve been part of great teams. I even say that Intuit’s not really a job for me. It’s just a platform, and it’s an amazing platform where I get to help influence and shape our profession and help hopefully make a difference, for the next generation of tax and accounting professionals.

Glenn Harper [00:43:22]:

Ain’t it funny? Went from one to one helping clients to the one to the many. When you help many CPAs or many accounting firms, then you they get to help millions of other people. It’s it’s a different journey to where you’re at to what you went to than most entrepreneurs. Right? You you got back into a like you said, a platform that lets you do your passion, which is kinda cool.

Julie Smith [00:43:43]:

Yeah. And so I have one last question, and this is always always a good answer that we get from our our,

Glenn Harper [00:43:51]:

stuff. Get this one right.

Julie Smith [00:43:52]:

What is your superpower?

Glenn Harper [00:43:54]:

No. Not that.

Jim Buffington [00:43:55]:

Oh, what is my superpower? That’s a good one. Yeah. So I would say deep customer empathy. Really, I love my people, my tax and accounting professionals. And I think getting close to them, really understanding what their problems are, really understanding their challenges, their joys, the things they celebrate, where they wanna go, And I think that is key to me helping both learn from them and then being able to share that out with the profession and helping make a difference. But, really getting close to our customers. And I will say we do a ton of research here into it, and we do a lot of technology. I mean, tons of technology.

Jim Buffington [00:44:42]:

And in all the research we’ve done, our technology has never actually helped a company be successful by itself. The only thing we found that correlates to success of a small business today is having a professional engage with them that can advise and coach them towards success. Solution, not a piece of software. And so I cling to that and say that, you know, we we do influence and help power prosperity with small businesses and entrepreneurs around the world. But I would say the biggest way that we do that is through advisors who come alongside that entrepreneur and help coach them to success.

Glenn Harper [00:45:31]:

That is very profound. You know, if you ever need a, guinea pig to work with on Intuit from a perspective of, you know, your product of the accountant, you know, the QuickBooks Online to what does the accountant look for to try to get efficient at their job versus what somebody who’s doing their own books looks for. We’d love to have some dialogue on that to share with you some feedback. I’m sure you heard it all before, but it can hurt a little bit more.

Julie Smith [00:45:58]:

Yeah. I’m not into that. But Yeah.

Glenn Harper [00:45:59]:

Julie Julie probably wouldn’t be part of that.

Jim Buffington [00:46:01]:

Up for that, Julie.

Glenn Harper [00:46:02]:

No. I don’t get it.

Julie Smith [00:46:03]:

I can help you operate and run a firm in regards to using QuickBooks. But beyond that, I got no idea what happens.

Glenn Harper [00:46:08]:

So I thought you were gonna ask the end question. Well Okay.

Julie Smith [00:46:12]:

I mean, we can go that route. It’s just his is a different journey. Journey.

Glenn Harper [00:46:15]:


Julie Smith [00:46:16]:

Oh, boy. What is

Glenn Harper [00:46:18]:

your end game? Oh.

Jim Buffington [00:46:21]:

My end game? Oh, I you know, my purpose is really to help unleash the amazing financial acumen of our tax and accounting professionals. That’s oh, that’s what I want. I know that they can. My dream would be to automate all of that compliance work and take that off their plate so that they can have richer conversations, so they can help hold those entrepreneurs accountable to whatever their goals and dreams are and help them reach those. I think when we can get to that point, you don’t need me around anymore. I’m done.

Julie Smith [00:46:53]:

But are you really gonna be done?

Glenn Harper [00:46:54]:

Never. I feel like

Julie Smith [00:46:56]:

you’re gonna be onto something in the horizon that you don’t even know exists to help those people that have automated all of that.

Glenn Harper [00:47:03]:

About 14 miles away?

Jim Buffington [00:47:04]:

I’ll have to have another career beyond this one then. If I get to that point, yeah, it’s it’s time to move on to the next.

Julie Smith [00:47:10]:

Well, I can’t can’t wait for can’t wait to have you back on whenever that happens because it’s coming.

Glenn Harper [00:47:15]:

It’s coming. Well, Jim We’re

Jim Buffington [00:47:16]:

getting closer.

Glenn Harper [00:47:17]:

Oh, boy. Well, it’s been a a pleasure having you on. I don’t know if you wanna give a little plug to, that little firm you work for that people might wanna People

Julie Smith [00:47:26]:

might not know what it is.

Jim Buffington [00:47:28]:

I I really don’t. I’d rather elevate our tax and accounting professionals. I think they make an amazing difference. Again, I would encourage all of them. Make sure that you’re having those rich conversations with your entrepreneur clients and asking what their goals are and helping hold them accountable, build the plan. Most of these businesses are operating without a plan. Put a plan together, help them reach those, and really help power prosperity. Glenn, Julie, thank you so much for the work that you do in supporting entrepreneurs out there and really appreciate the message that you’re putting out there in the marketplace.

Glenn Harper [00:48:04]:

Jim, you’re gonna get me all emotional. Nobody ever tells their accountant they care about them, so I don’t know what to do.

Julie Smith [00:48:08]:

Even as a podcast host,

Glenn Harper [00:48:09]:

not as an accountant. Accountant. I gotta go to therapy now. But no, I really appreciate you being on here. Wish you the greatest success. If we can help you in any way, shape, or if you need guinea pigs, like I said, we’ll line up tomorrow and do whatever you need. Another great episode. Thanks for being on the show, Jim.

Glenn Harper [00:48:24]:

I’m Glenn Harper.

Julie Smith [00:48:25]:

Julie Smith.

Episode Show Notes

Welcome back to Empowering Entrepreneurs! In today’s episode, hosts Glenn Harper and Julie Smith are joined by the dynamic Jim Buffington. They get into Jim’s remarkable journey from his humble beginnings at a Texas agricultural land grant school to becoming a significant force in the world of public accounting and technology.

This episode is brought to you by PureTax, LLC. Tax preparation services without the pressure. When all you need is to get your tax return done, take the stress out of tax season by working with a firm that has simplified the process and the pricing. Find out more about how we started.

They talk with him about his transition from public accounting to leading a dotcom and eventually integrating technology into tax and accounting, making compliance more efficient and enabling richer client conversations. Throughout the episode, Jim emphasizes the importance of experimenting, embracing failure, and prioritizing customer empathy.

The Real Reason New Businesses Fail: “And we know that about half of those, new businesses are gonna fail in the 1st 5 years oftentimes because they’re not paying payroll taxes or sales taxes or things that need to be done.”— Jim Buffington

Empowering Takeaways

1. Transition from Public Accounting to Technology: – Jim’s journey from public accounting to founding a dotcom and incorporating technology into tax and accounting illustrates the dynamic career paths available within and outside traditional accounting roles.

2. Importance of Communicating Value: – The need for tax professionals to improve communication with clients about the value they provide, transcending beyond compliance work to emphasize planning and advisory services.

3. Embracing Trial and Error: – The significance of experimenting and learning from failures, encouraging entrepreneurs and accountants alike to be bold, share ideas freely, and continually practice new offerings.

4. Adoption of Automation for Efficiency: – Highlighting the role of automation in accounting to handle compliance work, enabling deeper, more valuable client engagements and advisory services.

5. Client Engagement and Empathy: – Emphasizing the importance of client empathy, understanding their unique business needs, goals, and challenges, and engaging them in the planning process for more tailored advice.

Empowering Moments

00:00 Introducing Jim Buffington, advisory service leader at Intuit.

07:53 Public accounting days unleashed entrepreneurial spirit, helping entrepreneurs.

12:21 Worked with farmers and ranchers, then oil.

17:13 Accountants become emotionally invested in clients’ success.

22:07 Improve compliance through client-driven workflow changes.

24:10 Entrepreneurs struggle with planning, need accountant’s guidance.

31:06 Supporting unique needs and strengths of businesses.

34:20 Value client needs, diverse skills, problem-solving expertise.

36:00 Communicate client benefits, focus on delivering ROI.

39:44 Business success hinges on essential financial tasks.

43:55 My superpower is deep customer empathy.

Running a business doesn’t have to run your life.

Without a business partner who holds you accountable, it’s easy to be so busy ‘doing’ business that you don’t have the right strategy to grow your business.

Stop letting your business run you. At Harper & Co CPA Plus, we know that you want to be empowered to build the lifestyle you envision. In order to do that you need a clear path to follow for success

Our clients enjoy a proactive partnership with us. Schedule a consultation with us today.

Download our free guide – Entrepreneurial Success Formula: How to Avoid Managing Your Business From Your Bank Account.

This episode is brought to you by PureTax, LLC. Tax preparation services without the pressure. When all you need is to get your tax return done, take the stress out of tax season by working with a firm that has simplified the process and the pricing. Find out more about how we started.

Copyright 2024 Glenn Harper

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