John Briggs had his first taste of Big Four accounting life while he was still in college, and he immediately saw so many ways in which the traditional firm model didn’t work. On Episode 13 of CPA Life, he discusses how this and other experiences made him set out to create a distinctive, human-focused firm by founding Incite Tax. An advocate of scientific, results-based techniques for getting the job done, John talks about Incite’s licensee model, some of the work principles he outlines in his forthcoming book, the inception of their “IRS Sucks” motto, and more. Join host John Randolph and discover how this groundbreaking approach works.
Welcome to another episode of CPA Life, where we spend time talking to accounting firm owners and industry insiders who are completely sold out on building and creating a new accounting world where that mindset of same as last year or we’ve always done it that way or mindsets that are a thing of the past and today we’re going to get to talk to one of those leaders that it’s not only building a firm where people are the priority, but he’s not just talking about it. He’s actually writing about it. He’s making t-shirts about it and he’s shining a big bright light on a feeling that I’ve had for years and I’ve kind of talked to anybody about that would listen to and that is that as a society, we have started wearing that term and that mindset of busy as a merit badge in our lives and it’s something that we’ve really got to change.
So today we’re going to be talking to John Briggs, who is the founder and the CEO of Insight Tax Group out of Utah. John, welcome to the show.
Hey, thanks for having me, John.
We’re excited to uncover a lot of things that I just touched on and obviously we’re going to talk about Incite Tax Group. We’re going to talk about the new book that you’ve been posting a lot about and kind of dropping some nuggets on. I think the term that I got out of one of the recent posts that you had or one of the recent comments you had on something was the new workday standards.
So I want to find out a little bit about that and we’re also going to talk about t-shirts like what you’re wearing right now that, dear IRS, unsubscribe me. I’m with you on that but let’s talk about how this ride first started for you because if memory serves right and my research is correct, you started in public accounting or at least started to go down a path in public accounting and unlike a lot of your contemporaries at a very young age, you realized, hey, this model is broken and I don’t know if I want to get into this car and ride for a long time or not. Tell us how that all happened and how it came about.
Yeah, so my first experience was with Deloitte and I was competing against two other people to get the job offer and apparently that job offer is going to be given based on how many billable hours I was able to produce while working with them. And I noticed very quickly the three of us all had different universities that we were attending and so thankfully for me, we just had a bit of a better education than the other two guys had and so I was cranking through work really fast and so I like within a first couple of weeks, I’m like, man, I’m having a lot of downtime. So I’m scrounging, annoying managers and directors like, hey, you got any work for me?
And so quickly, I was told, well, the way we do this, like from staff ones, those who were already been there for a while, they’re like, well, look, when you only have one thing given to you, you need to just take your time on that until someone gives you something else to do because even in Deloitte, in our office, there’s probably a hundred accountants in that office, only like two people controlled the workflow. Everyone else is just the cogs in the wheel and at the mercy of whatever work can’t happen and so I’m like, okay.
But so my billable hour then, the client is going to pay for that just because our internal system is really inefficient? Like that seems, like rude. But that’s what happens. I saw really quickly that the traditional firms are very high on this billable hour and that’s the only way we can tell if you’re doing any good in the world or for us is your billable hour, even though it is damaging the client. And I just like, if we make the right decision for the client, that should result in a good outcome for us, not a negative outcome, which is how it’s set up. So that was my first intro to part of the model and how it’s broken.
So fast forward to today, you know, you had a hand in a couple of other public accounting firms, worked on the corporate side of things as well. Where did the concept or idea or thought of Incite Tax Group come about and just to kind of take a detour real quick, I want to find out is there some pretense behind the name of Incite because there’s two ways to spell that. And you chose your way.
That’s right. Incite as in to incite to riot is the most common use of the word in a sentence. Incite actually means to cause the action, but I did like the aggressive undertone of the word, but phonetically insight, we do have insight that we provide for clients, but we also think especially as everyone listening knows this, when you’ve dealt with the IRS, they are the most incompetent person with the most power, right?
We deal with scenarios where we’re trying to explain to them, no, we’re right. This is, you know, but they have power and oh, we missed that one little evidence of proof and all of a sudden they can ruin the taxpayer’s life. So I never liked the bullying aspect of what they do. And I also feel like traditional firms and even solopreneurs that I’ve seen who’ve been out in practice longer, you get the sense that they’re starting to work for the government and not for the client. Well, the government doesn’t pay my paycheck, my clients do. And just because I might have to have a conflicting conversation with the IRS and say like, I disagree with you and here’s why, doesn’t mean I should avoid it. And so that’s why we really like the element of insight we’re causing to action. We are going to try to protect our clients from the bullying nature of the IRS. So that’s kind of where that came into play.
So how did you go from, hey, Deloitte is not my cup of tea to, you know, fast forward or however many years later and now you’re sitting in a firm that you’ve built and run quite successfully, but is really, I’m glad I’ve got somebody else out there using this term, the anti-CPA firm.
Yeah. Well, so there were learning experiences in all these firms, right? I’m like, oh, Deloitte, this model seems to be broken and wow, you’re kind of treating me not like a human being with the amount of hours you’re asking me to work. And I kind of want to have a life outside of this work. I like my coworkers and for the record, that’s why most people stay in that terrible position—because of the other people suffering with them. I mean, we have this phrase in the trenches for a reason is because if you suffer with somebody, you have a deeper bond.
So that moved me to the next one. And this was a much smaller firm like your traditional five person accounting firm. And guess what? They followed the same stinking model as the big firms go, “Well, they’re working for them. They’re billion dollar organizations. That should work for us.” And so like three times in a row, I’m going through this scenario with these firms where I’m like, none of you in leadership are treating the team like people. If the people are happy in their life, they’re going to be happier and produce more here in the company. So all those experiences kind of led to some core beliefs that I have that are part of the company.
So continuous improvement, I think we can we should always build a promise to ourselves and our clients. I’m better today than I was six months ago. And in six months from now, I’m going to be even better. Value exchange is a big one. I hated this idea of pay your dues, work 80 hours a week for 10 years, and then maybe we’ll let you know if you’re going to become a partner. But if you’re doing really great work, why should you be held back? And I noticed that was even the smaller firms like, dude, I’m out producing all of you as leaders. I’m like everything that you guys are doing is like a B grade compared to what I’m capable of doing. This doesn’t make any sense that you’re going to make me wait five or six years.
So those are some of the things just through experience. And that’s why I was like, look, I don’t see it out there. I just better create it. And yeah, it’s not been without its challenges, but it’s been a good ride. And I do—I’m really happy with the anti-traditional firm that we’ve created so far.
So how many years now has it been?
Incite tax has been around for 12 years.
So 12 years, 67 employees. But I want to talk just a little bit about the model, because it is a very untraditional model. You’ve got, you know, it’s not a stereotypical staff, senior manager, senior manager. And like you said, if you put up with enough of the BS long enough, we might make you a partner. And when we do that, we’re going to dump even more on your desk kind of thing. It’s a very different model. Talk a little bit about the model and kind of how you’ve built. I think you refer to it as a licensee model.
Yeah, that’s right. Honestly, I built the model that I felt would have been fair for me if I was in someone else’s firm, a model that would give me motivation and flexibility, but allow me to utilize the skill sets. Plus, then I’m now more motivated to increase my skill set. So the way we look at it is if you’re able to create the value, then you get an opportunity. So, for example, for us, the typical path is W-2 employee, then we start building a book of business for that employee once they’ve proven they can do some stuff.
And then the next step is licensee. So if they are able to do the technical skill work, communicate with clients like a human being, which we train them to do, we understand that sometimes people coming in have been trained by other accountants on how to speak to humans and it doesn’t always translate. And if you stay organized, so as long as you can do those things, which means clients aren’t complaining about you, we’re going to reward you with a very lucrative compensation model. We actually have shared ownership in their book of clients, so they’re not partners in the overall firm, but they are now given an asset. They’ve earned an asset, I should say, of their book of clients. So now they have vested interest to make sure they actually take care of those clients. So if they want to take a month off in the middle of the year, they want to take three months off, they can. But if their clients start complaining that they’re not getting serviced by the licensee, then we have issues and we work through that.
But they have complete flexibility because I wanted complete flexibility. And they also have unlimited upside because I wanted unlimited upside. And it’s as soon as they have it. I mean, we even with the way we work as a company, two years ago, we hired a woman who previously was the owner of a karate studio. She sold that. And then she was a mechanic for Delta working on big planes. And we hired her. And now, two years later, because of her skill set and her ability to learn and retain, she’s our tax manager.
She now helps all our tax people stay organized. And admittedly, you know, her knowledge, there’s still some exceptions she hasn’t come across. So she’s not the most knowledgeable in the tax realm. But we also have a whole bunch of other team who can jump in and help that. And so we reward value. We reward—if you can create the value, then let’s see what that looks like so that you don’t feel like you’re not being paid for what you’re worth.
In the model that you have, one of the questions I had is how many W-2 employees do you have now, and how many licensees do you have now?
We have nine licensees. We have some contractors on our marketing team, but they really, for the most part, work for us and then the rest of them are W-2.
OK, so in the licensing model, whether that person and correct me if I’m wrong, the organic path to that is like you just described, bring that person in and that person grows to that. But you guys have also looked at bringing people in that maybe already have a book of business. Maybe they’re a solopreneur, maybe maybe they’re the guy that left Deloitte five years ago thinking I’m going to go throw my own shingle out and do what I want to do. And he’s five years into it and he realizes that there are pieces of this equation that I’m good at and there are pieces that I’m not good at and I don’t like.
Yeah, exactly. All of us as accountants, there’s a reason we’re accountants. We love the work. And I think what happens, it’s a natural progression because I think you’d be insane to not see this. The traditional model sucks. And most of them feel that. But a lot of times they’re like, I don’t know exactly what to do. Or some of them get that, what you call that entrepreneurial seizure. And they’re like, I’m just going to go out on my own. And they get out on their own and they realize, oh, there’s like a lot more to just doing the service work. There’s all the back end stuff.
So, yeah, we we provide the back end support as long as the licensees can take care of the client. And at this point, because of our growth, I mean, we are getting 100 to 200 new clients a week. I need experienced people. And so, like, for example, one of our newest licensees, he had a book of about one hundred thousand dollars in revenue last year. He’s now a licensee under us. And I mean, he’s already on pace to receive more in compensation than what his top line revenue was last year.
I mean, we had one CPA who started with us two years ago from scratch. It’s like no book of clients. And two years later, her book represents six hundred thousand in revenue, you know, which for a licensee is take home of about three fifty, four hundred thousand.
I was going to ask you what that percentage split was.
Yeah. All she has to do is service her clients and we take care of the rest of the headache.
You know, it’s interesting you talk about that and you talk about that, and that entrepreneurial headache of I’m going to leave and jettison and go do my own thing. I know from my perspective, in 2003, when I decided to to leave a large recruiting firm I worked for, it was, you know, I’m leaving, I’m out of here. I’m going to go do it myself. And, you know, executive suite by myself, no big deal. Hired a couple of people a few months later. No big deal. Making it work.
But I’ll never forget when I got to the point of, OK, we got to move out of an executive suite to a real office. And I’m looking at office space and narrowed it down over, you know, several weeks to some some spaces I was looking at. I sent all of those plans to a buddy of mine who was a real estate director for the firm I worked for. I said, hey, could you just look at these and make sure I’m not missing anything? And he called me and he said, hey, do you want a kitchen in your office? Yeah. Why? He said, because everything you sent me has no plumbing. You’re going to have to pay to run water to your space, and that’s going to cost you a lot of money.
And then the concept of moving and how do we do that? And logistically, the systems, all the back of the house, logistic stuff of running a business. And that was kind of my first epiphany that, hey, there’s more to this ship than just get in and steer. There’s a whole lot more moving pieces and moving parts. And, you know, 20 years now into into running my own business, you realize that, you know, there is marketing, there is billing, there is collections, there is dealing with irate clients, there is dealing with all of the things that have nothing to do sometimes with generating revenue and impacting a client’s business.
Yeah, exactly. And a funny story for me, the very first person I hired, her name was Heather. And I hired her as my personal assistant because I’m like, I felt overwhelmed. I’m like, do I hire an accountant to help me with stuff or do I get a personal assistant? Like, I don’t know. I’m always in my email. Let’s just hire a personal assistant. Roll the dice. There’s no—I can win either way.
And her first day, which for the record, I didn’t even have a desk for her because I was like, oh, yeah, I guess you’re going to need that. Like, don’t worry. I have the computer, though. I thought I had far enough to know that I needed a computer. So we got like a folding table thing until her desk arrived. And she’s like, OK, cool. What do you want me to do? Like, oh, yeah, I even have to figure out what are job descriptions and what they’re going to do. And then I have to train them. And when they mess up, I got to review it. So I’m just like, I don’t know, be in my email. You know, I’m like, I’m hoping you’ll figure it out. I don’t know!
Yeah, it’s—there’s just so many pieces. And one of the questions I had is when somebody comes into your organization, whether they’re coming in as a licensee day one or they’re coming in in a hierarchy of a W-2 employee with the intent of getting there, when they eventually do step into that licensee role, who is actually doing the return work, the prep work, the compliance work? Are they doing it for their entire book or do you guys still also provide some of that support behind the scenes?
So the way I answer this—I hope, anyone listening, if you have your own business, I hope you take the same principle. I think it’s super important that those who are basically more expensive because of the value they can offer and they’re more expensive because they can generate more revenue. They should have a job designed that they can focus on those high end things as much as possible. So years ago, we were following traditional model and like small firm stuff. And we did a whole list of what is everybody doing? And we isolated like 80 percent of what they’re doing. I could pay someone who doesn’t need tax knowledge to do that. So less expensive.
So the way our model is set up, we have admins do about 90 percent of the gather source doc stuff. So they’re emailing clients where I mean, you can use the word nagging because I actually think it’s necessary with clients and getting their tax docs in. And we actually nag them. And that’s what the admins do. When the docs come in, we’ve trained them to put them in the right order. The way our tax software, we use the cert. So the way our software, we input it. And then from that point, they move it on to the next stage where our less experienced accountants data prep it. But it’s efficient for them because we have the source docs in the right order. And if there’s anything missing, they will reach out to the clients and say, hey, it looks like we still might need this.
Then we actually have a peer review stage. Now, I know with some small businesses, it’s hard to get multiple eyes on the return, but as soon as you can, even myself, I always want a second set of eyes just because you don’t know.
We make errors. So then we have a peer review stage, which is more designed to help train the less experienced accountant to get more experience. And then it goes to the licensee at that point who’s going to sign it. They’re going to finalize it. There are things that they’re going to know that the admins didn’t know about the client, that the tax prep person and the peer reviewer didn’t know. And so that’s why they finalize it. But it’s like 10 percent of the time for them to review the return instead of doing all the other steps. And even for that point, then we send it back to the admins who take care of the rest like, hey, client, your return’s ready. Here’s a copy. You know, if there’s questions, obviously, the licensee answers those questions or has meetings with them. But we really try to isolate, let’s have you do the review and client communication strategy work as much as possible, because it doesn’t make sense to have you wasting time gathering docs.
So just to clarify, if I’m a licensee, if John’s licensee in Dallas, Texas, under the inside tax group umbrella, I’m still collaboratively working with the team that’s in Utah, or wherever somebody may be, that’s doing a lot of the more administrative, less strategic stuff to support the business that I’m doing. And that’s where part of that fee split comes in, covering those costs along with the other back of the house stuff.
Exactly. That’s exactly right.
Why don’t more people do that?
I wish I had the answer for you. I know why the bigger firms don’t do that is because it does eat into your margin. Like we’re doing a split with the licensees, but I have to make it lucrative enough where theoretically, if they did go out on their own and they wanted to take on the headache and were good at doing the back end stuff like we are, they would make more money: Their top line revenue with their expenses. So they’re paying a premium for the stuff that we take on. But I need it to be close enough where they’re like, is that additional headache worth it? Not to mention, I remember what it was like to work in a silo in that 10 by 12 office with no windows, you know? I remember how just alone you feel. Having that support of, I’m not sure exactly how to handle the situation or having the confidence to charge what you’re worth. All of those different things come into play by being so like you. You could make more money, but I mean, you’re especially with some that we’re bringing in is like, well, it didn’t work for you on your own first. So like it’s a good trade off for you guys.
Yeah. And then the other part that we do for them, which is really great for them is we just give them to clients. They don’t have to waste any time.
I was going to ask about the marketing side of things.
Yeah. So our marketing team, we have a bunch of organic leads that come in. We have a relationship with a company who sends us signed up clients. And the accountant literally has a new client meeting showing up on their schedule, and that’s their only involvement. I mean, I remember when I was on my own nine to five, nine a.m. to five p.m., was networking and talking to clients and going to B&Is, and other networking events, all that. Oh, I’ll speak for your group, even if it’s one person, you know. I need the clients, you know?
I wasted time. And then my second day job, which happened in the evening. So the night shift was actually doing the work that people were paying me for. And so that easily turned into 16 hour days. And now we’re just like, look, you don’t have to waste any time with inefficient networking, not even like we know. And you don’t close 100 percent of your clients. So you don’t have to waste time with the client meetings, the prospect meetings that aren’t even going to close. We’re just here’s a new client. How about that? So we are literally hand feeding them their book of business.
And I can’t tell you how many conversations we have on the recruiting side of our business, John, with people at a, you know, above a manager level. So senior manager, director, maybe even it is somebody that does own their own firm that’s looking for, you know, it’s not what they thought it was going to be, or they’re at a partner level at a firm. I can’t tell you how many conversations we have with people about senior executive level roles in public accounting. And 100 percent of the time, somewhere in that discussion, the conversation turns to are they looking for someone to do business development, because that’s not me. I can do the work, I can—I mean, if they’ve got clients that they need me to cross sell to kind of thing, yeah, I could do that. I can sell value, but go out and hunt? Yeah, that’s not me. I can’t do that. So taking that off someone’s plate is priceless.
I know. And that’s why the licensees who are with us love it.
You know, you kind of set up a pretty good segue. So thank you for that. When you were talking about your day job, nine to five, and then your your other full time job that was your night job, which was actually doing the work. This is kind of a great segue into the mindset of the book that you’re writing and the whole mindset of how you guys have developed the culture that you have at your firm getting out of that crazy, chaotic world of the rat race of 12, 14, 16, 18 hour days. Tell me kind of where that kind of came about with you and your thoughts on that.
Yeah. So let me start with a little anecdote. I think that’s the right word for this. So there’s a family. They’re having, you know, a family dinner and they’re making pot roasts. And the mom cuts off the ends of the pot roast. And the daughter’s like, Mom, you know, I want to be a great cook like you. How come you cut off the ends of the pot roast? She’s like, I don’t know. Let me go ask my mom.
So they go and grandma’s there. And hey, grandma, why did you teach my mom how to like you cut off the end of the pot roast? I don’t know. That’s how my mom taught me.
And it just so happens great grandma is sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. And so the great granddaughter comes in and says, Hey, no one can seem to remember why you taught them how to cut the ends off the pot roast. And she said, well, my pot roast pan was too small, so I just had to cut off the ends to get the fit.
So sometimes in life, we end up doing these things over and over and over again, and we never stop to think why was this initially created? You think about the eight hour workday. This was created so that Henry Ford could get his employees to spend more time leisurely, which means they needed a vehicle so he could increase the amount of people who needed to buy his vehicles like back in that day. I mean, he was the first who introduced the eight hour workday. And we first introduced it, it was still a six day work week, which was an improvement from the industrial era, which was 100 hours a week. And then he even shortened it and gave them the Monday to Friday. And guess what? None of that is based on science, but that is how we work, still to this day, nine to five, you know?
And so my book is about we looked at science. We have the ability to hold our attention for up to three hours. OK. We also have science that proves you need to take a break and give yourself a distraction from the brain stimulus in order to reset your mind. So if you put those two together, we come up with what we call the three point three rule. So the new workday standard should be work up to three hours and then however long you work, take 30 percent of that time off. And that time off needs to be not stimulating your brain in the same way. So a lot of, for example, creative work for an accountant is a lot of good stuff they could do in their break time. But so if I work an hour and a half, I would take 30 minutes off. If I work three hours, I would take an hour off. Whatever hours I work up to three hours, take a break. And in a normal workday, if you wanted to keep with the habit of when I wake up and all that stuff, you’re technically if I work three hours, I take an hour off, I work three more hours. Well, that’s the end of my day, because my hour break would take me to the end of my day. So you really you could get more done because your brain is going to be able to reset after the break and also shorten your workday.
Now, some people are like, well, I’m a workaholic. OK, I don’t want to encourage using this model to be a workaholic, but you still want to take breaks. So if you wanted to, then fine work another a third shift of time. But you got to take the break off in between or you’re just hurting yourself. You’re not as productive as you should be. So that’s kind of where we land. And with our firm, I also believe wholeheartedly that people need to spend time with their family. I want them to enjoy work. And tax season is while it’s a shorter time of the year, it’s still a chunk of the year. So I think it’s really important that we give people that flexibility.
So, for example, our team average 42.6 hours of work a week during tax season. So it’s a little bit more than the 40. I do have the goal, aspirational goal to get them to that 40. But we’re really close. And compared to the other firms, we’re light years ahead.
Oh, you are. Light years is an understatement. And it’s one of those things where, you know, I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Shawshank Redemption.
And Andy Dufresne says to Red, on the outside, I wasn’t a criminal. I had to come to prison to learn how to be a criminal. It’s kind of the same mindset that I’ve kind of seen in public accounting in that when I started my career, I wanted to be the best I could possibly be. Now, I’m not even trying to be as efficient as I possibly can be. I’m just trying to get the numbers on my time sheet to be the numbers that my boss is going to be happy with.
I talked to a guy the other day who’s a heavy senior at a BKD and was extremely frustrated because from the second week of August until the end of the October season, they were mandated, they have to have a minimum of 60 to 65 hours billable every week. And then I said, look, I know that you’re not 100 percent—your utilization is not 100 percent. So to get to 60 to 65, you’ve got to be working 65 to 80.
And he’s like, oh, yeah, absolutely, I am. And I said, are you getting those hours? And his exact answer was, well, my time sheet says I am. And so my point in saying that is when you look at what you’re talking about, that that three point three rule, however you slice it, if people spent less time trying to figure out how to work the system because that’s how we’ve geared the system, and actually, we’re creating value in a more compressed window of time, their value would shoot through the roof. And you guys are obviously a case study for that with 42 hours versus 65 to 70 hours at most traditional firms.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. We’ve seen that play out as well. And I always told them the same thing, like whatever your billable hour requirement is, it’s going to take you more hours to get that done. And we know data shows that employees will fudge their numbers.
And it’s like, I’m burnt out. I’m here. I need to be here. I’m going to get penalized or fired. And let alone like then I have to go above and beyond if I want the promotion. That’s just to keep my job is to do the 80 hours a week. And so, yeah, we think the model is broken. That’s why we really want them to have that. Because what happens is if they know they get a break with permission to do anything but work, they will focus a lot more during that time period. Right? Instead of just like feeling like I’m constantly on this treadmill that’s never going to stop. Like, yeah, I’m going to allow myself to get distracted all the time.
Mm hmm. Yeah. Because there’s always going to be something to do always.
You know, to the firm owner out there that’s listening to this or that you’re talking to that says, I hear what you’re saying. And that is a wonderful, altruistic goal to get to 42 hours. But, man, it is not feasible. It’s just not. How do you do it? What do you say to that?
Yeah. So a few years ago, we had an employee and he wasn’t producing as many returns as he should, because that’s an important metric to track during tax season. I have a certain amount of clients. I need to be doing a certain amount of tax returns. I made a comment to him like, dude, you’ve got to be producing more. It’s like, you know, I know I’m underperforming. You reminding me doesn’t help me at all.
So I had this moment of, OK, so there’s no motivation there because he has gotten to the point where he is so burnt out, he can’t see a way forward, even though right around him, we had 10, 15 plus accountants who were proving you can produce that amount. You don’t have to work as many hours. But he couldn’t get out of his own head. He was unwilling to give it a whirl. He was unwilling to make some changes.
Usually that’s what happens. If a business owner is making that, is having that thought process, they’re already at burnout. And I get it, until you take time off to reset. You will never think that it’s possible. But, dude, I encourage you take a Wednesday off and don’t. It has to be in the middle of the week because these have a long extended break. But we recommend Wednesday to prove when you come back on Thursday by having your email shut down, not looking at your phone for work stuff. No one died. Like, we are not doctors. There is not an emergency that can’t wait 24 hours in our world.
And taking a full day off, sometimes that’s enough for people to be like, oh, I just had a mindset shift that I didn’t have to be accessible all the time. Maybe there’s a possibility there’s some other things that I could do to implement.
Now, to get to where we are, like it took a lot of back and forth with systems and improving and tweaking. We have great systems in place that allow us to be efficient to pull this off.
Yeah. You talk about getting out of your own way. And there’s a lot of mindsets in the industry that, again, go back to we’ve never done it like that. And one of those mindsets prior to 2020 for most firms was remote work. There was some remote work. It wasn’t predominant. But somehow, some way mid-March, I would venture a guess that probably 98 to 99 percent of the firms that said there is no way we can work remote figured out a way to get it done. So there’s always a way.
And I had a conversation with a client going into busy season this year who was an older guy. He was my age. He’s mid 50s. And I had been talking to him. He lives in a suburb of the Dallas area, but it’s not a convenient area for people to commute to. And he was challenged with adding to his staff. And I’ve been telling him, look, I’m not saying flip the switch and turn everybody remote, but I think there’s some options here you can consider. I can connect you with some clients I work with that have been able to make that transition and do it well. You can pick their brain about what works, what doesn’t work. And so after a year of you talk about nagging, after a year of nagging, he finally came to me in November of last year and said, hey, I did a lot of soul searching after the October busy season, got away from the office, turned my phone off and really just just did a lot of contemplative thinking. And I came up with a reason why we can’t be remote. And it’s the only reason I can come up with, John. And I said, what’s that? He said, I don’t want us to. And he said, I came to the realization that’s not a good enough reason.
And I think that whether it’s remote work or the hours that people are putting in or what the workday looks like, I think there’s a lot of that that needs to occur. And I would say across a lot of industries, not just public accounting. It’s something that we all need to take a step back on, because we talked briefly when I was doing the intro about that that term busy. I just I went through some things in my life where I realized that if you start to take measure of the conversations you have with people, when when you connect with someone on the street at a coffee shop, over a phone call, a Zoom call like this, hey, how are you doing? How many times does that conversation start with, Man, I’m busy!
Yep. Yeah. I wish we could get to the point where we stop wearing busy, comparing our level of business to our value as a human. And it’s just not the case. You do not have to be busy to be a worthy human being. Like, it’s got us. We have to stop being a badge of honor. The badge of honor should be like, how are things going? Pretty good. Life is great.
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that that that necessity to unplug the fact that the world we live in today is we’re constantly plugged in, constantly plugged in. And, you know, when you when you buy any new product, whether it’s a cell phone, an iPad, a computer, whatever, one of the things that they’ll always talk to you when you read the instructions, it talks about how, you know, every now and then you got to let the battery go down completely on that device, because if you always have it plugged into a power source after a while, you’re going to drain the battery. It’s not going to hold anything.
And I think we’re the exact same way. We are always plugged in, always. And we never unplug. And there’s no ability to let that battery just completely drain. Just get out so that we can let it go. One of the things that is a challenge, and I don’t know about, you know, you and your family or your employees, but nobody has home phones anymore. Our cell phone is our home phone. We struggled with that. My wife and I are empty nesters, but we struggled with that for a while, and how do we make this work? Because my text messages are going off, whether it’s clients on the weekend, or candidates on the weekend or kids on the weekend, whatever it is.
And one of the things that we ended up doing in January, I finally was like, I think I got the answer. I went to AT&T, got another iPhone, 25 bucks, cheapest one they had, add it to my plan. That became our home phone. Sent a message to our kids and said, hey, this is our new home phone. And Friday at three o’clock, our cell phones go off. Done. Can’t get ahold of us. You need us, text or call us on the home phone because we’re out. We’re not turning it on anymore. And I think that just the the necessity to unplug like that, like you’re talking about with most firm owners, business leaders, it’s something that we just need to learn how to do. Is that something that you kind of I don’t know any other way to put it, impose upon your team and on your staff?
So I have noticed the unplugging, it has to be something that fits with that person.
So for me, I, for example, keep my phone on silence. And because I’m focused, I’m in a work block, let’s stay focused, while it upsets my wife sometimes that I don’t see that she texts me, the reality is, as a culture, we’ve let the people who’ve created the AI specifically to get our attention so that we stay on the phone and stay in their apps. We need to combat that.
I mean, that’s literally why it’s designed the way it’s designed. The little red dots on the apps you have, you know, all those things. A lot of science behind how they set those things up to improve their usability. We now need to reverse the trend and say, you know, that’s not cool. And if they want to do that, we need to set our own boundaries on our end. So like we have the same thing. We have a home phone, super inexpensive. It’s a line. And that’s, you know, the home phone. But at the same time, I don’t have a problem with the boundaries I’ve set to be able to use my cell phone. I don’t need to shut it off. If I get a text from someone and I can see it’s about work. I’m not replying. It’s OK.
And, you know, some people might get impatient, be like, hey, did you see this? And when I get to it, I’ll be like, yes, I did see it. But I am not at the mercy or a slave to my phone. Therefore, I have a little bit of boundaries in my life. And I think we just need to identify individually what are some of those boundaries we can do to avoid being overstimulated all the time. And like the cell phone is a great anecdote to the way the business owners should be looking at this themselves, because it probably is their cell phone with their business email on it that they’ve given access to their clients to text them and all that stuff. So if you’ve done that for sure, hide that phone, get it out of there. You know, because you’ve got to give yourself that break, like you’re talking about.
Yeah, you got to be able to unplug that. I don’t know if you’ve read, I think it was, is it Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work?
Deep Work. Yep.
And one of the things I if I recall in it, if that’s the right book that I’m thinking about, one of the things he talks about in there is you’re talking about all the apps on our phone. They say, you know, it should be a telltale sign that the people that own the companies that are designing these apps, they don’t let their kids use those apps until they reach a certain age, because they know the addictive behavior that is behind that.
Yeah. And after that, Netflix did a thing called The Social Dilemma, which goes even further into how scary it actually is. The developers of those things don’t let their kids on it. Yeah, because they know how addictive it is.
Like, are you kidding me? They created something so dangerous. They’re like, yeah, you can’t get on that, Junior. You know?
Exactly. And we’ve we’ve just fed into it as as adults, as business owners. And, you know, the necessity to unplug from that so that we can bring more value is critical.
I want to change this up just a little bit. Talk about the growth of the firm. Some of the things that you guys, you know, we’ve talked a lot about some of the things you guys do different. But when people go to your website, I want to read some of the things that jumped off the page at me that I think that you guys do exceptionally well getting your message out there, because sometimes, I think sometimes you want to say these things, but we don’t say them because we’re concerned about offending somebody. I applaud you guys that you say them, and if the truth hurts, the truth hurts:
“A career where accountants see their family,” boldly on your website. “Accounting firms suck and make you work too many hours.” I completely agree with that. “Enjoy work and be rewarded for your value.” “Work for a company that embraces your strengths and allows you to thrive unlike any other traditional company.” “A career and position path that fully satisfies all your work and family needs.”
I think that those things speak to on point every single conversation that we have with potential candidates in the marketplace today. And tell me, how do you portray that message when you’re talking to people from the outside that are wanting to be a part of your organization?
I mean, we portray it in those same words, right? Because they know we’re just telling them stuff they know. Now, the one thing I do add is I am happy to give grace to those who are in leadership of a firm that currently sucks and is using a sucky model, because quite frankly, they probably have never had the time to pause and unplug long enough to realize what am I doing to myself and the team that I lead? This is how I was taught. I’m cutting off the ends of the pot roast. I thought that’s how we were supposed to do it. And they just don’t know that there’s a better way. And so we are trying to change the entire industry.
And, you know, we’re small. We’re at 67 team members. But I think at some point we’ll catch on. And when we do, some of these firms can pivot. It’s going to affect their profit to share, like the shareholders. So instead of being uber rich, they’re just going to be really rich. But they might have to make a—I’m hoping they’ll have to make a shift because they won’t be able to hire anyone.
Yeah. And I think that’s where we’re heading, because where we sit today, you know, we’re in a world where the environment in the culture that was hidden for so long, if you will, or people felt it was the only option they had. People are starting to realize, number one, the curtain has been pulled back with websites like Reddit and GoingConcern. It happens at eight o’clock, it’s visible at noon. And that’s if you want to give it four hours. It’s really probably visible at about eight thirty to eight forty five. So it’s out there.
And then the other thing is people are starting to realize that, hey, I have options. Twenty years ago, I would I would sit there and I would tell you, hey, if you want to be a CFO, if you want to be a controller, if you want to be a partner in a public accounting firm, yes, go to work for a Big Four firm. Twenty years ago, I just said that to anybody. Today, I get that question from people all the time and I tell them, look, I can’t tell you the last time that I’ve talked to a client that said, I absolutely need somebody that came out of a big four environment. I absolutely need somebody that came out of a large firm environment. What they’re more interested in is a lot of the emotional intelligence, they’re concerned about that person’s ability to interact with customers, provide solutions, look at things creatively and strategically, and not just did they come out of a cookie cutter kind of mold.
So I think that I think that it is going to continue to impact those larger firms and firms like you guys are going to continue to grow, because within the industry right now, I think the number that I’ve seen is within the first three to five years, you’ve got 60 to 65 percent of the people that are looking to leave the industry after they’ve been in it for three to five years. And that’s got to change because that pipeline is not getting any bigger.
Yeah, in fact, that is a big issue with the industry, which I’m concerned about, which I’m hoping we can change the tides. The attrition with accountants in the industry has not changed, but the enrollment into university programs to get an accounting degree has declined drastically because the truth is out there on Reddit and the GlassDoors of the world where it’s like, oh, maybe this isn’t the right path.
And as you mentioned, they’re realizing there are different paths to get to where I want to go instead of selling my soul to an organization that has a structure set up, really is going to suck everything out of me until I have nothing left. And then they’re going to be like, yeah, you can leave if you want. We don’t care.
Yep. Yeah. It’s a model that’s built on process and not necessarily people. A saying we’ve had in our family for years: “It’s not wrong, just different.” You can’t argue wrong or right with a business model like that that’s driving billions of dollars to the top line. The argument can be made, it’s a business model that works because it’s driving revenue. It’s not wrong. It’s just different. It’s not a model I agree with. And it’s a model that drives that three to five year frustration.
There was a study that I read, I don’t remember if it was in December or January from the Center for Accounting and Transformation, going into the busy season this year, the question was asked in a survey, as you head into busy season, tell us about your stress level. Twenty eight percent of the respondents said they felt severely stressed. Fifty eight percent said moderately stressed. That was going into busy season.
Going into it. Yeah. Wow.
So you’ve got 86 percent of respondents before busy season hits, that are somewhere between moderate to severe stress that they’re dealing with. And I think that the more that the light is shining on those issues, firms like you guys are going to continue to be an option, a very good option for people to consider.
If somebody is listening to this, they’re looking for a new position, they’re kicking the tires of, hey, I don’t want to continue as a solopreneur, if someone wants to find out more about Incite Tax Group, what you guys have done, possibly be a part of that, what is the best way for them to to reach out to you and dig into some of those discussions?
Yeah, well, we have a big need to add people to our team. Like I said, we’re getting a ton of new clients and I believe in customer service. So the best way is just to email me directly. It’s email@example.com. That’d be the best way and then we can just start a direct conversation.
Yeah. But the T-shirts, if you go to incitetax.com/shop, you can find the “IRS Sucks” T-shirts, some of these things, different colors. It’s hilarious. And what was the other question?
Other social media channels.
Oh, yeah. Honestly, our message towards accountants is primarily LinkedIn. We do have a YouTube channel where we talk about mainly like, hey, clients, these are some things you should do, but occasionally throw in stuff. But honestly, LinkedIn is the best resource. Plus, my book that comes out in October, November this year will be a good resource of how we look at things, because ultimately, like, look, someone could be listening and be like, yeah, you know, I think if I have a little bit of help with some systems, I want to still keep doing this business thing? That’s great. Our intention is to share information so that you can see what we’ve done to grow as a possible path. And, you know, maybe there’s some systems you can change. So any help we have, whether that’s someone joins our firm and goes into the model directly, or they realize, you know what? I can add some systems based on what John’s teaching, that I can improve my work efficiency and my quality of life. Then that’s also a win for us.
You’ve also got a website for the book specifically so that people can get their hands on some of the pre-release information, as well as when it’s going to be released. What is the website for that?
Yes, that’s 33rulebook.com.
OK, so just simple of the number three, the number three rulebook dot com.
Yeah, and if someone spells it out, it’ll redirect you as well.
OK, three, three rulebook. That was a good purchase on that one.
John, I really appreciate you spending some time with us. And if you enjoyed what you heard today in our discussion with John, give us a like, leave a comment down below. Let us know your thoughts with the overall podcast. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any conversations that we have in the future, subscribe to this podcast. Below that way, you’ll get in your inbox anything that we’re doing in regards to giving you guys a little bit of a taste of what CPA Life looks like. Until next time, have a great day.
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John Briggs is the Founder and CEO of Incite Tax, which provides tax services with a market focus on small business owners, investors, and 1099 recipients. A self-described “ANTI-Traditional Accounting Firm,” Incite offers the opportunity for its accountants to license its resources while they build their book of business.
When John started working as an accountant, he got a taste of a licensing arrangement, but felt that it was stacked against him as the licensee, so he’s had first-hand experience in order to tune the relationship to be beneficial to all involved.
John’s forthcoming book with a focus on work productivity and avoiding burnout, The 3.3 Rule, is slated to be released in 2023.
John earned his Bachelor’s in Accounting and Masters in Tax at Brigham Young University in 2005 and 2007, respectively.