In another two part special episode of CPA Life, John Randolph interviews Henry Huie about his journey from working long hours at top 25 firms to opening his own practice, Chrome Accounting, in October, 2023. Henry shares some of the lessons he’s already learned, like thorough planning, having enough savings so you need not take on undesirable clients, and niching down your services. Henry prepared methodically over a year before launching his firm, during which time Henry learned practical tips for working remotely efficiently using tools like Loom. Henry’s advice on networking, providing value to clients, and avoiding common pitfalls of being a new business owner will prove invaluable to every listener.
Hey folks, thank you for joining us here today for another episode of CPA Life podcast. It’s a podcast that shows you that yes, you can have a life and also be in public accounting. And we spend time each episode talking to firm owners, industry insiders, and other leaders in the profession who are really passionate about building people-centric, future-focused, modern-minded firms that are profitable, but not at the expense of their people. And today, we’re going to be joined by somebody who has built a successful career in public accounting over the last decade, working for three top 25 firms, but has decided, hey, if there’s a firm out there that checks all the right boxes, I haven’t been able to find it. So I’m gonna go create my own. Today, we’re going to be speaking with Henry Huie—did I say that right?
That is correct, yes. You got it.
Perfect. Henry Huie. So we want to learn some of the lessons of what the first few weeks as a new firm owner have been like for you and find out a little bit more about kind of what led you down this path. Henry, thank you for joining us today on CPA Life.
Thank you for having me, John.
We’re excited to learn some of the things that have been “aha” moments over the last few weeks, but also some of the things that brought you to a point of saying, hey, this is this is the path that we want to head down. So before we start digging into all of that, one of the things that I like to do is give everybody a little bit of a snapshot of where you started your career and how you’ve gotten to the point that you’re at right now. So you came out of college, but public accounting wasn’t the first path you headed down, correct?
No, I mean, so first, I mean, I’m seasoned. I’m 39 years old. So we’ll go to from when I first graduated college. I was a finance major, graduated in 2007, and I moved to Las Vegas in 2008. And we all know what happened in 2008, the financial crisis. And so my first job well, I guess my first job, when I graduated in 2007 was selling life insurance for Northwestern Mutual. That lasted only about six months. And then that’s when I decided make a change, my sister lived in Las Vegas, so I moved to Las Vegas. At that time, I think it was like the number one place to get a job. Then, of course, 2008 happened, couldn’t find a job in finance, ended up getting a job working retail management for Abercrombie and Fitch—that was just a temporary stop, ended up staying there for two years.
And then I looked at myself, and I’m like, wow, I’m working nights, weekends and holidays when everyone else is off. And I was like, this is not the path my life is supposed to be. So I went back to the drawing board, so to speak, and I met somebody and they said, why don’t you do accounting? It’s pretty much like finance, but it’s like, more stable. And I was like, huh, so in Las Vegas, there’s UNLV. And they have a great master’s program. So I enrolled for that. And went into the master’s program, I worked at US Bank, so I could, you know, make money while going to school.
And, of course, when you’re in the accounting program, what do you get fed is work for the Big Four, got super excited, you work with some of the largest companies. I started off as an auditor, landed a job with Deloitte and worked there for a couple of years. And, you know, met a lot of good friends there, good opportunities, but I mean, holy cow, I mean, work a ton of hours. We’re talking 80 plus hours. I mean, people think I’m lying. But during filing season, I mean, I worked over 100 hours a week, the last two weeks of filing. And even though it probably wasn’t all efficient work, we were all at the office till the AMs, and this was everyone. And then I joined a nice local boutique firm after Deloitte from a referral from one of my managers at Deloitte, and they’re named JW Advisors. And then they subsequently were acquired by Eide Bailly, a top 25 firm. That’s when I transitioned from audit to tax, spent a couple of years in tax there. Then the pandemic hit and I got exposed to work from home and I could make California wages while working from home.
And one of the big reasons for that was I had a wonderful daughter at the time and I got to see her grow up. And this was drastically different than what I thought my life was going to be, missing lunches, dinners, nighttime routines, working long hours in public accounting. And so I met a guy on LinkedIn named Alan Fisher. He referred me to a California firm that gave me a lot more money and I got to work from home. The hours were about the same I’d say, I would say probably even even a little less, and spent maybe two years, three years, don’t remember now. But after spent some time there, I decided to, you know, hey, my own shingle and do my own thing. So kind of had a long journey to kind of get to where where I’m at today.
You made the transition from the audit side of the business to tax. So you saw the two main product lines in a traditional large public accounting firm environment and culture. Were you working any more on one side versus the other or wasn’t across the board for over a decade working those crazy long hours in both areas?
So this is like, ironic. So when I went to the like Eide Bailly database advisors, I worked less extreme hours. But since we work with private companies, government audits, I worked like I felt like, 50 hours all year long. So in total, I worked a lot more hours, but it wasn’t as extreme like 80 plus hours week, and then all sudden, it’s like 40 hours a week or 30 hours a week. So I worked more I think in audit surprisingly, because there’s there’s no like set deadlines, it just kind of almost like moving deadlines. And I was one of the reasons that kind of turned me off of audit. And when I went to tax, my first tax season wasn’t too bad. We had the deadlines, you had pretty much a free summer, we had like Friday golf, it was great. Then when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act happened, things are changing, like seasoned tax people had no idea what was going on. They had to like, relearn a whole bunch of things. And so that was a little bit of a challenge. But it was still interesting. And that’s the thing, like when you enjoy it, and it’s interesting, the hours don’t matter to you as much.
And then I think maybe I think we’re still learning for the first two or three years. But then the pandemic happened, and then we got a new wave of new tax law changes that kind of like undid some of the 2017 things, added some new things. So the last two to three years, like I feel like I’ve been like, busy almost all year long as well. But these are real things I can help people with. And it was actually I enjoy all this tech stuff. And so I realized, like, I love all the stuff that I do. But you know, I kind of want to do it my way. And so that’s kind of what led me to do my own thing.
But one of the things that has always intrigued me through our connection on LinkedIn, even before you stepped out on your own was, you made very clear in your LinkedIn heading—which a lot of people really don’t understand the importance of the cost of that real estate space—but you made very clear that you were a remote-focused employee in what you did. And I know that, you know, we’ve all got to find where our sweet spot is. There are people that just can’t work remote. I get that I respect that I understand it. I’m talking about from an employee perspective, not employer perspective, from an employee perspective. I mean, I know, talking a little bit before and you’ve got two small kids that are two and four—years ago, when I tried to work from home when my kids were little, I made it like two weeks and I had to go get an office. We homeschooled our kids, and that may have been a little bit of a difference during the kid challenge during the week. But I just couldn’t make it work. Different story a little bit later in life where I can make that work now.
But you’ve been remote now since COVID. And you’ve built a business, not yours, but your individual business, working for other people centered around the fact that remote is what you’re looking for, remote is what you do, and remote is what you do best. How has that allowed you to be more effective and more efficient in what you do and how you do it?
Oh, that was a great question. I think more efficient—I just a lot of it’s just the headspace and just the time. I don’t have to get up in the morning and get ready. I don’t have to commute. And so I’m just overall happier. So it makes things easier for me. I don’t know if working from home makes me more efficient, so to speak. But I’m definitely happier, and I guess I do get more things done, because I am happier, if that makes sense?
Well, I think it makes complete sense. And I don’t think that we weigh the cost of that enough. I mean, I’ll be the first to say that sitting in an office with peers around me as I did for years, I was probably more efficient with my time in that environment, because I knew that there was a finite start and a finite end. And I think that does, for the most part—I don’t want to say always never kind of things—but I think for the most part that creates the necessity for efficiency.
But I think that in a remote world and maybe you’re the same way, I may not be as efficient with my time, but I’m more efficient in the work that I do, and it’s more effective, the work that I do when I’m focused doing that work, because I don’t have to worry about a commute on the front end a commute on the back end, what kind of traffic am I gonna sit in, you know, the the distractions that go on in an office, I mean, people talk about the synergies that occur there. And I’m not going to say that it doesn’t because it does. And there’s a lot of value in hanging around.
Yep, I agree.
That’s where I see the value. There’s some some cool things that can happen in your career around the watercooler or passing people in the hallway. I’m not going to discount that at all. But I think there becomes a point in your career where sitting in your home office like you are like I am right now there’s some value to being able to shut the door, close things off and know that I’m going to be able to do as I think it was Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about, do some deep work for the next two to three hours with zero distractions. None. There’s some value in that.
And I think that that lends itself to more productivity.
Yeah, and you know what, I’ve had the privilege to do both, you know, and maybe I got the best of both worlds. I got to be in the office around people working, you know, 80 plus hours a week—it’s hard not to develop good relationships with them, hard not to learn some shortcuts from them, just being next to them. However, I also know that there are firms that have been remote from the very beginning, and that’s how they train their new employees and maybe their new employees are from another firm that also got the in office environment. And so, you know, just put it out there, you and I got both, got the opportunity to do both. And there’s some positives that come from in office. And there’s also a lot of positives that come from working from home.
I did remember some of the things I can be more efficient working from home now that I’m running my own firm is you have to find ways to becoming more efficient. Like I just hired my friend as a contractor, she wants to kind of learn and to just try to help me out. So it’s not like a full time employee type thing. But we have different schedules. Even though we’re all in the same timezone, we she lives in the same city as me, I just purchased Loom, and I would essentially do my work and just record it, and then she would just watch it, she can pause it, she can do whatever, and so like instead of me sitting there, like spending both of our time showing her how to do the work, she’s watching me pausing, ask me how I did that, why I did that? I just record it, have her watch it, she can follow along, pause it, and then she has follow up questions.
I feel like I have limits from, I think it’s maybe my business coach Ryan was and he’s like, it’s like working called like it asynchronously or something like that? Where you don’t take phone calls, you take meetings, and in the app, they can ask you a question. And then essentially, you record them a Loom video to like, respond to the question. That way they can watch on their own time, you’re not spending both of your times. But Loom videos have helped a lot. If we’re talking about efficiency, working from home, we work with India staff a lot. So you get really good at communicating and laying out step by step details on how to complete a task.
You know, technology’s huge. I mean, I’ve been leaning on technology so much. That’s one of the reasons why when I went to QuickBooks Connect—there was so much technology there that can help shortcut so many different things. But at the same time, you also have to know the back end foundational aspect of accounting and the process before you can just like get all these different, like technology tools and just like, plug them together and like cool, they all integrate, they’ll just work. Like that’s not exactly how it works. But yeah, there’s the efficiency standpoint. Technology has really, really helped me in working from home, it’s kind of forcing you to, you know, figure those things out.
Loom is one of those things that you don’t realize how much you need it until you find it and start using it. I’ve got a client that has a pretty robust client accounting services group. And one of the steps in her interview process is she sends a QuickBooks file to the person that’s interviewing for the position. And there’s mistakes in it. And then she would like a Loom video back to demonstrate what you did and how you did it. And it’s surprising to me, Henry, how many people in today’s world, in the accounting space, have never heard of Loom.
Don’t know what it is. Don’t work with it. And I mean, she’s looking for a manager of a group right now. So we’ve had a handful of interviews. And I’ve let people know, hey, this is the next step. Are you familiar with Loom? And I would say probably 90% of people I’ve talked to have no earthly idea what I’m talking about.
I was telling them look, regardless of what happens with this role, Loom is going to become your new best friend, because there’s so much functionality like you’re talking about, that creates efficiencies into your day, where you don’t realize you’re wasting time right now.
Like one cheat that I think all public accounting firms can do right now is have a bank of training videos that are like five minutes long, to answer all the simple questions that like people ask. And like, we’re like the YouTube society, right? Like, I don’t know how many things you learn on YouTube, but I will learn a ton of stuff on YouTube, right?
And I’m looking for the videos that are probably like ten minutes or less, even five minutes or less. Like, I don’t need a whole like, thing on it. I just need to know how to do this. And if you can literally show the person doing it. I don’t know why they don’t do that. Maybe it’s like, they don’t even know what Loom is, right?
But another thing is, I have a feeling like maybe it’s like too efficient, right? Like, it’s going to cut down on the billable hours or something like that. I have no idea. But that is one thing I’m trying to tell people like how many times you have asked me to do something. And I was like, I wish I could use Loom. I think there’s like data security type stuff, which is like, oh, you can’t record client information. It’s like, but it’s all internal. But yeah, Loom’s great. I think more people should use it. But I guess more just don’t know about it.
Yeah, it’s a great tool. And it’s funny, you talk about, you know, putting training videos together. They’re not training videos, but I’ve put together an email, so when I talk to a candidate that’s never worked with Loom before, and I know that’s a step, I tell him look, be on the lookout for an email from you, when we hang up, I’m sending you an email with six two to three minute videos on Loom, and some different uses for them, and also how to use it. Here’s the links, go learn, so that you can look like you know what you’re talking about when you hop on, and start talking to my client about what it is that you’re doing. So it’s a great tool.
So one of the things that I’ve been pretty impressed with your journey over the last few weeks is, this was not a knee jerk decision. This was not a roll out of bed on a Monday morning, go, you know what, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m quitting, and I’m gonna go hang my shingle out. There’s been some pretty methodical steps to get you to where you are today. Talk to me a little bit about those and kind of what you’ve done and what you did to begin to set yourself up for some success early on.
Oh, man, I mean, I probably have the definition of “analysis paralysis.” And so one, that’s just my nature, I got to look at everything, analyze it. Once I knew I wanted to do it, I had to kind of put myself in the headspace of like, what is it really going to look like? I got, you know, a whole family to feed. I’m the sole breadwinner. So I would talk to as many people as I can, go online, go on YouTube, and just take advice from them. Like, I think a lot of people talk to people, get advice and never like really implement it. And so a lot of people I’ve talked to, you know, I joined a business coaching program, Ryan Lazanis, over a year ago to learn all the details within it to get a head start. I talked to my peers that started their own firm less than a year ago, and, you know, picked their brains. And then also, it’s just a certain amount of money. And so like, if I have, you know, six to twelve months’ living expenses, I can, you know, I can be okay, if I don’t pick up a client.
Another thing that’s helped with that is being able to say no, like, I don’t need to take on every single client. And so I think a lot of it is like self reflection of what you need. Like, for me money was important because I have a family to feed. If you’re single, and you live at home, you know, you only need like a month’s worth of savings to do it, like that’s a totally different story. And some people are much more comfortable with uncertainty. I am not on that spectrum, I need a little certainty. Like I know, for the six months, I close no deals today, I can be with my family, and I’m not saying like, hey, we got to eat beans and rice the next two weeks, until Daddy makes a sale.
And so that’s what I needed, I talked to people myself, I needed six months’ living expenses, I got all the software that everybody needed. And eventually, honestly, it was my wife saying like, you got to make a move. And it was the old saying, you gotta like, “something” or get off the pot, you know? You’ve been talking about it, you’ve researched it. I don’t know how much more information you need, but you got to start doing it. And so those are things that I did. So, talk to people, look at software, look at your own personal budget and see how much you need. And most people said, give yourself six to twelve months of runway and you should be able to succeed. And if you don’t, you can always go back.
I think that’s the beautiful thing about it. And it’s one of the things that that I’ve always approached change with. And it’s one of the things I was talking to my staff about whenever we’re looking at implementing something new or different. I’ve always said, we can always go back. We can always go back. Whoever said you can’t go home, just didn’t want to go home. Because you can always go back.
I mean, it as long as you’re not burning bridges on your way out the door, you can always go back. But I think that there’s some methodology that you put in place, I mean, when we talk about accounting, stereotypically, we’re talking about people that are risk—I don’t want to say fear of risk, and I don’t even want to say risk averse—but they want to take calculated risks. And, you know, making sure that you’ve got six to twelve months in reserves, like you said, I think is probably one of the biggest things. And I don’t care if we’re talking about starting your own business or making a job change, because man, I’m just done, I’ve had enough. You put yourself in a position, every single firm owner that I’ve talked to, Henry, when I’ve asked them, you know, biggest regrets, biggest frustrations for you to go back and do it all over again, I think to a person, what they’ve all said is, I wish I could have said, or would have said “no” more in the beginning. Because I took on clients that, hey, they weren’t great clients to put food on the table. They paid the bills. But now that I’m at where I’m at two years, three years, four years, five years later, they’re a drain. And I got to figure out how to get rid of them without hurting feelings, because they’ve helped me get to where I am today. So just the ability to have that runway, to be able to say no, is huge, it’s significant.
You also talked about connecting with people that have walked this path before. What were some things that they told you, hey, make sure you do this, or hey, make sure you avoid this pothole. Don’t go right, go left, because there’s a roadblock over here, because I did that kind of thing. What were some things that they talked to you about?
I think kind of what you had mentioned, I mean, the biggest one was, when you start your own firm, you are essentially like a price taker for like, the average person. And they said, the 1040 returns are the low hanging fruit and you can always pick those up. But eventually you’re gonna be at capacity and you’ll start doing high level clients and you got to figure out a way to get rid of them, so of course, they say like, don’t take on those, like, low paying clients. And I had talked to Mike Payne up in Phoenix, he’s one of the guys that I just cold outreached. And I was like, you have kids, I have kids, like, I gotta put food on the table. Somebody’s gonna come at me with like, a $400 1040 like, I’m probably gonna say yeah. So like, what do you do when you don’t pick up work from clients? He’s like, do contract work. And so since I’ve developed such a network, like, I have friends that are like, oh, yeah, you can help me out, like, you just help me out, I’ll pay you like, you know, whatever agreed upon it is. And I know that once you get up and running, like we can cut this off.
And like, that was like a breath of fresh air that coming from Mike as well as my buddy is willing, willing to let me do that. And, you know, like relationships are huge in starting a business as well as this profession. But yeah, the first one was being able to say no more. But of course, I’m wondering like, how do I do that? Because I need the money. And one of them was doing contract work on the side.
The other one is just what your message is, right? Are you saying, hey, I’m taking everybody? Having your ideal client setup in place. And to be fair, I think most of the coaches will say niche, niche, niche, but you can have more than one, and in the beginning, in my opinion, it’s okay to have more and kind of figure it out. But you don’t want to be so scattered out there, that, you know, you’re doing like a nonprofit, and then you’re doing a manufacturing distribution, then you want to do professional services, and then you want to do low end 1040s, and then you want to do high net worth individuals. Like that is going to be a lot—the systems and processes are so different.
Oh, and that’s another one: Build a firm, not a job. Like, have systems and processes in place. Like Jason Staats has a great video on the six core attributes of like a successful firm, and one of them is practice management. I’m my own person, and like, I probably handle all my projects, but I purchased the practice management software to use. I also invested in software that I used at a previous firm called like PDFlyer. It’s expensive, but it’s like it makes it so efficient. I would also invest in good tax software, and developing standard operating procedure. I have to be fair, I haven’t gotten everything in place yet. But knowing that the goal is to build a firm, even if it’s just myself, it’s so much better than just kind of having everything organized in Excel. So that was a good piece of advice that somebody gave me.
Let’s see, don’t take on low low end clients, you’ll eventually want to let them go build a firm, not a job, and have systems and processes in place and niche down as soon as you can. Still working on that. And then just networking, building networking, oh! Providing value. Oh, that’s a big one. Always giving, providing value. It’s a long term game. And you know, don’t chase after the easy money because you want to develop these good relationships with them. You want them to be good clients, you want to hang on to them for at least five years. So that’s it. Those are probably the best pieces of advice that I’ve received from them.
There’s a lot of things you touched on that we can dig into quite a bit. And I’m one of those guys as a small business owner that falls into the niching down as soon as you can, as much as you can. But I think that one of the mistakes that people make is they think that niche is industry focused, or they think that niche is client focused, specifically, and it is to a certain degree, but I think that, you know, years ago, we built a $10 million business in about three and a half years on the recruiting and staffing side, because we didn’t niche down on industry, but what we did was we niched down on geography, we literally sat in and took a string and drew a five mile radius around our office and told our sales reps, that’s where we’re going to make money. That five mile radius, period, the end, we’re going to know everyone in that five mile radius. I don’t care if business is referred to as 20 miles away—five miles, that’s where we’re going to spend our time, we’re going to know everybody in that circle. And when we know people in that circle will start to expand the circle.
But just the ability to be willing to put a stake in the ground and say, this is who we are, this is what we do, we do it as good or better than anybody else, I think that’s critical, as a small business owner, because there’s always going to be bigger, larger giants in the marketplace, that could just take a wad of cash and throw it at the problem, and you and I, small business owners, we can’t do that. We absolutely can’t. We are going to get beat, you know, every day of the week and twice on Sunday, if we try to compete from a marketing standpoint, you know, against a Big Four firm or in my space, you know, a large national recruiting firm. We’re going to lose that battle constantly, ’cause they can always throw more money and more bodies at the problem than you and I can.
But if we’re putting a stake in the ground and saying, hey, this is who we are, we do it as good or better than anybody else, there’s a lot of value in that. And I think from that, it makes adding value and creating value with that network a little bit easier, because like you said, you’re not working a low end 1040, and then a high net worth client, and then going over here and doing not for profit work and then coming back over here and helping a company that you know, is looking for venture capital money or private equity money, and they need financials to help be able to put together to do that. And you’re sitting there chasing your tail because you can’t replicate the work that you’re doing.
In any way, shape, or form or fashion.
We hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcasting app, leave a five star rating, and visit our website for links and show notes at CPALifePodcast.com. Join us next time for part two with Henry Huie on CPA Life.
Henry Huie is a CPA with several years of public Auditing and Tax experience. After stints at large firms including Deloitte and Eide Bailly, Henry sought to create an accounting firm built on providing premier value rather than billable hours, while utilizing the latest technology and getting back to the fundamentals of providing professional services. This led to the founding of Chrome Accounting, LLC, in Las Vegas in October, 2023.