Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Yarty, and I’m the Cofounder of A4E, which is short for Accountants for Entrepreneurs. Sara is our original Founder and is the accounting & tax guru for the business.
Today, my role is mainly focused on Sales & Marketing while Sara manages our Operations and Customer Delivery.
Sara launched this business back in 2018 when it was originally a tax services business. After realizing that the tax customers she worked with often had messy books and low profit margins, we made the decision to layer on bookkeeping and CFO services to become a real strategic partner to our customers.
It made sense not just for us, but for our customers. Messy books often required cleaning/catching up, which meant added costs and headaches to the customer. We figured, why not remove this pain completely by offering the entire suite of bookkeeping, taxes and CFO services at an affordable price point.
Our business today provides 100% done-for-you accounting solutions that combine bookkeeping, taxes and CFO services under one roof and for an amazing value. Because we understand hiring an accountant/CPA is a personalized experience, our focus is—and has remained—focusing on the customer experience.
Currently, we work with US-based businesses that are in tech-related industries (web development, SaaS, software, etc.) and businesses that offer services (productized services are a big one for us). Our customers are typically solo founders that are bootstrapped, want to rid themselves of the accounting stress and are seeking a long-term strategic accounting partner.
Today, our MRR is right around $8k with a targeted MRR of $13k by the end of the year. We’ve grown five times from when we started about a year ago when we were only offering tax services.
It’s been an incredibly hard journey that’s come with many challenges, including leaving behind a comfortable salary with benefits. But it’s also been undeniably one of the most rewarding experiences for the both of us as it’s given us so much more time to spend with our family. And that means more to us than anything.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After working for over two decades combined, we realized that corporate life wasn’t what we wanted or valued. So much that we both turned down multiple job offers—I turned down an opportunity to join Amazon.
So, in 2017 Sara and I both decided to quit our jobs and take this opportunity to travel the world. We ended up backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, and it was such an incredible experience.
Here’s us below in Indonesia and in Vietnam trekking:
When we returned home, we spent some time asking ourselves what we wanted to do, what we valued and what we would regret 50 years down the road. What was that “thing” that would have us regret?
That thing for us was entrepreneurship.
Given our accounting and finance backgrounds, it was a natural fit for us to start a business helping other small businesses and founders with their accounting needs. We would help with their bookkeeping, their taxes as well as providing CFO strategies to improve margins, cash flow and growth.
Sara had built her career at one of the Big 4 firms and at a smaller regional firm servicing large clients, while my career was in corporate finance and strategy helping Fortune 100 and hyper-growth companies’ executive teams boost profitability and growth.
We understood that strong accounting and financial systems were necessary for businesses to thrive and grow. Unfortunately, many small businesses can’t afford these services.
That’s why we decided to launch A4E, so that we could be that anchor and partner to them.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we first launched, we were entirely a tax services business. In fact, I wasn’t involved yet at this point. I only recently joined full-time this past February 2020.
At the time, we didn’t have a set process of doing things, no customer portal, no customer experience guidelines, no staff, subpar website and no systems or tools to help us with the workload.
There wasn’t much outside of Sara’s determination to help our customers with their tax questions and return filings.
Because tax is such a complicated industry, pricing was also another challenge because it’s heavily dependent on a number of factors (too long to list here). When we spoke with prospects who were interested in our tax services, we noticed our pricing would fluctuate based on these factors (from $300 to as high as $2,000).
Then it dawned on us. Why not combine bookkeeping and taxes together for a fixed price that’s affordable and without the variability in pricing.
And that’s what we decided on.
So in late 2019, we shifted focus and moved away from a tax-only business to a full-service accounting business offering bookkeeping, taxes and CFO services.
Here’s our dashboard and model below:
Although plans can—and will—change, they’re still helpful for us as we think through our operational plans and the kinds of challenges we might face.
We’ve started placing a heavy emphasis on being more valuable to our leads and prospects vs. just trying to sell to them to increase awareness and attract new customers.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we initially launched, our first customers were mainly through referrals and friends. We didn’t have any specific game plan or strategy as to acquiring new customers, marketing ourselves, etc.
Sara and I had friends that were seeking tax return services, so naturally they came to us for help. They would then refer us to their friends, which was extremely helpful.
In the first year, we had done okay but far from enough to sustain and replace our original incomes. Because they were all one-time services, our sales were inconsistent and unpredictable. This left us feeling anxious and nervous.
During that process, we also had customers that weren’t a great fit for what we offered. But because we were small and without a solid game plan, we continued servicing them, despite the data telling us we were losing money.
The cost of launching the business was minimal for us as service businesses typically don’t have much in the way of startup costs. Our initial costs included paying for tax preparation software to help with filing returns, website hosting, Google suite, data storage, data security and that was it.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since late 2019, we’ve started placing a heavy emphasis on being more valuable to our leads and prospects vs. just trying to sell to them to increase awareness and attract new customers.
In order to do that, we decided to invest in SEO, blog content, social media outreach, and building relationships.
We’re currently doing the following:
- Post at least 1-2x on our website’s blog with the goal to up our content to 2-3x per week
- Post on social media, specifically Twitter and Linkedin, at least once per day
- Establish relationships with our target audience on Linkedin by following thought leaders and influencers
- Creating tools and resources for our audience that includes free checklists, financial models, dashboards, etc.
- Generally, be as helpful as possible with our targeted audience. E.g. if someone connects with me, I extend an offer to help with any accounting questions they may have with their business for free
Here’s a post I created recently to explain why bookkeepers/accountants are important and to establish trust with our audience:
The actions above have all increased our traffic, and we’ve gained new customers as a result.
For our existing customers, our goal and mission are to ensure they’re receiving the same level of support and attention they had when they first joined us. We try our best to ensure they made the right choice working with us, and that means providing a great experience (from onboarding all the way to payments).
Since starting and running the business, I realized you don’t know what you don’t know. We’ve read more books in the past 3 years than we’ve read in the preceding 10 years before that.
Examples include responding to all questions in a timely manner (typically less than 2 hours), sharing step-by-step videos (we use Loom) on how to provide information to us, providing useful tax savings strategies and offering loyalty bonuses if our customers stick with us for a certain amount of time.
We also offer our existing customers referral bonuses so that they are able to benefit. If our customer (or anyone for that matter) refers our services and they sign up to one of our packages, they can receive up to $400 per successful referral.
We found this to be a good strategy so far, and it works for us as our lifetime value per customer is worth it. For accounting and bookkeeping, once a customer finds a good accountant they tend to stick with them for a long time.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As of today, we’ve been doing well but have much more to go. Sara tends to be a pessimist (she’s allowed me to write this 😀), whereas I tend to be an optimist.
During my career, we always created what we called “stretch” goals. In a nutshell, you would create optimistic scenarios to “stretch” the team to do more. And if they accomplished those targets, the business and teams would all benefit.
More often than not, I witnessed how much more the business could do when we stretched ourselves.
Prior to Sara and I joining forces, the target was to hit $30k annually. After joining together, we’re currently hitting a run rate of ~$100k annually with the target of $160k annually (or ~$13k MRR).
Here’s how we’re trending at the moment from 2019 through today:
When running and managing a business, it’s critical to analyze your business’s gross and operating margins. As you can see in the chart above, our gross margins were 100% up through Jan’20.
That’s because we were doing all the work. 😥
We’ve taken systematic changes to hiring staff for our customer delivery work, document all of our processes, and create video SOPs so we can free ourselves up to do more sales and marketing. We currently have 3 team members.
We still have a long way to go, but we’re hopeful that the changes we’ve made will allow us to hit our goals.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Since starting and running the business, I realized you don’t know what you don’t know. This forced me and Sara to think about all those scenarios that could tank our business.
Then it made me realize, I needed to read more. I need to invest in myself to learn as much as possible without recreating the wheel.
Since starting the business, we’ve read more books in the past 3 years than we’ve read in the preceding 10 years before that.
Some of my favorite books that have transformed my thought process are:
- The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
- Built to Sell by John Warrillow
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- The Everything Store by Brad Stone
- Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins
Another thing that’s helped tremendously is mental models. A great resource I’ve bookmarked and refer back to frequently is Farnam Street’s mental model’s blog post here.
Podcasts are another resource that has been extremely pivotal in developing and growing as an owner. Some of our favorites are:
- How I Built This
- Planet Money
- Hidden Brain
- Business Lunch
- Growth Marketing Today
- TED Radio Hour
- Indie Hackers
A combination of books, podcasts, blog articles, and interacting with other founders have been crucial in learning about entrepreneurship and applying successful practices. Without these, I don’t think we may have made it this far.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Prior to investing in tools and platforms, Sara and I were so focused on savings that the very thought of investing in tools to help run our business wasn’t even in our minds. We’re huge fans of FI/RE (financial independence, retire early), which unfortunately translated into running a business.
What we learned is this: you have to invest in your business in order to be successful.
That means investing in tools that either drives your business forward or significantly optimizes it.
Being the finance person that I am, we used our financial model to map out every tool, what that tool did, how it would improve our business, and finally, their associated costs.
This ensured we a) didn’t overspend on tools we didn’t need and b) provided us with our targeted margins.
Here are the tools we use today:
- Canopy – client management, onboarding, internal project management, staffing
- Loom – screen recording tool to document processes, share design feedback, etc.
- Slack – a communication tool for our team
- ClickUp – internal project management tool outside of client work, also houses our documentation
- Dubsado – Client questionnaire, contracts, forms and payments
- Hubspot – CRM, live chat and support
- Quickbooks – Invoicing, managing customer accounting, internal reporting
- LastPass – Provide login access to our team without sharing passwords
- Airtable – Managing campaign activity such as Linkedin outreach, blog content, and social media
- Zapier – The glue to automate our workflows
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Our advice for anyone looking to start a business is to ask the following questions:
- Why do I want to start a business? Money, fame, freedom?
- What are my values? Does this business align with those values?
- Would I be happy if I had to do this business forever? If not, why?
- Am I willing to put in the time and effort to reach my vision?
These are tough questions but necessary for every founder to ask themselves. Running a business is really hard and comes with so many challenges.
I highly recommend mind mapping for this. You can use a free tool like XMind to create mind maps, which I’ve found to be extremely valuable when running questions like these.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re currently looking for a strong Accounting Manager to be the interface with our customers, provide amazing support, manage our team of tax accountants and bookkeepers, and help us optimize our processes.
For the right person, this opportunity will provide autonomy, flexibility, growth opportunities, and the chance to be part of a growing business.
If you’re interested, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] to learn more about our hiring process.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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