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Are you ready to conquer the world of finance and find the perfect work-life balance?
In the latest episode of the Conquer Local Podcast, we’re thrilled to introduce Geraldine Carter, a renowned business coach specializing in helping overworked solo CPAs and firm owners achieve a better work-life balance without sacrificing revenue.
With over 100,000 downloads, her podcast, “Business Strategy for CPAs,” ranks among the top ten podcasts for financial professionals on Apple Podcasts, providing invaluable insights and guidance.
Geraldine holds a BS in Engineering from Cornell University and is a co-founder of a company where her cashflow forecasting models have made significant contributions to climate change efforts. Beyond her impressive career, she enjoys outdoor adventures like mountain biking and chasing after her two children in Ketchum, Idaho.
Join us on the Conquer Local Podcast to learn from Geraldine Carter as she shares her insights on achieving balance, revenue, and life satisfaction in the finance industry.
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Mastering Success in Finance: Insights from a Renowned Business Coach
Jeff Tomlin: Welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast! Our show features successful sales leaders, marketers, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs who will inspire you with their success stories. Each episode is packed with practical strategies, as our guests share their secrets to achieving their dreams. Don’t forget to check out and subscribe to our YouTube channel for the video version of each episode, where you can see our guests in action. Tune in to learn the highlights of their remarkable accomplishments and get tips to revamp, rework, and reimagine your business. Whether you’re a small business owner, marketer, or aspiring entrepreneur, the Conquer Local Podcast is your ultimate guide to dominating your local market. Tune in now to take your business to the next level!
I’m Jeff Tomlin and on this episode, we’re pleased to welcome Geraldine Carter. Geraldine is a business coach for overworked solo CPAs and firm owners who want to go down to 40 hours without giving up revenue. Her clients stop working weekends, get their work under control, and get their lives back. Her podcast, Business Strategy for CPAs has more than 100,000 downloads and is ranked in the top ten podcasts for CPAs, by Apple Podcasts.
Geraldine holds a Bachelors of Science in Engineering from Cornell University and is the co-founder and CFO of a company where her cashflow forecasting models resulted in millions of dollars for climate change efforts.
Get ready Conquerors for Geraldine Carter coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast.
Geraldine Carter’s achievements, background, and motivation to help CPAs work less.
Jeff Tomlin: Today we’re welcoming Geraldine Carter to the Conquer Local podcast. And just so I get this right, I’m gonna read some of my notes to introduce her and have her talk a little bit about her background. Geraldine runs a sub 12 hour Ironman, sub 3-hour 40-minute marathon, sub-three minute Rubik’s cube solver. Been to 50 countries, seven continents, speaking seven languages, co-founded a company during the recession that grew to more than a million dollars in revenue. And so it sounds to me she likes to win and enjoys doing really, really hard things. because I don’t think I’ll ever in my life have the motivation to run an Ironman, especially one of that length. Geraldine, welcome to the podcast, and maybe follow up on that intro and how you got to do all of these different things and choose really hard things to try and conquer in your life.
Geraldine Carter: Well, thank you so much for having me, and I’m happy to be with you. So I think the shortest answer to that question is that when I was in college, I went to engineering school, I knew that I did not want to be an engineer, and when I graduated, I have two passports. So I left the country and found a way to make a living, travelling around the world and having adventures while I was doing it. So I had a lot of free time when I was a guide, and in between trips guiding, I would have free time to go and go on some escapades. So that’s how all that transpired. And at the end of the day, I just like to see what I’m capable of doing. Most of the things that you said in that intro were true. The only one is that I only speak three languages, not seven.
Jeff Tomlin: That was seven continents you’ve been to.
Geraldine Carter: There’s time to acquire more.
Jeff Tomlin: There are seven continents you’ve been to. Okay, we’ve got that right. So out of all of the really difficult things that you do, one of the more difficult things you try and tackle is to try to get CPAs to stop working weekends. And so tell me, how did you get onto that career path and what motivated you to sort of conquer that challenge?
Geraldine Carter: So I was really intrigued by this question of why is it that CPAs and accountants work weekends? Why is it that the people who touch money, they manage money, they look at money, they are inside their clients’ businesses when it comes to the financials, they understand tax, they are in tax code, and how to leverage it? Why is it that the folks who are in money and surrounded by business are themselves working weekends? And I just found this to be a really intriguing question that I couldn’t get my head around. I happened to be coaching when I left the company that I co-founded. Once I transitioned away from that, I stepped into coaching for a while and I happened to be coaching some CPAs. So that was my inroad to get a sense of what was happening behind the curtains. And once I saw it, once I saw what was going on, it was like a dog with a bone. I just couldn’t let it go. And these are wonderful people to work with. They’re smart, they’re talented, they’re hardworking, they’re committed to their businesses. So this question of how do you take a CPA, what does it take to get a CPA from working a 60, 70 hour work week down to a 40 hour work week was a problem that I just couldn’t put down until I’d figured out how to solve it.
CPAs struggle with hourly billing, transitioning to value-based pricing, and workload.
Jeff Tomlin: So when you pulled back the curtain, what were some of the challenges that you saw the CPAs having and as they’re working, operating in their business and trying to grow the business?
Geraldine Carter: The main one is just that they come from a space of hourly billing and that leads to all kinds of problems in their businesses. Not only is hourly billing terrible for your clients, it is even worse for the business owner because they underprice relative to the value that they create. And when they underprice, they need to take on more clients in order to compensate for being underpriced. And they take on more clients. That just means more work. And they end up with this pile of work on their desks that is so deep, that oftentimes they have a very difficult time even digging themselves out because they are working so much in order to make ends meet, if you will, that there is limited time to even think about solving the problem. And because hourly billing is endemic in the accounting space, it’s not… Learning how to price is not a solution that they will readily come across on their own.
Jeff Tomlin: This is not that different from the innovator’s dilemma of how it’s really hard for really big corporations to avoid being disintermediated by someone who comes along and does things in a more innovative way. It’s just really, really, really difficult to change once you’re into that cycle. So, well, I guess that’ll lead to the next question, like how do they begin the process of transitioning to a normal 40-hour work week when they’re in this dilemma?
Geraldine Carter: Yeah, I would even question the word normal 40-hour work week. And why is a 40-hour week normal? Especially for a business owner. And that part, a big part of it is thinking that it is doing work, performing work overtime for clients is what creates revenue. And we need to begin with changing that thinking because it’s not performing work overtime for clients that creates revenue. It’s the value that creates revenue. And the thinking is, if it’s work performed over time for clients, then I have to work as much as I can to make the money. And in a reasonable world, the maximum that I’ll work is a normal, in-air quotes, 40-hour week. But as a business owner, I think one of the harder mindset shifts to make is that the revenue that we bring into our business is a result of the value that we create for clients. And if we can maximize the value that we can create for clients, and we focus simply on creating the value for clients, and we learn how to price accordingly, then it doesn’t matter how many hours we work. And once we make that mental transition, and that’s a lot of what I focus on with my clients is helping them make that mental adjustment, then we simply focus on creating value for clients, and then we do all the things that we need to do to ratchet down the workload. So it’s a really step-by-step process, but it all begins with focusing on your ideal buyer and understanding what it is that’s valuable to them.
Shifting CPAs from hourly billing to value pricing and focusing on value.
Jeff Tomlin: I’m seeing worlds colliding right now, because we’ve focused a lot in the software industry, starting to understand value-based pricing, and how to scale an organization with pricing that makes more sense to the customers. And a few episodes back, we were talking about value-based pricing in sort of non-software industries. And so this is another example of how there’s probably not very many people who are thinking about value-based pricing in the accounting space, but you’re suggesting that it makes a tremendous amount of sense and can make a tremendous difference in the life of a CPA as well.
Geraldine Carter: It’s the thing that makes all the difference. And I would draw just a really simple distinction that’s a little bit into the semantics of pricing, and that is value pricing. So for my clients, because the nature of the work that they do typically is ongoing monthly recurring. We tend to use more tiered pricing. So bronze, silver, gold, because it’s an easier tool. Because value pricing is an acquired skill set. But because bronze, silver, and gold is our create flat prices, predictable prices. And because CPAs tend to have dozens, hundreds of clients, it leads to simplicity and efficiency. So we tend to use bronze, silver, gold, and even though we pivot off of value rather than off of cost when it comes to establishing prices. And then we also use product ladders and flat-rate pricing for productized services, for other things that don’t fit neatly into bronze, silver, or gold. So a little bit of a semantic difference, but I think for listeners it’s so important or can be so helpful to understand the pricing tools that could be available to you in your tool belt in order to help capture more of the value that you create for your buyers.
Jeff Tomlin: Really important distinction, though, that time doesn’t equal value. Your time doesn’t equal value. And so-
Geraldine Carter: Yeah. Your buyer’s time equals value.
Jeff Tomlin: Exactly. So, imagine that a lot of CPAs, in their business, they don’t have a lot of, they’re not spending a lot of time on the things that they’re really, really good at, especially where they can drive value. So lemme talk a little bit about how your coaching helps them focus on doing the things that they’re really, really good at and the things that ultimately drive that value.
Geraldine Carter: Yeah, so a lot of CPAs, and perhaps anybody who has been sort of sucked into hourly billing as a pricing model and as a business model might experience, you can get into being in reactive mode where you’re constantly just fielding, fielding, fielding questions from clients or perhaps questions from staff about how to do this, that, or the other. So I help my clients get out of reactive mode. One of the first things that we do in order to make this transition is to, it’s kind of, it’s not the normal thing, but we tend to disengage a lot of clients. And by a lot of clients, I mean sometimes 25, 40, sometimes 60% of clients, because sometimes accountants can be so overloaded and so overworked that not the… Not the only way, but the way to get them out of this is to disengage a bunch of clients so that they have time and space to work on their business. So of course you’re thinking, “Well, what happens to the revenue? I don’t want to lose my share if I disengage 60% of my clients.” But what we do in the process of disengaging clients, while we’re disengaging clients, what we are also doing is effectively high grading the best clients from the client roster, and offering them a different pricing structure with different packages, in order to sift the clients from the client roster who want more value and are willing to pay for it. So effectively what we do is flatline the revenue. The revenue basically stays the same while we cut out a lot of small and middle clients if you will. Small-dollar clients. They’re not bad people, but just as a business model, they’re not the clients who are gonna help your business go where you want it to. So we do a round of disengaging clients. We also establish boundaries and deadlines for clients, because typically CPAs have worked in a sort of first come, first in, first out, first come, first serve model, and that leads to a lot of chasing clients for documents, and pick up, put down, open, close. It’s really inefficient. So we establish boundaries and deadlines, so there are no shenanigans. And like I said, we raise prices and then once time starts to get down to more like 35, 40 hours a week, then we get relentless on focusing on systems, optimizing systems, automating steps that are automatable and so on.
Ideal clients, repricing, and systemizing to attract top clients.
Jeff Tomlin: Deja vu again, because as you’re talking about prioritizing clients, I remember I was at a conference when we were a relatively small company, and just starting out, starting to scale. When you’re small and young, you’ve gotta be scrappy and you take all the business that comes your way. You work with everybody. And I remember this one gentleman up on stage, he made the fairly straightforward comment that one of the number one reasons why a lot of companies can’t scale is that they’re spending too much time with clients that are driving a disproportionately small amount of value to your company. and that’s the trick. As you start to scale, it started to click with us, “Boy, we’re spending, these small clients are taking up just as much of our time as these really, really, really big clients.” And it seems straightforward, but as you’re in sort of start mode, and then if you don’t think about it, you can get into operating mode and go quite a while without prioritizing that. So, I think that’s a pretty cool insight.
Geraldine Carter: And the other thing that can happen, if I could just tack on really quickly, is that sometimes your biggest clients, the ones who bring in the most dollars, can also be an impediment, because they require the most handholding, and they can. The most handholding or the most technical expertise. And if they’re paying you a lot of revenue, you might end up with golden handcuffs. So we wanna be on the lookout not only for the sort of middle clients, but also the larger dollar clients that look really appealing, but from an operational standpoint are more difficult to systematize.
Jeff Tomlin: So, there’s a definition that you’ve gotta put together of what your ideal client profile looks like, your ideal customer profile. They’re not always the biggest ticket ones. They’re ones that you’re uniquely positioned to serve, and the ones that you make the happiest, I guess. So, walk through this process, then, around how you take people through, especially the repricing. How do you walk through the repricing and how do you get your clients to start thinking about putting systems together to attract top clients that fit in that ideal customer profile?
Geraldine Carter: Yeah, so the repricing piece is a multi-step piece. We don’t reprice everybody all at once. So typically what I have my clients do is take all of their clients and stick them in an Excel spreadsheet. We make five columns: likely keep, definitely keep, likely disengage, definitely disengage, and then column five: not sure, yet can’t decide. And I have them zip through it in five minutes or less so they’re not overthinking it. And you asked about repricing, we do repricing together with disengaging, right? So that we are balancing revenue out the door with higher revenue coming in the door. They’re not separate things. They have to go together. So we disengage the clients that we know they don’t wanna keep. And then we take small buckets of, usually I recommend just rule of thumb, 15% of your client roster at a time. And identifying clients’ ideal buyers who look like each other, so that you can create a bronze, silver, gold sort of tiered package thing. And then you can send out the letter, the communication, to 15% of your clients, and wait to see what the response is. Because if you’ve underpriced, what you don’t wanna do is reprice all your clients and be underpriced and have left money on the table. On the flip side, what you don’t wanna do is overprice and shoot too high, and then send all your clients running. So we do swatch tests, if you will, 15% at a time. Wait to see what their response is, see what you learn from it, make adjustments, send communications out to another 15%, see what the response is, make adjustments, another 15%, by now you’re almost at 50%, if you will. So by now, you’ve mostly figured it out. And then you can send out larger batches of letters. So, it’s very much a stepwise process, taken one piece at a time, and also designed to reduce the risk of both underpricing and overpricing.
Repricing is nerve-wracking but freeing, clients achieve work-life balance success.
Jeff Tomlin: Boy, like, that step of repricing things can be a nerve-wracking process for people. Because like the number one thing you think about is, “Hey, I don’t wanna lose my customers,” and, “I don’t get a lot of chances to do this.” So you want to make sure that you do it right. And we’re not different here either. If you’ve gotta think of a wise way. If you’re building software, for example, and you keep investing in developing that year over year, you have to figure out some way to turn that into value. But, what a nerve-wracking experience for someone, especially if they haven’t repriced in a long time and their customers are not used to that process.
Geraldine Carter: Yeah, it can be. I think my clients will say that it is a little bit nerve-wracking, a little bit gut-wrenching, also a little bit sad because these will be clients that they’ve had in some cases for multiple decades. They’ve seen family members come up and through the accounting practice. So it is with mixed emotions. And they will also say that it’s really freeing, because they have often been under the lead blanket of overwork for, in many cases, two to three years, especially since COVID. And they have not been on vacation for a couple of years, and they’ve just been grinding and hustling. So even though it’s a difficult process, and I don’t sugarcoat it, they will also say that it is relieving and freeing, and they are finally able to be in the hot tub at 4:30 without being preoccupied about what box on what form did I forget to check.
Jeff Tomlin: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So, give us an example. I know this is a pretty straightforward process. I’m sure that people can envision, especially the way that you’ve described it, but always good to hear a success story. Tell me some story that you walked somebody through and it made a big change in their life.
Geraldine Carter: Yeah, so I can think of one client in particular. These stories all, they sound a lot alike, but there’s one that stands out who I had on my podcast, it’s episode 254 on the “Business Strategy for CPAs” podcast, if people wanna go and listen. But she came to me with 700 clients and was working all day. Like, 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day. Saturday was to catch up, and Sunday was to clear out her email. And she said, “Basically, with my husband, we’re a laptop couple. We’re both in bed with our laptops just working until we go to bed.” And she said, “I need help. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to get out of this mess.” She was making solid money, but the hours were just killing her. So over the course of 12, 18 months, we brought her down from 700 down to 35 clients, makes the exact same amount of money, stopped working weekends, cuts out at four. But the really cool part was that she was able to start a family. Because when she was working super hard, there just wasn’t time for that. And it’s not a thing. So, what she said to me in the podcast interview, and you can hear it, is that she was able to get her business under control and she was able to do what she wants with her life and also have time to be a mom while running her business. And I do work with a lot of women who are professional women, and also have small families or maybe aging parents who just cannot put in 50, 60, or 70 hours a week ad nauseam. And for them to be able to get their time back and their life back so that they can devote it to other things that they care about in their lives is incredibly fulfilling work. So that’s a sample story, and there are plenty more like it for folks who wanna check out my podcast if they’re interested.
Shift focus from hours worked to value creation, business challenges solvable.
Jeff Tomlin: And what a great example of being able to work with people that are probably super busy working in their business, that they haven’t taken time out to work on the business and shape it to the way that they really need it to be That’s a cool story. And I’m hoping, people that are listening, they can see, I see how this is extensible to all sorts of different professions, not just the CPAs out there. And so, that’s cool. If you had a few takeaways for the audience, what would those things be?
Geraldine Carter: I think the main one as a business owner is to make sure to get your head around the concept of revenue coming from value creation, and not how much you work. And the second one is that business is not a mystery. It’s not rocket science. It is absolutely figureoutable. So for folks who are struggling working more hours than they want to be, to jot down a list of all the reasons that they’re working longer hours than they want to be, and simply start chipping away at the problems and the challenges because you can find solutions to the nature of your business challenges. It’s not a mystery. It is absolutely solvable. And it is absolutely possible to create a business that brings in the revenue that you want and need in your life while only working the number of hours that you wanna be working.
Connect with Geraldine Carter on LinkedIn or her website, GeraldineCarter.com
Jeff Tomlin: Geraldine Carter, it’s been an eye-opening chat with you for these few minutes. Thank you so much for joining us on the Conquer Local podcast. If people wanted to reach out to you and continue the conversation, how do they reach out?
Geraldine Carter: The best way is either on LinkedIn, I’m one of very few Geraldine Carters, or they can find me at my website, GeraldineCarter.com.
Jeff Tomlin: It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and getting to know you a little bit. Hope you come back and visit us again on the podcast, and wishing you all the best.
Geraldine Carter: Thanks so much for having me.
Jeff Tomlin: Wow, what a great chat! Geraldine emphasized the need for professionals, particularly CPAs and accountants, to transition from hourly billing to a value-based model. The focus should be on the value created for clients rather than simply working more hours to generate revenue. Really a similar line of thinking that Jonathan Stark spoke about a few episodes ago. It really highlights that value-based approaches are not just for one or a small handful of industries.
Geraldine also mentioned that to achieve a healthier work-life balance and streamline business operations, professionals should consider disengaging with non-ideal clients who are overwhelming and time-consuming. This involves high-grading clients, setting boundaries, and establishing clear pricing structures based on value. This is another concept that is transferable to almost any type of business category. You need to understand what your ideal customer looks like and streamline your efforts toward that demographic.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode with Geraldine Carter, check out some of our previous episodes from the archives. Check out Episode 632: Transitioning from Hourly Billing to Effective Pricing Models with Jonathan Stark or Episode 621: Building Trust and Growing Your Agency with Jack Pires.
Until next time, I’m Jeff Tomlin. Get out there and be awesome!