“We’re not just your accountant, we’re your partner.”
That’s the company motto Joseph F. Montgomery, 47, a CPA in Greenville, South Carolina has stood by since 1985, back when he was a young staffer at Deloitte & Touche and had just begun a side accounting practice at the encouragement of his boss. Twenty-five years later, the Bob Jones University graduate runs his business with that same mentality. His business isn’t just seasonal tax service -- Montgomery mentors and provides business expertise year-round to his clients.
“Our relationships are partnerships,” says Montgomery. “The results have generated a lot of fruit for the company. We have doctors that won’t make any business decisions without running it by us. We have people who credit us for saving their business. We do more than tax returns and book audits. We come along side them.”
Because of his philosophy, last year wasn’t fiscally painful. Montgomery’s company has grown 20 percent a year since he took the business into a full-time enterprise in 1994. “Last year we were flat, which I consider a success since everyone else was down 30 percent,” says Montgomery. “We’re already seeing growth this year.”
Montgomery has eight employees with 1,000 clients. Quite a different snapshot from when he first started things up inside his home. “My wife was my secretary. She’d wear an apron with a phone and a notepad in one pocket, diapers and baby wipes in the other.”
Fast forward to 2010: Montgomery’s five-year plan is to find a new office with 10,000 square feet, expand the staff to 25 employees, and grow the client roster to 3,500. He discussed at great length with his executive coach about whether to have one large office vs. opening multiple smaller locations. One big office was decided.
When his son Joe graduates with an accounting degree from his alma mater, he hopes to join forces with his father and learn everything he can about running an accounting business.
Here’s what we, too, can learn from the successful small business owner.
- Research and ask the extra questions. Clients frequently deduct less than they legally can until they link up with Montgomery, who has his clients look at the whole picture. “They think they can only deduct X, and we help them realized they can deduct X plus Y. We help clients capture deductions that they didn’t realize were there legally and ethically. Life is too short to have Uncle Sam on your back.”
- Widen and extend services. Montgomery likes a good challenge. “We’ll have clients come in with their QuickBooks files a mess. Their balance sheet is off by $100K. What we do different than other accountants is we use their live QuickBooks database. And when we’re done, we extend the service where we reconcile the old with the new updated, cleaned up version.”
Using the client’s actual live database vs. downloading their database to his database keeps everyone on the same page.
- Take your time. When Montgomery transitioned to a full-time practice, he had three young children, three employees and ran his business from his living room. “It was pretty scary. My last day of work (at Consolidated Hydro) was a Friday. The next Monday, I was in my home office in a suit and tie at 8am. I had forty clients in January 1994, and by April 15th, I had 250 clients.”
When his receptionist was stuck sitting at a folding card table leaned up against his staff accountant’s desk, Montgomery knew it was time to move out of the house and into his first office space -- a 3,000 square foot building.
- Work globally while operating locally. Montgomery has clients in almost every state and in countries around the world, from Russia to Cambodia. Many started out in Greenville, and when they left the area stayed with Montgomery.
But, no matter how far-flung the client, Montgomery keeps it simple. No snail mail. Every client gets a login to a private portal. W-2 or 1099 forms and signature pages are scanned and sent via email. When clients need access to their tax records say for a home loan, they can just log into their portal, download a PDF and print!
- Be social media savvy. Montgomery is on Facebook, Twitter,Ping, hi5, LinkedIn, and plans to connect all social media accounts to his company’s website for consistency and uniformity. He’s always strategizing to improve visibility on search engines.
“I use ping a lot. I’ll update: ‘850 more tax returns due by April 15th’ one day, and then post the next day: ‘809 more.’ People follow me and track how I do through the tax season. I can get 30 comments on a post.”
- Update your technology frequently. Montgomery swears by Thompson Reuters and QuickBooks packages, and his business recently updated to use UltraTax. “If we didn’t use new technologies, I’d need another four staffers. We’re running a pretty solid system with shadowing in place and full backups on a weekly basis and incremental updates every two hours. We also have off-site data storage.”
- Deliver high; charge fair. “Everything we do is first class, professional and polished. We provide a high quality of service at reasonable prices. We’re not the cheapest, but we’re not the most expensive.”
This is the only area where we can call Montgomery’s business "average": his rates are truly fair, ranging from $45 to $250 an hour.
- Remember, not all accountants are schlubs! “I’m not that vision of a disheveled accountant who uses a pencil and has a ten-year old computer. We change out our computers every two years, we’re totally paperless, and we’re tech savvy.
"As soon as the client walks in, the experience begins.”
Learn more at www.jfmcpa.com