Common Struggles CPAs Have With Marketing With Kelly Schuknecht

Stephen: Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the Digital Masters Podcast. Today we have on Kelly Schuknecht. She is the director of marketing at Summit CPA Group. And we're going to be talking about some of the barriers that she sees with other CPA firms growing their business and what the secret of their success has been.

So let's get into it.

Hey Kelly, thanks for being on the show today.

Kelly: Hi Stephen. Thanks for having me.

Stephen: Yeah. Long time, no talk. So you run marketing for, I dunno how big you are compared to everybody else out there, but I know you guys are one of the juggernauts in the industry in terms of offering accounting, CPA, and virtual CFO services.

And so I wanted to get your perspective to help other accountants and CFOs and virtual CFOs on how to best market their business. So I wanted to have you on the show to talk about that. Okay.

I just said that you worked with a lot of CPAs. You guys have a virtual CFO course that you've launched, I was going to say recently, but it's been out for a while now.

So I know you also talk with people in your channel on a monthly basis and you are helping them with their marketing. So across all the companies that you've been dealing with, what have you found is their biggest barrier to market themselves and grow?

Kelly: Yeah, so we are a $9 million firm. We'll hit $9 million this year. We grew from 5 million to 9 million over the last, or excuse me, about 4 million to 9 million over the last three years since I've been there. So it's fast growing and we provide virtual CFO services. We have a community, a slack community, for accountants.

And you know I have a marketing channel and I run a monthly marketing meeting just for people, firm owners, accountants, who want to talk about how to market their firm and just learn from each other and get tips and advice from me and other guests that come in.

And so we talk a lot about marketing. A few things hold them back. I would say one is perfectionism. A lot of times we picture these great marketers like Gary V, Amy Porterfield – name a marketing person that you see – and you think, ‘If I want to put my content out there or if I put something out there, it has to be at that level.’

I don't know if that's perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of not being that person, not being that great out of the gate. But a lot of things like that, I see that all the time where they just can't get out of the, I don't know, almost analysis paralysis stage of thinking through all of the things that they could be doing.

Should I be doing Twitter? Should I be doing LinkedIn? Should I be doing videos? Should I be doing webinars? Should I be writing articles? Should I do all of these things? And they just can't get past the idea stage.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. And what I have noticed is that the people who have broken through, they all reference this one thing – and that is they just started doing it. I know Octavia, we had on my podcast – she's in your group. I haven't seen her in the meetings recently, but she says the same thing. She was like, yeah, ‘I just started to create the videos,’ and she said she didn't know what she was doing.

She said they weren't the level of quality that she wanted, but she just started to do it. Yeah. And then one of the things that's interesting about that is that other people in the group have aspired to be like Octavia. But then they get stuck because they see what she's doing now, and it's all polished and perfect.

And, and then they don't release their videos because they're seeing somebody else that's perfect. But it wasn't perfect at one point.

Kelly: Yeah, ‘I can't do that. Because I don't have this background, like Octavia, right? She has this really cool background.’ Or ‘I can't do that because...’ I hear a lot, ‘I'm not a marketer. I'm not a marketer.’

Yeah, but you can put yourself in that position, put those shoes on, put your marketing hat on, and do those things without being a marketer. I don't know if it's imposter syndrome, exactly, but it's something like, ‘I'm not that person.’

A lot of accountants are afraid of getting in front of video. I think it's gotten better over the last year and a half since we've all had to just deal with being on video. But you know, that's a big piece. Like, ‘I can't do those videos like Octavia, I don't do video like that,’ and they just can't force themselves to put one foot in front of another and just start doing it.

In our marketing meetup last week I brought out one of my favorite quotes from Sheryl Sandberg who said, ‘Done is better than perfect.’ And that's my new motto in working with accountants. ‘Done is better than perfect.’ Yes, your content should be good. But if you're not putting anything out there, then you're not going to make any progress.

If you start putting content out there and you start seeing big things. When you start putting things out there, you see what people react to. You see what's working, what doesn't work, and you can make improvements as you go. You can learn from your mistakes and you can learn from what you're doing well also.

Also, you may surprise yourself. Maybe you're better at marketing than you think you are. Really it comes down to understanding your audience and who your ideal customer is. And if they’re your ideal client and if you know what they need to learn or what they need to hear, and you're delivering that message on whatever platform it is and whatever format it is then you really can reach those people.

It's just getting over the fear of starting.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. That was interesting because in terms of the overwhelm, what we were observing in that meeting was we were talking a lot about all the different technologies and all the different features and the price points of all these different tools.

When in reality, what somebody really needs to be able to do is just create a very basic landing page. And then, can you get somebody to go to that page? And then book a call with you? Or download some sort of resource? Once you can do that, then worry about all the other expensive tools, because just to get started, you can get a website up and running for a few hundred bucks and you can have a Calendly book invite thing, or you can create a simple checklist and then you're off and running.

Then once you get that up and going then create a little bit of content on LinkedIn, pointing people to your site with the resources. And then the other point you made that I thought was interesting, is that when you talk to your customers or talk to the people you want to work for, you really get some of those interesting insights.

Because I learned an insight last week, which was observing that everyone was getting so caught up in all these expensive technologies and they were really getting overwhelmed and stuck by doing that.

Kelly: Yeah, I love that you brought that out because that is a big part of that analysis paralysis.

Should I use this? Should I use this product or should I use this product? But this product is...and they look at what we do a lot of times and say, ‘Summit’s using this, whatever, software program. So we should be using that.’ And I've started to say now, ‘Don't worry about what we use or what we do.’

I'll tell you what we use and what we do, but that doesn't mean that's what you need to be doing. We're a $9 million firm. A lot of the ones that we're working with are well under a million, right? So they're not going to have the budget to use the tools that we're using.

They don't have a team. I have a team of four people. They don't have that. Most of the time, one person runs everything. So they shouldn't get overwhelmed with all of the options that are out there. Just start small. Start where you are and use the tools that are available to you.

Stephen: Yeah, for sure. I don't know if you have a case yet, but in the community, have you seen any of the members have some good growth or explosive growth since you started working with them?

Kelly: So our course that you mentioned, we launched it about a year ago. It was about this time last year.

And it's a pretty comprehensive course. It's 15 modules. Each module has a video that's about an hour long, so there's 15 hours right there. Each course or module has a guide and a worksheet that goes along with it. So there's a lot of material in there.

We have people who registered for the course a year ago who still haven't completed it. And we have people who registered and completed it within a week or two.

So it was really self-driven and totally depends on the person that's taking it. So of all of those people, we have folks like Octavia, who we've mentioned a couple of times...

And for anyone watching or listening to this, if you haven't seen the episode with Octavia on Stephen's podcast, that's a great one...

So there are folks like that who are already doing virtual CFO services, who learned a lot from it and are using that to catapult themselves even further.

And then we have those who are in that stage of analysis paralysis, even with just the virtual CFO services. So we have a full range of people who are taking it and what their size is and how their abilities are right now, and what they've learned from it, and how they've grown.

So I don't have a specific example, Stephen, but I will get one for you because I think that would be great to learn from those who have completed the course and what they've been able to do with it.

Actually, we do have another podcast Octavia was in where she shared her experiences.

And also we had Jacob Overlander on our podcast who also shared his experience with the course. I think he's had some really good success, but I don't have any of those details in front of me.

Stephen: Yeah, well, I saw the video testimonial from Octavia and she was talking you guys up quite a bit.

So we've talked about the experiences that you've seen with other CPAs going through your course and in your community.

What do you guys think has been the secret to Summit’s success?

Kelly: That's a good question. Like I mentioned, I've been with Summit for three years, but Summit started as a traditional accounting firm about 20-ish years ago. We went from a traditional brick and mortar doing the regular accounting billing and tax kind of services, or billing, like a traditional accounting firm, and doing tax services.

I think that one of the biggest keys to success is Jody, our CEO. He’s our CEO and co-founder and he's very much a visionary. So he envisioned a world 20 years ago where accountants didn't have to work 80 to 100 hours a week during tax season. It didn't have to be this seasonal work but could work around the year for clients and provide a higher level of service for clients.

So not just being there when tax time came around, but being there all year round to help clients understand their finances and know where their company's going and feel secure about where they are. So I think a big piece of it is that visionary piece. And then being able to tell that story.

So Jody is big on marketing. He is a great speaker, teacher, and thought leader. He's done a lot of educational endeavors. He's written a book and he does a lot of speaking engagements. And in all of those things, he's helped companies understand, what are the KPIs? What are the metrics that they should be measuring as a company to have a better handle on their finances?

And so he was able to really deliver that message well, in a way that resonated really well with business owners.

Stephen: Yeah, that's cool. I had him on my podcast and I remember one of the things we were touching on was that he started doing the blogging and he didn't have any idea that it would work and he just kept at it.

I think he told me he did it for a year or two before it really paid off. And that reminds me of Octavia.

Kelly: Yeah. He was doing all of that stuff. It was just Jody and Adam where Adam Hale is our COO and co-founder, so it was the two of them starting out and they were doing everything themselves and Jody was doing that blogging.

Jody is always very open to new channels, new networks, new ways of promoting the company. Early on it was like, we should have a blog, we should be putting out content. And, he always jumps on things as a marketer. I love it because I'm like, ‘Hey Jody, there's Tik-Tok. We should be doing that.

He's, ‘Okay!’ Totally open to any new thing that's out there. And how can we reach more people this way? Yeah, he did that himself and I would say over the last three years, we've seen almost a, what is that, a hundred percent? I'm not an accountant. I'm a marketer, a hundred percent growth over the last three years.

And I would say a big part of that was just really dialing in our marketing strategy. A lot of our clients come from referrals. You know, new clients come from clients that already know us and tell other people about us, but we've also seen a huge increase in our organic traffic and our new clients that are coming just from finding our website.

So that's where all the other marketing pieces that we're doing came in, but we really dialed in on that over the last few years and started doing a lot more because we had the capacity to do that.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. I think it does take some vision to invest a year or two or whatever that is. Octavia said that she invested six months of creating videos before she got a single piece of business from it. And I just love that.

Kelly: Yes, six months is a long time. If you think about it, it's like, ‘Oh, six months, not that big of a deal.’ But if you're doing something – I think she was doing two videos a week – whatever it is, if you're going to blog, if you're going to do a blog every single day or once a week, or whatever timeline you put on it, after three months, you start getting fatigued. If you're not seeing any results you look back and go, what am I doing?

Is anyone paying attention to this? But she said after six months, she did start to see some results of that. And now I've heard her say from every video she does, she gets one solid lead. A sales-qualified lead that comes in who knows her, has seen her stuff, is ready to talk seriously about services.

So yeah, it does take an investment of time and a commitment to ‘this is what I'm going to do, and I'm going to see what happens.’

We did that with video, as you very well know because you helped me see the value of video and helped me with some of that implementation.

And we saw on YouTube where we were putting stuff out there, we didn't see much result at the time. You don't really notice, but I'm big on keeping track of the numbers and looking over time and looking back, especially, over key periods of time. So every year at the end of the year, I like to pull all of our numbers together and look at everything and compare.

And last year, from the beginning to the end of the year, we saw, I can't even tell you the number. It was some crazy amount of growth on the platform because we started with 20 subscribers at the time. We started small. But at the end of the year, I could see a significant difference.

We started seeing leads come from YouTube. We started seeing other results, people that were signing up for our community.

And, at the moment it seems like, ‘Oh, we're only growing by one per day, one new subscriber per day,’ or maybe once a week, I might see a new lead that comes in from there.

It seems really small, but collect that all throughout the year and look at that number, it really is huge. It makes a huge difference over time.

Stephen: Yeah. And then, I always like to point out, especially to accountants because they really focus on ROI, that there's ROI. There's the revenue number, which we all want to see, but there's also all the skills that you learn along the way.

I'm sure when you look at YouTube now it's a different experience. Now you know the best practices and you know what moves the needle a bit. But you don't know what those things are until you try or get some help from someone to help accelerate that knowledge.

Kelly: I was telling you last week that when we first started our podcast, we knew we wanted our podcast to be video. But when we started on whatever platform we were using, it didn't have the capability to do it in a video. They said it was coming next quarter or something.

So we started out with a certain program and we were like, ‘Okay, we can just do a podcast audio for a few months, and then it'll change.’ Then it turned into six months from now. Now it's gonna be a year from now.

I just started the process of putting our podcasts on YouTube as audio. It's not ideal. People don't want to go to audio and watch a video that's really not a video. But I knew at the time it was eventually going to change. I thought it was going to be sooner than it ended up being.

We eventually switched over to a tool for recording our podcasts so that we can put it in video so then we were able to change that.

Meanwhile, we were getting some people who were learning about us on YouTube, but for me, it was more of getting the process in place. The whole team was uploading the videos, we were putting in the description, the content, the pieces that were important. We were getting that all in place and then we eventually switched it to video.

Then we weren't doing the thumbnails, which is important on YouTube, but I didn't know that. I hadn't done YouTube before. So we learned over time how to make it better. We could see the growth is exponential with those changes that you make.

But if we had tried to start out two years ago where we are right now, we would have never started because it would have taken us forever to learn those things through observation or – I don't know how people think they're going to learn it, but I'm a big believer in just start doing it, figure it out as you go.

Stephen: Yeah, me too. And sometimes people look at me and they're saying, ‘Oh wow, you're doing a lot of stuff,’ but I can show you this big, long list of things that I'm not doing yet.

And so I just have to be patient, because the list is actually quite long.

Kelly: There are always things you can't be doing.

Stephen: Yeah, looking in from the outside, one of the things that I've always been impressed with you guys, you specifically, is that you're really open-minded and you also just do things.

So there's lots of times where I've said, ‘Hey, we should talk about doing this,’ and then I’d go on to TikTok and you're already there and you've got the video. I'm like, ‘Oh, she already did it!’ And that's how it gets done. Cool.

So let's go into underrated, overrated.

I'm going to give you five words. You tell me if it's underrated, overrated, or properly rated. And if you have some additional thoughts on it, then we can go into it.

Some of these are going to be easy, but we'll do them anyway.

So, YouTube.

Kelly: Oh man. I guess it depends on who you ask. I think it's underrated in my world and in the accounting world.

Stephen: Yeah, specifically, because that's what I tell a lot of accountants. It's like a lot of people are just afraid to be on video. So seize that opportunity, right?

Kelly: Yeah. And, I don't know how much you want me to side note on this, but, we've seen significant results with YouTube driving traffic to our website.

I wouldn't have known that if we hadn't been doing it. But yeah, if you ask my kids they've always loved YouTube. It's us adults that have to come around to learning these things.

Stephen: Yeah, it's weird. I know my family just watches YouTube on the TV now.


Kelly: Underrated for sure with business, same answer, underrated with people in business and overrated, not overrated, but kids already get it.

Stephen: What about LinkedIn?

Kelly: I don't know. I'm on the fence about LinkedIn. We've seen some significant growth on LinkedIn. Also, I think LinkedIn is a great way to reach people especially when it comes to professionally. But I don't do it as well as you do Stephen.

So I think LinkedIn is definitely underrated if people aren't doing it the way that you teach to do it, I'll say that.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. The other thing is it can be a little monotonous. Some of the content on LinkedIn is, I dunno... on TikTok and YouTube, you get some really rich content. I think with LinkedIn, sometimes it's like a little echo chamber where you really just have content creators talking to content creators.

It's not as much a situation like where people are going to YouTube and TikTok to be entertained, because there's that kind of content. I don't know too many people that go to LinkedIn to get entertained. So I think the content can be a little bit more boring and therefore it's a little more boring to be there, yeah.

Kelly: I will say like in accounting, I've been sharing some videos that I've created for Summit’s TikTok account, but I'm sharing those on my personal LinkedIn account and I'm noticing a lot of really good results from those. So I think it's the way you present the content.

So I'm not just posting a message in text saying, ‘Hey, we have this upcoming webinar.’ I'm creating this video for TikTok, but then when you share that on LinkedIn also, it really does get people's attention because it's different from the other things that they're seeing in the feed. And it's more entertaining. I'm seeing good results from that. But LinkedIn is hard to really do well, I think.

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. It's and it's becoming more crowded too.

What about Instagram?

Kelly: Okay, I'll still say underrated because I've always made the joke that when I hired my most recent marketing team member I wanted her to do some social media.

I remember telling her in the interview, nobody's really looking for their accountants on Instagram. Nobody's really looking for their virtual CFO or for financial advice on Instagram.

But I was hiring somebody to do Instagram – to do all of the things – but Instagram was one of them and it was important to me. Part of the reason at the time, this was a little over a year ago, was that I saw all of our marketing as being ‘image first.’

So always create an image on Instagram and then you can create different sizes for other platforms. But at the time I was very ‘image first.’ So Instagram was important to me. Now I'm very ‘video first.’ So I've kind of shifted to video more than just the imagery.

But a year ago when we were first promoting our course, one of the first leads for the course that we saw come in was from Instagram. And that to me was really eye opening. We think that Instagram is for pretty pictures and, I don't know, like perfect travel pictures and product kind of pictures.

But it's like you were saying, people are on there to consume content. So you can reach your audience if you're doing it well. We're still learning to do it well on Instagram, but we've seen growth and we've seen, like I said, we've seen leads come in for our course through Instagram, which is fun to see.

Stephen: That's cool. I guess with marketing in general, there's a lot of limiting beliefs. We just assume things, and we have no idea whether our assumptions are correct or not.

I don't want to get sidetracked on TikTok, but that's another example where people think it's a certain thing and it's not until you go and look that you see that.

What about Clubhouse?

Kelly: I have not explored Clubhouse at all.

Jody reached out to me when it first was starting to come out and he was like, ‘Oh, we should try this.’ I haven't crossed that bridge because it's very much, correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the feeling that Clubhouse is very much a personal brands kind of thing.

It would be one person, whoever is the face of your company or your brand, that is doing that.

Stephen: Agreed. And it also doesn't scale. It's not recorded, you got to show up. I'm sure if you network it just right I'm sure it works well, but I could never get into it because I like to create the content, publish it, and know that it's gonna serve me and anybody that watches it for a long time.

Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. So I will say overrated for Clubhouse. But really I'm not a very good judge because I had never actually seen anything.

Stephen: Cool. I appreciate you being on. I know you guys have the virtual CFO course. Where's the best place that they can go to learn more?

Kelly: Yeah, so since we talked a lot about YouTube and our progress there, I'd love to shout out our YouTube channel, SummitCPAGroup. That is a great place to learn more about us and what we do and to learn.

We have three different podcasts. All of those are on there. One, particularly for business owners, one for accounting firm owners, and then one for our 401k audit side.

The course specifically is at That's a lot to say, but you will put it in your show notes, I'm sure.

Stephen: Yeah. I'll link to it.

So if anybody wants to go to those things, I'll make a nice easy link to access that stuff. Cool. I appreciate you being on and as always, thank you for the insights and I will talk to you soon.

Kelly: Alright, thanks, Stephen.

Stephen: Okay. Bye.

Reach out to Kelly:

Stephen G. Pope
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