In a recent interview with Avalara, Dan Luthi, chief operating officer of Ignite Spot in Kaysville, Utah, discussed how he and his firm maintain success in the accounting profession. Ignite Spot started 10 years ago with the idea to completely change the CEO-accountant relationship. They knew that in order to make companies profitable, bookkeeping, tax and coaching must all work together toward a common goal. Their mission is to help every business in America become debt free and more profitable by 10 percent or more. Through a unique, hand-picked team based on talent and passion, Ignite spot serves as the small business accounting firm for more than 500 companies.
Avalara: Considering all the new opportunities in the mainstream market and the accounting industry, such as outsourcing automation, what opportunities do you see for your company to leverage technology?
Dan Luthi: Technology is essential for accounting and represents the crux of us being able to not only stay on top of our clients’ needs, but also have a competitive advantage. With transactional volumes increasing dramatically, we must stay current on technology in order to maintain and process transactions more efficiently, accurately and in a timelier manner. Our clients expect us to do everything cheaper and faster, and outsourced automation enables us to meet those expectations.
Avalara: What trends do you see in the accounting profession that are forcing firms to adapt? How is your practice handling that?
DL: Right now, the biggest thing I see is creating more consistency. Historically, doing a good job with bookkeeping was fine; you were able to get by with just being “really good” with data entry and getting everything to clients in a timely manner. Now, however, the accounting profession is requiring everyone to go far beyond that. Clients are expecting more. They want things done faster and more efficiently, but they also expect to get more value out of you. Whether it’s from a coaching discussion or CFO services, clients expect you to provide higher value-added functions. If you can’t deliver, you won’t stay relevant as a practice or firm.
Avalara: Are you finding the need to be more entrepreneurial to remain competitive?
DL: Absolutely! We have to think like our clients. We must be able to understand what’s going on in their industries, as well as what tools they need to be able to be more efficient and effective. It’s becoming more and more important to give clients recommendations that ease the processes, efficiencies and systems they’re running. If we fail, they're going to go elsewhere.
Avalara: How has your business model changed over time? If you have a subscription-pricing model, how did you put this in place and what lessons did you learn?
DL: When we started the business 10 years ago, we worked on hourly pricing for about the first 18 months, but realized that just wasn't what our clients were looking for. So, we switched over to a 100% percent subscription-based model and have never looked back. To do this, we had to explain to clients that our recommendation was based on price and efficiency. We knew that we had to create efficiencies so they would be on board with this change. Even today, the subscription-based pricing model requires us to stay on top of our game to remain competitive and deliver great service.
Avalara: How do you generate new and/or recurring revenue streams?
DL: The biggest thing for us is providing value-added services where we look at our clients’ needs and goals, and then ensure we meet them. When it comes to marketing, we feel we have a savvy team that focuses on developing our website, growing in the marketing space, writing good content and utilizing all of our ad space to remain competitive.
Avalara: What does success look like for your firm? How do you track progress?
DL: For us, success means our clients are satisfied and we are able to stay with them for a long period of time. First and foremost, clients must be happy. Then, as a firm, we must grow and exceed our expectations. Finally, we must make sure our employees are satisfied. Happy employees help ensure we have happy clients. When our employees are happy and satisfied, we know we're all working to achieve the same thing.
Avalara: What challenges do you see in hiring new staff with the skillsets required by a growing accounting practice?
DL: We live in a day and age where you’re not required to hire people who live within a 50-60 mile radius of your office, so you must be willing to open your doors to a widespread view to find talent. That’s been really beneficial for us – attracting really good talent outside Utah.
Our success with remote workers has been fantastic. These employees must have the capability to deal with, and manage, multiple spaces at once. Because we are outsourced accountants, we’re not just assigned to one client, and not just working on AP or AR. When you have people who have that experience, they also bring some great success into this space to help our firm grow. Because remote employees may have little to no contact with us in person, it’s best to be honest with them from the get-go with regard to not being able to see each other in person. You’ve got to make sure they’re satisfied on a conceptual or social level within the company.
Avalara: How does your firm best attract and manage the needs and expectations of the next-gen market?
DL: The biggest thing for us is that they’re always hungry and willing to learn. We often find that when new people come in, perhaps fresh out of college, their expectations are very different from reality. They expect to be a CFO within 24 hours or 24 months. That’s just not how accounting works. Accounting requires time and efficiency, and you have to stay on top of your game. Education is just the stepping-stone for you to be able to get where you need to be.
The next generation also needs to focus on what industry they want to pursue. Don't think that you're going to be this jack-of-all-trades when it comes to accounting because there are so many areas that require proficiency. For example, if you want to do tax, own it; know it 100 percent, top to bottom. The same goes for financial accounting, audit and forensics. Focus on your area, learn it and do everything you can to be able to grow in it.
Avalara: Has anyone had a large impact on your life or the ways in which you conduct business?
DL: Luckily for me, when I started my career eight years ago, I was very blessed with a CEO who personally cared about me. The ability to be able to connect, understand and learn from him was essential. He took an interest in me from an accounting acumen standpoint and from the core values we shared, including hard work and dedication, focus, learning, and growth. He became a mentor who helped me learn how to be a better accountant, manager, person and even father.
At the same point in time, I was also very blessed to work with a guy who’s now our CFO. When I first started out, it didn’t matter if he was in dealing with taxes or working on CFO projects … he was never afraid just to spend time with me to answer questions or listen to me vent. He was also a great mentor.
I was lucky enough to be with leaders who actually had a desire to make me better and push me beyond my limits. They weren’t just looking to increase their bottom line. I believe they felt that if I was willing to commit to working hard and growing, they were willing to commit to helping me get there. Because of that, I've been very blessed with great experience, recommendations, teaching tools and teachers to help me grow.
Dan Luthi is Chief Operating Officer at Ignite Spot, a cloud based outsourced accounting services firm in Utah. Dan started at Ignite Spot in 2010 as bookkeeper and has helped grow the team from 3 to 30 incredible people.