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Adapting a Business Model Over Time, Education, and the Importance of Criticism with Hugh Duffy

Posted by Ben Isley on Jun 9, 2020 8:00:00 AM

In this episode of The Staying Power Podcast, Brandon and Thomas are joined by Hugh Duffy, CEO and Founder of Build Your Firm. Hugh takes pride in helping accountants improve their marketing and make more money from their accounting practice. For over 30 years, Hugh has helped small accounting firms leverage marketing as a vehicle to help them grow their practice in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

Why Start Build Your Firm?

Build Your Firm wasn't originally Hugh's idea. There was a practicing CPA who was passionate about providing marketing education and guidance. Through a friend of a friend, this person reached out to Hugh to explain the concept. It seemed intuitive to Hugh, as he had worked with companies in other industries in this type of marketing position.

They began as a continuing education provider and quickly realized there was a big need for other areas such as lead generation, pricing and selling, and overcoming objections. At the beginning, Hugh assumed that these small accounting practice owners would have the desire to do it themselves. However, many small business owners he spoke with didn't have that desire. Over time, Build Your Firm moved into a hybrid role where they would teach first and then offer the outsourced marketing. The business model continued to evolve to be where it is today, which is essentially a marketing agency.

There are so many small accounting firms without internal marketing, but there's a huge need for it. It's definitely a low risk and high reward proposition. The accounting industry has provided enough demand that Hugh hasn't felt the need to branch into other industries.

Transition to a Full-Service Agency

Build Your Firm began with developing a DIY training system with the intention that firm owners would learn, do it themselves, and have full control over the marketing side of the business. Hugh believed this was realistic. Ultimately, Hugh saw that there was a lack of desire to do the marketing in-house. This prompted the transition to offering additional marketing services.

"You can't do everything in-house, you have to identify what's in your DNA, what you are good at and what are you not good at, and self-select what aspects to outsource."

Challenges in Building the Business

The greatest challenges for Hugh were on the technology side. The communication and principles was easy, the custom-built solutions were more difficult. There are many tools that customers want from a marketing agency. Build Your Firm has built custom databases, a proprietary file sharing-tool, a payment tool with multiple functions and integrations, and an email newsletter tool. Another very difficult part was developed SEO-optimized websites.

It's challenging to get the team to transition to new technology platforms, and it comes down to education and training. At the end of the day, it comes down to habits that are built that must be tweaked or broken. Hugh has found that video training is the best way to teach.

Setting Expectations

Build Your Firm isn't as regimented as some other firms are. There are certain mechanisms in place to understand if that task system is meeting the needs of the client. There are no tightly defined job descriptions or tightly defined orders. There are internal processes laid out to help employees on a situational basis.

"In today's day and age, a lot of the stuff you have to figure out on your own... I've always told my employees: "If you don't know the answer, don't be bashful to tell the client that you don't have the answer"... Our world is too complicated to know everything for everyone. We've always encouraged feedback and criticism from our clients. That's the only way we, as an organization, improve."

Hiring and Introductory Period

At a minimum, the potential hire interviews with 4-6 different people. Sometimes they have multiple team members interview the potential hire. Hugh prefers to ask bigger-picture questions about the fit with the firm, organization, and work.

After selecting a candidate, Build Your Firm lays out the job description and educates on the systems. They need to get on board with the processes and technology systems. If there is a disconnect or complaints from clients or coworkers, then the individual is evaluated again. There's not as much structure as firms in other industries, the review and development process can be more liberal.

Coronavirus Crisis Impact

Over the years, Hugh and his team have been advising that in-person and physical work is a waste of time. It's possible and efficient to work virtually with secure and instant file sharing, cloud storage, QBO, and Zoom. Build Your Firm has dialed up this message even louder during these times.

Switching to a Remote Model

Build Your Firm has always had the ability to work from home, but this crisis has certainly put that ability to the test as the company has switched to fully remote since the crisis hit. Hugh began encouraging employees to work from home and pushed pretty hard in some situations. Now, all employees are working from home.

Self-Help and Continuous Learning

"It's just a continuous learning mentality that I have, and that I kind of expect from each of my employees."

Hugh is a firm believer in the continuous learning mentality. He encourages his employees to do side projects. They often learn tricks, technologies, or applications. This has helped the firm overall, increasing the exposure to new ideas. This type of exploration allows for a broader perspective for everyone at the firm.

If someone is moving on from the company, the team at Build Your Firm treats this as a success. Hugh likes to keep those channels of communication open to stay in touch about opportunities, the marketing industry, and life in general.

Learn more about Hugh and Build Your Firm:

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