Sunday, March 1, 2009

A calculator in one hand, a beer in the other

Click here to listen to the audio version. (On a high speed connection, these podcasts may take up to a minute to load. Be patient. If you're on dial-up, you can simulate a podcast by reading the following article out loud.)

I regularly meet with people who have an idea for a business and who want to know how to get started. Should it be set up as a corporation? An LLC? A sole proprietorship? Should it have its own bank account? What about insurance?

Often, my first response is “How do you plan to market this business?”

This, of course, elicits an array of interesting reactions. Squints. Head turns. Puzzled looks. They thought they came to an accountant’s office, after all.

I can talk for an hour (or for as long as you’re willing to pay my fee) about organizing and accounting for a new venture, but no business will gain traction unless it has 1) something to offer that people want, and 2) a plan for getting the word out.

I admit to not recognizing a great idea from time to time. (See an example of this in “A (Text) Message to My Kids.”) But I do know that the difference between an idea that takes off and one that doesn’t often has little to do with the idea and a lot to do with how it is marketed. (Check out “AD MAN!!!!!!!!” to see why this is true.)

So I encourage my entrepreneurial clients to list a dozen different ways that they'll market their new businesses. The first six are generally easy to tick off, such as printing business cards, sending direct mail pieces, placing ads in the various yellow pages, creating a website, joining a business development group (BNI, for example), purchasing newspaper, radio or television ads, etc. The next six become more challenging, but that’s where the payoff lies.

When I hung out my shingle several years ago—without a single client on my list—I was staring at the perfect opportunity: I had absolutely nothing else to do but market the business. I came up with 17 different ways to get the word out and went to work making it happen.

I strongly believe that the marketing plan for personal services businesses must reflect the personality of the owner. Even businesses that sell products sometimes take this approach, such as Wendy’s did with Dave Thomas playing the lead role.

For CPAs, this can be a real problem because we all know that CPAs are generally devoid of personalities. Only in the presence of alcohol, and plenty of it, do they crack their cocoons and emerge as nearly normal people. It doesn’t help their dancing though.

This phenomenon gave me one of my 17 marketing ideas. On a road trip to a NASCAR race in New Hampshire with my friend, Bill, we were listening to a CD filled with the Bud Lite “Real Men of Genius” radio ads. It struck me that morphing this concept into a CPA’s commercial would be terribly funny. Or a complete disaster.

By the time we got back from booing Kyle Busch and cheering for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the script was done for “Schedule F Filer.” Involving a guy who bungled his tax return by filing the farmer’s profit or loss schedule, it was destined to be one of the most unusual radio ads for a CPA practice ever. And that definitely fits my personality. I’m always on the lookout for things that surprise people and create interesting reactions.

I started by learning to play the music from the “Real Men of Genius” ads. It’s a piano piece in a major key so, trying not to be accused of unabashed plagiarism, I converted it to a guitar piece and changed the chords. It still reminds you of the Bud Lite ads, but it’s actually quite a different piece of music.

I then recorded the backup singer’s parts as a placeholder for another friend of mine I was hoping would do the singing for the final cut. When I listened to the rough cut, however, I became convinced that my struggling vocals were an important component to making the commercial even funnier.

The radio ad premiered three years ago and people either loved or hated it. Nobody ignored it. And isn’t that the point of an ad? I received phone calls and emails from people telling me to take it off the radio immediately and that they’d never come to me for tax or accounting help. I also received ten times that number of phone calls and emails telling me that they loved it.

So, without further ado, here it is.

Click here to listen to Schedule F Filer.

Schedule F Filer (Singer’s Parts in Parentheses)

Randy Hunt CPA presents: Real Taxpayers In Trouble (Real Taxpayers In Trouble)
Today we solute you, Mr. Schedule F Filer (Mr. Schedule F Filer)
You thought you’d be clever and take some big deductions (the bigger the better)
Only to find out that Schedule F is for farmers (Old MacDonald had a farm)
You wouldn’t know the difference between a steer and a steering wheel (and that’s no bull)
Now the IRS is coming to take your tractor away (I got a long row to hoe)
You should have left it to the professionals at Randy Hunt CPA (now I know much better)
Randy Hunt CPA will keep you on the straight and narrow
So here’s to you, Mr. Schedule F Filer (Mr. Schedule F Filer)

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt


  1. You bring up a good point Randy. How did someone with your sense of humor and musical talent become a CPA? Your anaysis of accountants is right on, or at least the ones that I have known, as pretty drab people. In college even plenty of booze usually just encouraged them to babble on about fascinating GAP principles or jokes such as:

    A business owner tells her friend that she is desperately searching for an accountant.
    Her friend asks, "Didn't you just hire an accountant a short while ago?"
    The business owner replies, "That's the accountant I've been searching for".

    Freakin' Hilarious, is it not?

    Take care good buddy,
    Bernie Madoff

  2. Randy, Obama should hire you as a catalyst for get things going in our economy. At least you can point to having done it. Also, I like your personality! You have always made me laugh. Frank


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