The Lead Generation features conversations with today’s entrepreneurs willing to tell the truth about what it takes to be your own boss and the transformative impact you can have on your audience.
We’re closing out the first season of The Lead Generation podcast (5th season of the Leadpages podcast) with a great example of an entrepreneur who jumped out of a comfortable corporate gig to start his own company.
Bryan is the founder of Clever Taxes, which helps digital entrepreneurs grow profits and save taxes so they make more money, save more time, and have complete confidence in their financial health.
In this episode, Bryan shares how his initial business plan faltered and what he did to change his success trajectory. He also gives his advice on learning vs. delegating, and when it makes sense to work with a coach. I also got him to share a couple of financial tips that will likely save you quite a bit of money on your taxes.
Transcripts, resources, and top-takeaways are below.
If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.
Choose your clients. Design your business in such a way that you get to pick the types of clients that you want to work with.
Share quality content. Publish higher-value content and focus on disseminating it across multiple social channels.
Don’t delegate in the dark. Know enough about how to market your business to hold yourself and anyone you may hire accountable.
Hire a coach. Learning from Google and digital courses can help, but compound your learning with the accountability and prioritization a business coach can bring.
Designate a home office. With a separate home office dedicated to your business, you’re likely to save a lot on your taxes that you would otherwise not be able to deduct. Talk to a tax professional to get clear on what this means for you.
After enjoying this episode, what are your top takeaways from Bryan?
And what's one lesson you learned in this episode that you'll take action on over the next week?
Get to know Bryan
Bob: Hey Bryan, thank you so much for joining me for this episode of The Lead Generation.
Bryan: Pleasure to be here Bob. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Bob: I can't wait to get into all the fun stuff that we're going to discuss today concerning your business at CleverTaxes and all the tips that you've learned along the way building your business. But before we do that, I always love to give people a chance to share: how are the lives of your customers impacted and transformed by the work that your company does?
Bryan: Loaded question Bob, loaded question. The lives of my customers are transformed because they gain complete financial clarity over everything financial in their online business, and that's the goal, is just making sure that they have the information that they need to empower them to make the best decisions possible for their company to grow it further, expand their revenue, expand their client base what have you. We do that just by helping with taxes and finance.
Bob: That's awesome. Just as a quick disclaimer ahead of things, we may mention some things, you are not anyone on this call's official financial advisor or accountant, right? This is for educational purposes only.
Bryan: That's correct.
Bob: That being said, I'd love to know how did you get started as a financial accountant and tax guy and then let's talk a little bit as well about how you transformed from whatever you were doing in the beginning to doing it primarily for online entrepreneurs.
Bryan: Absolutely. I got started with my career as a Certified Public Accountant, financial accountant, tax guy, whatever designation you want to call me. I'm probably at about eight years ago, going on nine years now this year. I was working for a really large CPA firm here in Orange County, California the entire time. I was working for really big clients, helping them save money on taxes and ultimately I just decided that I needed a change of pace with my company. I had some really good opportunities to stay there and work my way up but something needed to change.
I actually took a sabbatical last year to take a break and figure out what that next step was going to be. I took six months off, traveled around the world for a little while and came back and decided, you know what, I think I want to start my own company and help small businesses with what I'm doing right now. There was a lot of good stuff that I was doing but I just wanted to focus on the types of clients that I wanted to work with, which was small businesses and make a much bigger impact at the end of the day.
I really just wanted to transform what I was doing to work with smaller companies and really help them save a boatload of money and taxes just because I knew that the impact of saving $5,000 or $10,000 for a large company, which most of the time is a rounding error, would be much bigger for working with people like you and me.
Bob: That's really fantastic and I know that there are a number of people in the entrepreneurial world who do run into significant challenges because they just don't pay attention to where the money is going and what's going back out, so it's really important.
Finding the first clients
Bob: I imagine that you took the sabbatical and then you had this epiphany at some point along the way, you likely ran into some challenges having the opportunity to serve clients that came to you because you were part of a bigger company. Now you're going out there to find your own clients. As you look back at that transition, what were some of the obstacles that you faced that you had to overcome that you're glad that you had to overcome them but certainly was a pain at the time?
Bryan: Oh man. I think the hardest challenge and frustration that I had was trying to find clients and I imagine it's the same for a lot of entrepreneurs that are starting out. One of the biggest obstacles was that I never really had to do my own marketing when I was working at my larger CPA firm because we had a dedicated marketing department who did all that for us. I also didn't have to do a whole lot in the way of selling to customers, too. So when I ventured out on my own and tried to build a completely new network from scratch, I didn't really know where to start at all, I was just lost.
My first couple of months was just scratching my head just trying to figure out how I was going to get clients in this completely new space without leveraging my old network of larger companies. I ventured out and spent a lot of time on Google I will say just searching for whatever marketing tips and advice I could get and that was a big obstacle at the time, was trying to find clients that actually want to work with me outside of my referral network, which were just friends and family at the time.
I know a lot of people and a lot of those people have friends and family that run their own small business, but a lot of them are like these local companies and what I wanted to focus on was online businesses in the digital marketing, coaching/consulting space and so I had to figure out where a lot of these people resided and focused my energies there.
One of the big solutions that I came across was actually Leadpages, interestingly enough, and that was like last year and close to the end of last year I was just looking for a simple way to build a marketing funnel, which I didn't really understand at the time but I just knew everyone had to have a marketing funnel. I ran into Leadpages and I thought it was a really cool product and so I started building my first funnel and that actually helped me get a few clients when I first started out.
Then from there you guys released Sites and I've been working with Sites and that's also been an awesome product and helping me gain some exposure and being able to advertise what I do and then bring leads into my business that way, too. Looking back marketing and sales were definitely a challenge but there are definitely some amazing tools like Leadpages that helped me taking it to the next level and actually get some clients in the niche that I really wanted to focus on.
Bob: People who are already in our Leadpages community are familiar with your site Bryan at CleverTaxes.com and those of you that are not please do take a look. It's a great example of how you can have a beautiful high converting site and it didn't take you too long to create it. I remember you were welcomed into the beta group and I think it was maybe 24 hours later you had a pretty sweet looking site going on.
Bryan: Yeah, absolutely. It was perfect timing, too, because I was trying to figure out what solution I was going to use for pulling my site. I don't know how I stumbled upon it. I think maybe it had popped up on my Facebook or something and I was like, oh Leadpages has Sites now. So I joined the group and then within 24, 48 hours I just try to scramble and put something together. It's been a work in process since then but just having a minimum viable website to work with that I could actually advertise and share with prospects and what have you was really fast to put together, extremely fast.
Bob: Listeners to this show are no strangers to my personal business mantra of “take action, revise later” and you certainly have typified that with a number of versions and iterations of your site and I don't think anybody's website is really ever done. That's great that you can make some changes along the way and test it out.
Getting over overwhelm
Bob: You mentioned learning from Google and figuring some stuff out on your own. Was there any advice or any people that you really gravitated towards that had the right kinds of ideas that you were able to implement as you grow your business?
Bryan: Gosh, it was so overwhelming running into all the information out there in the marketing world but I definitely had some pointers along the way as to which approach I should go with my services business. One of the people who stand out the most to me and it's probably because he's all over pretty much every social media platform, Gary Vaynerchuk, and you know like I'm on LinkedIn a lot because of the type of work that I do. It's really geared towards business owners and he's all over LinkedIn, and so just taking his advice in terms of creating one big piece of content and then being able to disseminate that through a number of different social media and website channels or your blog just seemed really cool and efficient at the time. Really it was just that repeated exposure of just being out in the marketplace and being very visible and having a physical presence in all the different platforms.
That was the key to attracting the clients that I have today just because if you post on a somewhat regular basis, they're going to see you and they're going to know you as that advisor that guy who can help out. Gary V. has been a pretty notable icon in that regard, but yeah, there's so many tips and tricks that I learned from people on the place, and then also I think I actually got a lot of advice from the Leadpages blog too on how to actually build email lists and that was something that I had never really had to do before and I didn't really know how it worked but it just made sense like, oh yeah, if you have a list more people you have on the list eventually more people you can target down the road. It's like little blogs and resources that I was just scouring across all over the Internet that really helped me when I was starting out.
Bob: Awesome. Did anybody give you some advice that you followed that was the worst decision that you could have made in your early online life?
Bryan: Honestly, I don't think there is any really bad decision or bad advice that I got. I think the hardest part is prioritizing what's going to be the most impactful for my business when I was first starting out. Like how am I going to get the first five or 10 clients under my belt that I can then leverage into a network down the road and just having so much information at your fingertips, you just feel like you don't know what's going to work the best. It really just helps to experiment across the board.
I don't think there's any one bit of advice that really deterred me in any way, but there's definitely some advice that has been better and definitely a lot easier to generate publicity and presence in the marketplace than others. I think a lot of it is actually at least the 2019 social media-driven – posting regularly on social media and building a network of followers that can see you on their platforms on a regular basis. That's been the most helpful, but nothing too crazy and anything that's deterred me significantly in that way.
Getting clear on ideal clients
Bob: That's good. A couple of weeks ago we had on the Lead Generation podcast, Cindy Schulson who is a really big message clarifier for coaches and service professionals, and I noticed in our early discussion as well as on your website that you have honed in on this niche of taxes for digital entrepreneurs. When you first went online, was it already set that that's who you were going to serve or did you just say, here's my shingle, you've got tax issues, come talk to me and if so, what was the difference when you decided to go with that specific group of people?
Bryan: Yeah, it was definitely the latter one, Bob. I didn't really know exactly who I was going to work with when I first started my practice. I set up a shingle and I said, hey, I do tax and accounting and hope people would come but they didn't. But I did know when I started my practice that I wanted to work with small businesses and I wanted to work with the next generation of entrepreneurs. I just wasn't sure what that was yet. It was a lot of trial and error in honing who I wanted to work with and being able to convey that message out in the marketplace. It took a lot of self-reflection and figuring out who that target market was going to be.
You saw my website that I first released in the 24 hours or so that Sites beta was out and you can compare it to today and I've definitely refined that message and refined my target audience more so than it was in the past, and so it goes back to reiterating and reiterating based on types of clients that you get and once you actually serve those clients, getting that market feedback and be able to create a better solution for the types of people that you want to work for, and so since then I've definitely changed and refined that target audience and really honed in on entrepreneurs and not just one specific type because there's so many, but all-encompassing in terms of having similar business models across the board in what they do.
Bob: Yeah, it's really good.
I'd like to share with the audience what your current version of your website actually says as an example of this really honing in on a message. Right now your headline says, “Gain control over taxes and finances in your business” (which is a pretty good headline). It's relatively general though as far as serving lots of businesses but then your sub-headline goes into: “CleverTaxes helps digital entrepreneurs gain control of taxes and finances in their online businesses so they keep more of their money, save more of their time, and have complete confidence in their financial health.”
That's the exact sentence structure as well as language that speaks very much to a target market and so if you are hearing that, you're like, oh man, Bryan is the exact guy I need, then he did his job and if you're saying, I don't need Bryan, I have a business in something else, Bryan did his job. He has included or excluded you at the top of this website and anybody's website should do that in order for you to really get the gravity of the right people showing up at your doorstep regardless of what service business or coaching, consulting work that you do.
I just wanted to shout that out real quick. I know you may change it by the time we air the episode because you're always testing. I'm sure it'll be a refinement like I could imagine you saying digital entrepreneurs who want to control their finances for their membership sites or something like that. You can go even further niche down into people with types of business models. That's really cool.
Bryan: Yeah, thanks.
Tools for conversions
Bob: I also noticed that right now you have as your primary lead magnet, a chat, a conversation, a consultation. Have you experimented yet with digital lead magnets of a pdf or a video or some report or is that something that's on your immediate horizon?
Bryan: That's something that's definitely on my immediate horizon and even lead magnet that I've been working on has changed significantly in terms of what I think people would be drawn to.
You're right, right now it's just a chat button where you can book a link or book a calendar appointment on Calendly which is a really cool Leadpages feature just having that direct integration, but I think what I'm going to be offering in the very near future and probably up in the next couple of days and by the time this podcast goes on is top three tax savings tips that every online business owner can employ for their business right now and save money right now.
You would think that there'd be a lot of clarity around the tax law, but there really isn't. I think there's a lot of confusion for a lot of online business owners and how they actually go about taking advantage of the tax savings and tax deductions that they have for them. What I want to do is sort to just summarize and also give you what you need to know in order to actually claim these deductions and save a bunch of money. I'm definitely going to include a lead magnet on my website and from there hopefully, expand my email list that much further.
Put your ego in check
Bob: As you think about your business growth for the last year and again you've been doing tax and accounting stuff for a decade close to right?
Bob: One thing I wanted to say is I think it's really awesome that you have been able to take your experience and bring it online and you went through this phase of being a complete eager novice. I like to call it. Some people call newbies, but I think that's a pejorative, so I prefer the term eager novice. You are a significant eager novice in the online world while being a pro in your actual field. Talk to us a little bit about that psychology because I think a lot of members of Lead Generation go through that issue and I'd love to know how did you solve that? How did you solve this, I don't know what I'm doing, but wait, I really do know what I'm doing, but just not about the marketing piece. How did you reconcile those things?
Bryan: I guess a lot of it's just putting your ego in check. At least I had to put my ego in check, realizing that I might've been really good in my past life but none of that means anything to my prospects and clients today if I can't actually deliver a solution that's worthwhile for them, one that really helps them. Just realizing that I was a complete novice, I didn't know as much as I needed to know but I wanted to learn and get that experience under my belt so that I could ultimately offer this amazing solution to my clients. That was the big driver for me and that was my Polaris star, was knowing that I might not know these things today, but I can learn and I can figure it out. I'm going to make mistakes and as long as I'm trying and recalibrating and making adjustments that eventually they all get to that destination, that goal.
“I don't know everything and that's okay.”
A lot of it is mindset driven and having the confidence in yourself knowing that you're going to run into problems, you're not going to do it perfectly and that's okay, right, because as every entrepreneur knows, you're going to make mistakes along the way but at least have the confidence of being able to push yourself past your comfort zone out into the unknown territory making mistakes and learning from those mistakes and then being able to adjust and put a good product out. I think it's mostly mindset and that's certainly what someday in the last several months at least as in, just knowing that I don't know everything and that's okay.
Bob: I have, I think the mindset is huge and this is why I'm digging a little deeper because it seems like you've tapped into this little, not a little but a lot.
Learn it or delegate it?
Bob: One question that comes to mind from this is you could have come online and said there's too much to do. I'm just going to hire this out. I could hire out all my marketing. Why didn't you do that to those that are having that conversation in their head? What did you come to the conclusion of why you decided to do this on your own and wear the marketing hat in addition to your professional hat?
Bryan: It was funny because I offer the solution for my clients and a lot of people have approached me and said, hey, I can do your marketing for you and I can generate X amount of leads for you per day and get you so and so sales and a lot of it is because I'm pretty stubborn. I want to know how things work before I farm it out to someone else because I won't know how to keep them accountable to what I'm paying them to do and so if I haven't done it myself, I take it upon myself to learn how to do it first and then from there I'm more comfortable hiring someone else to do it.
“I really wanted to know how to do it on my own. I want to be fully confident that I could do it on my own before moving up and hiring someone else to do it for me.”
Especially for the first year of my business, I haven't even reached a full year yet since I've been in practice, but especially for the first year, I don't know what I don't know but I can at least absorb a lot of knowledge and develop a foundation of that knowledge in order to incorporate into my practice and have a sense of what works and what doesn't. Then from there, especially once I have more resources then it makes sense for me to hire on especially as I have more constraints my time. In addition to doing my own marketing, I also have to deliver the services to my clients and that takes up a lot of time, and so I wasn't quite stretched thin yet where I felt like I needed to take that step and hire someone to help me.
I really wanted to know how to do it on my own. I want to be fully confident that I could do it on my own before moving up and hiring someone else to do it for me.
Bob: Yeah, I think that's really important, so many people go full tilt. I think the biggest word that you just said was accountability. You just have no idea and they're actually doing what they could be doing for the money that you're paying and it's really tough to see that ROI and especially if people farm out their websites, any changes that get made have to be made through that webmaster or virtual assistant and that can get super cumbersome in addition to be expensive. I'm glad that you have figured this out and you know how to pull the levers and better delegate when it's time to do that.
Virtual mentors and coaches
Bob: You mentioned Gary Vaynerchuk. I'd love to turn the tables now to other people who might be learning from podcasts or books you have been reading that have helped you out in your marketing journey.
Bryan: Yeah, so many. Like one of the inspirations that I had when I first started my business was Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek. I was on my sabbatical and I carried my Kindle around with me and read through his book and one of the things he recommends is don't start with a service business, but I started with what I knew and I started a service business. That was like my initial inspiration to start my company in a way that I could create a system and process that would automate a lot of the work that needed to be done, so that was my initial inspiration.
Since then I've definitely read more books and have found more mentors, mentors that probably don't know that they're my mentor. One example is actually a gentleman named Sam Ovens. He's like all over Facebook. He runs stat campaign for this program, the consulting accelerator and that just gave me the foundation that I needed to start my own business, just some direction and that program was instrumental in refining my offer initially at least in solving a problem and a need in the market. Since then I've actually been working with a more one on one business coach.
Her name is Wendy Maynard and she's awesome and she's helped me refine my service offerings and package and just gave me this perspective that, when your business is continually iterating itself, your processes are continually iterating itself. It doesn't have to be perfect, you can fly the plane while you're building it and she's been phenomenal to work with and has really helped me refine my offering and push myself to get out in the market and explore outside my comfort zone.
Those are definitely two mentors that I've been working with that really helped me in my business. The last one, this is really just from a book, but you're probably familiar with Ray Dalio. He wrote Principles. I started reading Principles and everything I was reading in there just clicked in my head, made perfect sense. I've really appreciated his radical transparency approach that he runs in his organization and hopefully when I hire more people on board on my team, I would like to employ a lot of the similar principles that he has and not just transparency but also systemizing your business in a way that it's easier to make decisions because you've learned from the past and you've documented it and you know what to do going forward.
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When to hire a coach
Bob: I love all three of those and I'd like to touch on the coach that you hired for just another minute. A lot of people go into their business, they do feel like Google can be their mentor, right. They figure that they can learn everything from podcasts and books but at some point, it might be worthwhile to hire a coach. What made the decision for you easy, to say yes I want to hire a coach instead of trying to do all this on my own.
Bryan: That's a good question. A lot of people think about it in terms of return on investment and to some extent that was definitely in the back of my mind, if I pay x amount of dollars for a business coach I'm going to get this much more on sales and profit from my business but I actually think that knowing myself pretty well at least at this stage in life I didn't have an accountability partner that could keep me on track with the things that I needed to do. I decided to work with Wendy mostly because she could be that partner for me but also that advisor who has a lot of experience working with firms and practices like my own and can give me the guidance that I needed to take my business to the next level.
A lot of it was just needing someone to check me on the things that I was doing because I do have this tendency to disruption and make changes to things like my website for example, which has gone through at least 20 plus iterations at this point but really just someone who can keep me on track with what matters the most and then hold me accountable to those goals and what I was actually trying to execute. That was the decision I needed because in being a solopreneur unless you're working with someone you don't have anyone to bounce these ideas off of. What I liked in my old practice at the large CPA firm that I lack now is that I always had a mentor that I could work with, it was my boss; but I always had a mentor that I could work with that could give me the guidance and things that I needed to do to be a better professional.
I didn't really have that when I decided to start my own practice. You can only absorb so much from books and research on Google. I think sometimes it's just better to have that face to face interaction and know that there's someone who's looking out for you with a vested interest in your success.
Bob: I would agree with that and what I love about coaches is they also provide the guidance and prioritization, right. You mentioned earlier how overwhelming it is to get all these ideas and marketing strategies thrown at you and typically for me at least as a business coach in the past and seeing business coaches now, I would say that idea of accountability and prioritization saves a ton of time and saves a lot of lost money and effort.
Bryan: Yeah, absolutely agree.
Tax tips for digital entrepreneurs
Bob: I've got a couple more questions for you before we wrap up, but I want to go back to the lead magnet that you're going to be creating because I don't want to... I'd love for people to go to clevertaxes.com and see what you've put together, but I also love to give them one or two of your tips now.
Bob: I think it would be a really cool idea just to test out as you're speaking out loud out of your brain, what are one or two of those tips that digital entrepreneurs need to know about... for saving on their taxes?
Bryan: Yeah, absolutely. One thing that most online businesses or entrepreneurs doing online business has is a home office. I'm actually sitting in my home office right now, but for most people, you have a dedicated space that you work out of for your business and most people know this, but they don't know how to go about it properly. You can take a deduction for your home office and depending on how much you spend on your home on a monthly basis that amount could actually be pretty significant. You can think of it as being this parallel to this hypothetical office space that you would have your business if you weren't working out of your home and sometimes that rent cost can actually be pretty significant.
Think about setting up a separate home office for your business and making sure that it's a designated home office and then from there you can look at the costs that you pay on a monthly basis, whether it's rent, insurance, utilities, taxes, all these things, and carve out a portion of that and actually take a deduction for that. That can easily be thousands of dollars of tax savings.
Bob: Especially in California.
Bryan: Yeah, especially in California where you pay a boatload in rent. I mean out here in Orange County it could easily be $3000 for a two bedroom. If you have a two bedroom and you are using one of them for your home office, definitely take advantage of it but there's this misconception that the home office deduction is red flag for audits. In the past that was true but I think because more businesses are starting from their home nowadays with it being run online, it's definitely more prevalent and is not as much of an obvious audit because you think it might be. Just make sure you do it right or work with me to do it.
Bob: Nice and any other quick pitch for an idea for tax savings strategy for digital entrepreneurs.
Bryan: Hire a tax accountant. They're going to save you so much money you won't even know. Don't get me wrong, I actually use my own free-filing software for a long time. Even when I was working at my large CPA firm which had software that I could do it with even as an accountant, sometimes it's tools are easier especially if you know what you're doing. But if you don't know what you're doing it's very possible that you're doing it wrong and exposing yourself to more taxes down the road, penalties, and interest and I get that story all the time.
April 15th rolls around and an entrepreneur gets hit with like a $20,000 tax bill plus penalties and interest for not paying any money. It's in your best interest to work with a professional. It doesn't have to be me, although if you run an online business you might want to work with me, but you should work with someone who is a professional, knows what they're doing, can guide you through all the things that are going on in your tax posture, and give you the right guidance to save you a bunch of money in the process. Sometimes they'll have advice that you didn't even think of because you just don't know what you don't know.
Bob: Yeah and just as a further indication of this, I don't know of any small business owner and that includes myself and my wife who has her own business, who hasn't saved more money on their taxes than what they paid for the service of hiring a professional.
“The people who are successful are the ones who try, try, and try again and the people who aren't just haven't tried for long enough.”
Bob: Not to throw a pitch to Bryan's way but, for whomever, you can hire who knows what they're doing and I think it's great if you do. This isn't a pitch for Bryan's services certainly, but if you do want to connect with a CPA who knows digital businesses, ask those questions of your potential CPA. Ask them, have they dealt with online businesses who work with selling across state lines and all this other stuff because they know what it takes to do the right accounting and so forth.
All right, so thanks for those tips and I can't wait to see what lead magnet that you put together for the rest of them. This is all really great advice, Bryan. Before we go I'd love to know if you could boil down the essence of entrepreneurship success down to just one thing for you. What is that one key to success in starting up or growing a business?
Bryan: I think that the one key to success is really a mindset. You have to believe in yourself. Believe that you have the ability to do it and actually set out and take action and do it every day, day in, day out, and ultimately the people who are successful are the ones who try, try, and try again and the people who aren't just haven't tried for long enough.
Bob: Fantastic. We've already mentioned CleverTaxes.com. Do you also have social media locations for people to connect with you?
Bryan: Yeah, I got social media. I have a Facebook page, I got LinkedIn and all those are on my website, so if anyone wants to check out my personal profile pages they can.
Bob: Awesome. Well, thank you, Bryan, so much for the tips you shared and the story that you were able to reveal to our audience today. It's a real pleasure.
Bryan: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Bob.
Ready to take action?
What are your top takeaways from Bryan?
And what's one lesson you learned in this episode that you'll take action on over the next week?