CEO Nate Hagerty sat down recently to talk with long-time client Dean Owen, a CPA based in Kentucky who has successfully grown his practice to 13 employees with over $170M assets in fee-based management.
Dean’s story is interesting — from his origin story to the way he uses his tax services to grow the more lucrative financial planning side of his practice.
One success point he noted was the integration of TaxProMarketer’s email marketing services into his practice. He pointed out that his clients knew more about the PPP last year earlier than the bankers did, thanks to the weekly emails.
Tune in to listen to the rest of Dean’s success story…
- Successfully growing a practice to 13 employees with over $170M assets in fee-based management
- Growing lucrative financial planning side of tax practice
- Email marketing keeps clients in-the-know
Connect with Nate Hagerty
This episode is brought to you by TaxProMarketer, a leading marketing agency serving CPA & tax firms. It was established in May of 2007 in response to increased demand for real-world, relationship-building (and profit-producing) marketing tools for use in the tax and accounting industry.
Currently, TaxProMarketer serves clients all across the United States and Canada who use their services to build relationships with their prospects & existing clients, as well as to grow the value of their business (for immediate cashflow and future sale-ability) by utilizing the following tools: a relational email marketing program, social media feed program, local listings management & optimization, and creating full “online marketing machines” for clients (which include SEO-optimized, conversion-centric custom websites).
TaxProMarketer is an Infusionsoft Certified Partner and a Digital Marketer Certified Agency.
Full Transcript from the Podcast
Nate Hagerty 00:03
Alright, I’m here with Dean Owen, who is a longtime friend and has been a TaxProMarketer client for, golly, how long Dean? Almost a decade. Is that about right?
Dean Owen 00:14
Nate Hagerty 00:15
Yeah. So Dean has been with us… I knew him even before I had started TaxProMarketer, just from interactions in the tax professional community. But I want to hear about your experience, not just with TaxProMarketer today, Dean. The reason I brought him into this video interview is that Dean has built something that a lot of tax practitioners need to hear about. And it’s not super unique, but at the same time, his story and what he does, and what he’s created is something that whenever I bring him on to a, like a client’s only webinar, whenever I conduct a webinar for clients only, and he responds to questions in the interaction, I get curious responses from people. “How did he… how does he do that? What did he build?” So, Dean, I don’t want to, you know, pump you up too much. But he’s got a big staff. How many employees? Is it? I didn’t see that. But you got four partners, right?
Dean Owen 01:20
Nate Hagerty 01:20
Four CPA’s on staff.
Dean Owen 01:21
Yeah, four CPAs on staff, but they’re not partners.
Nate Hagerty 01:23
Four EA’s on staff, three paraplanners, and other staff. So how many, how many employees do you have?
Dean Owen 01:29
Nate Hagerty 01:30
13 employees. And you’ve got 170 million assets under management, and most of the vast majority that is fee based.
Dean Owen 01:38
Nate Hagerty 01:38
So you’re not.. it’s not commission structure, which is an interesting conversation that I’d like to hear about how you decided that. And what’s interesting about Dean is that he uses the tax practice as a lead generation vehicle for his financial planning. Is that accurate to say?
Dean Owen 01:54
It is. Very accurate.
Nate Hagerty 01:56
And that’s something that I get a lot of questions about from people who are wanting to number one, learn how to bolt on financial services to their practice. But number two, obviously, just grow their revenue. Maybe they just have a tax practice, and like how, how they can integrate these other services into their firm in a cohesive, synergistic way. So, without further ado, I mean, you’ve got the corporate experience at I mean, like you’ve been you were at Pricewaterhouse. You were in the military for a long time. You’ve got a real affinity for those veteran community. You’re based in Paducah. I know that. I mean, you’re got a just a big practice. So, I would love to hear the origin story of your practice and kind of how this all came about.
Dean Owen 02:48
Well, I came from kind of… are you familiar with the movie Hillbilly Elegy?
Nate Hagerty 02:54
Oh, yeah. No, I haven’t seen the movie. But I’ve read the book.
Dean Owen 02:57
Okay. That was my life. And I came up in that crazy, crazy environment. One of my brothers has killed himself, one of them’s mostly been in jail most of his life. Somehow I’m in the position I am. And I attribute that to the military, but spent some time in the military to get some combat experience. And then went through the big, ugly downsizing in the 90s. And went from a job I loved to one I hated. And I started getting attracted to taxes and knowing how to do taxes and how to save all I could for myself. So when I was in the military, I picked up a lot of tax experience and became a command financial specialist. And then when my time came up to renew, and I just didn’t like the job anymore. I just said, I’m done. I’m gonna go back to college. Get an accounting degree, go do taxes. And so did. Went back to school… college. Then got the Pricewaterhouse job. It qA at Tom Cooper’s and Lybrand. Well Cooper’s and Lybrand got sucked up into Pricewaterhouse. And I loved Cooper’s and Lybrand. But when we became the other stepchildren to Pricewaterhouse, and get all the bad jobs, nobody wants and yeah, so I was…
Nate Hagerty 04:04
That was when the Big Six became the Big Five. Is that right?
Dean Owen 04:07
Exactly? Yeah. I was back home with my grandmother passing away and was visiting her and was at church one morning. And this guy stopped me and says, “You’re Dean Owen, right?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “We need to talk and go to lunch.” I said, “Okay. Sure.” And then I found out later, he was a controller for Air Products, and he was looking for his replacement. And he wanted to go back downtown. So, pretty short, stint, they moved me back here. Had a good experience with that. Enjoyed it. For the first six months. And then they started going through the corporate layoffs. And they said they were going to lay off a third of all controllers in North America. And I was the only one hired in the last two years. So, I just worked my butt off and tried to keep my job, but I started grad school. And I went to grad school and told him, you know, “This is… I’m probably not going to be able to do this anymore.” And the dean of the business school pulled me aside, he said, “Why don’t you just go school full time.” I said, “Cuz I got bills to pay. I got to eat.” He said, “What if I get you a $3,000 a month stipend as my assistant.” He said you don’t have to do anything for it, but you know you’re a combat veteran we want you in school.” So that was a no brainer.
Nate Hagerty 05:12
Yeah, of course.
Dean Owen 05:13
I got a couple graduate degrees. And then graduate school’s pretty easy. So, I started picking up some clients on the side and then I figured out okay… I was in the military, went through a big downsize. Went to Coopers and Lybrand, went through a big downsizing. Went to Air Products, there’s a big downsizing. Yeah.. in those environments, I was on the overhead team. I needed to be on the production team. So I came up with NCI, I came across some of their ads, guaranteed $300,000 in billings, if you follow their system. And became close friends with Bruce Clark. He runs that outfit. And it was expensive. For a kid in my position, it was a big, big expense. And I told Bruce before I met him, I said, “Bruce, you got to understand, if you don’t bring me on as a client, I’m that guy that will make you pay me back if we don’t get to $300,000.” He said, “I am that guy.” And he laughed, and he chuckled, but it worked. Yeah, it’s a pretty simple basic system. Simple and basic doesn’t mean easy. So, but we did. Got that rolling. I got office started everything, they’ve got a big package that works. And then this guy stopped by my office one day. Short guy, older guy asked, “Why don’t you do financial services?” I said, “Why would I need to do that?” He says, “Because you can make money at it.” I said, “Well, I can make money with what I’m doing.” He said, “You make a whole lot more money doing this.” I said, “Well, what do I got to do?” He said, “Take a couple tests.” And I’m pretty good with a book. So I took some tests, got the licenses, and kind of played with that for a little while. And then the broker, the principal of that broker dealer died, and we all get shoved off into an insurance company. And the insurance company was demanding we sell insurance products, and I’m just not going to sell stuff to people. I’m not. And so yeah, they shoved us off. And I and I got a card… postcard the same day they sent the letter saying, “Go find someplace to live else.” I got a postcard from HD Vest. And I called HD Vest. And I said, “Are you going to make me sell a bunch of crap insurance?” He goes, “No… we’re not going to make you sell anything.” I said, “If the main guy dies, are you gonna close?” He said, “No, we’re good.” I said, “Alright, I’ll sign up with you guys.” And that was the extent of the due diligence. I didn’t know how to do any of it. So went a few years, and they started going to the conferences, and then that kind of got the idea of… “Okay, wait a minute. There’s some real money here.” And then I’m watching what Edward Jones does to clients. And it is God awful embarrassing. I think it should be criminal. And so I started doing it all myself, doing that work on my own. And it’s a very compelling story. If you really do mix tax and financial planning services, it is an entirely different world than what people are expecting. And you can bring an enormous amount of value there. Because we’re not going to sell me an annuity that gets taxed at ungodly rates, we’ll use things to get capital gains, dividends rates. We don’t charge a bunch of money upfront. You know, charge… you know, give into a fee based program where you really are under a fiduciary obligation. And that’s where I want to be because clients who may know that they don’t just become clients until you’ve tried. It’s unbelievable relationships. And, you know, having the crazy family stuff, I want to try. So that’s what I built, built the tribe. Had a lot of coaching from some of the senior guys at HD Vest in the early 2000s. Just kind of coached myself into… or they coached me into spending money on TV, spend money on advertising. And that worked.
Dean Owen 08:49
I was talking to Kyle about a $30,000 ad purchase. And I said, “You know that’s… that’s a lot of money for me.” And he said, “It’s not $30,000. It’s $2500 a month. Can you do it for three months?” I said, “Yes.” Then you’ll know if it works or not. It don’t work quick. So, it’s a $7500 dollar expense.” And yeah, Nick would start to lose $7500 dollars, but it’s not $30,000. So, that’s kind of changed my mindset on things. And so that’s a bit off on the ad buys. Today, they’re $200,000 a year. At some point, I got hooked up with TaxProMarketers. The newsletters or magazines put off a very good warm touch to clients. So that’s gone. And then last year with all the political turmoil, I’m a pretty outspoken conservative. If you’ve read my personal emails, so that’s still where I’m coming from. I’m that guy that causes some people to trigger. And the Facebook page got… something happened to it. Somebody got into it, changed a bunch of posts trying to discredit me. And your team jumped in… you personally jumped in and said hey, “I gotta help this guy.” And then I started thinking about it, “You know CP site solutions was doing a good job but I actually know Nate. And I trust him. I don’t know anybody a CP Site Solutions.” So I just turned over everything to you guys. That was a few years ago a couple years ago, I guess. But that was definitely before all the COVID stuff hit. But having those blast emails when COVID still hit was amazing. So be very opinionated, very honest, when all the PPP stuff hit, I, we weren’t waiting for clients to call us. We were telling clients, “Do this right now.” Our clients knew more about the PPP loan programs sooner than the bankers did. So that workforce be very real be very genuine. When it’s our turn to lead, we need to lead. And when, when it’s not, it’s my time to follow. And I know that. But yes, your revenues are up about $300,000 this year. So it’s mostly the investment stuff. But when someone comes in, I tell them, “You know, the idea that you’re going to get the best advice over here, but you got to go talk to your CPA and get tax advice before you take my best advice. It’s a little bit like telling somebody a mechanic kind of somebody, “Yes, I could change the brakes on your car. On the driver side. You gotta get somebody else to do the passenger side.” It’s just window licking stupid, right? For us, we have two tax seasons. The first one we all know about. But in the fall, we’re doing pro formas, and hundreds and hundreds of them and showing people how to use up your 12% tax bracket and get that money out of your IRA at 12% instead of 22%. That’s a value add that nobody else… practically nobody else does.
Nate Hagerty 11:40
So why don’t you talk about that for a minute, your second tax season. Probably a lot of people watching this, have some understanding of what you’ve just described, but walk people through what that looks like from the client side and how you position that to your clients.
Dean Owen 11:59
During the initial interview while they’re a prospect, we go through what they should be doing every year, which is Roth conversions. And that piece of information is absolutely useless until you know how much and you don’t know how much until you do a practice, a practice tax return in the fall. By October-November, we know about where their numbers are going to be for the tax year. And if they’re a married couple, and let’s say they get $70,000 in income, taxable income, then we’re going to go up to $85k. To get the… or to $80k. We’re going to go and do a Roth conversion of that size. And a lot of times this is Western Kentucky, this is not a high cost of living area. So a lot of the retirees have like $50 – 60,000 in retirement income. And at $105k gross, they’ve entered the next… 22 bracket. So let’s roll enough over to use up that 12% tax bracket. I tell everyone, “Your current tax bracket is your friend. The next one’s your enemy. You want all the current, you want all the friends you can get and none of the enemies.” So… and we do hundreds and hundreds of Roth conversions every fall. And you know, knocking that in Kentucky the first $31,100 per person of the retirement income is tax free. So for a lot of them, they’re not paying any Kentucky tax on that money. So instead of 27% somewhere down the road, they’re paying 12% today, and as much as I dislike paying taxes at all, I’d much rather pay 12% Today, then 27% tomorrow.
Nate Hagerty 13:25
And your clients must like think you’ve hung the moon for just presenting this simple scenario that is a simple conversion for you and your team to pull off. But for them feels like might as well be telling them to go change the brakes on their car if they know nothing about cars.
Dean Owen 13:42
Yeah, exactly. And you, you see a lot of folks that come in and they’ve got the million dollar IRAs, and we can’t roll enough of that out a year just to get rid of the gains. But we do end up with a stockpile of money that has already been taxed in the wrong manner. That way the year they got to put a roof on, they got to buy a car, whatever, they’re gonna have that big expensive year, we can go to that Roth bucket. Raid it and not change your tax bracket. So… and that’s how we’re trying to set people up. So eventually if you can you get it all… Back in March of last year we billed over 10s of millions of dollars into Roths from IRAs, because we were down there, the Dallas the foreign investment markets are so low, and all that bounce back came up in the Roth. And we will… you know one lady very close friend and client, we rolled every bit of hers out because her goal was to make sure her kids did not get a tax bill at her death. So we did about $200,000 conversion. But when you actually looked at December’s balance and all the bounce back that had come back in the Roth, her effective tax rate was really about 9%. That’s, that’s amazing work. If you can do it. If you will do it. If you’ll do the work. I know a lot of guys that are CPAs that are in the wealth management space but they don’t do that work. That’s, it’s the work. And it’s not the sexy jazzy stuff you want to talk about at the cocktail party. It’s work. But it’s exceedingly important work.
Nate Hagerty 15:11
Yeah. And your clients again? I mean, that’s, that’s what, that’s what they need.
Dean Owen 15:17
Yeah. And having them on that advisory program, you know, they’re going to, they’re going to get a touch point from us at least once a quarter. So it sets up that in the summer, we can go through all the state stuff. Is your beneficiary still right? Is your will still right? You know, do we need to change anything? Check anything? Nobody else is asking those questions. But we are, I expect that to happen. I’ve been very, very blessed. My operations team, Priya manages that. She is from Guyana and married the guy, a US sailor and got moved here. And I don’t know why nobody else in town would hire her because she is absolutely amazing. She’s done more work in this business than I have. And she runs that team very efficiently. Things happen. I let her make a whole lot of decisions that I was that I’m supposed to make. But that’s fine. She can make them, and she’ll make them right.
Nate Hagerty 16:11
So what are you and your team working on? Right now? Like, describe a day in the life of Dino and CPA? Like what are you… what is top of mind for you and your team in terms of growth, in terms of continuing to serve your clients effectively?
Dean Owen 16:27
My number one goal, my thing I work the most on, but my number one goal is my hiring Paige on as a financial advisor. And she’s got about another week before she takes her last test.
Nate Hagerty 16:36
So this is one of your team. And so you were working to move a little bit more off of your plate, so that you can take on what you’ve been managing,
Dean Owen 16:44
Right? And yeah, in any business, there’s the right way, there’s the wrong way. And then there’s Dean’s way. And I can’t I can’t hire someone who’s been in the financial services world, because they don’t like Dean’s way. My way is a farming model, I get paid slow, but get paid well. And you know, they all… they want to deal with that dirty commission stuff and all that stuff. And I just don’t want that in my practice. So Paige does… knows nothing of it. Or she knew nothing of the financial world. All she’s gonna learn is Dean’s way. And she’s great. She’s a fabulous tax practitioner, tax professional. But she’s got that personality everybody loves. So she will do exceedingly well at that.
Nate Hagerty 17:27
So, to what end? What, what is your goal in having her take that on? What are you going to do with your time now?
Dean Owen 17:35
I don’t know. I stay pretty busy. Because we typically will see eight to 10 prospect clients a week.
Nate Hagerty 17:42
Where do those prospect clients come from?
Dean Owen 17:43
It’s coming from TV twice a week… or every other Tuesday, I’m on live TV with the news. I’ve learned to put my commercials in the news. And nowhere else. Because when people are watching the news, they’re there to absorb information. They’re, they’re there to learn something. When they’re watching Duck Dynasty, they’re there to nap. So I’ve learned very strategically where to put my commercials and they’re expensive, but they work. So that’s where that’s largely coming from. They’re all referrals. There are… during the whole PPP thing we picked up a lot of people on our email list that you guys do for us. And then my weekly blast that I do, that brings in some people because I get people to bring it into print it all out. I’ve had half a dozen people come in and they’ve got a year’s worth of my emails printed out in a file folder. I’m just… I’m humbled and dumbfounded. So that works. The… you know, I turned everything over to you guys here a while back and the search engine rankings are climbing, and the Google ads search, and so but it’s mostly the TV. I also do some radio. There’s a very, very conservative radio talk show here. And the guy Greg runs it. He’s more listened to than Rush Limbaugh was. And they let me be a little more edgy. And yeah, I can say, “You know, we’re worried about this election. This election didn’t go like we think it should have and we’re worried about that and you are too and cancel culture says you can’t talk about it. We talk about it my office because that’s because we’re right there with you.” And you… the whole cancel culture, the whole… all that garbage. We’re in conservative Western Kentucky. There’s nobody else saying it. There’s nobody else out here outspoken that says, “You’ve got these concerns, and I can help you.” So, the radio station stuff works. It all just kind of ties together.
Nate Hagerty 19:29
Awesome. So if you’re talking to other tax practitioners, what would you say would be the first step that they could take that would move them towards building this kind of farming model? This kind of like non-hypee commissions, you know, practice, but instead of fee based, instead kind of the long game. What what would be the first best step for a tax practitioner to step into that? Aside from the certifications and you know, getting their series seven or whatever, but…
Dean Owen 20:04
You can get aligned with a broker dealer. I use Advan Tax because they don’t run away from taxes, they put tax in their name. They’re good at it. You know, they used to be HD Vest, and let them walk you through the licensing stuff. That’s all. It’s all different than when I went through it. So I don’t know what, what’s involved. But they start talking to clients and have an understanding of what really goes on in the financial services world because a lot of it’s dirty. 98.4% of financial advisors are selling crap. They’re not advising. And that comes from visual capitalists. You know, all those annuities that are sold with surrender charges and lockup periods, every one of those can be bought without a surrender charge. If I get great big fat commission it blocks up the client’s money. Well, that’s obviously not good for the client. So do what’s good for the client. Don’t do what’s good for me. I’ll get paid, do what’s good for me in the long term, not the short term. So, learn, learn all the dirty stuff, and learn how to talk about it. And explain to them, “Don’t pay commissions. Don’t pay surrender charges.” Yeah, I think I am no expert on your business you don’t. So don’t pay me up front. You know, move your money, if you move your money over here, I’ll be a true financial advisor. I’ll help you make health care insurance decisions. I’ll help you pick up the Medicare plans. I’ll help you when your kid problem comes up. I’ll help you when your son’s an alcoholic and he beat on his wife and you know, in a restaurant and now has a restraining order on him and they’re divorced and she’s got so custody of your sole.. your only grandchild. And you’re trying to figure out how to make your money… incentivize her to keep her involved in your lives because she’s starting lunch and the school teacher and she’s very attractive and probably gonna move on. So you help people with that kind of stuff. That’s what people need help with.
Nate Hagerty 21:51
It sounds like you’ve got some stories to tell.
Dean Owen 21:55
These walls could talk.
Nate Hagerty 21:57
Dean Owen 21:58
You know, that couple, you know… they’re trying to get their son into a rehab, but he’s got a couple of weeks before he can go get into one. And he’s got a restraining order, which means he cannot be in a house with firearms. So the client bought all their firearms to my place. Because they know I got a bunch of em. And just stored them there. Yeah, a couple came and got them. The clients don’t want to talk about the stories. They get in these really, really difficult spots in life. And it’s usually family related. Once you accumulate wealth, most of your real crushing problems are going to be family related. You know, they don’t want to talk about it with anybody. But they have to talk about it with somebody. So be that somebody.
Nate Hagerty 22:38
That’s good. So when you are at the different events, like I know, you’re part of the national large tax practice group that I don’t think is meeting anymore. I know we connected there and other events. You know, when you’re there, what do you find other tax practitioners asking you the most about?
Dean Owen 23:01
Just how did we… how did we get the client base in? How do we get so well known. And what I’m doing in Paducah, Kentucky, will not work in Nashville because it would cost $2 million a year to have them run TV commercials that are seen by 94% of the people 53 times a year. So in Nashville, you’ve got to do something different.
Nate Hagerty 23:21
So what would you recommend to the person in Nashville or in other markets?
Dean Owen 23:30
Steven Hall is out in San Bernardino, California, right in the middle of town. He’s got 80 billion people about a stone’s throw from his office. He has two dedicated people to association marketing. And he goes out, and they go to these associations, meetings, or they contact somehow and say, “Hey, we’ve got a bunch of tax professionals who know all the tax ins and outs of your business and your industry. Why don’t you let us speak at one of your events and share what we know, maybe save some guests some money.” Because those associations are always looking for a guest speaker. And what Stephen does, he actually says, “If you want, you can have the meeting in my office.” And what he knows is he’s gonna get 10% of that audience every time it has that. And he’s got that metric down to where he knows this. So maybe association marketing works. If you’re in a small town with an NBC/ABC/CBS affiliate, and they’re your major news, that’s what I would lean on. Because that station will lend you their credibility. And you’ve got your local news anchors saying he’s our home expert. This is our hometown expert. And that’s the spot I do is called “Hometown Expert.” You got a news station lending that credibility to you, it comes really quick. That’s what works for me. Now, I’ve also got about 13 associations about a 100 mile radius from my office. So, that’s not going to work for me. So you got to really know your demographic. You’ve got to… the way I met you was through Andy Stadler. And I thought Paducah looked an awful lot like Terre Haute, and it does on paper. But in real life, it’s way different. So Andy was able to build a very, very large practice that’s doing 8,000 tax returns a year. And I thought, I’ll do what Andy did. It didn’t work. Because Terre Haute isn’t packed or that big. And it’s got all the people packed in. Paducah’s got the same amount of people packed in an area this big . So when you’ve got a very, very small town or large city, but a huge trade area. So that means I’ve got to… I can’t build what Andy built. This market that won’t work. So… that’s the things people are asking. And they asked me, “Well, what should I be doing?” I just say, “I don’t know. Until I know, I’ve got some ideas. I’ve seen what’s worked in other places, and I know what works in my town, but my town’s not your town. So, you kinda gotta figure it out.
Nate Hagerty 25:42
Excellent. Well, thank you, Dean parting thought. If you could ask, or if you could answer the question, if somebody was considering using TaxProMarketer, what would you say to a fellow tax professional?
Dean Owen 26:01
When I looked at it and I wanted… I was getting calls from CP Site Solutions that said, “You know, your Google rankings aren’t where they should be, why don’t you pay us to do that?” And I thought to myself, “You know, I know Nate. I know some of the people on his team. When I got into a spot with a Facebook problem, they jumped in to help me just because I was a client. Why do I need to do business with corporate America when I can do business with Nate’s team?” And if I get a problem, I talk to someone… I talk to the same person I talked to last time, who knows my accountant, cares about my account, who takes care of me. Why do I not go with Nate’s team? Why not? Why would I not do that? And then I asked myself, “Why did I not make that decision a long time ago? I should have. So who knows? Yeah, you get you get something, and it’s working. And nobody likes change. But improvement has changed. And everybody wants to prove it. So if you’re not, if you’re not gonna embrace change, you’re not gonna embrace what’s true. And you’re gonna have to embrace one or the other because you can’t have both.
Nate Hagerty 27:07
Well, good. Well, thank you very much for your time Dean. We’ll end it there. I’ll leave you to go do those Roth conversion preparations and all that you’re doing in the summer. So God bless you, sir. Thank you again for your time.
Dean Owen 27:22
Good to spend time with you, Nate. Appreciate it.
Nate Hagerty 27:25