Dawn Brown is on a mission. As a CPA running her own business, of course she wants to make her all clients’ numbers add up (to say the least). But Dawn is also deeply committed to contributing to society in a meaningful way. By staying true to those two parallel goals – growing her accounting business and doing good, both locally and beyond – Dawn has successfully carved out a novel niche for her professional financial services business. Today she specializes in helping non-profits successfully manage their money in order to achieve their service- and community-oriented goals. In other words, Dawn has figured out how to combine her professional expertise with her personal passion. For folks like Dawn who work for themselves, that’s a winning formula, indeed.
How did you decide to start working for yourself?
I spent many years as a CPA and a CFO for companies and clients on the East Coast. I worked on projects that were assigned to me. Not every project was a great fit, and I often felt I wasn’t making a meaningful contribution. I also saw businesses being sold products or services they didn’t need. I wanted to be straightforward with the customer. If I couldn’t help them, I want to send them to someone who could.
When my husband and I moved to Phoenix, I decided it was time to cultivate my own group of clients. Plus, I’d been working in the construction industry for quite a while, and I was tired of getting laid off! I kind of stumbled into working in the non-profit sector but quickly realized they have their own set of accounting rules that vary by state. I thought, maybe I can best serve society by helping non-profits perform their mission. I may not be a doctor or a lawyer, but I can use my skills to help people who are helping other people. This goes for working with small businesses, too.
There are lots of CPAs out there. How do you differentiate your brand?
You’re right, there is no shortage of accountants! Many simply list their services on a web page. That’s so boring. When I was at QuickBooks Connect last year, I heard Malcolm Gladwell explain how Cirque du Soleil totally rebranded the circus experience to compete against Barnum & Bailey. Essentially, Cirque created a whole new look and feel so the audience was willing to pay more – even though fundamentally, it was same circus performance.
After the conference (which, by the way, was so helpful I pre-registered on the spot for this year’s event!), I thought about how to apply that thinking to my brand. In terms of branding, I position myself as a non-profit super genius! I truly believe accounting needs to conform to your business, not the other way around. If the rules and regulations about financial management feel too difficult or confusing, people won’t make smart decisions about their money. That, in turn, impacts how well they do their job.
My goal is to be totally reachable and accessible to my clients. Non-profits are really complicated, so talk to me, people! I’d much rather help you avoid a problem than have to clean it up later.
[QB Connect 2017 is SOLD OUT, but you can still take part in the conference right here in the QB Community. We will be streaming QB Connect live from the Main Stage Thursday, 11/17, from 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM Pacific Time. Join us!]
Dawn, what’s your most effective marketing strategy?
In my industry, person-to-person networking works best. I’ve found very few people select professional service companies based on traditional marketing and advertising approaches, including social media. Potential clients want to get to know you and feel comfortable with you.
With that in mind, I work with clients as a QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor, and I teach free classes about non-profits at our public library. I’ve learned not to be discouraged if only two or three people show up for your classes. If you keep at it, your audience will grow. In my experience, it can take a year or two of running a monthly class or a regular meet-up before people realize the value. The media wants us to believe success happens overnight. It doesn’t. But if you keep building personal connections, you will create a following. Remember, there is no substitute for you!
What do you hope to get from being part of a community of people who work for themselves?
In everything I do, I believe in collaboration instead of competition – that way everyone wins. I hope no one in this community is ever afraid to ask for help, particularly from someone who may have already “walked in their shoes.” It’s surprising how many “competitors” are willing to share their expertise and stories if you only ask.
You know, I used to lament that I wasn’t doing anything “worthwhile.” I wasn’t curing diseases or fighting for people’s rights. I was just a lowly accountant. Eventually I realized my job is helping other people do all those things. I get great satisfaction from helping others – both clients and other small business owners – and contributing to their success.
Now it’s your turn!
QB Community, how have you carved out the perfect niche for your business? What has been the most challenging or rewarding about the process? We’d love to hear your story.
I’ve been self-employed for most of my career as content specialist, so I know how much discipline and determination it takes to run your own business. As QB Community Content Chief, I love sharing the stories of people committed to doing things their way. I hope you’ll join our community and share your inspiring story!