In celebration of Women’s Month, we are honored launch a new weekly blog series, “Spotlighting Women in Advisory Practice”, that will feature five women who have transformed their accounting businesses, moving beyond being solely tax providers to expand their relationships with clients to become a true business partner.
Sandy Heit’s path to owning her own accounting firm was a bit unconventional — and ultimately involved her love for photography.
Upon graduating from high school and a less-than-fulfilling stint in retail, Heit decided to attend college and get a degree. A combination of a love for math and heeding her mother’s advice to having a stable job, Heit pursued accounting. Upon completing college, she worked at Deloitte for four years mostly in tax, which included a six-month rotation in auditing. Then, she joined Moss Adams, an accounting firm that primarily works with retail, which provided her the opportunity to learn the more non-technical aspect of the profession. However, long commutes became tiresome, and so she moved to another larger regional accounting firm, HCVT.
This easily could have been the only story of Heit’s career path in accounting, but along the way a new love emerged – photography.
After being in accounting for nine years, Heit says she was open to exploring something else. When she hired a photographer to take pictures of her then two-year old daughter, she said she became “just obsessed with the whole process.” She taught herself photography, got good, and built a client base while still doing accounting as her day job. After some time, Heit left HCVT to become a full-time photographer, allowing her the flexibility to have the balanced work/life she desired. Since beginning her own photography business in 2007, the experience of owning a business provided many lessons which Heit would utilize in her life to come.
Creating a CPA firm around flexibility
Heit describes how a former group of colleagues had started an accounting firm about the same time that she had started her photography business. The accounting firm had grown significantly, and Heit’s former partner offered her a position at the firm. “Initially I was working part-time at the firm and still doing photography part-time,” Heit says. “However, I discovered I really loved being back in accounting, so I shut down my photography business.”
Heit was at the firm for a few years when a recruiter she knew personally reached out with an opportunity to head up the accounting practice for a start-up family office for a high-net worth individual. “My gut told me it was the right thing to do, and it was a great learning experience,” she explains. While she liked her job, Heit says she knew that eventually she wanted to work for herself again. Reflecting on her career during another long commute for the new job, Heit says she realized that she wanted to start her own boutique accounting firm that incorporated the best practices she had learned over the years.
Her strategy was to focus on strategic tax planning and compliance for small business owners, and provide a flexible workplace where females are empowered and able to have the work/life balance that was lacking at the other accounting firms she had worked. Initially, she worked as a contractor for a former colleague, but her business grew rapidly and by the fall of 2017 she launched her own firm, ModernCPAs. The launch gave Heit the opportunity to create the kind of firm that worked for her lifestyle, and service clients that were similar to the small business owner she was with her photographer business. “I wanted to build and work and employ females that are moms,” she says, adding that she wanted to enable a work environment that was flexible and creative that allowed workers to work “on their own time.”
Advisory services — “That is what it’s called”
During her entire accounting career, Heit touched aspects of advisory services — not in the iteration she now uses, but it was a service provided mostly for free to clients. Based on her experience in working at other accounting firms, Heit had ideas on how she would best like to service her clients, work efficiently and effectively, and embrace technology.
She purchased an advisory-centric software and program that “completely transformed her practice”, she recalls, adding that she was very nervous when she first pitched the idea of an upfront advisory fee to a client. “The program had a formula for how to deliver advisory services, provided customizable content to deliver to clients, and provided the ability to articulate the value we are providing,” Heit explains, adding that before long she was requiring all new clients to start with an advisory services package.
As Heit continued with the new program, she discovered much of the services she offered could be more strategic and monetized. And while moving into an advisory practice was not completely brand new for her — she already had a few clients on monthly retainers instead of the pay for service model — she soon decided it made the best sense to move her entire practice to advisory services.
Although Heit felt some trepidation for making the change, overall she felt it would clarify the kind of client she wanted to work with —individuals interested in partnering with her practice. This would give Heit the change to foster a symbiotic relationship with clients that would allow her to guide their business decisions as to how they may impact clients’ tax situations.
As a woman business owner, Heit offers her clients not just her tax and advisory expertise but her understanding that comes from her personal experience as a mother and a small business owner. “One of the biggest reasons I started my business is because I made a ton of mistakes with my photography business and I want to help business owners not make the same mistakes I did,” says Heit. In addition, she wanted to educate and empower clients on the financial aspects of their business so that they can grow more successful.
“I also have a deep passion for helping women entrepreneurs,” she adds. “Because I know first-hand the limitations that we tend to put on ourselves.”