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Thought Leadership vs. Content Marketing | Jody Grunden

Thought leadership vs. Content Marketing | Jody Grunden

Examining how to use thought leadership in place of content marketing

An interview with Jody Grunden about how thought leadership changed the direction of his business.

Today’s guest is Jody Grunden, a visionary accountant with over 20 years of experience that has helped pioneer innovative changes to his industry.  Jody is the co-founder and CEO of Summit CPA Group, author of Digital Dollars and Cents.

Jody takes us back to 2013 when he arrived at a conference to speak only to have a series of events go wrong that ended with him giving his presentation off the cuff while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and becoming a huge success!

Since that fateful event, the Summit CPA Group has undergone a lot of changes.  We discuss why they’ve moved to focusing on creative agencies and how thought leadership has become their only form of marketing, and how they are teaching other firms their methods.

Getting your thought leadership off the ground is often time consuming and expensive.  Jody shares his experience getting things off the ground, what it took to find success, and how he got his business partner on board with his ideas.

If you are looking to develop your own thought leadership or are struggling to find your audience this is a wonderful episode filled with excellent advice!

Three Key Takeaways

  • When delivering thought leadership, don’t use jargon the audience might not understand. Speak in the vernacular of your audience.
  •  Even if your thought leadership might be useful to a wide audience, find a space to become a specialist in. Become a resource to that market so clients come to you for advice.
  • No one will ever care more about your thought leadership than you. You must have passion and conviction in your delivery to get clients to see you.

Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!


Bill Sherman Hello. You’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership, I’m your host, Bill Sherman. And today we’re talking about organizational thought leadership, the process of creating, curating and deploying thought leadership on behalf of your organization. The practice of organizational leadership can serve any size of organization from Fortune 500 to mid-cap and even into startups. Today, I’d like to share with you the story of a firm that leaned heavily into thought leadership in the early days of their business and how, through a bit of luck and hard work, their efforts and thought leadership helped them identify a market that has fueled their growth for many years. Meet Jody Grunden. Jody is an accountant by training, and he’s CEO and co-founder of Summit CPA Group. As you’ll soon hear, he’s been leading a virtual firm since the early 2000s. Before we begin, I want you to envision Jody in a bright Hawaiian shirt. That shirt has become iconic for him, but it happened through serendipity. Jody has one of the best stories that I’ve heard about how you can establish thought leadership by transporting an idea that’s common in one area and delivering it to an audience who needs it is bill thought leadership by narrow casting to a specific audience. Heads of creative agencies who need accounting services. I’ll start this conversation by asking Jody how his lost luggage led him into the world of thought leadership, a mishap that fueled the growth of his business. Ready. Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Jody.

Jody Grunden Yeah. Thanks, Bill. Appreciate it.

Bill Sherman I want to start with a story, and this is one that you shared with me earlier of how you got into the world of thought leadership and it involves Hawaiian shirts. So if you would tell me a little bit of the story of what you were doing and how you got into the world to follow leadership?

Jody Grunden Yeah, no. Now sounds great. It’s one that’s very vivid in my memory because it’s really what started and founded our company and made our company the what it is today. It was completely by I would call accident. And with that, what I mean by that is when we decided to go virtual back in 2012 2013, we were kind of just stepping stone to it and saying, Hey, is this going to work for us? And so we thought, what better? You had to go to a conference where all the companies there are distributed virtual companies, remote companies. And so we went there and there’s about 30 companies and we were the only finance company at the table. Everybody else’s web design, web development, S.O.S. A bunch of different marketing agencies. There’s a kickball company there. You know, all these different types of companies were all gathered together to explain, you know, what was going right and wrong. And during the conference, gentlemen pulled me aside and said, Hey, you know, we have an opening at the at the seminar that we’re giving in front of 30 creative agencies. You know, owners of agencies we love, love your style. We love your ideas. Would you be interested in talking? But we don’t want the boring accountants, you know, the accountant that they typically get at these conferences? And I’m like, Sure, that’d be great. And so, you know, at the time, I didn’t have any money, you know, we were just bootstrapping our company. And I talked my wife from the going to San Diego by myself, which is where this conference was originally. And now I’m like, OK, now I going to explain to her that I’m going to New Orleans by myself. And so it was one of those things like, Okay, this is great. And so back when back home, no problems went and talked to my wife. The conference was about two weeks, and so I had about two weeks to prepare. He said he definitely does not want a PowerPoint presentation. He wants me to just go up and do it right off the top of my head. So I’m like, No problem, I can do this. And so in the meantime, I pulled my muscle in the back of my neck and so I could hardly even move. And I was going to the chiropractor trying to get this thing worked out, getting ready for this conference that is supposed to give in front of these 30 owners. And I was having a really, really hard time thinking, What am I going to talk to these owners about, you know, because what? I’m going to talk to them that they don’t already know because they’re very successful business owners. And I was really having a really tough time with it. Also, to the point that on the airplane, on the way down, I still didn’t have this presentation figured out. I didn’t know really what was going to talk about. And so I get to New Orleans, you know, I’m ready to go. And unfortunately, my luggage wasn’t ready to go. It didn’t show up. My luggage wasn’t nowhere to be found is actually in Nashville. I took the wrong, wrong plane. And so I’m stuck in New Orleans, and now I’ve got my gym shoes on. I got a tank top. I got, you know, I’m looking. The part is some I just got out of a gym. And you know what? That that wasn’t going to cut it in front of this presentation. So keeping in mind, my neck was killing me. I could hardly even walk without it hurting. I got to the hotel and there was a fashion mall across the street. And with the fashion model, I was like, Well, I didn’t really go to fashion over often, but I’ve got to. That’s the only place I can find clothes. And so I went over there. I bought some believe first thing I bought for my neck, I had to get something for the neck, bottle water leave, and then I went over and found a charger for my phone because again, my phone would be –

Bill Sherman The essentials, right? Yeah.

Jody Grunden Yeah, exactly. And so then right across the way, there was a tiny Bahamas and I thought, you know, that’s kind of different. You know, I could do that. And plus it’s really close. My neck was hurting me. So it was one of those things like, let’s go to the town, Bahamas. And so I’ve never been to one before. And with that, you can imagine the cost. Everything and everything was there was like a hundred fifty dollars, for sure. I’m like, Oh my gosh, my wife’s going to kill me here. And so I thought, Well, let me get a couple of shirts and I got a couple of shirts, got a couple pairs, pants and I get up to the cash register. I went to pay for it and my credit card got tonight. Yeah, oh my gosh, what’s the deal here? I got plenty of credit. I’m not sure what’s going on here. And so I pulled my next credit card out goes through no problem. And some like they can not a problem. So I went to the store next door and they had shoes. And so of course, I need shoes, shoes and a belt. And so I went and got shoes and belt had helped me pick it out to match the Tommy Bahama stuff. And so I’m ready to go here and my credit card got that against my second cars and I’m like, What is going on here? And so I get my debit card. I get plenty of cash. No, no issues there, and I pay for it. And so the whole time, don’t think twice about it. I I go to the pre conference dinner, you know, and they have a dinner with the all the agency owners. They’re trying to get to know each other before the conference. Mm hmm. And, you know, being the finance guy giving the presentation the next day, you know what? I’m going to buy everybody’s appetizers. And so I we had some really cool oysters. And you know, you can imagine New Orleans. You know what? What we can get there, food wise is freakin awesome. And I got to pay for it and my debit card got denied. I have no money, and I reached the guy next to me and I’m like, Hey, I know you don’t know me and I’m the finance guy tomorrow and I’m giving the talk. Anyway, you can pay for the my meal as well as well as well as the appetizers. Like, you had no worries and I’m like, I have no idea what’s going on. He’s like, Oh, you know, I talked about, you know, the credit card fraud and all that kind of stuff. I’m like, Oh, I don’t even think about it. As soon as I went there, I went back to the hotel, called all the credit card companies, got all my credit cards released because it was the fraud protection on.

Bill Sherman Yep, they were wondering why you were in New Orleans?

Jody Grunden Yeah, exactly. Because I don’t travel time, you know, so I’m an account.

Bill Sherman So now you’re in New Orleans, you’re presenting to you. And let’s drill on this for a moment here. You’ve got creative agencies, and this hasn’t been to this point of focus for your business, right?

Jody Grunden Not at all. We have right now, at that point in our history, we’ve got like three creative agencies that we’re working with, probably 30 different companies. So definitely out of focus.

Bill Sherman And this is where I want to drill in. Is your this opportunity really led to a chance for you to hear from the market who needed you and then learn how to speak to those needs through thought leadership? So let’s talk about that presentation just in brief, and then let’s talk about what the firm does today.

Jody Grunden Yeah, for sure. So I get to the presentation the next morning. I’m frazzled. You can imagine, you know, I just bought everybody’s meals or credit cards, got denied. Pretty embarrassed. Really? Don’t have a topic yet, and I’m the first one off and I’m the finance guy. And so it just kind of dawns on me. I get an easel board. I’m like, You know what? I’m going to teach everybody how to be profitable. But of course, these agency owners already know that, right? They’re successful in business already. They’re three, five, 10 million dollar companies. They know how to get profitable, but I can’t think of anything else talked about. So what I do is I break it out and say, Hey, you know, I start with the question, you know what? If you increased your fee by 10 bucks, you know it, can everybody do that? And you know, everybody raised their hand. Of course we can do it. And then they went $20 and $30, and I got them to 30 and 40 dollars and people started lowering their hands could do that. You know, it got a push back. And then it was finally, I said, Well, let’s go just $10. And so then I went through and I explained and broke out, and he’s a board exactly how a company is profitable, you know, through utilization, average bill rate, you know, things that every accountant out there knows. And I just went through and just kind of broke it down for him and very simplicity. And then I ended up with. Now let’s increase the average bill by 10 bucks. What does that do? And boom, it increased their bottom line by about $300000 and the very beginning at total. Hey, everybody needs to have 10 percent of their annualized revenue in the bank, which is about two months of cash that can no one thought about that. It’s like, Oh, I need that much money. Oh, here’s how we can get it just by either increasing my price or realizing my average bill rate. And it was just like, Wow, everybody’s like the lights went off and everything, and I thought I failed. I really did. I thought, Oh my gosh, he brought me all the way here and I just blew it. But in retrospect, it’s like this was the best thing we’ve ever seen. We’ve never seen anybody break it down like that before and make it so simple. And you know, the funny part about it was I started with, you know, not knowing what to do. I started with, you know, hey, I talked about the my Hawaiian shirt issue, how I started, you know, and got here. It didn’t have a presentation. I was completely vulnerable and I went in and basically knocked it out of the park and in their eyes again, my eyes. I felt pretty, pretty ashamed. I was like, Wow. And so with it, they’re like, Hey, would you be interested in doing this again? Twitter is blowing up. You’re just like, everybody loves what they heard. And so what I did is I said, Yeah, I can do it again in Chicago was my next thing. And I I thought, Yep, and couple of weeks, no problem. So I went to this presentation in Chicago. This time I was all decked out with. I was ready. I had my doctors. I had my golf shirt. I had my logo on my my shirt. And you know, I’m like, I’m ready to go. I’m not.

Bill Sherman You were central casting CPA, right?

Jody Grunden Yes, I was. I was. Yeah, I’m showing the part now and I got there and he meets me in the hotel and everything. And he’s like, Dude, what are you doing? And I go, What do you mean? What am I doing here? Where’s your Hawaiian shirt? And I was like, It just dawned on me. It’s like, he goes, That’s what made you stand out. That’s what made you so different. You were one of us. And it was like, Oh, like Bob, just like kind of went, boom, boom, boom. Of course. Then I went down and bought some more Tommy Bahama shirts and showed up there. But what it was, it just kind of brought me down to their level and then made the something that’s very common a very, you know, to the CPA, CPA firms. They know exactly how to be, how to be profitable. But I brought that and moved it over to them and really helped them be profitable and really understand how to be profitable. And the whole time, it wasn’t a sales pitch, it was just simply educational. Hey, here’s how you do it. Here’s how you can do it, and here’s what can be done. And they just loved it.

Bill Sherman So one of the things that I talk about is, where do you new ideas come from? And we often look for the. Big ideas within our own industry, or we try to advance the conversation within the audience that is very familiar with the concepts that we’re talking about, right? But your story here highlights one of the ways to bring ideas to an audience where it feels fresh and new. Even though you may look and go, OK, yeah, this is dry as toast. This is accounting 101, but it is vital and it is essential. And there’s a difference between putting that content out in a way which is content marketing and one which is thought leadership. And I want to key in on a couple of language couple of terms that you used one vulnerability and then to meeting your audience where they are and not trying to force them to meet you, right?

Jody Grunden Yeah, that was that was key, because one I was I was part of them, you I was not the vendor or I wasn’t the scary account. I wasn’t trained and they were their shields, were it? But that wasn’t the salesperson. I was one of them. I was teaching them how to be profitable, what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong in their business, which was which was huge and I wasn’t talking down to them. I was talking alongside them, and that was that was key as well. I wasn’t using big fancy words and really nobody understands, except for the person giving them a lot of times they don’t. You understand them, you know? So I was talking at the level of the person of my audience, which was which was really which was huge. And they knew it. They understood it and they appreciated it. And with that, it resonated because of that.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think one of the things that we can do with our expertise is sometimes we feel imposter syndrome, right, even when we’re presenting. And you even alluded to that a little bit. And when we feel imposter syndrome, it’s easy for us to fall back on the resources that we have, the length, the specialist language that’s comfortable, right? And so you could have started probing the tax code and regulations and jargon. And all of a sudden you would have lost everybody. Imposter syndrome at that moment would have been the absolute worst way to connect with your audience.

Jody Grunden One hundred percent agree and kind of going and looking back at it, I think the biggest reason that I didn’t fall back to that was because of everything that happened before that, right? So everything’s falling apart. You know, I’ve got an outfit on that I would never wear ever now that we’re at all time. You know, it’s second nature and, you know, going to, you know, it’s scary. You know, you’ve got all these owners of companies and you want to make sure that you bring some value to the table. And it was just one of those things, you know, talking the language, you know, I could go current ratios and quick ratios and all these different ratios that nobody really understands, like I mentioned earlier. But breaking it down and showing them how it works in their own terms made it really simple. So, yeah, imposter syndrome. I was definitely feeling it without a doubt, but didn’t, but made sure I didn’t make that the main focus.

Bill Sherman If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms, as well as at Leveraging Thought Leadership dot com.

Bill Sherman So speaking of focus, let’s turn to give me a quick sort of description of how the business focused as a result of that sort of speaking opportunity and how it reshaped the business.

Jody Grunden Yeah, for sure. So prior to that, we had where virtual CFO company. So we’ve been doing it since 2004. We started in about 2002 as a traditional accounting firm and really kind of focused on kind of niching towards that service. So we are inching towards a service that nobody knew anything about and nobody really cared about. You know, they wanted to see people face to face and all this kind of stuff. And we did, too. We didn’t know how to present any other way. You know how to break things down, you know, financially, you know, through a forecast KPI, as we kind of learned as we went and through that, we were picking up about four to five new clients a year. So it wasn’t, you know, earth-shattering, you know, hey, this is the next best thing. And it wasn’t until that experience that things really started to change because what happened was we started get we started doing these seminars again. These seminars were not to sell. These numbers were to educate, to be that thought leader. And we did about, I would say, about four or five of them before we even picked up a client to the point where it was costing a lot of money to go to these seminars. And we were not seeing any results. It was like, So do we give up or do we keep prodding on? It’s like, you know, let’s keep focusing on, let’s keep this thing, what really works? I was having a great time with it. Be honest with you. It was fun, you know, going out and talking to these people and helping them out. That was I was having a blast. And, you know, but it costs a lot of money and want to make sure that we we got a bang for our buck. And then it happened all at one time or November, I think, was 2012 2013. We all of a sudden picked up 11 new clients in one month. Now, keep in mind, we’re only picking up four to five clients a year, and we picked up 11 in the one month. It was like all of a sudden people, just like calling us phones ringing off the hook. We’re going through these, you know, we’re pricing everything out. Everything is just like, Wow, everything’s in motion here. The next month, we picked up our six or seven clients that it was like four or five clients were like, Holy, what are we going to do now?

Bill Sherman And these are all of the creative agency space.

Jody Grunden All of the creative agency space 100 percent, and it’s all coming from the best of the thought leadership through the speaking engagements, you know, through the articles that we wrote, you know, pertaining specifically towards creative agencies. And we’re like. What do we do now, we can’t service this many clients, we’re not big enough. And so it just lucked out that at the same time when we’re going through that motion here, we were interviewed by Forbes magazine through a FlexJobs, which is a recruiting company, and it ends up getting in the Forbes magazine as being one of the one of the hundred and twenty five are fully remote companies in the world. And it was like and we were the only finance company out there doing it, and all of a sudden the phone ringing off the hook where it was like, not the phone. I guess the internet pinging us for people wanting jobs at our company. And so luckily again, it just kind of went from one thing to another. How do we get clients now? How do we get how do we get people to help that? And we end basically both up here. At the same time, we were able to pick up some really great talent all across the United States to help us service these clients. And it just continued on to where again, I mentioned four to five. Here we pick up about three to five a month now with new clients, and they’re not small. Their average ticket, it’s about 60 $65000 thousand. What we’re charged and are not. It’s not a cheap service, but the demand is so, so high for it that we’re continually adding people on and continually growing. And growth is kind of percent because of the thought leadership.

Bill Sherman So I want to since you’re coming with virtual CFO and a CPA background, right? Yep. And you mentioned something specifically of the OK, we started down this thought leadership journey and we’re going, are we going to see results in return for it, right? I want to dig a little bit deeper into that. Did you have any point where either the CFO lied internally, came on for yourself and said, How are we spending on this and how do we justify it? And what signals were you looking for other than client acquisition? Or was it you had to just sort of buckle down and wait until clients appear?

Jody Grunden Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, with me, I’m the ultimate optimist. I’m the entrepreneur, right? And so sales are going to come. You know, that’s just kind of the thought and you know where I’m coming from. And it’s like, we’re eventually going to get clients and this is going to work out. My partner, on the other hand, he’s the realist, and he’s the true CFO. Mentality is like, Hey, we’re spending a lot of money on this. It sounds like you’re having a lot of fun and there is some truth to that. I was having -.

Bill Sherman Last week was San Diego. Now it’s New Orleans than L.A., and you’re going to Vegas.

Jody Grunden Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. And it’s not looking good. You know, it’s just one of those things. And so it was just but I could I could really tell because every time I went to all of these conferences, more and more and more people, you know, it was like I was the celebrity in the group instead of shying away from me and Harley talking to me. It was like they came to me like, you know, they question after question. We go out for dinner and I’d be the person that everybody is talking to. And it was just like, Oh, this is going to amount to something, you know, I knew it was going to be bigger than what it was showing right then. I just didn’t know when. I didn’t know how fast that was going to happen. And it wasn’t fast. You know, it’s six months. That’s a long time to be doing, you know, seminars and going across the country and out of the country to talk to these agency owners. And then, like I said, it just like blew up all at one time. Boom, we were we were off and running. And that’s when everything really changed. That’s when we started really focusing on creative agencies and marketing towards creative agencies. Not that we wouldn’t take any other client. You know, we do have other clients, but we were. Our marketing efforts were geared towards that. I wrote a book specifically on it. We did articles on it and I did webinars. We did everything towards the creative agency space and really threw out again, opening up our playbook to everyone. It wasn’t like, Hey, I’m going to give you three nuggets, and then in order to get the rest, you’re going to come and talk to me about it. It was like, No, I’m going to teach everything. I’m going to throw it out there, and I hope that you succeed in doing it, knowing in the back of my head. More than likely, most of them wouldn’t be able to do it, you know, because they don’t have the same thought process there that an account would have their creative person. You know, they’re not going to no different than I would have the thought process as a creative person. When I have either, I can’t draw worse crap. No, it’s not going to happen. And so it was more more leveraging the fact that with everything out there, teach them how to be successful, teach them how to be profitable and hopefully they do become profitable. Hopefully they do take it. And there’s a lot of companies that never once have been a client of ours that keep coming up to us and say, Hey, well, we I owe you dinner because what you did was tremendous. Chains are completely focused on how we how we do things. And to me, that’s even more gratifying than them actually becoming a client and teaching it through that way. It’s like, Wow, that’s pretty cool. And you know, we get that all the time. And and so you know it, like I said, just picked up and just continued on. And it is where it is right today.

Bill Sherman So let’s focus on today for a moment here. What does the landscape of thought leadership work within the firm look like? Who owns the parts and pieces of it and buy parts and pieces I’m thinking about? Creating, curating and deploying it. So how much of an investment in terms of effort is the leadership? Is it a top priority? Is it something that’s an also ran at this point? Give us give us a sense of what the landscape of thought leadership is.

Jody Grunden Yeah, it’s great because the thought leadership is the number one priority in our marketing department. One hundred percent, we don’t do any other types of marketing. We don’t do email blasts, we don’t go to chamber commerce events. We don’t go to the typical things at accounting firms do because what we don’t want to do is we don’t want to sell the partner in the accounting firm. We want to sell the thought, the leadership, the idea that Summit’s going to bring so that anybody at Summit can bring this information to not just Jodi. Because if that’s the case, I’d run out of time, you know? Right, right. You’re not scalable yet for everyone. Yeah, not yet. So we had to make it bigger than us. And so hired immediately, a hired a director marketing had a background in writing, editing and someone that could really help me push a book through to really kind of outline what we’ve done. And with that, I wanted to make sure that she was completely on top of the content marketing and not just, you know, a new tax. Things that come up or new ideas would come up. It wouldn’t be, you know, here’s the new tax. And it’s like, here’s the new tax idea for creative agencies. Every creative agency needs it now. So it was it was again spun so as focused on the creative agency and maybe using the creative agency vernacular was hugely important. I mean, I wouldn’t talk to doctors in the same way that I would focus this article towards. I had to be really, really personable. It couldn’t be really that, you know, it had to be it can be stuff. It had to be very personal and I was really training creative towards that audience.

Bill Sherman And so we spoke by going narrow on your audience. You can write better, copy and be more relevant and useful and give them better advice than just writing that generic, Hey, this is the new change to the tax law, and everybody gets that email from their accountants and their eyes sort of glaze over.

Jody Grunden Mm hmm. Yeah. And it’s kind of funny because, you know, because of that, we get all the time. We’ll get prospects calling out some saying, you know, Hey, you know, we’re spending, you know, a lot of money in our tax account, our accountant about $10000 a year. But you know, you know, the industry, you know, we went out, we went, we want to go with you and they’ll spend 70 $80000 with us. And it’s like just because they feel that we have that knowledge that we can actually talk to them. And like I said, everybody could do. All the accounting firms have that same knowledge and they should. Hopefully they do. If they’re successful, they definitely do. But to be able to take that knowledge and bring it to a specific audience is really the key to thought leadership. You know, whether it’s doctors or lawyers or, you know, it doesn’t make any difference. The vertical, you know, you have to really focus on that vertical and that’s been the key to our success by far.

Bill Sherman Well, and this is one of the things that I want to call out. So on this podcast, a lot of the time we wind up talking with heads of thought leadership within their organization, right? And often it’s a larger firm. But here you’ve been talking from an entrepreneurial almost from the Hey, we’re two guys, you know, with a bit of shoe leather and hitting conferences. Now you’re running a firm. And so my question is, if you were to speak to those heads of thought leadership within organizations and give them some advice either from the entrepreneurial side or the CEO of a boutique consultancy, what would you give based on what you’ve learned as to what it means for the business?

Jody Grunden Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. It means everything for the success of a business in the event that with a good thought leadership, if it’s done correctly, will drive people to you versus you to them. And what I mean by that is if it’s done properly, people will call you all the time and you’ll pick clients up in that manner. But the key there is you’ve got to be specific and narrow in your approach. You can’t be you can’t throw the big net out there and help catch anybody that pops in because everybody in the world can do that. And if you do that, you’re competing with like a CPA firm. I’m keeping with every CPA firm out there, if I do that right?

Bill Sherman Yeah. And you’re doomed.

Jody Grunden No way. No way I can. I can’t succeed. But if I’m the CPA firm for creative agencies or the beer industry or whatever that might be, that’s hugely different. Then people seek you out, and that’s the key. You’ve got to turn the table to where you’re no longer one of many, but you are the one and that’s done through thought leadership if it’s done properly.

Bill Sherman So you talked about your partner and the conversations that you had. I want to drill down on that. During those six months and because I think a lot of people who are responsible for the thought leadership function have to face this question of how do I justify budget time expense, opportunity cost all of those things that are scarce, whether you’re in a two person shop or you’re in a 200,000 employee firm?

Jody Grunden That’s a great question, because when we when we started off, we had about 18 people that were working for us. So we had a pretty decent size small, a small accounting firm. And so there was there was a lot of people that we had entrusted in us to do the right thing, right? And so we’ve got to be able to spend our money wisely. And you know, with that, how do you spend your money? Well, we’ve tried all the different marketing styles and they just weren’t working direct marketing, email marketing. We tried everything and it really wasn’t working. And this is the one I was very passionate in. And again, my partner is very skeptical because we tried everything. Everything doesn’t work. So why would this what’s different about this?

Bill Sherman And there’s a difference between, Hey, let’s start this in month one, versus we’re having this conversation, OK, we’ve been with this for four months, and this is a lot more expensive even than email marketing. Are you sure?

Jody Grunden Yeah, 100 percent. So it was more of a conviction or passion that I had for it that helped convince him that it was the right decision. So I was going at it with, Hey, this is going to work. This is effective. This is how we’re doing it. And you know, yeah, there’s a possibility it won’t work, but I’m seeing the results there. He’s not seeing it because he’s back at home. I’m seeing the results because I’m out in front of everyone, talking to everyone, seeing the interest, you know, the excitement that when I talk and it’s kind of funny in the county count, not their talk. And that’s exciting. That’s pretty rare. It doesn’t happen very often. And with that, you know, it’s the same because he’s spent a lot of accounting firms is very stiff. You can’t wait to go home, you avoid contact with everyone, whereas this was completely the opposite, and I was trying to convey that to him, Hey, this is this is going to work this. It’s a lot different atmosphere. People are really showing that interest and it will it will work. So I guess it’s more of the passion that I had delivering it or delivering it to him that really kind of convinced him away. And then I did give him a year out, say, Hey, let’s do this for a year, and if it doesn’t work well, we’ll call it quits. But I did give him an out. But I knew that it was going to work before then. I just knew it was.

Bill Sherman Well, and you mentioned something. Passion. That is incredibly important. Because when you are communicating ideas to an audience, they will never care about your ideas more than you care about them yourself. And so if you can’t reveal that passion, if you can’t show a little bit of a wild spark in your eye, if you can’t be excited about it, they’re going to go, Yeah, OK, I listened in. This is not worth my time. They’re not going to replace your sort of dry toast presentation with enthusiasm on their part.

Jody Grunden 100 percent agree. Couldn’t have said it any better.

Bill Sherman So where are you going now with the firm in terms of thought leadership, what are the projects you’re working on experimenting with what’s on the horizon?

Jody Grunden Yeah, it’s a great question. Of course, we’re continuing on with the creative agency space, and that’s not dying down. We’re picking up clients no different than we were four or five years ago, but we thought we would open up the umbrella and open up the playbook here for other CPA firms and teach CPA firms how to do what we do. Because you know all the way from the marketing, the sales to the process, the tools we use and really kind of being this thought leader in the accounting space has been really, really working out well, wrote a book upon it and basically did the same. Blueprint wrote a book going to conferences, and we launched the course that really kind of help other CPA firms out and a huge amount of response to it. So we’re really happy with that. So we’re kind of going again. Being vulnerable, I mean, how many CPA firms open up their financial statements to another CPA firm? We do not. We don’t care. You know, here, here’s how we do it. Here’s the playbook here’s the secret sauce, because what we do is we want there to be a lot of CPA firms doing what we’re doing successfully, and that’s just going to create even more clients out there for everyone.

Bill Sherman As we begin to wrap up. I wanted to put you in the shoes of someone who is the CEO of their firm midcap space and someone comes to them and says, Hey, I’ve got this idea. Let’s do some stuff called bolt leadership. How do you sway the CEO? How do you how do you get them on board?

Jody Grunden Yeah, how do you get them aboard? Well, first of all, like we talked about, the passion has got to be, you’ve got the conviction that can’t be, Hey, I’ve got this idea that may or may not work. It’s got to be, Hey, this is this is a great idea. This is the way we’re doing it. So really, the passion is so you talking from, Hey, it’s going to happen and it’s going to be effective. And here’s other companies that are doing exactly that. Or if there’s not other companies doing that, let’s be the first ones to be that leader in there, similar to what we were. You know, there wasn’t anybody doing, especially in the CPA firm industry, that at that point we were the first of that, that group and let’s be that first and let’s do that. And so I guess just the passion is as really the key talking, you know, hey, you know, again, explaining how this works, explaining the ideas, you know what? What’s the difference between thought leadership and just simply marketing? You know that you know, those are the different things you.

Bill Sherman Well, let me put you on the spot there. How do you just find a difference?

Jody Grunden Yeah. So marketing again, your casting my opinion, casting the broad, the broad, the broad net out there, marketing towards, you know, anybody that wants your service with thought leadership, you’re narrowing that focus down to a specific service or a specific clientele, and then you’re going from it there. So again, it’s typically part of the marketing department, or it could be a department all by itself. But again, it’s geared towards education, and it’s geared towards helping clients to be that resource so that when they do have a need, they come to you for that, for that need.

Bill Sherman And to build on what you said. The piece that I would add and you’ve talked about this is the deep relevance so that it feels like you’re in the room talking to them, whether it’s a live presentation or you’ve got a webinar that’s out there, if they can find your content to go, these are the issues that I’m worried about and you’re giving me answers like you said you can. You can get them to come to you and also command a premium for your services.

Jody Grunden 100 percent. A premium for the services and in your closing ratio is very high because they’re already sold on you. They’re not they’re not out there fishing for different ideas, or if they are, they’re the wrong client. But you know, they’re there because they know that you can help them get to where they want to go. And because of that, they’re on board. A premium is 100 percent accurate as well as you know, you’re going to close more of those clients. So be ready for the flood, you know? Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Bill Sherman If you go and you told us the stories of how the flood came, both on the demand side and then you had to staff up as a result. Yeah. So Jody, thank you very much for joining us today on this conversation about thought leadership. I’ve really enjoyed having you here today.

Jody Grunden Yeah, thanks, Bill. It’s been it’s been a blast.

Bill Sherman If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please join our LinkedIn group. Organizational thought leadership. It’s a professional community where thought leadership practitioners talk shop about our field. So if you’re someone who creates, curates or deploys thought leadership for your organization, then please join the conversation in the organizational thought leadership on LinkedIn.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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