Brannon Poe: Why Taking an Unplugged Vacation May Be Good For Your Business

When was the last time you took a vacation… without answering emails?

Brannon Poe is the founder of Poe Group Advisors and also president of EO Charleston. In 2003, Brannon started assisting successful accounting practice migrations. He pioneered a consulting-based strategy to transitioning accounting companies, which has culminated in Poe Group Advisors’ distinctive process – The Seamless Succession.

He has recently authored a book titled “The Unplugged Vacation”. Which helps accounting firm owners and CPAs create a new vision for their practices, and build simple systems and processes that give them the freedom to step back from their business while still ensuring the success of their company.

Now, with more than 15 years of experience in buying and selling CPA firms, Brannon knows how delegating work can free owners to focus on what matters most. In our conversation, he shares how important it is for entrepreneurs to take time off, and the common mistakes they make when buying and selling a business.

The Unplugged Vacation

“I’ve noticed that the pattern in selling firms is, the people who are balanced and take the time off actually have more successful businesses.”

When you want to take a break from your business, but still be successful—that’s where The Unplugged Vacation comes in. Brannon got the inspiration for his book when he went on a vacation with his family in a really remote ski place that didn’t have any reception or internet. It turned out to be the best vacation he has ever had. A few years later, he encountered a client who was a CPA firm owner, who gave him tips on how he can go off the grid for a vacation without losing his business.

The busy world of business sometimes leaves us with little time for ourselves. The pressure from running your own company can take its toll on you, but taking time off is just as important to maintain good health because it helps you recover physically as well mentally. A Gallup survey found that 39% of owners worked over 60 hours a week, which is more than the average 40-hour work week for employees today. What Brannon has found is that taking that off-the-grid vacation forces you to let go. It forces you to put to work those systems and processes which allow the business to run without those extra 20 or even 60 hours of your time.

What happens when you return from vacation and see your business still running smoothly? You then have the opportunity to work on the business – to explore areas of growth, to assess every aspect of your business from a higher level, and to understand the value of the business you’ve built. Perhaps, this perspective will open the option for actualizing that value in the form of selling your business.

Common mistakes entrepreneurs make when buying and selling a business

According to Brannon, one pitfall that entrepreneurs usually make when selling a business is the lack of planning. “I always think you should build a business with the end in mind,” he explains. It takes time for a business to sell, so it’s important to be patient and be prepared.

In terms of buying a business, some underestimate the true value of focus. The power of focus is one you can’t afford to lose, especially as an entrepreneur. “If you’re focused you’re going to get better results. And so sometimes if you’re on the buy side, you can buy things that take you off of your path.”

Shiny objects and brand new opportunities can be alluring, but if you stay focused on your path, you’re more likely to find a business that aligns with your expertise.

Last is not being intentional. Buying a business is more than just checking off the right boxes. There are a lot of things to consider before you start looking for businesses, and it’s important that your mindset from the very beginning is one where success can happen. Doing things backwards can cause problems when acquiring companies – so always be intentional upfront!

Leading as an EO Chapter President

As a president of EO Charleston, Brannon says it’s important to lead by example. “You’ve got to lead by inspiring them and you’ve got to lead in a different way.”’

EO is committed to helping entrepreneurs grow their business and become better leaders. As an entrepreneur, one will have access to many different benefits that are tailored specifically for their needs. With its many resources, it can help them to  excel in all aspects of life: business, family, community and personal life. If you want your business to take off after an EO presidency, you have to make time for it. “It is a big responsibility and it forces you to make your business run a little bit more without you.”

Once his term is over, he knows he will have learned so many skills and will now have all this extra capacity and knowledge that can be put to use in any way imaginable.

Tune in to the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast to hear my whole conversation with Brannon!

Transcript from Podcast

[00:00:00] Brannon Poe: If you’re focused, you’re going to get better results. And so sometimes if you’re on the buy side, you can buy things that take you off of your path. And sometimes that can be a good surprise, right? But often you’re going to put more balls in the air than you can handle.

[00:00:15] Natasha Miller: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

My memoir RELENTLESS is releasing in March of 2022 go to OfficialNatashaMiller.com to put your name on the waitlist. And I’ll let you know when it’s available. The bonuses for buying the book are pretty enticing. I hope you love them all. Also let me know if you’d like to be on my advanced reader team. I’ll send you all of the details.

Brannon is the founder of Poe Group Advisors and has been facilitating successful accounting practice transitions throughout the US and Canada since 2003. He is also the creator of Accounting Practice Academy, which is a virtual practice management workshop. Now let’s get right into it.

[00:01:26] Brannon Poe: I’ll tell you a story.

First of all, when my children were much younger, we went on a ski vacation and it was this really remote ski place. And I took my laptop and I took my phone, my cell phone, and I got there. And guess what? I couldn’t have any reception at all. There was no wifi. There was like wifi at this little restaurant that you could barely get into.

And so I took this forced vacation off the grid. It was the best vacation I’ve ever had, in my working life. And so fast forward a few years after that, I was speaking with a client in Canada, who’s a CPA firm owner and he was taking a four week trip to north Africa and he was completely going off the grid for four full weeks.

And I said, “How do you do that?” So he kinda gave me his process for prepping for a long trip like that and for basically how to reenter. And I’ll never forget. He said, “The first time I ever did it, I was in the airplane,” Just having taken off from where he lived in Toronto. Looked down at the city and wondered if he was going to have a business when he got back.

And he said, the cool thing was the staff stepped up. The clients were happy for him. The other thing was he didn’t just, like, ghost everybody and leave. And then for that kind of trip. You got to tell people ahead of time, you got to tell clients like, “Hey, I’m going out of town. I’m going to be out of pocket for a month.”

So that expedited a lot of work. And it actually brought in new work because people thought of these special projects that they wanted him to look at or consider. And so all in all, it was a great experience for him and we sell CPA firms all over North America and we have this really interesting privilege in doing that, that is we see people’s financial statements.

So we actually see their numbers. And I can tell you, this guy had a really successful practice. So if you didn’t know what his schedule was like, and you just looked at the numbers, you’d be like, wow, what’s the secret here? And I’ve noticed that pattern in selling firms is the people who are balanced and they take the time off, actually have more successful businesses.

So I wrote this really little book. The Unplugged Vacation is, I call it an airplane read. It’s really short. And we tell you how that works. So that’s in a nutshell of the book. 

[00:03:59] Natasha Miller: I love to get my business to the point where I don’t even have to tell a client so that I’m going. Actually, let’s be honest. I can actually do that now. I’ve arrived. My clients, they don’t know who I am. They don’t care anymore. So I have reached the epitome and have a great team that supports me. But I like that. I don’t actually like going on vacation, but that’s a whole other thing. Let’s move on to accountants, flight plan podcast. Who’s your target audience and guest profile?

[00:04:30] Brannon Poe: So target audience is owners of CPA firms or aspiring owners of firms. Typically our clients are in the smaller range of firm size. So I’d say under 5 million in revenue is pretty typical for us, maybe one to four partner firms are our typical client profile. 

As far as guest profile, what I like to do is introduce people who might not have ever been exposed to the accounting industry. I like to bring some outside thought in, not to say that we don’t have industry thought leaders, but I love to mix it up. So I don’t really have a fixed profile. I don’t really do a lot of planning for who my podcast guests are, like, we don’t have this, for a 12 month calendar it’s oh, this guy would be good or this girl would be good or whatever.

We wing it a little bit. And honestly, I think that’s probably why we’ve gotten a big following on our podcast in many respects

[00:05:29] Natasha Miller: The reach is a big audience because you are guest neutral. So the next question I have is what is the one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make when buying and selling their business? You specifically work just with CPA companies I’m assuming, but still what are mistakes?

[00:05:49] Brannon Poe: Oh gosh. Biggest mistakes. I think you could break it down from the buy side or the sell side. I think the sell side, the biggest mistake is lack of planning. And you can do a lot. If you thinking about the sale, I always think you should build a business with the end in mind, and you need to always think about, okay, how would the market perceive my firm?

And it’s nice to have that sort of deep point on your business. And if people would just think about that 5 years, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years before they want to exit, they would make different decisions. And they would build more value into their business and it wouldn’t be just nickles. It could be a big difference.

[00:06:32] Natasha Miller: And what about for people buying a business?

[00:06:36] Brannon Poe: For people buying a business One thing I’ll say in general about business people is people underestimate the true value of focus. Focus is probably one of your most powerful things you can do as an entrepreneur. If you’re focused, you’re going to get better results.

And so sometimes if you’re on the buy side, you can buy things that take you off of your path. And sometimes that can be a good surprise, right? But often you’re going to put more balls in the air than you can handle

[00:07:05] Natasha Miller: Shiny objects syndrome, right. To stick with the core focus, double down on that and then. Yeah, I understand that.

[00:07:13] Brannon Poe: Yeah. I think if you’re going to make an acquisition, you need to be intentional. And I think it’s important to think about what you want before you start looking. So if you start looking or if something catches your eye that you’re not looking for, that can get you into trouble. I think if you’re intentional upfront, you’re going to have more success on an acquisition.

[00:07:34] Natasha Miller: So how has being the President of your EO Chapter, Entrepreneurs Organization Chapter shaped your life and your role at Poe Group Advisors?

[00:07:46] Brannon Poe: That is a great question and I don’t know that I can fully answer it until I’ve had a couple of maybe a year or two to reflect on it because I’m still in the middle of it.

So I did a two year term. I’m about a year and a half into a two year term of presidency and I’ve learned so much. The biggest thing is being a president of a board with other entrepreneurs is a real honor. And it’s a huge learning experience because they’re very smart people and we’re all volunteers.

So you don’t have the same relationship you have with employees because employees have to do what you say or there are consequences that you can, you’ve got tools in your toolbox, as they say. With volunteers, you’ve got to lead by inspiring them, and you’ve got to lead in a different way. So from a leadership perspective, that alters that a bit, and then you bring that back to the office.

I have numerous presidents. So we go to a presence meeting every year with EO, and I’ve had a number of say, like former presidents, like people who are further up the leadership track say, “I was president of Neo Chapter. And after my presidency, my business just took off.” And I can see why that could happen because you have to make time for EO.

It is a big responsibility and it forces you to make your business run a little bit more without you. And so I feel like once that presidency is over, you’ve learned a lot, you’ve learned different leadership skills. You’ve learned to be more efficient in your own work. And then when you come back to just having a business, it’s “wow”, I’ve got all this extra capacity and extra knowledge.

And yeah, it’s just really cool to see. EO’s – It’s hard to describe. The connections you make. And the training that EO offers has been phenomenal. The leadership training you get when you go to their presidents meetings and their other meetings and so–

[00:09:44] Natasha Miller: have you taken advantage of any of their other programs like the MP at MIT or the Harvard program?

[00:09:51] Brannon Poe: I haven’t really had time to explore those things as president and running a business.

[00:09:55] Natasha Miller: I highly recommend, if anyone’s listening to this, I did both programs or I am still in the MIT program. It’s mind blowing how good the curriculum, the teachers, the experiences are.

[00:10:09] Brannon Poe: Yeah. I’ve heard that from others and I don’t doubt it because the president’s training is incredible.

[00:10:15] Natasha Miller: Yeah. Great. So in your business today, what would you say is your biggest challenge that you’re facing?

[00:10:22] Brannon Poe: That’s a tough question. We’re growing very rapidly and I love that. Like I’ve always enjoyed when the business has been growing pretty rapidly, not too fast. Rapidly. So I’m in a really good phase of my business right now.

So I’m very content, but I can see that I feel like I’ve just kinda gotten through a challenge of sorts. I had a point where this past year, if we went back 12 months, I added several team members this year. I was president of EO. So the biggest challenge was managing my time and I intentionally decided, “okay, I’m going to work more than I want to work, because it’s temporary. And because I need to make an investment of time so that I can get this business properly staffed and getting the people trained.”

[00:11:14] Natasha Miller: So how much are you growing by 20%, 70%?

[00:11:19] Brannon Poe: If you look at year over year, it’s a little bit deceiving because in 2020, we did have a dip, which was the first year of COVID was really weird for the accounting industry.

And this year I feel like. The growth. We’re probably about average of a 20% climb, which is not super fast, but I’m content.

[00:11:40] Natasha Miller: Great. And so looking at next year, this is going to be a two-parter. What is your growth strategy? Number one and I’ve got to ask this question, so I’m going to just prime it right now.

You just said that other businesses should start. They should be thinking, building to sell or having that mindset. Are you building an exit plan? So both things, growth strategy and exit plan.

[00:12:03] Brannon Poe: Yeah. So growth strategy. We have a workshop called Accounting Practice Academy, and we rolled that out. We built it in 2019, right before the pandemic.

And was pretty fortunate that we had this virtual program ready to go in the spring of 2020. So we’ve ran it for two years. This year, we want to see maybe a two X growth on that program. And what we have found, and we didn’t expect this when we launched it, but accounting practice academy has actually had a big impact on the brokerage business.

A lot of people that are coming interested in the content that we have for Academy, they get in that content and then those funnels, and then they convert to either sellers or buyers. So that’s actually been a big part of our growth is Academy, as far as building to sell. I’m working to make the business much less about me.

I’m personally not brokering any more deals. So I’m getting out of the direct client work and focusing on team building. We have an amazing. We have a couple of new people this year and they’re just doing amazing. We’ve got everything systematized and processed out. And yeah, I’m in the next phase at the beginning of that next phase.

And I want to make this business less and less about me so that other people can be running it. And if that’s the case, then you can sell it whenever you want to sell it.

[00:13:30] Natasha Miller: Or not sell it, but just have that peace of mind that if you need to, or you end up wanting to you’re there, you’re at the finish line.

[00:13:38] Brannon Poe: Right, yeah.

[00:13:40] Natasha Miller: Brandon talked about the impact and importance of taking an Unplugged Vacation. What pitfalls entrepreneurs should avoid when buying or selling their businesses and his experience of being the President of his local Entrepreneurs Organization Chapter. For more information, go to the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.

Want to know more about me? Go to my website, OfficialNatashaMiller.com, thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

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