ProAdvisor Profile of the Month: Joe Woodard

The QuickBooks ProAdvisor® Program equips accounting professionals with the tools they need to fuel small business success. Joe Woodard, CEO of Woodard Events and Woodard Consulting, was among the first cohort of ProAdvisors in the 1990s, and shares how the program helped him set a direction for his early career and become one of the nation’s most influential figures in accountant education and training. Read Joe’s inspirational story to learn more about how the ProAdvisor program can help you and your clients to prosper.

Michelle Berg: Let’s start in the beginning. How did you become a ProAdvisor?

Joe Woodard: In short, I owe the whole of my career to QuickBooks® and the ProAdvisor Program.

I started out as a tax preparer doing client write-up while I was studying accounting at the University of New Orleans. As your typical CPA practice cubicle worker, the chances for advancement are fairly slim. I knew it would take a long time to take the graduate courses, pass the CPA exam and start climbing the ladder. QuickBooks and the ProAdvisor program fast-tracked all of that.

Even in the mid 1990s, half of the clients we prepared taxes for were using QuickBooks. Back then, many accountants blamed QuickBooks when the data wasn’t ready for the tax return. There was no ProAdvisor Certification, and certainly no concept of QuickBooks consulting as a business model. Our managing partner, who was ahead of his time, had the vision to say, “If we will proactively work with these clients throughout the year, our tax practice will be more efficient at the end of the year, right?”

So, the way this story works, because I was the most junior associate, I got stuck with the QuickBooks mandate. Nobody else wanted it and neither did I because I had the same impression of QuickBooks as everybody else. It was the problem, and now I was being made to work in this horrible, horrible role.

The first several files I worked with were indeed messed up – due to user error – but I continued to blame the software like many other accountants at the time. Then, I saw my first accurate QuickBooks file and was astounded. I didn't think it was possible to maintain accurate financial information using QuickBooks, but the client had a trained bookkeeper in place who knew the program well. My view of QuickBooks shifted. The program wasn’t broken. Users were simply untrained and unsupported.

After staring at the client’s file for a little while, in awe, I realized at that moment that yes, QuickBooks can produce accurate financial statements. We just have to provide more training and proactive support.

So, we converted our conference room at the firm into a training center and started marketing our training program to bring people in. Rather than working our way out of a job, we worked our way into QuickBooks support. We learned that trained users still need the help of a ProAdvisor throughout the year… and our clients picked up on that as well.

MB: So, at this point, you’re still training QuickBooks Customers. How did you create a niche in training other account professionals?

JW: I certainly didn’t invent the niche, but I was lured by the opportunity to take on such a huge and thrilling market. At the time, I was buying all our training books from a national training provider called the Sleeter Group, led by Doug Sleeter. One day, he called me to see why I was buying so many of his training manuals and that conversation led to him hiring me to conduct much of his accountant training.

But, after a few years of flying all around the country to teach, I got tired of being on airplanes all the time and decided to focus on building a QuickBooks consulting practice in Atlanta.

MB: I heard you have a great story about how you started working with Intuit. Can you share about that?

JW: One day, in 2002, I was at Sam’s Club with a huge box in my cart – a bundle of QuickBooks Point of Sale Desktop Version 1 with the software, cash drawer, thermal receipt printer and the scanner.

While I’m at Sam’s Club with this giant QuickBooks Point of Sale box, I got a call. I looked down at my phone and it said “Intuit®.” I thought, what a coincidence – I am getting a sales call from Intuit while I am buying their product. But, it was no sales call. It was an executive at Intuit, Brad Smith, who wanted to fly me to the Plano office to explore creating an accountant training division.

I flew out to Plano and interviewed with Brad, which is an adventure in and of itself because it wasn’t really an interview. We jumped right into white boarding and ideating what Intuit accountant training could look like. That led to a job offer, but when I went in for my final pre-hire meeting, Brad began to share his excitement that a real, practicing accountant would be joining the team – stating how peer-led training and peer-to-peer validation of ideas was key to his strategy. I quickly replied that, regrettably, all of that would evaporate the moment he hired me. He paused for second and quickly pivoted stating, “Well, perhaps making you a contractor will work better for both of us.”

Since that meeting in Plano, I’ve been a contractor to Intuit in one form or another for the last 15 years, while still having my own practice. As I shared on-stage at Scaling New Heights, our annual conference for QuickBooks ProAdvisors, I’ve been behind the scenes at Intuit and know that the love you all have for accountants is real. Intuit’s passion to partner with the accounting profession is the bedrock of our contractual relationship. It is the reason I’m still working with Intuit today. 

MB: Scaling New Heights is a truly inspirational event. What motivated you to create this iconic ProAdvisor experience?

JW: My vision is transform small business through small business advisors. Intuit’s efforts are synergistic with this vision. My years working as a contracted trainer for Intuit were incredible, but the contracts still kept me on airplanes. After the birth of my daughter in 2017, I decided the market could be better served (and my daughter better supported by her father) if I created a once-a-year event to gather Intuit-centered accountants and virtualize the rest of the training. Thus, Scaling New Heights was born.

We launched expecting 100 people, and had over 250 in the first year. In 2017, we had over 1,500 people involved in the show, including ProAdvisors, sponsors and Intuit representatives. We kept building out this suite of offerings to empower accountants and slowly started paring back on doing the client work ourselves. Although I don’t have any remaining QuickBooks clients today, I was a practicing ProAdvisor from the 1990s until just two years ago.

MB: It seems that being forced into QuickBooks years ago was a stroke of luck, but it’s what you’ve built, and the ProAdvisor careers that you’ve shaped, that are truly impressive. What tips would you share with a ProAdvisor who is just getting started? 

JW: First, be extremely discerning on the clients that you take. There is going to be a strong temptation to take more and more clients, thinking that you can pare back later to just the clientele you want. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to fire a client that isn't a good fit than it is to filter those who are coming in.

Supporting a client that isn’t a good match is much harder than you might think. It requires infrastructure and human resources, process, and expertise. If you take on these clients, you end up building your practice around them, instead of focusing just on the clients you want.

MB: That makes a lot of sense, but it also sounds like it’s easier said than done. How can you actually grow your practice while saying no to potential clients?

JW: When I was building my consulting practice, the temptation to say yes to everybody that came to me through Find-a-ProAdvisor was strong. I would think, “Let's do it because anything is good. It's positive cash flow.” However, I resisted the temptation and only took the clients that were a good fit and valued me enough to pay my rate.

My advice is to fill in the gaps with something other than bad clients. If I had gaps where I couldn't work, I went back to a trade I had picked up in my youth with my dad's construction company. I painted houses.  

So, there were several cases where Joe Woodard, national trainer, author and consultant, was swinging a paintbrush on a ladder. While painting, I would often get a phone call about a client who needed QuickBooks support. After determining they were a good fit for my practice, I would get off the ladder, wash the paint off, put on some nicer clothes and go work with the client as a QuickBooks consultant. Then, when the work was done, I would go back to swinging a paintbrush. I was prepared to do whatever it took to not accept the wrong client … no matter what. These days, it’s even easier. For example, you can drive an Uber until you get the phone call from the right client. Clock out of the Uber and drive straight to the client.

MB: Aside from guarding the front door, are there any other crucial tips you want to share with ProAdvisors?

JW: Yes. Specialize. You could specialize around a specific industry (which is the most common type of specialization), or you could specialize around a specific type of service. Not only will specialization allow you to standardize your practice and increase efficiencies, but it also leads to deeper subject matter knowledge and practice distinction.

Focus on one thing – and brand around that thing. One ProAdvisor might be the nonprofit expert for Boston, Mass. Another could be the premier construction expert of Kansas City, Kan. This type of specialization provides three advantages:

  1. It gives you more marketability and more market distinction. In an accounting world that is increasingly crowded, distinction is key.
  2. It gives you the ability to affect change in your clients. If your specialization is construction, you now have the adaptive capacity to focus on key performance indicators of a construction company, human resource strategies of a construction company or job management technologies for a construction company, and you can deliver a deeper level of value within your niche.
  3. It’s a focus for your marketing and a filter for your front door. If a client doesn’t fit your niche, refer them to a peer.

Specializing and guarding the front door are just as relevant for established practices as they are for new ProAdvisors. It’s never too late to start.

MB: Most accountants will say that they’re not marketers, but a little guidance can go a long way. In closing, what resources would you recommend ProAdvisors use to enhance their marketing knowledge and practice?

JW: First, decide to agree with the rest of the business universe that marketing is not an ugly word. Embrace marketing. Second, understand that the primary goal of marketing is not to grow your practice, but rather, to have the practice (the clients) you want. Third, invest some time educating yourself on how to do it. It’s an investment that will pay off.

In terms of resources, I’m not very objective. I would say Scaling New Heights and Woodard Institute are two great places to start if you want to become a marketer. Scaling New Heights provides practical education, and as part of Woodard Institute, members develop a marketing plan and execute it with the help of their coach and their peers.

Between this marketing knowledge, your new specialization and accepting only the clients you want, you have a story to tell – a unique story – and that will provide substance, direction and meaning to the firm’s online presence. It will amaze you how explosive your community will become because people search out specific knowledge and they’ll find you.

MB: Joe, thank you for your time and all your contributions to the ProAdvisor community.