Success Story

25 Years of Running a Successful CPA Practice

Suzi Drennen
Dark Horse Principal | North County San Diego

Suzi Drennen ran a successful practice in tax preparation and planning for years. Drennen’s firm provided tax planning and preparation and financial projections to small and medium-size businesses across the U.S. and abroad.

For most of that time, she was a solo entrepreneur, occasionally contracting part-time bookkeepers to help with the workload.

“My business grew organically, mostly by referrals from existing clients to their family and friends. I enjoyed the wide variety of clients, from developers of iPhone apps to small manufacturers and service providers,” says Suzi. “I didn’t have a website, because I didn’t need one.”

 

The TCJA and COVID-19 Tax Season Changed My Outlook

In 2018 the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took effect, introducing some of the most dramatic changes to the tax code in years. With such a far-reaching adjustment to tax laws focused so heavily on businesses and corporations, all CPAs and accounting firms had an uphill climb to get familiar with new tax rates and rules surrounding business deductions. Drennen spent countless hours researching and learning about TCJA and how it applies to her clients. The experience brought change management into sharp relief. “I realized that times of great change put me as a solo behind the eight ball on researching industry changes and developing and communicating recommendations to clients.” The further adjustments around COVID-19 just confirmed her realization.

 

The Appeal of the Dark Horse Model

Drennen met the Dark Horse founders Chase Birky and Max Fritz in 2020. The collaborative team held great appeal for her. She had had a successful run as a solo practitioner, but not without a price. Few vacations and the lack of a partner or successor for her practice had her thinking about longterm support for her clients.

 

My Personal Values: Time with Clients

“I soon found that I was wearing more hats than ever: working as a tax researcher, software tester, security manager and marketing copywriter. I found it difficult and time-consuming to stay on top of everything. I didn’t make the best ‘Jaqueline of trades’,” says Drennen. “It occurred to me that I can’t do it all – or in any case, I didn’t want to do it all. I wanted to spend my time working with clients, many of whom are valued friends.”

 

My Personal Values: Time with Clients

“I soon found that I was wearing more hats than ever: working as a tax researcher, software tester, security manager and marketing copywriter. I found it difficult and time-consuming to stay on top of everything. I didn’t make the best ‘Jaqueline of trades’,” says Drennen. “It occurred to me that I can’t do it all – or in any case, I didn’t want to do it all. I wanted to spend my time working with clients, many of whom are valued friends.”

 

Reservations about Moving from Solo Practitioner to a Team

After 25 years in her own practice, Drennen knew that she preferred to run her business in her own way. “Concerns about ‘having a boss’ almost held me back,” she reports. “But I soon realized that Chase is more of a support system than a manager. He and his co-founder Max help Principals with review of tax returns, for example.” The firm also hired a bookkeeper at the beginning of tax season. “Having the support of a person who ‘gets it’ is amazing – life-changing! I actually took my first spring break vacation in 20 years,” Drennen says.

 

Dark Horse: The Best of Both Worlds

“Chase and Max convinced me that Dark Horse is a business organization that supports each of its Principals, while preserving their independence to build and manage their own book of business.” Dark Horse provides a team of pooled resources to assist with administrative tasks, marketing and sales support. The firm has a great track record in retaining support staff who
happen to enjoy the culture and tend stay for the long haul. “Navigating the COVID-19 tax season would have been intolerable without this amazing team! With Dark Horse, I found best of both worlds. The collaboration and comradery are amazing. Working with a team of smart professionals gives us all an opportunity to trade ideas and information that help each of us provide greater value to our clients.”

 

Thrilled with the Decision to Become a Dark Horse Principal

In a time of change, Drennen has found that a key benefit of joining Dark Horse as a Principal was the collaboration and shared knowledge among a group of talented peers. The team stays in close touch, sharing experiences, tips and resources for programs like the SBA Paycheck Protection Program. The Dark Horse organization also creates and shares technology solutions that keep firm Principals ahead of the curve – a great website, a price calculator and a bot that helps automate client communications are among the tech stack advances the firm has introduced. In addition to the team collaboration and business operations support, Drennen feels that Dark Horse offers her a continuity plan for support of her clients. “CPAs and lawyers work intensely to build a practice and prepare for sale, and the transition can be difficult when the next phase involves a relatively unknown replacement. With Dark Horse, I know that when the time comes, I have a transition plan within the firm and my clients will be taken care of by the Dark Horse team of smart, collaborative and caring CPAs and staff.”

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