TSBK - Episode 72 - Scott Zarret.png
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Free.

Everybody loves the sound of that.

CPAacademy.org offers a free, easy-to-use platform for knowledge sharing and idea exchange through the marketing and presenting of the most up-to-date educational content and developments important to the accounting profession.

According to our guest, CPAacademy.org President, Scott Zarret, his website isn't just for accountants, but bookkeepers can also receive great value by consuming its online courses and live webinars.

To stay ahead of the game, it's important to have a continuous thirst for knowledge, so that's why a useful resource like CPAacademy.org can definitely be an asset as you grow your business.

During this interview, you will discover...

  • What to look for at CPAacademy.org and where's the best place to start for bookkeepers

  • The advantages of a continuous learning culture

  • Why getting out of your comfort zone and figuring out your goals will lead you to success

To learn more about Scott's website, visit here.

To read his story, click here.

To watch his video, check this out.

To reach out to him, email Scott@cpaacademy.org.


EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

Michael Palmer: 01:12 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I'm your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be a good one. Our guest is the president of CPAacademy.org, which is a website that offers an easy to use platform for knowledge sharing and idea exchange through the marketing and presenting of the most up to date educational content and developments important to the accounting profession. Scott Zarret, welcome to the podcast. 

Scott Zarret: 01:39 Thank you very much. It's nice to be here. 

MP: 01:41 Well it's great to have you. And first off, let's the, let's let the audience know a little bit about yourself cause I'm sure that many of them may not even be familiar with your website and all that it does. But if you could start off by sharing a little bit of your career background and how did you become the Scott Zarret running CPA academy.com Work? 

SZ: 02:05 Uh, good question. Um, so it didn't happen overnight, to say the least, that I've been on it though for about six years. So I started CPA academy, um, with the purpose of creating a, uh, a platform that uses education to position presenters as, as thought leaders that they can sell services. And, and the reason that I ended up going down this road was really out of personal need. I am a CPA and was looking for a tool myself when working from my prior employer to really help get me in front of large audiences to um, to provide them education on, on the niche service that I was involved with at the time, which is cost segregation, another term for depreciation. And so I created the platform because it's something that I really wanted for myself and knew that others would benefit from, from using as well. 

MP: 02:51 Wow. That's cool. I love when businesses are started from just satisfying your own needs. Would have had a few guests on, on the podcast that talked about and had similar experiences and tell us a little bit about CPA academy and what does, what has it become? 

SZ: 03:07 Yeah, sure. Surely. So yeah, thanks for the introduction by the way. And I think you did a good job that, uh, you know, uh, providing some background information on it. But we are the largest provider of free continuing education in the accounting profession. And so our, our model is really based on, on providing a free education that, that uh, as I mentioned is used for positioning of presenters and thought leaders. But the topics that we offer expand quite widely from technical subjects, meaning accounting and auditing and thought leadership classes. And they're really very diverse in terms of topics that we cover. We really pride ourselves on, on bringing in new and interesting speakers. Uh, the lens of the sessions is usually between an hour to two hours. Most of them, most of them are closer to the hour to an hour and a half. But we really pride ourselves on covering a wide variety of topics that are beneficial to CPAs, to bookkeepers, to CFOs and really anyone that's in that accounting space. Uh, we've processed over two and a half million registrations. We have over 200,000 users. We've offered over a thousand unique topics. And while our, our focus is really, uh, well I should say it started with webinars. Um, on education we've expanded into self-study as well as a group live events, meaning conferences and, and a CPE really for, for all of the learning methods that are guests. 

MP: 04:31 Wow. It's amazing. It leads me to my next question, which is how, how have you seen the way, uh, professionals are getting information? What changes have you seen over the six years that you've been working at this? 

SZ: 04:48 Well, you know, the history of education is a long one and you know, really, I think what's happening is that the accounting profession has been fairly late to adopt the changes that have existed outside the profession. And what I mean by that is that free being the key element here. So there's been a couple of very large paradigm shifts. One is the shift of free, uh, CPAs and bookkeepers certainly recognizing that free content doesn't equate to low-quality content. And so I think to put down their, their guard in terms of willingness to, to take courses where there isn't a fee, realizing that it, it's the same quality as the content that they've been accustomed to paying. Um, I think the other big shift has been, uh, the openness to taking classes online or the interest and people wanting to take classes that are, that are online as opposed to traveling, uh, getting in their car and, and perhaps even on a, on a plane because they're realizing that it's, you know, there's a lot to be gained from being able to focus on in class and taking it in, in smaller bite-size pieces as opposed to, uh, drinking from a fire hose and taking a class for eight hour chunks of time or some cases, multiple days on end where you just, your mind cannot process that much information and digest it and, and apply it. 

SZ: 06:05 And so I think really the shift towards online has been huge. And, uh, and the shift towards free has been huge. And so the, what I've experienced in the platform, I think just parallels what's going on in the outside world. And I think that we're still at the tip of the iceberg. Um, I think that we're going to continue to see this, this paradigm shift. And, and I think that's evident when you look at the attendance numbers that are going on and live events around the country. It's been reported to me by the majority of speakers that we work with, that they're seeing the numbers for classroom events decreasing and the number for online events increasing. So I think, you know, essentially I saw these trends many years ago and I think it was only a matter of time before this shift happened, but I certainly don't want to be at the tail end of the curve. I wanted to be on the front end of it and I'll drive that movement. 

MP: 06:53 That's fantastic. And what, you know, with the, with everything that's happened since you started, what would you say the challenge challenges that you face in the industry faces today? 

SZ: 07:04 Well, I think that every educational provider faces the same challenge, which is quality control. You know, putting out the right content and the right subjects that is, and highest quality content while keeping the content diverse and having something for everybody. And certainly when you're putting out, in our case, we did about 1500 webinars last year, and we're a smaller organization, uh, you have to rely on, on others to provide quality content and, and be able to figure out who's good, not every presenter is going to resonate well with an audience or, or with an entire audience. It's, it's difficult to find speakers who, who are able to really capture the attention of large audiences with diverse backgrounds. And so I think that that challenge again, exists for, for all of us, and not just in the accounting profession, but outside as well. Um, I think that what's happening as the world is flattened, you know, to quote Thomas Friedman is that there's more competition for, uh, for speakers and, and whereas, you know, maybe it used to be enough to just provide a lot of content. 

SZ: 08:07 Now it's gotta be high-quality content. And if you don't earn the respect of the audience and they're not gonna, they're not gonna show up again. And so, you know, one of the challenges for us is, is reading the feedback from the audience that taking it very seriously and making adjustments and hearing what they say and also going on your gut. Sometimes you know, the audience may not be asking for a certain subject, but sometimes it's important to bring it to their attention and it's, it can be difficult to be aware of what people want to know and what you feel they need to know and making sure that those two match.

MP: 08:47 That's fantastic. And it's so true the world is changing rapidly and so you not only do you have things changing in the way that we do business in the way in all the different apps, but as well how we're learning. So these are the challenges you're facing. But the listener as well as it's, there's so much information out there that that's part of the challenge as well. What, what is most important to be listening to and while still remaining focused on, on where someone's trying to get to in their business and their practice. This audience, as we talked about before we got onto the show, our audience, primarily our bookkeepers. Talk a little bit about what a bookkeeper would look for in your CPA academy.org. What, what would be a great place for them to get started to, to go in there and, and start looking for some of this content. Where would you recommend? 

SZ: 09:42 Sure, so I'm not a bookkeeper, I'm a, I'm a CPA. But having said that, it's very easy for me to, uh, to know what bookkeepers are looking for because I go to the same events. Uh, we all go to the same events. So a were, were attending the same conferences and I think the short answer to that question is looking at the exhibit hall of any of the large events that we go to and see you there. All the software vendors, if you want to rate them based on the size of booths, great. If you want to rate them on some other subject matter. But the exhibit halls are loaded with software vendors that have solutions that are driving, they're driving the future of the profession. And I spend my time at a lot of, at a lot of these events, speaking to each of these exhibitors and asking them if they'd like to present on our platforms so that they can get in front of bookkeepers and go directly to them and share with them whatever they like. 

SZ: 10:36 Whether that is a demo, whether that is a thought leadership class or a combination of the two. And so really what I, one of the things I'm proudest of is that there was a, a gap missing from all these software vendors who, who, who spend the time with the exhibit hall. They don't necessarily have a, a place to, to provide real content that they don't generally get a center stage at, at, at these events. Because those are those events. Those spots are usually reserved for thought leaders. And yet the demos are critical, you know, to their, their job performance. And so our platform is really a combination of all of these different vendors who will come to me and say, here's what we want to talk, here's what's most important. And my goal is to get them in front of the right audience and let them, let them do their thing and put their best foot forward. 

SZ: 11:25 And, and often I find that the speakers really step it up because the audiences that they're presenting to are generally among the largest big ever presented to. And so, um, our, our platform is a one-stop-shop for finding all this content. Much of it is live, but a lot of it is recorded too. And I mentioned that we did 1500 webinars last year. Many of those are repeat subjects, but we have presented over a thousand unique topics on anything from your name. Um, any, any subject at all. Isn't our archive library and free to view. And we have people viewing these courses, you know, 24, seven, uh, literally three o'clock in the morning. Um, and it amazes me and, but it's, uh, it's been consistent now for, for years. 

MP: 12:10 You know, it's remarkable that the amount of content, and you talked about quality control already, just mentioning that that was a challenge, you know, thousand different topics, 1500 events or, or training sessions. That is a lot. How do you ensure quality, I mean you listened to your, the feedback, uh, from, from your users and those sorts of things. But does your team review and follow every single uh, session? 

SZ: 12:42 I think I appreciate the question. And um, sometimes it's easier than, than others. And when you think about some of the larger vendors who were, who were using this model? Well before I came along, before CPA exam academy existed, there many publications and other organizations that have provided free webinars and have for a long time. So many of the speakers that we work with have, have been around the block. They come to the table with refine presentations, uh, with their finger on the pulse and, and need really no guidance. They've got it down and it's been a successful part of their new generation. And so with those presenters, and they're generally fairly easy to spot, given their conversation with them, given their, their bio, given a quick listen to prior courses or, or just general understanding of, of who's who in the marketplace. 

SZ: 13:32 But there are also many speakers out there who are not seasoned whatsoever. They may be new vendors and we see them every single and every single conference. A company that has a new solution, some of them are rising stars and some of them we'll never see again. And so it can be difficult among them to figure out who's who, who's going to put their best foot forward. And so our mentality is that we give everyone a chance and the audience is not quite there. They're not subtle and speaking their minds. And so we do appreciate putting speakers on our platform who are new and help groom them. And some of them, some of them we don't hear from again and others become rising stars and turn into the next, you know, amazing speaker. So our goal is to, you know, try to figure out who's who and to, to help them put their best presentation together on the first shot. 

SZ: 14:27 Because many people just with the best of intentions, just literally don't know, uh, what, you know, how to put on a good session. What makes an engaging, how to use Webcam, how to use Q&A, what percentage of the sessions should be a demo. I mean, there are so many things that, that go into a high-quality session and it shouldn't be assumed that, that everyone knows those tricks. And then going back to the earlier point, even the speakers are seasoned. There's still a lot to learn. And that's true for all of us. We learn from our presenters, they learned from us and we all learn from the audience. So it's a, it's an evolution. 

MP: 14:59 I love it.

MP: 15:06 I mean, that itself speaks to any kind of running a business, right? You don't start off as a pro. You start off as whoever you are and you work, you make mistakes. You, you get, you know, feedback, you, you improve your game. And so I, I love the idea of that it's not just putting people into a room, generating a bunch of content, but really working with the people who are providing it, giving them feedback, learning from them. It's it, it's exciting. And I love the spirit of that webinars are powerful. You're educating people and you're not only giving them valuable resources and thoughts and ideas to help them in their lives or businesses, but you're also as the person delivering it, giving them an inside look at what your product is, connecting with them personally, you know, letting the audience get to know them. I mean, it's very powerful and we use webinars ourselves to do very similar things. Would you think that you know, do you see a trend that actual, like our listeners, might someday say, Gee, you know, I have customers. Would I be able to do a Webinar, a just a standoff Webinar and present that some information to customers? Do you see that happening where more and more small businesses are actually leveraging this kind of technology? 

SZ: 16:21 Well, webinars have brought an application for all professions. You know, whether you consider a Webinar to be, uh, an increment of one hour or 30 minutes or, or even five minutes, there's certainly value in putting together content and sharing it with the right group of people. And I think that, uh, it's intimidating. A lot of people don't know where to start, um, where they don't look at themselves as being an educator. They look at themselves as being a practitioner. And I do think that there's been a shift in mindset and I see it even in small examples with folks that are first starting to put together content on Facebook. I'm realizing that you know, it's, it's beneficial to get in front of a camera and to connect with an audience and, and build up a following. So whether you believe that, that you should provide under content in short chunks or, or in longer chunks, an hour or two hours is a, is a matter of comfort and, and you know what you're comfortable with and a matter of what's appropriate given, you know, the line of work that you're in. 

SZ: 17:18 But I believe strongly that we all have something to offer. Whether or not we look at ourselves as being educators. So we went into our professions, not because they were easy, certainly, you don't become an accountant or bookkeeper because you're looking for the path of least resistance. We, we signed up for, you know, for being lifelong students and we've all had to learn a tremendous amount along the way, uh, technical skills and there's new skills and personal skills and it's just a matter of what we feel comfortable sharing with others. Um, and being confident that what we have is something that's a value, uh, to others. And, um, whether the classes for CPE or it's, you know, it's just done more socially. I think it is important that we get ourselves out of our comfort zone. This podcast is, is taken me out of my comfort zone. Um, and that I've actually never done a podcast before and, uh, it was important to me to be tested and the, to go into it with the confidence that, uh, at the end of provides some content useful to others. And I think it's important that we, you know, we take some risks sometimes and put ourselves out there and I have faith in the process. 

MP: 18:25 I love it. And you're doing great. So, uh, I didn't realize it was your first podcast and so that's, that's a good thing. And I will say I that you've said a couple of things that I just, I want to just highlight because I think it's the theme really taxed the theme of what, what we do here on this podcast. And that is, you know, you said you signed up to be a lifelong learner. I just love that you signed up to be a lifelong learner. It's so inspiring. And I think for the listener listeners sitting there saying, yeah, you know what, I'm not alone. I, you know, often people can forget, Gee, this is difficult, challenging, there's lots of change happening. But the shift, the message you've given is really a shift in context to this is exciting. We're lifelong learners. This is what we do. 

MO: 19:10 You know, we've signed up for this. And so your, one of the people that's providing a tool solution really to being a lifelong learner is that there are lots to learn. So here's some great content, really professional content and bonus. It's free as well, just getting out of your comfort zone. Right? And, and that's it, right? So whether it's thinking about doing a small bit of education for your customers or, or even just going and consuming some new content, whatever it is, if there's something that's in your way, jump out, jump out, get uncomfortable. It always leads to learning and it leads to a step closer to where you want to be. And so those two points are absolutely awesome. I love it. And inspiring. And what a time of year to be inspired, right? Get going, get moving. You know, I know you, we don't have a ton of time, but I have one last question. When I asked you which, in your opinion, what are some of the keys to delivering an effective, and we'll say presentation, but you know, online presentation, Webinar, because that's what your organization does. But what are some of the just thoughts and ideas that, you know, every day you say, look, it's got to have this? It's got to have that. 

SZ: 20:22 Gosh, that's a, that's a tough one because we each come to the table with, with a different purpose for, for even doing the session. And so I think that, or a session I should say, but I think the first thing you need to ask yourself is why am I doing this? Right? You as, what is the anticipated outcome? Um, are you doing this because you want to be positioned as a thought leader or are you doing this because you have something very specific that you want to sell? Are you doing it because you want to, uh, you have an ego to sell or you want to get in front of a large audience? Those are legitimate reasons. You're doing it because you want it on your, on your resume. Um, but I think, and the first step is to figure out what your goal is of, of doing the class and, and the first place. 

SZ: 21:05 Um, and then, you know, with all good presentations, it's a matter of coming up with an outline coming up with and what's the scope of the class going to entail? How should the class be broken down and asking yourself if you're even, you know, if you should be doing the session alone or if you should be joined by somebody? Um, I certainly appreciate the fact that you're asking me questions today and I love this, this format and others doing webinars may find that it's easier to do alongside somebody else, perhaps with a client, perhaps with a colleague. And then you have to ask yourself, are you comfortable using a Webcam and what lens should the class be? When should you offer? Why should you offer it at that time? How intense are the slides going to be versus the conversational tone of the class? What do you expect someone to do when the session's over? 

SZ: 21:50 Should there be a follow-up session that you're trying to drive someone to? And how would you go about marketing your class? Who is your intended audience and how are you going to reach them? And do you need assistance? And getting in front of those, those folks, you have to ask yourself whether the class should be for credit or we're not CPE credit or ea credit or whatever, uh, other designation you're, you're trying to attract. We have to make sure that the class isn't, isn't too salesy, that it's engaging, that you're capturing attention from the beginning. So I think there's really a lot that goes into a session. But again, I think the first thing is to ask yourself why you're doing it. And there are plenty of good answers to that, but that will dictate where you, you know, what approach you take. 

MP: 22:38 You've offered a ton of thoughts to sort of start with if you're thinking about doing a presentation and doing some educational content, but I love the first one is why, why are you doing it? And then a whole bunch more that you can start to think about. But it's one of those things that I agree with. Going back to one of the things you say, you, you, you don't start off being a pro at this. You start off doing what you do. You try to do the best you can and then you do another and another and another. But it's a valuable tool. And what I love about it and have seen others, uh, excel with is presenting anything. It is taking out of your comfort zone, but it's helping you on so many other levels as well because you, you get better at presenting ideas. You, you get confidence. So there are so many benefits to doing it. So if you can find a reason to do it in your business as a listener right now, if you think that this is something you should be doing, number one great player is observed others, right? So go over to CPA academy.org start watching some of the educational content. You'll learn a ton from that and then take a crack at it and get out of your comfort zone this year and do something like this if you think this will be valuable yourself.

MP: 23:48 So Scott, I just want to emphasize, bring your personality to the, to the table, right? So it's not, we're not in up and doing a central, not trying to emulate somebody style. We really like, we're trying to bring our own personality to the, to the forefront and to, I'm not trying to use any, any specific formula, but to use the uniqueness that we all have, the unique skills that we all have and what makes us intriguing and interesting. So don't overthink it, but yeah, I, if it's okay, 

SZ: 24:16 I love that. Sorry for cutting you off there. No, no, it's, it's, it's valuable and you know, it, we're all trying to get at what people appreciate. Our very, very best friends love us because we're around them. And so if we think of that all the time, it's like, well, how do we bring just ourselves, our unique individual self to the world? That's a good thing in business and friendships, all, all the same. And I think in presenting, you know, I always think of presenting, you know, of whether it's, you know, a musician or a painter, you know, that's what their work, their whole life journey is to, to be more uniquely themselves. Now what happens is people do start off being, trying to be somebody else. Like, if we look at all the great artists, right? You know Tom Petty, for instance, right? Tom Petty had influences. 

SZ: 25:05 He, he liked certain music and he played that music, but eventually his job was to become Tom Petty. Not, you know, trying to be like the Beatles or like Bob Dylan, right? It was, I'm Tom Petty. But that takes time. And again, it comes back to just if it's like anything that we do is, the more we do it, the better we're going to be at it. And so I love that you interrupted me and because it's a great point, just be ourselves and get out there and just do it. Make some mistakes, take some risks. Don't be gold at the end of that rainbow 

SZ: 25:37 and don't back down 

MP: 25:38 I guess I am a Tom Petty Fan as well here. Awesome. I love Tom. Daddy petty me Sir. It was sad to see him go. He was one of the concerts I wanted to, to actually see in my lifetime. But that's unfortunate. So, Scott, this has been great and we've got to end with a little bit of time. Patty, what's the best place to start with CPA academy.org I'm s you know, they go to that website. Is there any recommendation around, Hey, start here? 

SZ: 26:08 Well, we, it because there's so much content, the ball's in our corridor. Responsibility is on us to make it easy to search for, for contact. And we have different sections. So if you're a bookkeeper, there's a bookkeeper length that you can click on and see all the classes that are appropriate for you that are upcoming as well as those that have been archived and available and, and self-study. Same if you're a CPA, there are different sections for you. If there's a specific company you're looking to research, you can search by name or by the specific presenter. But my suggestion would be to, to poke around, play around. And what often amazes me is that they think that they're going to the site for one topic. And Lo and behold, there was something else that catches their attention. And so, uh, I'd say just have a little fun, see what's out there. And hopefully, you'll start with one and come back for more. And by all means, uh, uh, please feel free to shoot me a note. I, I love hearing from, from our members and new folks, um, particularly about the experiences they're having and what they're, what they're gaining because we want to share that your feedback with others who we believe will benefit from the tool as well. So please reach out. 

MP: 27:13 Excellent. What's the best way for them to reach out to you, Scott@cpaacademy.org. Super simple and we'll have of course all those links and information in the show notes and heck, we might even put a link to a don't back down from Tom and Patty and, and that might be the theme song for the next couple of months. Go out there, grow your business, don't back down. Love it before Scott, thank you for being on the show. This has been both informative and entertaining and I would love to have you here and hope to have you back in the future.

SZ: 27:46 Yeah,  I appreciate the opportunity. It's wonderful speaking with you and I appreciate your insights as well and uh, I look forward to continuing the dialogue. 

MP: 27:54 Awesome. Well, that wraps another episode of the successful bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com until next time, 

MP: 28:09 goodbye