Breakaway signs up accountants, bookkeepers and advisors as virtual CFOs

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Breakaway Bookkeeping & Advising, a startup company based in Portland, Oregon, is starting to build a network of accountants, bookkeepers and financial advisors who can act as virtual CFOs for small-business clients.

“At Breakaway, we’re doing things a little bit differently than a typical accounting firm,” said CEO Kristen Keats (pictured). “We formed our company to be a platform for accountants and bookkeepers that want to start their own business, but it’s really overwhelming to go and do that because you have to think about the security and legal stuff, and so many things go into it if you’re going to start your own firm. We try to handle all of the administrative stuff and everything that’s difficult, and just make it easy for the bookkeepers. We hire everybody from a bookkeeper to a CFO-to-go type level. We provide them with all of that admin support, and we also provide access to an offshore team to do more of the detailed work. We want the advisors to focus more on relationship building with the clients.”

Breakaway began last September when Keats, a CPA at a large regional firm, along with attorney Martin Moll, had the idea of starting the business. As of May, they had 12 advisors and accountants signed up, who each have up to 15 clients. They’re focusing on small businesses, generally under $10 million in revenue.

“Typically it’s just a business that needs an accounting function but they’re not big enough to have their own accounting department, or their own internal controller, so we’re kind of filling that gap,” said Keats.

Breakaway is cloud-based, and the accountants, advisors and bookkeepers are using either Xero or QuickBooks Online. The businesses they do the books for also need to be on the cloud, especially nowadays when COVID-19 is keeping many business people away from their usual offices.

“We really move them into that cloud base just because we’re trying to be as efficient as we possibly can,” said Keats. “We were doing remote before remote was cool. Then we also have a team in India that helps us out. They can access it easily too.“

In May, Breakaway had a team of three people in India and 12 in the U.S. The pandemic may be causing some potential clients to see the appeal of working with a virtual firm. “It’s not just the remote that’s making people more interested in Breakaway,” said Keats. “It’s causing us to pause and rethink our careers in general. We’ve had a lot of interest from potential advisors who want to sign up and are saying, ‘I’m not liking my job. I want to do something different and see what else is out there.”

Besides Keats and Moll, the Breakaway founders include Michelle Lopez, who has worked as a CFO, controller and business manager, and Sabrina Snow, who came from a banking background, along with Shauna Zobrist, a CPA with nearly 30 years of experience, and Shea Keats, who specializes in marketing and creative services for bookkeepers.

“When I was imagining starting this company, I thought it would all be people like me, like CPAs who want to start a practice,” said Kristen Keats. “But we’re getting different people that are interested, and a lot of them are internal controllers or CFOs. They like the idea of being able to scale and serve more clients, and being able to grow in that way they couldn’t if they were just working for one company.”

Breakaway is flexible in how much work its advisors decide to take on. “We leave that up to them because the way that we’re structured is that each of our advisors actually start an LLC on their own, so they run their own book of business,” said Keats. “Some of them are moms with little kids, so they might only want to work 20 or 30 hours a week, and they might have different goals than someone who is really going to want to go out and crush it and take on a bunch of clients. But we actually try to almost limit the client size. We haven’t figured out what a number is for what that would look like. But we don’t want people to get burned out. We don’t want the client experience to be terrible because a lot of people, what they experience with their accountant, is they feel like the accountant is not available or they don’t get called back. We really want that relationship with the client to be front and center. So as many clients as they can serve, and they can really give good client service with, that’s kind of what the limit is.”

Breakaway has attracted advisors from as far away as Rio de Janeiro, but most are based in the U.S. The company has been marketing itself through a YouTube channel where it has posted a series of informational videos about how Breakaway works.

“During COVID, we have been trying to connect with other consultants, advisors and small-business owners to interview them,” said Keats. “We’ve put that up on LinkedIn and our website too. We call it ‘Break Time with Breakaway.’ It’s little five- to seven-minute segments, so we’re doing some fun stuff to get our name out there and to help people get through this.”

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