When Good Ideas Go Wrong


A long-time CPA client came to us to discuss marketing of a separate, brand new business. He was ecstatic about the concept, which he had mulled for years and was waiting for the time to be right. Over the course of several decades serving clients from his CPA office, he had observed that most of his clients not only relied on CPAs, but also on other professionals (financial planners and attorneys, primarily) to help them manage their personal and business affairs. The client wanted to know “what’s next?” to finally launch that business.


We asked the client what research he had done to vet the concept. He had only spoken to his CPA colleagues about the concept, not wanting anyone else to run with his idea for a business. We suggested that we perform several focus groups to canvas his target audience for their thoughts on the concept, and further find out what their specific wants and expectations would be (what services would be provided, what costs they would expect/be willing to pay, etc.). After that, we would be better positioned to conceive and design a name, brand/logo and strategic marketing plan.


Since the target audience corresponded with the types of clients the CPA client currently served, we decided to create two focus groups: One of his existing clients, all high-net-worth individuals with complex professional services needs. The other was a similar group, but individuals who were not clients. We paid the attendees to participate, and hosted them at a high-end steakhouse dinner in a private room. The focus group moderator began with describing the business concept to the group, and explained that the remainder of the time would be spent to solicit their thoughts and feedback on the concept. Of course, we had a well-planned agenda and non-leading questions outlined for use.

The concept was for a new business that would place CPAs, attorneys and financial planners all under one roof, a single entity…a dream team of professionals and experts in all the facets typically needed by a high-net-worth individual. All the guidance and help one would need would be provided by a group working together.

Thud. Open mouths. Comments like this:

  • I would definitely not use a business like that.
  • The last thing I would want is to have my CPA talking to my financial advisor or my attorney.
  • I like my advisors separate and distinct for a reason – privacy!
  • If my CPA turned his business into that, I’d find a new CPA.

The first focus group (existing clients) ended early, simply because there was no point in discussing the details of services and pricing, since no one in the room thought it was a good idea nor would they do business with a company like that. We held the second focus group shortly thereafter; this was the group of non-clients without any tie to our CPA client. We were amazed…we got the same kinds of negative comments.


Our client was devastated, and seemed to take it personally, like we had shut down his idea and taken his dream away. Of course, that wasn’t our intention. We told him we could certainly proceed with additional steps and help him launch the business, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that. He ultimately declined to proceed. Eventually, and multiple times since, that client has thanked us for literally saving him from a multi-million-dollar investment (new building, staffing and marketing) that was likely doomed to fail.