How Fortiviti Moved Forward
Shauna Huntington led her company to bigger growth … by cutting it in half.
About four years ago, Shauna Huntington made a bold choice: She decided to cut her business in half.
Known today as Fortiviti, her company offers a suite of accounting and back-office functions to other small businesses. When Shauna started her business as a certified public accountant, she also provided assistance with taxes and other professional services.
Huntington loves freeing clients from the chores they can’t stand, so they can pursue the work they love.
“We handle all of the business side of doing business—the compliance and paperwork and accounting needed to run a business, so our clients can focus on growth,” she said.
Eventually, Huntington realized she needed to take her own advice. Her tax practice was profitable—it supplied about half her revenue—but she disliked working on those jobs. So she chose to sell that side of the business.
“It was a little scary the day after we signed the agreement,” she said.
But her bet paid off. Her team is able to drill down on what they do best. By the end of 2014, Fortiviti had regained any ground it lost in the sale, and revenues have continued to grow quickly ever since. The company’s employee head count roughly doubled in 2016.
While the gains have been welcome, “it’s been very challenging,” Huntington said. “This year has been our most significant growth year from the standpoint of revenue and clients brought on board and team (members added).”
Fortunately, Huntington isn’t doing it alone. Earlier this year, the Fortiviti founder was chosen for ScaleUP! Kansas City, an elite training program offered by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Over the course of four months, ScaleUP! participants are exposed to training, mentoring and roundtable sessions that push them to the next stage of business growth.
“It’s a great program,” Huntington said, “especially for companies that are ready for that next level … but are really struggling to understand what they need.”
‘WE NEEDED TO WORK ON THOSE AREAS’
ScaleUP! Kansas City shows small businesses how they can increase their growth by resolving unaddressed issues in their operations.
Entrepreneurs who participate in ScaleUP! Kansas City go through an exercise called Process Triage. Developed by local consultant Joseph Rosenberger, Process Triage helps identify inefficiencies that are hamstringing companies.
For Huntington, the exercise highlighted the need to make sure she’s hiring terrific people who not only have the right technical skills, but who can also do account management—that is, be a consultant, not just an accountant.
“I knew we needed to work on those areas,” she said, “but the Triage helped me to see that hiring and training were contributing to other pain points in our processes.”
She’s now developing consistent, formal processes for hiring new employees and, once they’re on board, training them in Fortiviti’s core values and philosophy—teaching them the “why” behind the company.
Traditional accountants often keep their heads down and focus strictly on the work in front of them. Fortiviti likes to hire people who also can “think like a business owner” and solve problems with clients—and possibly uncover issues the clients didn’t know they had.
Finding great hires is “not usually about the skill,” Huntington said. “It’s about the culture and the attitude and the understanding of why we do it. We’re here to take care of the client, No. 1. That’s our ultimate goal.”
MAKING THE CONNECTIONS
When you’re running a company, it can be hard to get out of the office and network with your fellow entrepreneurs.
For Huntington, one of the best things about ScaleUP! Kansas City was the opportunity to connect with other small business owners and learn from them. Her cohort included entrepreneurs who specialized in everything from coffee cakes to HVAC systems.
On the surface, those businesses don’t sound like they have much in common. In reality, though, most of them had faced and overcome similar problems. The ScaleUP! participants were able to feel a little reassurance (“I’m not alone!”) while also getting ideas for solving those problems. A fellow entrepreneur, for example, told Huntington how he’s able to use Google AdWords to attract a huge number of customer leads.
In addition, ScaleUP! Kansas City introduced Huntington to an array of free local entrepreneurship resources and other business connections. She met several area bankers, and she’s worked with them to help her clients with refinancing and other needs.
Armed with the lessons and advice she gained from ScaleUP! Kansas City, Huntington is excited about the coming year—and thrilled to help her clients grow.
“We’re doing accounting because we know it needs to be done and we’re helping our clients, but we’re businesspeople first,” she said. “We’re a fresh approach to accounting.”
11249 Strang Line Road
Lenexa, KS 66215
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Fortiviti is a mashup of “fortitude” and “productivity.”
HOW SHE GOT STARTED
Huntington was working as a controller for a local staffing company when some friends were starting up an optometry practice. In her off-hours, she assisted them with their accounting and other needs. “I realized there were probably a lot more people like them out there.” Less than six months later, Huntington’s sideline had become a full-fledged business.
NOT HER FIRST RODEO
Fortiviti isn’t Huntington’s first business. She started a dance studio in college.
ARE YOU READY TO SCALE UP?
ScaleUP! Kansas City is a free training program for growing small businesses. It helps companies that want to increase their annual revenue to more than $1 million.
ScaleUP! is open to entrepreneurs whose companies …
» Have been in business at least two years
» Generate $150,000 to $500,000 in annual revenue
» Are in markets capable of supporting $1 million or more in sales