The key factors firing up interest in the not new marijuana niche.
By Liz Gold
Naomi Granger, CPA, MBA, took a leap of faith and it paid off. And it’s still paying off.
MORE ON CANNABIZ: Marcum LLP: Moving Forward in Cannabis with Confidence | Mark Guiley Oversees New Cannabis Niche | Jessica Velazquez on Cannabis Accounting and Activism | PODCAST: Jim Marty and Cory Parnell Go National | 5 Biggest Mistakes Cannabis CEOS Make | Commercial Medical Marijuana Use Comes to Michigan | CPA John Dillinger on California’s Prop 64 | CPA Andrew Hunzicker Creates Course in Cannabiz Accounting
And more on the cannabis niche at CPA Trendlines cannabizcpa.pro
With more than 12 years of public accounting experience, working her way up the ranks to senior management at PwC, Granger wanted more. She wanted flexibility and ownership of her time and schedule. So, she started researching how to start a remote accounting practice.
The key? Honing in on one niche. And not just any niche. An industry she could really sink her teeth into.
She considered working with professional athletes or in real estate, but eventually settled on cannabis. Then she found Andrew Hunzicker late last summer.
Hunzicker, a CPA based out of Bend, Oregon, was busy running his own accounting practice geared toward cannabis clients. He told Granger about a program he was trying to launch to teach CPAs and accountants what they need to know to break into the cannabis industry. By December, she was his first student in the program.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Granger went through the existing program and became Hunzicker’s partner. Together, they developed what is known today as Dope CFO. Both are owners in the company.
As for getting into cannabis, Granger didn’t have any concerns.
“I thought it was exciting,” she said. “I’m the kind of person who likes to go against the grain. I enjoy telling people about what I do. I had already been doing my own research even before meeting Andrew.”
In January of this year, Granger told Hunzicker she knew they could sell this program to other accountants.
After a Facebook live session in January covering basic information about the cannabis industry, the duo was off to the races selling version one of the program.
“We didn’t have a website or a marketing budget, there wasn’t a membership platform at that time,” Granger said. “Once we saw that this thing could sell, we decided to go for it.”
Today, Dope CFO provides a DIY Accounting for Cannabis Training Program for seasoned accounting professionals (bookkeepers, tax professionals, controllers, CFOs, CPAs, etc.) who are looking to build a cannabis accounting practice or to add the expertise and services to their existing business. The program consists of more than 125 work papers, templates, videos and instructions and has more than 70 students.
“There is a huge demand for this knowledge,” Granger said, adding the program attracts a wide range of people, including those working in small, midsized and larger firms who are interested in transitioning out and starting their own business as well as those who have their own accounting firms but are in startup mode, not seeing much revenue and are trying to find their way.
“People love the community aspect of the training,” Granger said. “Instead of being part of a general accounting community, we are specific to cannabis. Students are able to learn from one another and create partnerships with each other when working on deals.”
The partnering aspect is unique in the sense that the community provides a wide bench of services and expertise that any one accountant can draw from. If a member in the group wants to take on a client but doesn’t have a particular skill set, they can let other students in the group bid on that work for their client.
“What’s unique to cannabis when you are servicing smaller businesses, typically they want you to do everything because it is more cost-effective,” Granger said. “But with cannabis the companies are so much bigger, and they need dedicated tax professionals and dedicated bookkeepers, so they are not trying to find a professional to do everything. We tell our students to let clients know that you are a full-service firm, but the tax will come as a separate proposal, or if you need specific legal advice, the proposal will be specific to that.”
While Granger is based in Las Vegas and traveling all over, Hunzicker is in Oregon with his wife and three kids. It’s a dynamic that works and the duo has more up their sleeve for Dope CFO.
They are launching a certification program that will help to field all the interest and referrals they are generating from a recent public relations and marketing push. Students who are certified will get one-on-one support, access to client referrals and more specific attention to that individual’s client work.
“It’s a monthly recurring program, only open to students who went through the training and have landed a client,” Granger said of the certification program. “At that point, there is only so much support you can give them. The training gets them to their first client; the one-on-one support gives them more access that’s ongoing and they can opt in and out.”
Given their focus on the program, Granger and Hunzicker are limited in their actual client engagements. They work as a team with six clients between them. They rely on a team – including an accountant out of India who oversees their clients’ month-end close processes – so they can focus on higher-level review work.
One of the top questions Granger fields from those interested in the cannabis industry is whether the accounting practitioner has to be a CPA or have some sort of license. To this, she answers no. Still others are concerned about losing their professional license if they start to dabble in the cannabis industry, because it’s federally illegal. Again, she says no, you don’t have to worry about losing your license just for servicing this niche. The AICPA released the following state guidance for CPAs considering providing services to businesses that operate in these industries: https://www.aicpa.org/advocacy/state/statemarijuanalaws.html
Still, Granger said there are a variety of factors driving all this interest in cannabis. Some people are strong advocates of the plant and its healing qualities and might use it medicinally; some are just pro cannabis; others see it as a lucrative niche, believing if they get in now, before it is federally legal, they can establish themselves as experts and potentially position themselves as consultants to larger firms as those companies make the transition into the industry.
“It’s exciting and very lucrative,” she said. “Accounting is just boring. But with cannabis, it’s so new and there are so many different verticals: farm accounting, food manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, dispensaries. These take all different accounting skill sets and you can land a client that has all four in one business. It makes it exciting.”
As for Dope CFO, the goal continues to be providing accounting professionals with more of a flexible lifestyle and of course, freedom.
“We want people to charge what they are worth, so they can take on less clients and focus on one area, so you are not stretching yourself too thin,” she said. “The business is completely remote, so you take time; you can build your schedule around how you want to live your life.”