Some things you’re just born with, and for Shauna Huntington, a passion for business and a strong work ethic are no doubt in her DNA.
This Founder and CEO of Fortiviti, a Kansas-based full-service accounting and administrative firm that works as an extension to businesses, grew up on a farm. In college at Kansas State University, she juggled three jobs to pay her school and living expenses before deciding to turn something she had done her entire life—dance—into a business.
“I realized if I started a business doing dance I could be doing something I really enjoyed and support myself,” Shauna says. “I was going to school for accounting, so had the business education, but had grown up with dance.”
She also had some experience running a dance studio. When Shauna was in her last year of high school, her dance teacher had a baby and while out on maternity leave, Shauna stepped in to help run the small-town studio.
Once Shauna had the idea for her business, she approached the owner of a local gymnastics gym. There was a loft area they weren’t using, and Shauna suggested she rent it to run her business. She was a junior in college and knew she wouldn’t be living in Manhattan, aka the “Little Apple”, forever so didn’t want to build out a studio or take on a long-term lease. “It worked out well,” she says. “I paid a percentage of what I brought in to cover the rent.”
A New Focus
When Shauna graduated and moved to Dallas, Texas, her sister kept an eye on the studio for about six months before Shauna decided to shut it down. “Running a business remotely was a lot harder than it is now,” she laughs. “I was working in public accounting and trying to hire college students as dance teachers, who weren’t the most reliable, so I decided it wasn’t sustainable.”
For three years, Shauna worked in public accounting, and then for another three years as a corporate controller for a large privately held staffing firm. While at the latter, Shauna had friends in the process of starting a business. Their consultant advised that they needed an accountant, so they asked Shauna.
“I always knew I would start another business,” she says. “I had learned a ton at my last job, but was at the stage where there really wasn’t anywhere else for me to go. I realized it would be relatively easy to start an accounting business. I had the credentials and six years of experience and also had that business owner mentality and experience.”
As Shauna’s friends built their business and had different needs, from setting up QuickBooks to managing payroll, Shauna’s company that she launched in 2008 evolved. If they’re needing this, she thought, there are probably other businesses out there needing it, too. “I learned quickly that start-up businesses couldn’t pay much, so more established small businesses are where our focus went.”
Now, almost 15 years later, Fortiviti—a mash-up of the words “fortitude” and “productivity”—has grown and evolved even more. They are a remote solution for clients in more than a dozen states, from start-ups all the way to second-stage businesses.
Building a Company
The business started as a registered CPA firm called Huntington Small Business Solutions. At the time of inception, in Kansas, you were required to have your name in your business as a CPA firm. But when Shauna sold that part in 2012, she rebranded as Fortiviti because she always wanted to “build a company”, not a business that was built around her.
Besides the unique name, Shauna says their experience sets them apart. “I think we’ve been doing this for so long that we really know what we’re doing and how the industry works,” she explains. “We have our processes and automated systems in place to streamline operations.”
“We’re also unique in that we provide clients with a dedicated point of contact,” she continues. “A lot of larger companies have an account manager and then departments or whoever is available help with different pieces of it. Our structure provides them with a full accounting team, but we have a controller running the account, so they’re not wondering who to talk to about a certain issue or need.”
While Fortiviti provides remote solutions to its clients, the company’s 30 team members have an office they still come to two to three days a week to have in-person time and collaborate. Just two team members are fully remote.
When COVID hit, they took a short-term hit, and revenue dropped since a lot of their client fees are based on client revenue. “The idea is that as they grew, our work would grow, too,” says Shauna, “but during COVID, that backfired on us.”
Still, the Fortiviti team had triple the work to do for clients, helping with PPP and EIDL loans and managing their cash flow more tightly. They didn’t charge for the additional work because they wanted them to survive the pandemic. “We took the hit in the revenue and bridged the gap with our own PPP funds to pay payroll,” she says.
Six months to a year into COVID, just one client had gone out of business and others were starting to thrive. In fact, Fortiviti’s business has more than doubled since COVID hit in 2020. “We were working non-stop and everyone did that for a year or more,” says Shauna. “Our biggest challenge was we lost a lot of staff due to burnout.”
When Shauna founded her business, things took off and grew quickly from her website, which most competitors at the time didn’t have, and referrals, so she didn’t really know the importance of a network of people.
“The recession was in full force and people were looking for alternative options or to start new businesses because they had lost their jobs,” she explains. “I didn’t need that professional network until we sold our CPA practice, which was about half of our revenue. I saw that I needed to be more intentional about my networking and professional development.”
Shauna spent the next year “speed dating” with organizations. She went to every morning and evening event with every organization she could find, and NAWBO was one of them. “It’s the only one I found that stuck with me,” she says. “It wasn’t a networking organization, where people are just looking for referrals, it was more of a professional group of women trying to help each other.”
Shauna quickly got involved in NAWBO’s Kansas City chapter. “That’s really important for NAWBO,” she says. “The more you can get someone involved at an early stage, the more they stay connected to the organization.” She served on her chapter board for five years as everything from treasurer to president.
Now, Shauna is more active at the national level. She serves on the board of the NAWBO Institute for Entrepreneurial Development and is part of the NAWBO Circle program for women with larger businesses with at least $1 million in annual revenue.
“I was looking for that next level of professional development,” she says about the Circle. “Our business has grown to $3.5 million, so I feel like the Circle offers what I now need out of the organization. The women are at that level—they have been around the block and are dealing with a lot of similar things.”
“Number one, what I wanted out of the Circle is the monthly mastermind groups and knowing I’d have that time with these women,” she continues. “We’ve continued to elevate the program since I joined, so now I’m getting more and more out of it like the annual retreat.”
The bottom line—she’s regularly connecting with other incredible women who just might have business in their DNA, too.
More About Shauna
One Word For 2023: Motivated. “We’ve spent a lot of time building infrastructure so I’m really excited to see where we go from here,” she says.
Last Thing She Listened to: Her goal this year is to listen to three podcasts a week. She recently listened to the Mel Robbins Podcast as well as The Mindset Mentor Podcast with Rob Dial.
A Morning Habit She Can’t Live Without: She works out almost every morning, six to seven days a week, to set the tone for her day.
Her “Happy Place”: Florida at the beach. “I take a trip every January or February for a week by myself to do strategic planning,” she says. “I love being able to work from my hotel room with my door open so I can see the beach.”