Starting your own CPA firm may seem like a distant fantasy, but with barriers to entry lower than they’ve ever been, it could be closer than you think. If you’ve been wondering if it’s time to break free, here are five signs that you’re ready to be your own boss.
You have the experience.
Most small CPA firm owners have years of experience working for larger firms and find themselves wanting to utilize that experience to serve clients in their own way.
Angie Wood, owner of Wood CPA, started her firm in 2019 after several years of working for larger accounting firms. She knew she had the experience and the passion to foster deeper relationships with clients and grow her business but needed to break away to fully embrace her ability to do so.
“From payroll to bookkeeping to tax questions, I realized that there was so much need for the knowledge and experience I had gained,” says Angie. “All of the positions I’ve held throughout my life are built into the passion and purpose I’ve had in starting my own firm.”
You want to be in control.
Another driving force for many small firm owners is autonomy. From work-life balance to decision-making, complete autonomy brings a whole new level of responsibility, but also gives you the ability to maximize your impact with clients.
“When I worked for a former employer, they did nothing but tax returns for their clients – no tax planning, no projections, no advice around law changes – that was it,” says Angie. “And that completely shocked me. To me, the tax return should be the last thing we worry about. It should be about understanding the clients’ needs throughout the year, so they know what to expect when tax time comes.”
In 2018, when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was enacted, Angie begged her former employer to let her hold lunch and learn sessions with clients. The struggle was an eye-opener and one of the primary reasons she decided to break off and start her own firm.
“I’ve made sure that my clients understand the value of having a CPA is the knowledge and year-round support they receive,” she says. “It’s about finding the right clients – the ones who truly value the advice, not just a transactional, once-a-year situation.”
You’re seeking more meaningful work.
Building your own firm around your passion and purpose can strengthen you during challenging times, including the long hours of tax season. Your purpose is about more than just revenue—it’s about creating a fulfilling work life and more meaningful relationships with staff and clients.
“I realized I wasn’t going to be fulfilled if I didn’t take the leap, start my own firm, and focus on what I really love about the industry and my career,” says Angie.
Today, we see a tighter alignment of mission with many small firm operations. As a firm owner, your passion and purpose can guide what work you take on—and what work you don’t. It can also drive the work environment you want to create for your staff.
“I’ve worked at places with a lot of turnover and no career path, so it’s really important to me to offer a supportive work environment for my staff where they can grow,” says Angie.
You have a specialty in mind.
As a small firm owner, you may want to focus on a specific accounting specialization. A niche accounting service is often dependent on location, interest, and understanding of a particular sector. While it’s certainly not a requirement for starting your own firm, it can be a great foundation to build from if you have the knowledge, experience and relationships.
As the owner of Wood CPA, Angie brings a unique value above and beyond tax preparation with a specialty in not only tax services, but in business advisory and accounting.
Some of the most successful niches serve fellow professionals such as doctors, dentists, attorneys, or real estate professionals. Or maybe you’re interested in helping non-profit firms manage their tax strategy. Choosing a niche you are passionate about enables you to connect more deeply with clients—and will sustain you on the difficult days.
You know the tools that are available to you.
When it comes to starting your own CPA firm, the barriers to entry are lower than they’ve ever been. If you know how to take advantage of the knowledge and tools available, you’re already one step ahead.
From a technology standpoint, workflow solutions designed for small CPA firms can streamline processes and maximize efficiencies with limited resources. Knowing what to look for in tax software can help you build your firm from a position of strength.
Technology can also help you realize your potential as a business advisor, not just a CPA, and have deeper, more meaningful, and profitable client relationships. From cloud-based solutions to artificial intelligence, technology is essential in driving efficiencies, mitigating risk, and meeting the demands of your clients.
When you combine your passion and experience with the right technology, that’s when the magic happens. If you’ve checked these five boxes, a successful start-up CPA firm is in your near future.
For more information on building your firm around your life, access our latest webcast “It’s your firm, is it your life?”
Heather Walker is the General Manager of Emerging Accounts within the Tax & Accounting Professionals segment, focused specifically on firms who prepare fewer than 250 tax returns per year.
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