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4 Questions to Ask Yourself About Starting a New Firm

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Jul 21st 2016
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You’ve decided to start your own accounting practice. Congratulations! Whether you are branching out on your own after years with a larger firm or going solo from the get-go, starting your own business is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But the road to independence is not easy. In fact, despite the hard work and determination of millions of business owners, many small businesses ultimately fail.

What can make the difference? Taking the time upfront to think through your strategy. Here are a few questions worth considering:

1. Why Am I Doing This?

For many, the biggest upside of owning your own business is being your own boss. Translation: setting your own hours. But if only working Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the biggest reason behind starting your own business, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Before making the commitment to fly solo, take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what is driving your decision. Are you looking to develop a niche offering based on a unique skill, or are you frustrated with your firm’s current management? Is your desire to own your own firm rooted in your commitment to providing leading-edge advisory services, or is it tied to a desire for greater work-life balance?

Based on the answers to these questions, next steps will emerge. If you discover that independence is driven more by dissatisfaction with your current firm, take the time to talk with your boss about potential solutions.

Starting your own firm isn’t easy, and if you set out for the wrong reasons, you’ll likely never get what you are truly looking for.

2. What Skills Do I Have?

Once you’ve decided that starting your own firm is the right way to go, it is essential to take stock of your own capabilities. Consider conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to kick off this process.

While most people know their own strengths, many often don’t take the time to outline their weaknesses, growth opportunities, and potential professional hurdles. Knowing where there is room for improvement is just as valuable as knowing where you excel.

Once you have this information, you can start filling in the gaps. If you thrive in business development but don’t enjoy day-to-day firm management responsibilities, for example, perhaps consider finding a partner who can fill this latter role.

What’s important is that you find the right talent, be it a partner or practice lead, to help round out your skill set. After all, we can’t do everything alone.

3. How Do I Actually Get Started?

Now that all the pieces are in place, it’s time to get going. Unfortunately, new business doesn’t just walk through the front door. You have to go out and get it.

Start by getting involved in your community and proactively seeking out networking opportunities. Join your local Rotary Club or attend a Chamber of Commerce event. Most cities also often have networking groups exclusively for women or small business owners.

No event is too small, especially when you are first getting started. But it’s not enough to just passively attend the event, sitting quietly on your phone or in the back of the room.

Individuals who go out of their way to strike up a conversation with a stranger or actively participate in the organization’s programming will derive the most value. While it can be uncomfortable, fortune favors the bold.

While a necessary first step to growing your business, networking is not an item you can check off your to-do list. Because even after you bring in your first few clients and establish your footing, client attrition is inevitable.

Staying continuously involved in your community – even when you are not actively looking for new business – is critical to maintaining long-term business success.

4. What Resources are Available to Me?

When you start “branching out on your own,” it doesn’t mean you actually have to do it alone. Rather, there are several tools and resources available to accountants as they look to navigate this transition and become small business owners.

Don’t underestimate the power of local AICPA chapters. When working for a larger firm, most regulatory and accreditation processes and issues are handled by in-house office staff, for example.

Most accountants, therefore, are unfamiliar with related guidelines and requirements, putting them at a disadvantage when they start their own firm. Local organizations can help keep you up-to-date with requirements and regulatory changes to ensure compliance.

Social media and digital channels can also be exceptionally helpful. There are a wide variety of LinkedIn and Facebook groups dedicated to small business owners, including accounting-specific networks.

Don’t be afraid to leverage these networks and pose a question in the discussion or comments section. Nine times out of 10 you’ll get several meaningful responses from fellow firm owners who have been in your shoes before.

Find Your Inner Entrepreneur

Starting your own accounting practice isn’t for everyone. As the saying goes, it takes an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and tears.

So, before striking out on your own, it’s important you take the time to consider why you are doing this and how you will do it. Not taking the time to do so is the difference between success and failure.

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