In retrospect, it was a foolish idea. At 29, I took the leap and started an accounting firm. I had a young family, very little money, and only a handful of clients at the time. The smart thing would have been to seek out a good firm with stability, but I decided to follow my heart and give it a year on my own. We were lucky, and hard work paid off. In May we’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary.
The key to our success is creativity and innovation. Our slogan is “Ideas That Count,” and we try to live and breathe that. From day one, we focused on ways to improve our creative skills so that we could find better solutions to our clients’ problems. For example, we recently did something that we call a Google Day. It’s a twist on Google’s idea of allowing its engineers to devote 20% of their time to projects that interest them, apart from their normal work tasks. We took a day where everybody just worked on their own project. It wasn’t client work. It was their new idea. It had to be something we could conceivably implement. And along with their idea, the only other requirement was that they had to have some kind of projected ROI and a task outline or timeline.
And we all got together for lunch, and everyone presented our Google Day ideas. It was fun, and I think the employees enjoyed it. We had one person who developed an Excel template that pooled the data from our trial balance and populated a report with all kinds of neat key indicators, benchmarks, and graphs. Someone else decided to put together a free service over the web that could help automate Delaware gross receipts tax planning. Another person who does some work with municipalities came up with a plan to develop software to help with tax collection. It was a relatively simple piece of software, but it satisfied a need, and there was potential there.
We usually play games at our firm a couple times a week. Playing every week might seem like a lot, but it’s actually a small investment of time considering the benefit. It brings everyone together and helps build creative skills. We will play games with prospective hires as well. You will have some people who are really uptight about knowing every single rule. Other people will just laugh and go along with it, and not really care about winning. You really get to see someone’s personality when they play games. You learn about whether they are able to make decisions on their own and how they approach problems and work with people.
Our vision for the future is about finding creative ways to collaborate with other CPAs. We regularly use Skype in place of face-to-face meetings, and it’s technology like this that is opening the door for opportunities. Our customers are everywhere now, and, as such, we can specialize like never before. A CPA firm in Miami with a niche in helping tech businesses move offshore can work closely and regularly with a CPA firm in Delaware that specializes in SBIR (small business innovation research) technology grant accounting.
What’s next for us? After an IRS audit on reasonable salary of an S corp. client, we realized that we didn’t have a good way to help our clients know what salary they should be setting for themselves. As a result, we will be launching a service that collaborates with other CPAs and helps them prepare reasonable salary opinions for S corp. shareholders. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a gamble, but we have always been risk takers.
—As told to Kim Nilsen, firstname.lastname@example.org,
the JofA’s executive editor
Photo by Joel Demott, Pixelform, Inc.