Opening a new CPA office

By Blake Christian, CPA, MBT

Getting started in a new location brings many challenges including finding the right space to rent, adapting to a different business environment, and building a new network. Here are tips to smooth out the process.

Do your homework. If you are venturing into a new geographic region, research everything from your competition to typical billing rates in the area, salaries of potential employees, and the candidate pool for new hires.

Have key staff in place. Relocate crucial staff members if they're willing to make the move. If they're not, hire a key employee (generally a manager) who has connections in the new community and can assist with recruiting, practice development, and community involvement. Consider using a headhunter to help you find this person.

Choose the right location for the office. Consider factors such as safety, easy freeway access, parking, proximity to other business providers, and the amount of construction needed.

Trim parking costs. You may be able to save money by renting in a building that includes free parking or lower-cost "stacked" parking where co-employees share a tandem space, or by negotiating a lower cost on validation stickers for your clients.

Negotiate the terms of your lease. Do not simply accept the boilerplate terms the landlord submits. You may be able to negotiate significant front-end costs such as tenant improvement allowances and common area maintenance (CAM) charges, as well as items such as late payment terms, the minimum assumed building occupancy level, deposit amounts, personal vs. firm guarantees, insurance requirements, and which party pays for leasehold improvements, repairs, and utilities.

Try to strike a deal on utilities. Generally, utilities are included in the basic lease for normal business hours, and additional charges are imposed for any time falling outside this period. However, because CPAs work many weekends and off-hours during tax and audit busy seasons, add-on utility charges can add up quickly. You can attempt to negotiate for a block of free "excess" utility hours or for a lower rate for time outside normal business hours.

Rebuild your network. Create a solid network of referral sources, business prospects, and other professional services providers such as bankers, attorneys, consultants, payroll companies, and investment advisers.

Become involved in the new community. Establish your firm in the new marketplace by joining community organizations and trade groups that match your personal and marketing objectives. Getting to know the local city staff and council members can also be useful.

Get the word out. Announce the opening of the new office with press releases, a social media campaign, and direct mail. To introduce your firm and services to new contacts, host events such as open houses, networking sessions, and wine tastings. Also, sponsoring local charitable events is an excellent way to brand your new office.

Editor's note: This checklist is adapted from the article "Top Do's and Don'ts When Opening a New CPA Office," CPA Insider, March 9, 2015, available at cpa2biz.com.

By Blake Christian, CPA, MBT (blakec@hcvt.com), a tax partner with the CPA firm HCVT LLP.

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