CPA INSIDER

Why Millennial CPAs should consider firm ownership

Starting a firm gives you a unique opportunity to impact the profession.
By Brannon Poe

According to the editor-in-chief of MiLLENNiAL magazine, 60% of Millennials see themselves as entrepreneurs, while 90% say they have an entrepreneurial mindset. One way Millennial CPAs can put this mindset to work is by starting their own firms.

Owning a business offers tremendous freedom and rewards that are difficult to find elsewhere. It can give you a vantage point on business that few others enjoy. What's more, it can also give you an opportunity to begin shaping the future of the accounting profession.

There are many reasons firm ownership can be a great career path for young, entrepreneurial CPAs. These include:

Impact

The accounting profession will become increasingly exciting for people who are naturally entrepreneurial. As technology evolves and compliance work gets easier to deliver, CPAs have a huge opportunity to take on a much bigger role in providing business advisory services.

As Millennial firm owner John Bly, principal and CEO of LBA Haynes Strand, put it, "With the help of new technologies, our profession can be looked to more for the analysis we can provide than for data entry. We can place less emphasis on rear-facing services, such as audit and tax, and more on providing our clients with future-focused services, such as forecasting." Thanks to new developments in technology, he observed, even smaller firms are now able to "look at historical data trends and perform analysis to help clients make better business decisions in the future."

CPAs will be able to make compliance work more efficient through technologies such as cloud computing and employ increasingly powerful analytic tools. Clients have few relationships that are more trusting than their relationship with their CPA. It's arguably the most trusting business relationship that business owners have. Think of how many small businesses could benefit from having not only good financial data, but good business advice based on that data.

Independence

The beauty of being the owner is you have far greater control over the work performed. You decide which niches you want to focus on, how large or small to keep your practice and which clients to pursue. The ability to delegate work to staff is also a crucial skill that can lead to far greater independence. CPAs who are willing to let others take responsibility are able to grow their firms and take on new challenges. With the right people, over time you can free yourself from many routine tasks through good management and team development.

Work-life balance

The freedom to set one's own schedule may be one of the most attractive aspects of owning any business. In the beginning — whether a CPA is starting or buying a practice — the hours tend to be long. As Bly, a client who purchased a CPA practice though us in 2004, noted, in the years 2004-2007, his firm was growing rapidly, and he worked a lot more hours than he did in his previous position.

Once established, though, CPAs who work for themselves have the freedom to focus on areas they enjoy. To do this, owners must learn an array of practice management skills, including the ability to attract the right clients, price services correctly, find and hire good staff, and manage and delegate well. Owners need to be driven, personable, smart, and hardworking in order to get their practices to the point where they can enjoy a high degree of work-life balance — but the payoff can be extremely rewarding. Bly touched upon some of these rewards when he observed that, as a firm owner, "instead of working for billion-dollar-revenue clients, we were saving small and mid-size business clients $10,000 on a transaction or in year-end planning. It meant a lot to them and their families." 

The need for energetic innovators in a changing profession

Millennials get a lot of negative press regarding their drive and work ethic. From what we have seen, this characterization is unfair. Younger CPAs are incredibly creative and are finding ways to get what they want from their careers. Their leadership has the potential to bring about some extremely positive changes not only to the accounting profession but to the economy as a whole. For CPAs with good leadership skills who desire a greater degree of freedom, ownership can be an attractive career option.

For more information and resources on starting a firm, visit the Starting a CPA Practice page.

Brannon Poe, CPA, is the founder of Poe Group Advisors, an accounting practice brokerage firm. He is the author of Accountant's Flight Plan: Best Practices for Today's Firms and On Your Own: How to Start Your Own CPA Firm, and he blogs at http://www.poegroupadvisors.com/blog/. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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