Considering launching your own accounting practice? With sophisticated yet affordable resources like Xero, cloud-based workflow apps and DIY website building tools, the barriers to entry have been significantly reduced. Solopreneurship brings rewards that go beyond money and a corner office - it’s about the creating a lifestyle on your own terms. We spoke to two industry experts who took the leap to gain their advice.
Paul Meissner is a Chartered Accountant and founder of consultancy 5ways Group and Freedom Accounting System. He is a Councillor for the Victorian Regional Council for Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, and regularly speaks to industry groups about cloud accounting, compliance, social media and capacity management.
BC: What challenges do accounting consultants face when they’re starting up?
Paul: People who go out into consultancy are extremely good at what they do. But often they struggle with the business management (side of things). Setting up their own systems, building a website and networking can be a whole new world. It’s a huge transition from desk job to business owner.
BC: Is it a good idea to drop prices to get those first few clients on board?
Paul: It’s a fine line. Always value your services. As a consultant there is a maximum you can take on. Many startups discount and then very quickly run out of capacity. Then they are running a million miles an hour, working late into the night but not making enough money. It’s like being chained to a desk job again.
BC: What advice would you have for those starting up to attract new clients?
Paul: Allocate time to chase new leads, network, write a blog or attend events. Don’t consider that time as non-billable; it’s an investment in your future earning capacity.
Don’t worry about being ‘busy’. As a society, we say that busy is good, busy is productive. Busy is the worst thing you want to be. Are you efficient and are you profitable? That’s what I strive for.
BC: Does having access to cloud-based business tools make it easier to launch your own consultancy?
Paul: It is absolutely easier than ever to get started. When I started my own firm, I had a website, PayPal account, business name, 1300 number, logo and company registration all done with a laptop sitting by the pool over a weekend. By Monday morning I was ready to bill my first client.
When I started my business my father suggested I take an advert in the local paper. He was amazed when I told him I was going to use Twitter for all my marketing.
BC: What are the positives about starting your own accounting practice?
Paul: There has never been a better time to go out on your own. You can get started quickly, and with very little capital outlay. All you need is your laptop and you’re ready to go. A great benefit is global reach. Also, there are no geographical constraints about where your clients are, I have clients from all over Australia and around the world.
It’s a great lifestyle. I work four days a week and spend Mondays with my two children. You can only do that in a corporate role if you cut your salary. Last year I relocated the family to Europe for two months and maintained full time work remotely. Being 100% cloud based for all our systems means that my laptop, phone and iPad are my whole office. The clients knew I was in Europe and the work got done. It’s been amazing.
Haydn Stewart is a Chartered Accountant and registered tax agent. In 2015 he left Deloitte to launch his own practice, Pinnacle Accounting. He now consults for clients in varying sectors including motor industry, manufacturing, property and professional services.
BC: What inspired you to start your own accounting firm?
Haydn: I always wanted to run my own business. The long hours at Deloitte didn’t give me the flexibility and freedom to see much of my young family. I knew that I could always go back to a day job, so I made the jump.
BC: What were the hardest things about starting up?
Haydn: Learning all the things that aren’t accounting. Like IT processes, CRM systems and insurances. These little things are not part of the technical accounting day job. I’m a people person, and initially I found working by myself a challenge. I made it work by arranging in-person client meetings and attending networking events on a regular basis.
One of my initial concerns was cashflow to support my family, as going from a secure job to uncertainty is not for the faint of heart. After making the jump, I was glad to have done so, as the rewards both monetary and job satisfaction-wise have made it well worth it.
BC: Did you outsource anything?
Haydn: Initially no. I did it all as I was a growing business. There is no point outsourcing if you have the capacity to do it. Once I achieved scale I started to outsource the smaller bookkeeping components and took on a part timer.
BC: How did you get your first clients?
Haydn: I networked, and I got clients from word-of-mouth referrals. Doing a great job and managing your network is the best form of marketing. Word-of-mouth has 100% driven my business.
BC: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you do differently?
Haydn: I would hire six months sooner than I did. Hiring an employee released me to work on the business.
I would hire a more experienced accountant too. My first hire was an engineer who wanted to switch to accounting, so I gave him a go. I trained him up for three months, then he decided he wanted to be a builder. This put me back about 6 months, and with hindsight I would have chosen to hire an experienced accountant who wanted this to be his career.
BC: Do you worry about competitors? What would you advise people starting out regarding competition?
Haydn: I don’t worry about them. My mindset is that there is always more than enough work for everybody. I would tell anyone starting up that if you can help your clients and be an asset in running their business you will always get work.
BC: What do you miss about the old days of employment in a big firm?
Haydn: I really appreciated the culture in Deloitte and working alongside some really smart people. At Deloitte there were internal specialists as a resource to draw on. Working alone, I have to make the captain’s call regularly, although there are some colleagues in the industry and networking groups that I can call on if needed.
BC: Is it easier to get started on your own now more so than previously?
Yes, purely because the tools are at your fingertips. It just takes someone to give it a crack. There are fewer barriers to entry nowadays. It’s always the fear of cash that stops a lot of people. You just need to jump. I’m very glad I did, it has been very rewarding for me.
Now’s the time...
If you’ve been thinking of setting up your own accounting practice, do not hesitate. With many cloud-based resources at your fingertips, you could be up and running sooner than you think. It won’t be easy, and you’ll no doubt miss your former life, but the rewards of being your own boss and working flexibly make taking the leap worthwhile for many.