Starting an accounting from the ground up is no easy feat. You’ll spend months and years building your customer base- to say nothing of this time it will take to establish your brand. You should be ready for small social followings at first, and late nights and early mornings preparing for meetings with clients who, despite your best efforts, won’t be happy all the time.
It’s a long road to success as an independent accountant, and there aren’t many shortcuts ahead. But a few tips from the trenches can make it a little easier. Here are four lessons from accountants who’ve been there to help you make your way.
The terms “accountant” and “bookkeeper” may legally be used without any certification at all. Give yourself an edge by getting certified with AICPA (the American Institute of CPAs), NASBA (the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy), or another highly regarded national association. Certification will increase your credibility, attract more clients, and even allow you to up your rates. Most importantly, it will immediately begin building trust with potential clients.
Once certified or licensed, make sure to maintain it with regular re-certification courses and evaluation. Become a member of one or more industry associations to stay on top of industry news and network with other indie accountants.
Build Better Relationships
Great relationships with clients are the key to not only starting an accounting firm, but also your business’s longevity and financial success. And the key to solid client relationships is trust. CPA David Hamblin describes his business as taking a “holistic approach” to clients’ needs. He writes, “Building client relationships, just like any relationship, takes time and work to make it successful.” Hamblin’s top five tips for great client relationships: be thoughtful and available; be prepared for meetings so as not to waste your clients’ time; keep your promises; share your interests with clients to connect on a personal level; be attentive. A genuine connection with your clients will increase their customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Know Your Software
CPA and MBA Michelle Long, author of Successful QuickBooks Consulting: The Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Growing a QuickBooks Consulting Business, says the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program is crucial to a thriving accounting business. In addition to QuickBooks software, annual ProAdvisor membership includes 24-hour technical support, access to articles and advice forums, and product discounts.
Members can access ProAdvisor resources without becoming a Certified ProAdvisor, but Long highly recommends completing the free two-week certification program to increase your expertise and credibility. Certified ProAdvisors receive listings on QuickBook’s Find-a-ProAdvisor referral website. Even after certification, you can continue to build your knowledge (and your business) with online courses in topics such as marketing and expanding your practice.
If you’ve made the switch to a cloud-based accounting solution, find out if the company offers training opportunities. Xero, for instance, also provides a certification program, online learning videos and courses, tech support, and advice community. And Lynda.com’s online accounting courses are a great resource for becoming more informed—without a huge commitment of time or cash.
Many of the most popular softwares that integrate with Xero and QuickBooks, like the FG Receivables Manager or TSheets, offer certifications to make sure you’re a pro for their software too. Check out our BRAND NEW AR Management course to learn how to optimize useage of our Receivables management platform.
Find (or Be) a Mentor
Whether you’re a brand-new newbie or a more seasoned pro, there’s always someone who’s been at this longer—and who can give you valuable advice. Eric P. Butts, author of the blog Never Less than Success: Career Advice for the Financial Professional, gives twelve reasons you need a mentor (“in case you thought this was optional”). These reasons range from learning from your mentor’s successes and mistakes to having someone to celebrate—or commiserate — with. A mentor is the cornerstone of a good business support network, something all of us need to get through good times and bad.
And being a mentor can benefit you, even as you are helping someone else. CPA/consultant Kristen Rampe writes how personally fulfilling she finds mentoring—paying forward the guidance she received as and up-and-coming CPA is a “gift that keeps on giving.” In addition to being good karma, mentoring helps keep professional standards high.
Are you a self-made accountant? If so, what advice do you give up and comers in the industry? Who were your mentors when you first started in the industry, and what lessons did you learn the hard way? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!