A short time ago, my assistant Alex showed me a check one of my business clients wrote for $1,000. The memo portended a suspicious purpose: “for services.” I gave him a dirty look, then broke out in laughter. I am a singer, writer, and a comedian, so being a CPA and running my own practice is as different from any other home business as can possibly be. I don’t just book entries; I envision them as live occurrences happening to my clients as though they were happening to me. They move me. They talk to me. They take me on a quest where I separate myth from reality.
Not all of my clients are storytellers. But once they enter the doors of my home office, I am there to listen and diagnose their financial health. I am there to make my clients whole. Just because your prior accountant registered you as a C corporation where you are clearly better off as an S corporation does not mean I will stay that flawed course.
I teach my clients to be civilized while saving money through prudent decisions. I tell them: Don’t come to me after you’ve secured a bad loan or spent your money on a personal car lease when it should have been registered to your business. Come to me before you make a decision, and I will find the optimal solution, one that will make both you and the IRS happy. I am all about financial stamina, making smart decisions and having me, your friendly CPA, on speed dial. And that is what all of my clients now do.
My rates are pretty cheap, and I don’t charge for a consultation. So why do I do it? Well, my private practice is still young, so I am building up my clientele and the range of services I provide. For the first nine months, I did everything myself or employed temporary help; it’s only recently that I’ve been able to bring on Alex, a third-year student at Queens College who has become instrumental to my marketing voice on social media. He handles my daily posts on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and my own website. It was his idea to sign me up on Yelp, which has been a boost to my visibility.
Having Alex also makes it easier to charge higher fees. As a trusted advisor, I need to maintain a friendly, supportive face with clients, which can make negotiations difficult. Alex is under no such compunctions; he can give them the simple, blunt answer, “Sorry, that’s our policy.” He’s got the temperament for it, and the best advice I can give to practitioners is to have someone in the office who can handle confrontational conversations. Don’t sell yourself short because you lack that particular skill or personality trait.
Another piece of advice I would offer is something I struggle with myself: putting clients on a schedule. Don’t pick up if they call after hours. If your business setting allows, don’t give out your personal cell phone number. Keep as much distance as possible between your personal life and work life. I, unfortunately, will not be able to move into a dedicated office space until next year, so I have to grin and bear the intrusions for now. In fact, that’s my third piece of advice: get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
Prior to opening my own practice, I had an a lovely office, top-of-the-line IT support, great salary and benefits, and the perks of working for one of the largest hedge funds around. I was very comfortable, but I felt like I wasn’t utilizing my potential to the fullest. A year or so later, I have a growing business and the flexibility to pursue my creative ambitions as well. My old job never counted the opportunity cost of that comfort, either the earning potential I was foregoing or the emotional benefits of being able to do creative work or spend more time with my husband and children. My only regret is that I didn’t make the leap and start my own practice sooner.