If you need a sounding board while starting an accounting firm, help is now at hand.
The first year in your own practice can be professionally and financially rewarding, but also busy and occasionally lonely.
Here two CPAs recount their first 12 months in business and how a new professional service has made all the difference.
From big to small
Karen Hensgen CPA jumped ship from a larger firm to launch her own public practice two years ago. It was a career turning point and eye-opener.
“I realised I had been undervaluing the roles I held over the years,” Hensgen says. “I’d been effectively downplaying what I had achieved.”
Her new firm, Hensgen Advisory, situated in Mildura in regional north-west Victoria, has been well received locally and is enjoying strong organic growth.
Clients range from local nurseries to not-for-profits and hospitality businesses. Hensgen works as a “virtual” CFO for some clients, while others require more traditional accounting services.
She has been buoyed by her company’s growth, which has prompted a move to new offices and taking on a business partner.
However, she’s the first to admit that running her own firm is challenging.
“To start with, I’ve had to make decisions on what sort of financial services to focus on,” Hensgen says.
“We’re in our infancy still, developing our website and looking at the best strategy for [further] growth and documenting that internally. There’s a lot to consider.”
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Paul Siragusa CPA has taken over running his father’s Siragusa Accounting Group in Reservoir in northern Melbourne and already plans to hire additional staff to cope with the growing workload.
His father, who started the business 35 years ago, remains involved on a limited basis. However, for Siragusa junior, juggling the day-to-day operations of a rapidly expanding firm has also not been without its challenges.
“Running a public practice business can be fast-paced,” he says. “There’s a big leap from handling one or two client files a day to running an entire firm.”
Enter the Concierge
Hensgen and Siragusa accepted guidance in their ventures from CPA Australia’s free-of-charge Public Practice Concierge service.
CPA Australia Public Practice Engagement Executive Bronwen Baulch says the idea for the service came from a desire to provide better support to members, particularly newer public practice firms.
“Many admit they need some sort of outside help, so we sit down with them and examine which elements of running a business they’re struggling with and ways we can help,” Baulch says.
After initial contact, intending participants are sent a questionnaire to provide CPA Australia with an understanding of their goals and to help them find the right tools and targeted learning resources to achieve them.
After a meeting with a CPA Australia representative, the representative will check back on progress and provide further support if required, as a follow-up visit and phone support is also offered.
Issues addressed in Concierge sessions vary greatly, Baulch explains.
“Sometimes, it’s as simple as suggesting blocking out time in the diary to work on the business, as opposed to in the business,” she says.
“Others struggle with increased competition, succession planning or changes in technology. They want help looking at how to move to a paperless office or to introduce value-based pricing. Some don’t have automated systems in place, so we’re assisting with that as well.”
Paul Siragusa says tapping the Concierge service has helped him to deal with the multi-level demands of being a practice principal.
“It’s a juggling act to be mentoring staff, making sure the work is of a high level and putting out spot fires all the time,” he says.
“You’re often pulled in every direction, and you’re also being handballed the more complex issues by others in the office.”
Hensgen singles out the importance of branding and networking as key takeaways from her Concierge experience.
“As I’ve been setting up in business, I’ve learned the importance of branding,” she notes. “I’ve also been encouraged to establish a network of like-minded accountancy practices in other parts of the state with a view to sharing knowledge, which will be hugely valuable.”
CPA Australia’s Concierge Service
The Concierge service enables public practice firms to extend their team by partnering with public practice engagement executives at CPA Australia. It has already been accessed by more than 60 firms across Australia and is initially offered to members who have been in public practice for just a year or two. It will become available to other members in due course.
For more information, email [email protected]