Off the Beaten Path: CPAs' Skills and Contacts Are a Flexible Foundation for Many Enterprises

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* CPAs CAN USE THEIR UNDERSTANDING of business structures, familiarity with financial reports and disciplined, analytic thinking to succeed at other endeavors. Those who have launched alternative or auxiliary careers emphasize the resources being a CPA can offer.

* A SELDOM-TOUTED ASSET OF BEING A CPA, particularly in public practice, is that accountants have a window into diverse client companies. They're aware of the most profitable ones, those that are interesting and those whose owners want to sell.

* DUE DILIGENCE FOR CONSIDERING a new enterprise should include not only looking at the financials but also within yourself. Professionals who are considering a big change should consult advisers, family and perhaps a business coach and carefully think through their goals before making a decision.

* CPAs CAN USE THEIR SKILLS as a foundation for preparing a company's business plan, streamlining management, organizing finances more effectively, ramping up marketing efforts and initiating other steps that will optimize productivity and profitability.

* PRACTITIONERS SHOULDNT UNDERTAKE a big change without researching the market, having capital for the long haul, having a network of professional and personal support and caring about what they propose to do.

* CPAs WHO ARE SATISFIED doing what they do can relax and enjoy the fact that they have an even wider range of professional options than they thought.

In this faster, leaner, meaner modern world, many professionals--by choice or necessity--will have more than one career before they reach retirement (and perhaps even another one after). Fortunately, the skills that make for being a successful CPA are an excellent foundation for a segue into another enterprise if the economic winds or your heart changes. Young practitioners can capitalize on the field's broad-based financial knowledge to seize an entrepreneurial opportunity, and all CPAs can use their understanding of business structures, familiarity with financial reports, exposure to management styles and disciplined, analytical thinking to succeed at other endeavors. This article will help you answer key questions such as: What are my goals? What are my choices? Should I buy a business or start a new one? What pitfalls should I be aware of? It also profiles a few practitioners who have launched alternative or auxiliary careers. Their experiences show some of the opportunities available to CPAs and point out skills they found useful.

DECIDE WHAT MOTIVATES YOU

One seldom-touted asset of being a CPA, particularly in public practice, is that you have a window into diverse client companies. You're aware of the most profitable ones, those that interest you and those whose owners want to sell. Sometimes a good opportunity just comes your way--perhaps a client asks you to work for or buy into his or her company or a spin-off, a former colleague mentions an interesting business is for sale or you hear about a lead at a chamber of commerce meeting. Due diligence should include looking not only at the financials but also at yourself. Consult your advisers, family and perhaps a business coach and drink through your goals. Answer questions such as

* What would I accomplish by making a career change? If your aim is to broaden your professional scope, starting your own firm or adding a business valuation, technology consulting or personal financial planning niche may bring new depth to your career (see AICPA Resources, page 55). If it's to pursue deferred dreams, another kind of change may be right for you.

* Is my job likely to be downsized? If the answer is yes, develop a fallback plan.

* What would I enjoy doing--and where? When you visualize the answer to this, pay attention to what you're most excited about. Is it spending more time with people, earning more money, working in a new occupation, serving the public good, seeing direct results from your work, having more time to pursue special interests or something else? …