Andrew Lasko

Andrew Lasko.

Accounting | CPA Canada Blog

Know your business, your client, then take the risk as an entrepreneur

A CPA designation gives you the business fundamentals, flexibility and ability think strategically as a business owner

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When Andrew Lasko, CPA, CA, started out as a real estate agent after more than a decade working as an in-house accountant, he admitted striking out on his own “was a little bit scary.” The good news, in his view, was his CPA designation.

“I knew that my CPA designation would be my calling card,” he says. “Not only would other accountants want to work with me, but professionals, in general, would respect my education.”

That’s proven to be true. Since earning his designation in 2002, Lasko has worked for several local and international firms in the public and private sectors. His impressive list of former employers includes the Auditor General of Ontario, the City of Toronto, Westpac (one of Australia’s Big Four banks), and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics organizing committee. In 2013, he earned his real estate license and joined forces with a business partner to create a thriving real estate business, Bryant & Lasko Real Estate Team, in Vancouver.

Having successfully made the transition from corporate accountant to entrepreneur—owing, in no small part, to his CPA designation—Lasko offers the following advice:

1. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The place to start, according to Lasko, is with proven models: “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Look at how everyone else did it, and then modify it as you need.” The first modification is personalizing your brand—and understanding both yourself and your target market. “You’re not trying to get every client out there. There are people who are not going to work with you, no matter what you do. And there are people you don’t want to work with.” To Lasko, your target market should be people who share your interests and values.

2. Spend the Money (Wisely) Getting to Know Them

Get to know your target market by attending relevant industry events and taking prospects out for lunch, advises Lasko. “It’s a connections business, a referral-based business. But only spend money on the fundamentals: meals and entertainment. Keep your overhead low.”

3. Don’t Skimp on Your Digital Presence

Lasko recommends spending good money on a website, as it builds credibility. “You don’t have to spend money on SEO (search engine optimization), but the first thing people will do after someone tells them your name is Google you.” Likewise, take care in choosing your email address. “You can’t have, it has to be your own domain. Your website and email address are your packaging.”

4. Be Prepared to Iterate Your Business

You don’t have to get it right the first time. Paraphrasing Sir Richard Branson, Lasko offers: “being an entrepreneur is like jumping off a cliff, and then building the plane as you fall.” He also notes, in his industry, the importance of evolving your brand as client brands evolve: “If your clients start going in the $2 million range instead of the $1 million range, your packaging needs to be different.”

5. Learn How to Say “No”

While favouring iteration, Lasko also adds: “You can’t be all things to all people.” Most importantly, you need to learn to say no. “There are some days that I’m working on a Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., or I’m working on a Thursday night. Or I’m in bed and someone calls me about a contract—and then I’m in bed, writing a contract. It can be disruptive to your life,” he acknowledges. This is why it’s so important to have healthy boundaries: “My productivity soared the second I started taking a day off for myself.”

6. Jump With A Soft Landing

Before you jump, Lasko advises, make sure you are ready for the potential fall. “Definitely have a financial buffer. Six months of living expenses in the bank, just to be sure.” He also suggests maintaining flexibility in the early days of your solo business. “Don’t go agreeing to long-term contracts. If things work, you’re going to upgrade; if they don’t, you don’t want to be stuck.” If things hit rock bottom, however, Lasko argues that there’s no better designation to cushion you: “Being a CPA gives you an understanding of business fundamentals that is better than almost any other designation. It isn’t just the knowledge, but the flexibility and ability to think strategically.”