CPAs looking to become business owners need to think about what they really want to do to make that pivot professionally (Getty Images/Tom Werner)
Whether you’re a well-established CPA or one in training, entrepreneurship is not only within reach, but perhaps a path for the future, experts suggest.
Despite pandemic uncertainty, Canada’s entrepreneurial spirit remains intact. According to a recent RBC poll, two of the top reasons for starting a business are to pursue an interesting opportunity and to find a sense of purpose.
But running a business comes with unique challenges that CPAs need to keep in mind.
If you’re thinking of branching out on your own, consider these six steps.
1) ESTABLISH THE WHAT, WHY AND WHO
Business success naturally requires a clear idea of what you’re offering, why it’s needed and who it’s servicing.
“How is the world going to be just a little bit better after investing time and energy into what you create?” asks FCPA Carl Oxholm, CEO of Mississauga-based Virtue Compass Inc. (VCI), which helps individuals and organizations optimize their energy and manifest their intention through coaching and consultation.
For CPAs—who come to business ownership with a range of adaptable skills—it’s also important to think about what you really want as you pivot, says Oxholm.
“Pause long enough to ask yourself, ‘what has my life experience taught me and what needs exist that aren’t currently being met?” he says.
2) SET IT UP FOR SUCCESS
Make sure that your idea makes use of your core competencies and unique knowledge. “Don’t try to become an entrepreneur in an area where you have no background,” says CPA Richard Morrisseau, co-founder, Business GPS, at Quebec-based Bluemind, which offers strategic management guidance to entrepreneurs, business owners and managers.
“The key to launching a new startup is working with your strengths.”
Oxholm also advises engaging in some analysis and number crunching—a natural task for CPAs—that weighs annual running costs against what it takes to break even. “Rather than looking at success versus failure against an imaginary standard, you have real data to work from,” he says.
3) VISUALIZE BIG AND BROADLY
When testing your idea’s “stickiness”, take your time and get to know your audience, says Oxholm. If the idea doesn’t resonate with your immediate network, extend your reach.
“Be free with your imagination. Thinking expansively without limiting yourself,” he says.
CPA Debbie Gorsline, partner with Calgary-based Anderson Gorsline Chartered Professional Accountants, adds that this big-picture thinking is imperative for CPAs to see beyond what’s before them, identify associated risks and visualize a path forward.
“The CPA designation gives you the building blocks to develop as you want to,” she says. “There’s much more to accounting than numbers. You need to know something about everything.”
4) NURTURE YOUR NETWORK
CPAs have a wide network that is essential for entrepreneurial success, experts point out. These relationships must be built and maintained through engagement and active listening.
“No one succeeds as an island; it takes a village; two heads are always better than one ... there’s a reason these cliches exist,” says Oxholm. He adds that a strong network, offers the support, trust and encouragement necessary to move a business forward.
“When you have that level of curiosity and respect amongst people, the network, in its literal sense, continues to expand,” he says.
Gorsline agrees, adding the network she’s maintained has helped her achieve the professional success she has today and connected her with individuals whose experience she can draw from.
“Having a support group is so important. When I’m going down that rabbit hole, they’ve helped me see the forest from the trees,” she says.
5) EMBRACE RISK WITH AN AERIAL VIEW
Entrepreneurship requires a willingness to assume great risk, something CPAs are not necessarily used to embracing personally, says Morrisseau.
“If you want to become an entrepreneur, you’ll need to learn how to deal with risk,” he says.
Even so, Oxholm stresses that CPAs often have an aerial view of the organizations they serve, which vary in size and industry. This builds agility which, when combined with financial and risk management insight, makes CPAs an ideal fit for entrepreneurship.
“CPAs have broad, expansive experience. They can assess the overall health of an organization.”
6) SEIZE THE FUTURE
Though entrepreneurship isn’t a common pursuit for CPAs, times are changing, say experts.
“We’re going to see CPAs’ financial acumen complemented with other aspects of business and leadership acumen that will create a perfect recipe for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” Oxholm says.
Morrisseau agrees, adding that due to the influence of AI and automation on accounting functions, CPAs will be exploring new avenues to apply their skill sets.
“New roles will be found that were not considered before,” he says.
Gorsline adds that for those with a passion for something more, the CPA designation can provide the perfect grounding.
“As entrepreneurs, we do what we do because we love it and the CPA designation provides the business aspect necessary to go in that direction,” she says. “It’s that evolution of the role that makes it a natural fit.”
If you’re on the entrepreneurial road, CPA Canada has an abundance of resources to help you on your journey. And look to CPA Canada’s small business resources for strategy and planning advice.
Also, gain valuable insight into financial literacy trends and issues as they relate to personal finance and small and medium businesses at CPA Canada’s Mastering Money virtual conference on demand.