Being an entrepreneur is as trendy as it gets, but running a successful business isn’t as easy as it looks. As unicorns emerge with stories of wild success, are you itching to jump on board and launch the next big thing?
At Mentor Happy, we’ve has seen an uptick in career coaching requests on how to launch a start-up, specifically from young professionals.
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When we coach a new entrepreneur, we walk them through items they need to think through, develop, and plan for in the early stages of their start-up; for most, it’s an eye-opening process. Many come to us with a concept of what they want to accomplish and grand ideas for the sexy aspects of owning a business but gloss over the grind of day to day operations.
Understanding the operational aspects of a business is certainly something you can learn on the fly; provided you have the time and financial wherewithal to muscle through mistakes as you go. But, if you’re like most young entrepreneurs, you’re bootstrapping your business and need to limit costly mistakes while creating revenue quickly. What does all of this have to do with a career in public accounting? Simple, cut your teeth and learn on someone else’s dime.
I Am Not A Bean Counter
As someone who has worked in human capital within the accounting and finance industry for over 16 years, I’ve heard every stereotype known to man to describe accountants.
Boring, poor communicators, robots, bean counters, nerds; that’s just the beginning! While an accountant may evoke visions of pocket protectors and high water pants, the professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with from the accounting and finance industry are often brilliant business minds.
Think about it, your business success is built on numbers. Sure you need a great product or service that is in demand, an innovative approach towards go to market strategies and a sharp team to support you, but if you don’t understand where and how revenue is generated, how you can eliminate or reduce costs and how to improve financial processes to increase profit, you’ll sink. You cannot outsell a poorly ran business, it will catch up with you!
So, while you may not think you’re a bean counter now, once you own a business you better start counting the beans! Understanding how to account for your businesses success and failure is critical.
Accounting Is Fancy Math, Not Business…Right
Joining the accounting industry early in your career will teach you a lot about running the back office of a business. Trust me, you’ll learn so much more than debits and credits. You’ll see firsthand how a business operates, handles cash flow and drives profit. Working in public accounting will allow you an even quicker dive into business, especially if you join a large regional or national firm.
When you tack on the fact that consulting schedules and client assignments are always changing, public accountants are exposed to complex financial projects at a variety of large organizations. Constantly going into different companies allows you to see a wide array of approaches to business in a quick time period. You won’t get this type of crash course working on your own business, or working for a small accounting shop.
With such diverse exposure to different companies, you’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. What do you like about one organization’s market strategy versus another? Can you combine two different business models into one that fits your needs? This fast deep dive will open your eyes quickly to what it takes to run a business and may even cause you to rethink ownership.
You Don’t Need To Take An Accounting Role
While this post has focused more on the accounting and finance side of public accounting, those roles aren’t your only option. You can join a large firm as a business, IT or operations consultant as well. While you won’t be as involved in the financials of your clients, you will be exposed to the numbers and you’ll still see the business aspects mentioned above that will help you better understand what it really takes to run a successful business.
What to Expect When Joining Public Accounting
In my opinion, joining a large firm will broaden your skill set much faster than a small local firm. Why? You’ll learn more purely based on the number and size of client accounts. Having said that, this exposure often times comes at the cost of your personal life.
Large firms are notorious for crazy schedules and aggressive travel. However, as employees begin to demand more flexibility and a more balanced approach to work, most firms are changing their philosophy on work-life balance. For example, Grant Thornton, a firm where we provide leadership coaching to several high-level leaders, recently announced unlimited vacation time; their move makes it highly likely other public accounting firms will follow.
While busy season is a grind, and it’s difficult to get away from those seasonal swings, most firms have extremely flexible schedules in the offseason. Firms are also working hard on improving company culture by adding creature comforts to make time at the office more enjoyable.
But, if you’re reading the above and you think ugh, “I’m not killing myself for a job”, let me take a second to caution you. If work-life balance is a hot button for you, owning a business requires 24-7 dedication and work-life balance is out the window! Evening, weekends and mornings that begin before dawn are normal, especially in the early stages of starting a business. If you think consulting work sounds like a grind, you’ll fail as a business owner. The demanding schedule of busy season and/or project management is an opportunity for you to do a gut check on whether or not owning a business is right for you.
Requirements To Join A Large Accounting Shop
After reading through this, if you’re interested in landing a role with a large regional or national public accounting firm for your business crash course, then all you need to do is target your resume to the opportunity and craft a targeted cover letter. You don’t need to be an accountant. Having a degree in accounting or finance is helpful, but not a prerequisite. Most large firms will on board professionals with a business, IT, HR or marketing degree, and often consider individuals with focuses outside of a traditional business education.
Set Yourself Up To Succeed
I’m a firm believer that if you procrastinate, you’ll miss out on opportunity; I understand if my advice to join the accounting industry may seem in direct conflict with that statement. However, there is a difference in lazy procrastination and thoughtful preparation.
Jumping into something, especially business ownership, head first without a plan or a true understanding of what you’ll need to do to succeed is reckless. Slow down and make sure you’re ready. Do your research, arm yourself to succeed and have the basics of business ownership under your belt before you seek VC funding or invest every penny you have into starting a business.