With flexible scheduling, the ability to niche, and work that truly helps others, owning a small business advising practice is a great career path for accounting students. But building a business takes hard work, patience and persistence; it’s a path reserved for those who are willing to put in the time and make it their own.
Here are three obstacles students face on the path to starting their own small business adviser practice – and some advice on how to tackle them.
1. Discover your practice identity
Identity is part finding out the niche you want to work in, and part finding your purpose. As a small business advisor, you’re truly going to be changing people’s lives, and you need to know why you want to do that and how you’re going to get it done.
Niching takes both time and experience. What industries do you enjoy working with or do you have experience in? Better question, what industries are you interested in? Making a serious inquiry into your own personal passions will help you pick a niche where you provide value beyond simply going over financial statements and explaining numbers.
Your “why” and purpose are also derivatives of taking a deep dive into your own identity. Why do you want to work with small businesses, and why do you want to serve a specific niche? One way to do this is to ask why until you come to a root answer. Why do you want to be a small business advisor? If you answer, “because I want to help small businesses succeed,” dig deeper by asking “why do you want to help small businesses succeed?” Continue in this vein until your “why” is hashed out to the base.
Keep in mind that deciding on a niche and discovering who you’re going to be as a business advisor takes time and patience. Over time, as you develop more experience in the field, you’ll be able to home in on who you want to work with and why you want to work with them.
2. Become an expert in your area
Small businesses want to know the person they’re consulting with actually knows what they’re doing. You need to prove you’re a subject matter (and niche) expert, which usually comes in the form of a formal education, credentialing, and some years of experience. Luckily, students are on track to provide evidence of the former; the latter is where many entrepreneurs struggle.
Job experience is a great way to become an expert in your area. You’ll be able to explore both practice areas and industries, and you’ll likely be able to grab your niche and why along the way. But the big question is: how much experience do you need to become an “expert?” As with many questions, it depends. The obvious option is to have enough experience working for another firm to feel comfortable enough to launch your own business. A second option is to get a few years of experience under your belt, then start with smaller services in your niche, such as bookkeeping and tax preparation. As you become more experienced, you can build more services into your practice. Both options will get you experience, it just depends on your comfort level with jumping into the entrepreneurial world.
Students wishing to go solo at some point also need to stay on top of industry and niche-specific technology. This a great way to set yourself apart from the crowd when you breakout on your own as a small business advisor. By investing time into learning about tools to help small businesses automate and streamline work, you can prove you’re invaluable to clients.
3. Build a network of clients
Most college students don’t graduate with a vast network of small business owner names, numbers and emails at their disposal. Building a network takes energy and persistence, and students wishing to start their own small business advising firm need to be comfortable with both building relationships and getting rejected. Students need to learn early on how to hustle, cold pitch, and use all the resources available to them.
Another way to build your client base is to network with other entrepreneurs. Reach out to other small business advisors, or entrepreneurs in your niche that consult in different areas, such as HR or marketing. The entrepreneurial world can get lonely, and having a solid network of other entrepreneurs will help you field ideas and build relationships with new clients.
Although starting your own small business advisor firm may be farther down on your career list, taking steps now to build a base will prepare you to jump into the entrepreneurial world with both feet in the future.
Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam within six months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.