More Accountants Need to Embrace Their Entrepreneurial Instincts

Mike Whitmire Accountant EntrepreneurIt’s not hard to meet an accountant these days. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy recently reported that there are over 664,000 certified public accountants in the US* and enrollment in accounting college programs hit an all time high last year with over 250,000 students in undergraduate, graduate and PhD programs. These numbers don’t even include the number of unlicensed accountants who work in various industries or who have started businesses.

Talk to any accountant and you’ll eventually ask him or her why they chose the field. The answer, predictably, revolves around job security. Going Concern recently noted that: “I figured I could get a job,” was the perfect answer to any questions about choosing accounting. The statement suggests a perfect mix of pragmatism and indifference.

Here at FloQast, we love accountants. We’re biased, of course, since our customers are accountants but, oddly enough, two of our co-founders are accountants, too. And that’s kind of a rare thing — accountants turned entrepreneurs.

Now, you might be thinking that accountants are risk averse, uncomfortable with surprises and sticklers for details — not exactly the variables you’re looking for in an entrepreneur. And you’d be right! Most accountants embody those traits. But great accountants are always looking for better solutions to their everyday challenges. When something works poorly, the best accountants find tools or shortcuts that make their jobs easier.

So, the best accountants are, at the very least, enterprising. They take measured risks to seek a solution to a problem within their everyday job. But what happens if they run into a challenge that doesn’t have a better solution? There’s nothing more frustrating than having to settle for a crappy way of doing something. The monthly closing of the books is a perfect example of this frustration. Our experience and business instincts told us that there could be a better way to close the books, but no one was actively building it. That opportunity led us to start FloQast and we set out to make the close process less painful for all accounting departments.  

What’s unfortunate is that a lot of accountants stop short at the idea phase. Too few of the best accountants don’t take it upon themselves to create the solution when the opportunity presents itself. Too many wait around for someone else to do it. Accountants receive a rigorous education and work experience in not only crunching numbers, but also in recognizing inefficiencies and where processes break down. They are uniquely qualified to recognize opportunities and offer ideas, but not enough of them take the steps to build a business around them. Why is that?

Well, for starters, it’s probably worth pointing out that most people — accountant or not — don’t do it. Job security is a social construct hardwired into a lot people’s psyches — working is hard enough, why take the risk of working hard and not getting paid? That’s a pretty compelling argument! There are thousands of great businesses across the country and many smart, creative and hardworking people work at them. A steady job with a good salary makes it much easier to support a family and meet responsibilities than venturing into the scary, uncertain world of entrepreneurship.

Second, (and this doesn’t get said enough) it’s really hard to start a business and keep it going! Even people who have the risk appetite might not choose the right opportunity or idea. Or maybe they get burned out or choose a lousy partner or investor. There are countless reasons why businesses fail and failure is a thing society, again, tells us is bad. And since failure infers that you’ve done something wrong, that’s a non-starter for lots of accountants. Accountants, you see, do not like being wrong.

On the contrary, entrepreneurs make themselves vulnerable. That is, they place themselves in insecure situations. Yes, they’re confident about an idea or themselves, but there’s always the chance that it doesn’t work. Likewise, entrepreneurs have to be okay with failing. It’s a cost of doing business and essential to success. Failure is a thing that entrepreneurs will experience again and again. Entrepreneurs get a lot of things wrong on their way to getting things right.

What a lot of accountants forget is that they have the skills and background to be kickass entrepreneurs. Accountants know the importance of cash flow, can analyze financial statements and work through large quantities of information. And they know how to stretch a dollar.

But even more importantly, many accountants experience the pain points of business everyday. This happens either as a CPA serving clients or an in-house accountant that’s part of a larger team. The best ones see the mistakes and inefficiencies over and over and think to themselves, “This is how we could fix that.” Hell, they might even talk about it, “What do you think of this idea?” If someone was there just to give them a nudge…

We sincerely hope that more accountants try starting businesses, either to solve a problem or to serve a group of people. It’s a group of professionals that has a lot to offer in the realm of entrepreneurship and we want more of them to join us. Sure, it’s a lot of hard work, but we are having a lot fun. It’d be a damn shame if we were the only ones.

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*Of course, this figure doesn’t include the CPAs in Delaware, Hawaii, Utah or Wisconsin. Even when taking a census, accountants depend on materiality.

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