From the Oct. 2009 Issue
The economic times are tough all over, but while many professionals and other
American workers are seeking security in the uncertain job market, at least
one professional accountant has decided to strike out on her own.
For Elizabeth Davis, a CPA in Norwalk, Iowa, several factors combined to make
this summer the right time to start her own practice, Davis CPA Solutions, LLC
The economy was one of those factors, since after more than 10 years working
in the accounting office of a corporate travel agency; she felt that relationship
might be changing soon.
Elizabeth had climbed the financial management ladder from intern to controller
for the business, but had done so as a remote worker, which allowed her to spend
more time with her family. Although technology had enabled her to help successfully
manage and grow the company over several years, top management was planning
transitions in its operations and she knew they wanted to bring her position
So she started looking at other opportunities and found few attractive options
in the current job market. That was, of course, until she looked around her
own town of Norwalk, a southern suburb of Des Moines. Although the town has
a small population of around 8,000, it has a bustling small business base but
only one CPA serving the community.
After doing a little more research and some long discussions with her husband,
the thought of running her own practice became increasingly appealing.
“Ryan and I are fortunate that he has a secure job and so even though
we’re definitely taking a leap with the new accounting firm, we know that
his income is stable and sufficient enough that we could scrape by if we had
to.” The split with her previous employer was very amicable, she notes,
so she also had the benefit of a severance package. The next thing she did was
certainly unconventional but also brilliant: She met with her soon-to-be competitor
Ricardo Alverio, CPA.
Ricardo’s been in practice in the area for several years and knows the
community well, so I knew he would be able to provide good insight,” Elizabeth
said. “We have different specialties and so we aren’t really competing
for the same market.” The Alverio practice primarily focuses on personal
income tax and the growing Hispanic market, whereas Elizabeth’s expertise
is in corporate finance and business consulting. She noted that he also offered
good advice on getting her new practice off the ground.
Logistically, making the conversion from a remotely-located employee to a
self-employed sole practitioner hasn’t been a large hurdle so far. Her
home office was already set up and she already had the work ethic necessary,
while buying a new laptop and setting up a firm website were easily accomplished,
especially since husband Ryan is a professional web developer. But since the
sum of her experience has been 10 years on the corporate side and one year as
an assistant auditor for the state of Iowa, she acknowledges that she may be
a bit rusty on some of the other aspects of public accounting.
Fortunately, she had kept her CPA credential up-to-date over the years and
has taken CPE courses to help her strengthen her capabilities. Elizabeth has
also started trying out tax compliance systems, with the expectation of using
a pay-per-return version for this first tax year. Although many of her in-practice
workflow processes have yet to evolve, Elizabeth’s firm earned a score
of 302 on The CPA Technology Advisor’s Productivity Survey
a free workflow and technology assessment tool. Scores range from -400 to +600,
so this is commendable for a new startup and shows her recognition of the importance
of technology in the modern public accounting practice.
While she plans to keep the focus of her client offerings around business-oriented
functions such as strategic consulting, virtual CFO services, write-up, corporate
taxation and payroll, she is also a QuickBooks ProAdvisor and will provide individual
compliance services to her business clients. After all, when you’re running
a new practice it’s best to keep the options open and 1040 tax, although
somewhat commoditized these days, is still a core service for most practices.
And she knows that she can turn to fellow Norwalk CPA Alverio for advice, if
Since officially starting the practice in July, Elizabeth says that the biggest
challenges have been in marketing the firm. She’s taken some excellent
first steps, though, first joining the Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce (www.norwalkchamber.org)
and participating in its events. She also is the current president of the local
chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), which provides her
with the opportunity to meet potential business clients. She is also involved
with Norwalk Women of Today (www.norwalkwomenoftoday.com),
a non-profit organization that sponsors activities and helps raise funds for
community purposes, such as a new playground and supporting the local foodbank.
In another unique marketing strategy, Elizabeth will be teaching an evening
course this fall on small business accounting. Offered through an adult community
education program by the Des Moines public schools, the class will give a basic
overview of cash flow budgeting, how to read P&L statements, and an overview
of balance sheets to small business owners in the area.
Modern digital tools that reach much further are also in her arsenal, such
as Twitter and LinkedIn, and she maintains a blog on her firm’s website
that is frequently read by visitors from all over the country. “Like most
accountants, I’m a numbers person, not a word person. And it can take
some effort to translate what I understand the best into a message that will
be informative and persuasive to potential clients.”
With the laptop, Elizabeth already has mobile flexibility that lets her to
work at client locations, and an iPhone extends that mobility, allowing her
to keep up with Ryan and their daughters, Emily (5) and Morgan (3). The family
moved to Norwalk about two years ago, attracted by the small town atmosphere,
its parks and the school system. Plus, since both Elizabeth and Ryan are originally
from south Des Moines, their families are close by and so are the entertainment
and amenities that a larger city offers.
The couple has been together since high school and both attended the University
of Northern Iowa, where Elizabeth discovered a knack for numbers in a cost accounting
class. The two married after Ryan, who was a year back, graduated. With a toddler
and a new kindergartener underfoot, the couple is lucky to have grandparents
nearby and also a babysitting co-op, which allows them to spend time together
and also save money.
That kind of economical thinking seems appropriate for a seasoned accountant,
and should fare well for Elizabeth in her new public practice. She’s already
found success in her previous career and in her family life, so the economic
outlook seems good for this Iowa CPA.
See inside October 2009 issue
2009 Review of Time & Billing Programs
Getting bills out the door faster and better managing work processes are just two of the reasons that a time and billing system can help a professional firm be more efficient.
Leaders Don’t Stay in One Place for Very Long…
Technology Keeps Moving, and So Should You. The only constant in our profession is change, and there’s no denying it. Improvements in technology, new mandates and acquisitions seem to happen every day. And if you don’t keep up, you can quickly be left behind.