On Your Own! How to Start Your Own CPA Firm, Second Edition

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Going solo doesn’t have to be a game of trial and error. Careful planning can make it one of the most rewarding decisions of your accounting career. Now in its second edition and revised by author Brannon Poe, this book leads new solo practitioners through each stage of creating your own firm, bringing your vision to reality, and nurturing your practice to make that reality a success. 

Follow each of the book’s five parts as it takes you chronologically from start to success. Each chapter is rich with strategies as well as stimulating follow-up questions that will help you define your goals and plans, drawing you to careful consideration of important factors such as:

  • Creating concise mission and vision statements
  • Establishing goals, standards, attitude, and skills that reflect a successful practitioner
  • Anticipating financial needs
  • Defining family involvement
  • Shifting from employee to owner
  • Understanding potential stumbling blocks
  • Advancing your practice with a specialty
  • Deciding whether to buy a practice
  • Choosing a form of organization for your practice
  • Building client relationships
  • Keeping a focus on the future
  • And much more!


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Shifting From Employee to Owner

Your attitude and confidence is huge in making the shift to becoming a business owner. You have to be able to keep your eye on the prize and smile and enjoy the challenges of building a business. You are not simply running a business, you are building one. You must be enthusiastic and confident that your plan will work. Consider the following points:

  1. Nearly everyone you now meet is a prospective client or referral source.
  2. Your work schedule requires more time and energy, not only for performing tax and accounting services, but also for developing new clients. Social, civic, and professional activities in the evenings or on weekends are also an important source for new clients.
  3. Involvement in various community and professional organizations, both inside and outside your practice, should be expanded. In addition, strive to increase the degree of responsibility you assume in these activities. Instead of merely belonging to a group, seek to be a leader, for example, chairperson, board member, or president.
  4. Your confidence and professional reputation will help to attract clients. Be aware of how you carry yourself--your appearance, language, office atmosphere, decor, and so on. You should always be authentic, but know that when you are serving the public, you will necessarily have a more public persona.
  5. You must think of yourself as a leader, an employer, an entrepreneur, and a salesperson. Adopt and project the image of a take-charge professional.

Family Involvement

We have already considered the importance of balance. In some instances, CPAs involve their spouses or partners in their practice on a day-to-day basis, and this involvement can be beneficial. However, before the decision is made to work together, you should both consider the potentially positives and negatives. In some cases, your significant other might better help your practice by contributing income from another job. Relationships are so important, and working together may or may not be good for the relationship.

Regardless of the extent of your family’s involvement in your practice, be sure you have established good communication. Because a practice demands a great deal of your professional and emotional energy, sharing your hopes and fears with your family is very healthy for all involved.

Understanding Potential Stumbling Blocks

Despite planning and preparation, new practices do run into problems that can ultimately cause them to fail. These stumbling blocks fall into three categories:

  1. Insufficient client base
  2. Poor selection of a partner or other business associates
  3. Bad choice in a practice acquisition

From my experience advising owners, I have found that these problems usually occur because the practitioner lacked objectivity (underplanned) or was just overconfident.

Insufficient Client Base

An insufficient client base is the first and most critical stumbling block. Starting practitioners may unrealistically expect certain clients to come over to them. They assume the clients they took on through moonlighting, through anticipated references from friends and associates, and through their previous employment will follow them to their new practice. This can be a really bad assumption. People don’t take switching accountants lightly. From the clients’ perspective, if they are fairly happy with the service they have been getting, switching is quite inconvenient. It requires their time. Clients often don’t switch accountants as hoped or expected for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Clients established on a moonlighting basis may not want to use you in your own practice because of perceived or real fee increases. (One more reason to never sell your services for below-market rates.)
  • Friends and associates, as well as referrals from these contacts, may choose not to use you because they do not want share their personal information with you. After all, accountants are privy to some of the most sensitive information that people have, including level of income, past business dealings, lawsuits, and tax history.
  • Former clients at your previous employment who might want to use you may feel it is prudent to wait until you are established. They may also have more loyalty to your employer than you might realize, and switching is a hassle.
  • Finally, some employment or noncompete agreements require the purchase of clients leaving with a departing CPA.

Having a mentor or two to provide a sounding board is also a very big help. Your banker, other CPAs, and seasoned business people love to help ambitious people looking for guidance.

Partner Mismatch

A mismatch with a partner or other business associate is the second stumbling block that will severely hurt your business. Because working with others requires effective communication and the ability to compromise, it is imperative to really know your potential associates. In large practices, clashing individuals can work around each other, but such polarization cannot be tolerated in small firms. Be sure you understand the personality and background of your associates and establish well-defined boundaries for working with each other.

Practice Acquisition

Just as one can make a poor choice in a business associate, one can err in a practice acquisition. A poorly chosen acquisition, combined with a poorly executed transition, can turn into a nightmare. Most acquisitions that fail are the result of a mismatch of technical skill, management style, and personality. Losses also are incurred by not planning and executing the transition well. To counteract the possibility of this happening, you need to evaluate carefully any potential acquisition and weigh the pros and cons objectively. (See chapter 6, “To Buy or Not to Buy?” for an extended discussion on buying a practice.)


  1. Who are potential mentors that can help guide me?
  2. Why would clients want to use me?
  3. What role will my spouse or partner play in the practice, if any?
  4. Who will be my closest competitors?
  5. What is my biggest stumbling block?
  6. Who is likely to be my anchor client?
  7. How well do my business goals mesh with my other life priorities, such as family, community, and personal interests?


System Requirements

Table of Contents

About the Authors

Brannon Poe, CPA

About the Publisher

American Institute of CPAs

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) is the world’s largest member association representing the CPA profession, with more than 418,000 members in 143 countries, and a history of serving the public interest since 1887. AICPA members represent many areas of practice, including business and industry, public practice, government, education and consulting.

The AICPA sets ethical standards for the profession and U.S. auditing standards for private companies, nonprofit organizations, federal, state and local governments. It develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination, and offers specialized credentials for qualified professionals who concentrate on personal financial planning; forensic accounting; business valuation; and information management and technology assurance. With The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), it offers the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, which sets the global benchmark for quality and recognition in management accounting.

The AICPA and CIMA also make up the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association), which represents public and management accounting globally, advocating on behalf the public interest and advancing the quality, competency and employability of CPAs, CGMAs and other accounting and finance professionals worldwide.

The AICPA maintains offices in New York, Washington, DC, Durham, NC, and Ewing, NJ.