insight magazine

Firm Journey

Is It Time for You to Go It Alone?

If you’ve lost your spark as a CPA, it’s time for you to start acting like an entrepreneur—or just become one.
Tim Jipping, CPA, CGMA Owner, Journey Advisors & CPAs


Do you ever feel stuck? Or bored? Or restless? Or maybe none of those specifically, but a feeling altogether similar? It’s not that you’re dissatisfied with your career or what you’re doing, but you’re not completely satisfied either. You’d love to try something new, but you’re not sure what and if it would end up being better or worse than what you have now. Perhaps you’ve lost a bit of the spark over the years, from the days that seemed filled with more excitement, challenge, optimism, growth, and hope. Nothing is wrong per se, but you just feel… lukewarm.

Ironically, lukewarm seems to be what most of us are chasing—a state of comfort. Not too hot, not too cold—Goldilocks. But even something lukewarm gets cold after a while, and it’s natural to long for experiences that make you feel more alive and passionate for your work, days when you’re on fire, forging a new path. But those feelings tend to come in the early days of any experience, whether it be in launching your career, figuring out how to be a new manager, or in opening your own office.

The early days are the best (in hindsight). I would argue the reason for that in the professional realm stems largely from the fact that during those early days you’re flexing more entrepreneurial muscles as you’re building or mastering something, from a new role to a new service line. While not every early day is great—and you don’t appreciate them in the moment like you should—you certainly feel alive and energized.

There’s nothing better than feeling alive. (It’s certainly better than the opposite.) And if you’re a tad lukewarm with your work now, there are two things I suggest you consider: Act more like an entrepreneur or become one.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ACT LIKE AN ENTREPRENEUR?

Entrepreneurial individuals embrace discomfort, knowing it’s the only way to experience growth, both individually and professionally. They’re continually looking for new opportunities and ways to improve. They thrive during challenges and have an ability to remain hopefully optimistic through them, which creates an exciting atmosphere often contagious to those with whom they work.

Entrepreneur does not mean inventor, but there is a required level of curiosity fueled by a desire for continuous improvement. Someone who has an entrepreneurial approach to life and business is one who rarely gets bored since they are always striving to acquire knowledge through action. They intentionally perceive problems and situations as opportunities, challenge convention, and enjoy the creation and evolution processes.

Anyone can act like an entrepreneur. In fact, we all do at various stages of our lives whether we like it or not. When you were seeking that first job, you figured out how to acquire the relevant training, obtain a degree, assess the landscape, perform research, craft a resume, seek advice, rehearse, interview, etc. Not all steps were enjoyable, but the process was new and served as an exciting and optimistic time in life.

So, how can you act like an entrepreneur in the workplace?

1. Mastery: We tend to work until we’re good at something (comfortable) but stop short of mastery. Pick any portion of your work and commit to mastering it. I’m not talking about memorizing the entire U.S. tax code; this could be as simple as tackling an internal workflow process. The goal is to develop a habit of flexing your creative muscles.

2. Ideation and iteration: Rather than complaining about any “problems” that exist or may arise, vow to use them as opportunities to brainstorm ideas for a new solution. That “aha” solution may not show up immediately (or ever), but acting like an entrepreneur means seeking out areas that can be improved. Generating many ideas and iterating along the way produces an exciting environment of progress.

3. Risk: Heating up your lukewarm state requires healthy doses of risk. Akin to the alertness that accompanies placing a bet at a casino, there are times when you must push some chips to the center of the table. Ask to tackle a nagging challenge, propose a new service line, or implement an unconventional solution. Believe me, attaching some risk to your endeavors turns tasks into adventures. But if you find yourself in a situation or organization that stifles innovation and progress…

BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR!

If you want to feel alive and enjoy the early days experience more regularly, join an entrepreneurial-minded firm or create your own. I personally strongly encourage you to consider starting your own firm. Obviously, count the cost, but do not neglect the gain.

Yes, I know there are many reasons (fears) we use to convince ourselves this would be “irresponsible”—loss of salary and health insurance, risk of failure, lack of experience, starting from scratch, and uncertainty.

The list goes on, but I submit there are more realistic positives that outweigh the unlikely negatives. You’ll likely feel a constant sense of excitement and freedom and wake up every day energized to tackle anything that comes your way. You’re more likely to succeed than fail due to the demand for our services and the fact that small firms are disappearing fast. Our profession is also ripe for disruption and fresh approaches, and with technology lowering the barrier to entry, the financial upside of your practice is limited only by your imagination and effort.

But the real kicker is that if all of this still doesn’t go the way you would have hoped, you can always go back to doing what you’re doing now. As a CPA, you’ll always be in demand in some form or fashion.

When I was struggling through the decision to hang my own shingle, there were many fears that prevented me from clearing that psychological hurdle for a long time. I seemed to be a prisoner in a cell of my own design. I had the key in my hand that would set me free, yet I was reluctant to try to unlock the gate out of fear that it may not open. But it was riskier for me to stay put than give it a shot. I’m glad I took the leap. It’s good to be alive.
If you’d like additional thoughts and ideas about how to relight your fire and become an entrepreneur in your workplace, or some practical advice on starting your own practice, please feel free to e-mail me.

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