insight magazine

GEN NEXT: Charting Your Own Course

What CPAs should know about the challenge and fulfillment of entrepreneurship and how it can change their careers. By Curt Mastio, CPA | Summer 2020

curt gen next 310I started my career, like so many of my fellow accounting majors, with a job at a Big Four accounting firm, following a well-worn path. At the time I thought this was my only option, and I never took the time to evaluate what I really wanted from my career. And it seems like a lot of other CPAs are in the same boat. A 2018 AICPA study found that more than half of young job seekers say they are likely to start their own business at some point, but out of the hundreds of entrepreneurs and small business owners that I've worked with over the last several years, only two were CPAs. If young professionals are more interested in entrepreneurship than ever, why are CPAs so underrepresented? It’s probably because they are doing what I did: following the path defined for them by industry norms.

When I took the time to think about what I really wanted from my career, I quickly realized that a traditional firm or corporate environment wasn’t for me. And so, at the ripe old age of 25, I quit my safe public accounting job and started Founder's CPA, a niche-focused firm that provides accounting, tax, and outsourced CFO services to entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses. To be clear, I am not advocating for anyone who is lacking fulfillment in their current career to quit their job. There are countless people who go into entrepreneurship with skewed expectations and end up unhappier than they were before they made the shift. Before taking the plunge, it’s important to understand that building and running a business is exhausting, stressful, and thankless in many ways. But on the other side of this struggle, I’ve found the immeasurable satisfaction that comes with seeing a new business grow and flourish. When I look back on my journey, here is the advice I wish I had known ahead of time:

1. The first step is the hardest. Before you make a career change, do your research and make sure that you fully understand the risks involved. Once you’ve decided that the reward outweighs the risk, jump in headfirst—and don’t look back. Being only partially committed to your dream almost guarantees you will give up at the first sign of trouble. You find out a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of when your back is against the wall.

2. Put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, accept that you will make countless mistakes, focus on owning these mistakes and learning from them, and don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.

3. Build a great support network. Entrepreneurship is lonely, and you’ll need people with whom you can share both the highs and lows. Join local entrepreneurship groups, seek out mentors in your industry, and surround yourself with people who can relate to what you’re experiencing. You’ll find their support and experience to be invaluable.

4. Never stop learning. Read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch videos on topics that are relevant to your profession. The internet is full of invaluable resources that previous generations never had access to, so capitalize on that opportunity. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can become an expert in something if you’re willing to immerse yourself in it.

5. Hire people who challenge you and address your blind spots. There is immeasurable value in building a team with a diverse array of backgrounds and perspectives. Ultimately, you want to avoid creating an echo chamber that lacks substantive diversity of thought. Instead, seek opportunities to work with people who collectively strengthen your abilities as a professional and realize that they may not all look, talk, or act like you.

Finally, keep in mind that your career trajectory is ultimately your responsibility. So, block out the noise of what others say you should be doing and take a hard look at what you want to be doing. You might just find that your dream is to defy conventional norms and embark on the crazy journey of entrepreneurship.

Curt Mastio, CPA is the founder and managing director of Founder’s CPA. He is an Illinois CPA Society member and the winner of the Society’s 2020 Young Professional Leadership Award.

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