Q&A with Greg Brault, CPA
Wenatchee Business Journal Managing Editor Gary Bégin spoke to Greg Brault recently about his new CPA practice. He has worked for other CPA firms before striking out on his own:
How much did you invest in your home-based business?
That's a bit of a complicated question. Right away, I had to get a new laptop and software so we're talking maybe $5k right off the bat, but most of what I do is all based on that grey-matter between my ears which comes mainly from my professional and personal experiences and classes I take along the way. So monetarily, not a lot of money up front.
What was the final straw that made you go it alone as a CPA?
I think it's really a culmination of several things, but ultimately it was the expectation of long hours during tax season. I decided I didn't want to play that game any longer and started to ask questions of myself such as, what If I went out on my own - what would it look like - what would it not look like, how much money do I want to make, why, what would I do with that money that I'm not doing now? How many hours do I want to work, what would I do with the time? I just started to look at things differently and set out to reinvent the wheel.
I've been married for 19 years this May, three children - a girl and two boys in that order. We are a skiing family, snow ski in the winter and waterski in the summer. All three of my children are athletes so we are usually rushing from one sporting event to another. I do have a family full of CPAs - my dad, two uncles, an aunt and two cousins. I also have another cousin who is a tax attorney - family gatherings can get entertaining, especially with the other family members that have careers more closely related to academia. From 6th grade on I grew up in Western Washington graduating from Redmond High School and then on to the University of Washington (UW) for an undergrad degree in Finance and Central Washington (CWU) for a Master's degree in Public Accounting.
When did you get your CPA designation?
I got my license in early 2009.
How many years in the industry?
I've been in public accounting since July 2004.
How do you find clients?
95 percent of my clients come from referrals.
When did you "officially" start your own company?
I would say I officially starting gearing up and getting focused on what I was doing summer of last year. I say gearing up because I was able to spend a lot of great time with my kids during the summer.
When did you realize you were good at numbers?
Even though I was very good in math, that's a misconception, accounting only requires the most basic math skills - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The skill that sets CPAs that work in tax apart from most normal people is our ability to research, interpret and apply tax law. Anyway, back to your question: I remember my dad during tax season, or more accurately, I don't remember my dad during tax season so when I went to college I had made up my mind that I did not want to be a CPA and was heading down the path of a finance degree when I had to take a few accounting classes and they just made sense. What I've found through the years though is that I truly enjoy working with people and becoming a CPA has afforded me that benefit.
What advice do you have for others who are thinking of going it alone?
Talk to a CPA that will give you an honest opinion before you do anything else, you need someone to play devil's advocate and if your idea stinks you need someone that will tell you it stinks. And most importantly make sure you have the support of family. And please, please, please don't expect your spouse will automatically want to take care of your books, hire a bookkeeper. Unless that is what your spouse does for a living, making the decision that your spouse's "job" in your new venture will be bookkeeper doesn't usually bode well for the long term.
Explain the difference between working alone compared to working in a firm.
There's a tremendous difference in working in a firm versus alone. First off is dress code, unless I've got a meeting with a client and a judge or an IRS agent, you'll find me in jeans during the winter and shorts during the summer. I don't enjoy wearing slacks or button up shirts and ties but I have them if I need them. Again, looking at reinventing the wheel, why do CPAs wear jackets and ties everyday- because they always have, because that’s what they think clients expect of them or because they feel better in wearing a suit, none of that matters to me. One of the biggest differences between working in a firm versus alone comes if you happen to run into an unusual client challenge or issue. In a firm, you can usually walk down the hall and bounce an idea off a colleague but when you're flying solo there's no co-worker down the hall; you need to reach out to CPAs that you've worked with over the years or people you've connected with at continuing education seminars or one of a half dozen family members. Another key difference that I've experienced in the past is in a firm, you really don’t have much choice in which clients you work with regardless of whether you personally like or trust them. Working on my own, I decide which clients I will work with and for me that's very important. I will not take a client until I've sat across from them face to face and have convinced myself that we are a good fit. If I don't trust or can't see myself enjoying working with a client, I just won't take them on as a client.
Greg Brault can be reached at: 509-293-7967 or via email: email@example.com