Joni Johnson-Powe photo

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This week we’re excited to release our interview with Joni Johnson-Powe, the CEO of Taxnologi and iAccountOn where we dive into how to make the switch from employee to CPA Firm owner and the courage it takes to build your own practice.

This interview covers:

  • Venturing out to your own practice
  • The steps Joni took to grow her firm
  • What school does not teach you about business
  • Trusting your instincts
  • Why remembing the small world we live in can help build your firm
  • How to develop your business with courage

And much, much more

 Click Below to Listen to the Interview:

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Show Links: 

Taxnologi

iAccountOn

Joni Johnson Powe's LinkedIn Page

Have you made the switch from employee to CPA firm owner?

Leave a comment below telling us the hardest part of your transformation from being an employee to moving into entrepreneurship and owning your own CPA firm. We will choose one lucky commentor who will win 1 free month of Jetpack Workflow software to help build a growing practice.

To learn more, check out our free 14 day trial at JetpackWorkflow.com. 

Key Summary

Let's face the facts. Statistics vary on the failure rate for startups, but it is generally estimated to be between 80 percent and 90 percent according to Forbes.

Add in the conservative nature of most accountants, trying to open up your own CPA Firm practice could sound a bit crazy to your coworkers. 

But that doesn't mean it's an impossible dream to try and accomplish. On today's Grow Your Firm podcast, we interview Joni Johnson-Powe, an ex-Big 4 accountant who decided to venture our on her own and build two successful CPA firms, Taxnologi and iAccountOn.

However, it wasn't all roses and sunshine for Joni to make the switch from employee to CPA firm owner. Let's dive into a little bit of her background and what it took for Joni to leave the Big 4 world.

Leaving Public Accounting And Venturing Into Entrepreneurship

Prior to starting her own firms, Joni spent the earlier part of her career at Ernst & Young and KPMG. At the time she was motivated to work her way up to partner – or so she thought.

During Joni’s maternity leave in 2001, her father, a CPA who ran his small practice after spending 30 years with the IRS, passed away. Clients were calling, as it was busy tax season at the time, so Joni stepped up to help prepare tax returns in her office basement.

Looking back at the experience, she realized she found satisfaction in helping “real people”, as she describes, versus her large corporate clients. This was when Joni knew she could actually make the switch from employee to CPA firm owner and become successful.

As a result, in November 2003, Joni incorporated her father’s business in his name and began running his practice on her own.

Joni took advantage of an opportunity to take on a business client of hers at KPMG.

Working in a specialty technology consulting practice within KPMG, the firm was conflicted on a consulting project. The firm was already performing audit services for client. She approached KPMG Consulting offering to have the client contract independently with her. KPMG agreed, and Joni gained her first client.

Joni stayed in New York for a full year to work on this project before she was able to move back to Colorado. At that point, Joni started growing, adding a second client referred to her by KPMG Denver. Eventually, at one point, she grew the firm to six employees.

By then, Joni was a 32 year-old entrepreneur. She was running a full service, one-stop shop. Joni provided any service that her small business clients needed from just about anything from auditing to tax returns, to provisions, and bookkeeping.

How To Expand Your firm, One Step At A Time.

Joni was handling all aspects of her business including payroll, human resources, and client billings. She admits she was overwhelmed, and she needed help.

So Joni decided to scale the team.

Her first hire was a former senior-level colleague brought in to deliver the work. Her second hire was a part-time  professional and office manager who helped Joni with billing, contracts and engagement letters, and bookkeeping.

As her work expanded, Joni needed to fill in the gaps.

Her next hire was a junior level staffer who would support her senior colleague and her fourth hire was an entry-level associate who had six months of experience.

Joni desired to find someone at the manager level to join the practice. She interviewed various people and talked with others about creating a merger or partnership.

One local Denver firm explored the opportunity with her, but she concluded that their business directions were too divergent. Joni just could not find the right fit.

What You Are Not Taught In School

Through Joni’s business journey she had to learn many new things that were not taught or even discussed in college.

Some of these learning lessons included:

  • How do you recruit?
  • How do you find employees with the same client service understanding and experience?
  • How do you handle training and onboarding?
  • How do you motivate people?

Joni suggests starting the onboarding process for new hires in the very beginning.

Here are a few things to remember about the hiring process:

  • You must communicate the vision of your firm
  • Expectations need to be discussed and agreed upon
  • Please remember not to assume everyone knows the firm you are trying to create

Joni's vision for her firm is to provide high quality service to her clients. She built a culture that fosters growth, and she provides client service opportunities for staff.

Joni realized that sometimes her team might not view the world or not approach client service the same way. Everyone’s experience is different.

Her business goal is to keep the clients happy. She strives for everyone on her team to have buy-in to the vision and to be committed to delivering quality service to the clients.

Frequent and clear communication about the business vision is important to Joni and clearly defined within her firm.

The Importance Of Hosting Weekly Staff Meetings

As Joni's firm began to expand, she quickly had to learn how to become a true "manager" at all levels. Throughout this learning process, Joni decided to start hosting weekly staff meetings to get everyone on the same page, each week.

Here are the 4 must haves within her weekly staff meetings:

  1. Be transparent.
  2. Talk about issues, projects, work, and opportunities as a group.
  3. Share expectations.
  4. Make sure that the staff and management team on the same page

When hiring employees from the Big 4 firms, usually they undergo a career transition into a small shop. It is a mindset shift.

In large firms, expectations are set in terms of the project, other work, and deadlines. Now work involves seeing the full business picture when providing client services.

“Everybody wanted a deliverable yesterday” says Joni. “We have a budget, we have a timeline, and we have to deliver high quality, accurate work. Diligence matters. We don’t want to have the client lose faith [or] they can go anywhere else.“

When hiring new members of the team, Joni says to trust your instincts.

  • Try to be as part of the interview process – Share the vision for the company
  • Find out about them: Communication skills and motivation factors
  • Everyone has different experiences, traits, and capabilities.
  • Find someone you connect with – Listen to your intuition

“As a small firm – we are different and there is a reason why I started the firm. What I wanted to accomplish is to differentiate,” says Joni.

When interviewing candidates, tell the story of the firm so to attract the right team that connects with the story, urges Joni

The Importance Of Industry Networking

Part of finding great talent is through networking. Connect early on, build a strong ecosystem, help one another, and stay in touch.

Stay connected with high quality, knowledgeable people who would be fine additions to the firm perhaps in the future. Joni believes that the best connections last a lifetime in your career.

“Take advantage of the time to get to know people. Really take advantage of firm activities, community service. Really engage and be part of your firm. Those relationships will come back to you most definitely”

Have you made the switch from employee to CPA firm owner?

Leave a comment below telling us the hardest part of your transformation from being an employee to moving into entrepreneurship and owning your own CPA firm. We will choose one lucky commentor who will win 1 free month of Jetpack Workflow software to help build a growing practice.

To learn more, check out our free 14 day trial at JetpackWorkflow.com. 

How To Keep Up With The Changing Accounting Industry

Joni started Taxnologi to leverage her best skill set–the technology side–to provide high quality technology service for clients.

While she still provides her services on a smaller scale to the start-ups in town, she is positioning Taxnologi to provide complementary technology services.

Her focus is to introduce to her small business clients the best systems and infrastructure necessary to run their businesses. Joni helps with system set up, software, automation, structure, accounting, and sales and property tax services.

Business Development Done Right

This time around, Joni is more selective with the clients she takes. In the past, she wanted to grow, so she took every client. She learned over the years that it is difficult to try to be everything to everyone due to resource constraints, time constraints, and caliber of expertise.

“Be bold” when developing the business.

Joni reached out to CPA firms, stressing her value as an alliance partner. Providing tangential, specialized, and integrative technology services to their CPA clients would provide a beneficial relationships for both sides. She is the primary partner for certain integrations.

The CPA firms handle research and counseling on services. At Taxnoloi Joni would translate the matrixes and decisions made with clients into software set up that works accurately and efficiently. According to Joni, the relationship is a win-win especially for smaller and medium firms that do not have these capabilities.

With business development, Joni says, “If you don’t ask you don’t know”. Meet prospective partners and clients, set up a call, and determine if the relationship makes sense.

Joni calls it business maturity. Before she was intimidated by being pro-active. However, she learned that people are happy when they are contacted and get to learn what is new or ”what’s going on”. “People are similar. They try to provide great service [and] they want to meet quality people who provide great service.”

Business development is a skillset according to Joni. It is part sales, part relationship building. Put yourself out there – connect with people she urges.

She found that taking a chance can sometimes pay off. “You get told no a lot of times but you just keep going…Like public speaking – after you do it a few times – it’s not so bad. [It is] good to give people the opportunity to develop skills”, Joni says.

Joni shares that she used to be so shy but everyone can learn to overcome shyness.

“It takes experiences to build up confidence and to realize people are interested to hear what you have to say. You can make the switch from employee to CPA firm owner. Just get pushed out there. It’s going to be ok. 

Have you made the switch from employee to CPA firm owner?

Leave a comment below telling us the hardest part of your transformation from being an employee to moving into entrepreneurship and owning your own CPA firm. We will choose one lucky commentor who will win 1 free month of Jetpack Workflow software to help build a growing practice.

To learn more, check out our free 14 day trial at JetpackWorkflow.com. 

4 Responses to “How To Make The Switch From Employee To CPA Firm Owner”

  1. Kyler Brown

    I’m actually considering becoming a CPA after I graduate. I just wanted to say real quick that I really liked your point about the importance of industry networking. I’ve always believed that it’s just as important who you know as what you know. Thanks for sharing this. http://www.clevelandgroup.net

    • Jetpack Workflow Software

      Hi Kyler

      Thanks for the note, unfortunately, we’ll have to remove it since its your first comment and you’re adding a link that doesn’t seem associated with the content. We hope you keep participating in future posts!

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