The Department of Labor and Statistics estimates that jobs in accounting and auditing are growing and will continue to do so in the coming years. If you’re already considering a career as an accountant, you might also think about pursuing licensure as a Certified Public Accountant.
As a CPA, you generally have access to greater freedom in career choice. Publicly traded companies must use a CPA (not an unlicensed accountant) for their auditing. The educational requirements for certified professionals can also prepare you for entrepreneurship and corporate management.
You can build your clientele solo, be employed by a company or start an accounting firm. Your client base can vary from nonprofit organizations to corporations to government agencies.
Being licensed as a CPA can also qualify you for a salary higher than that of a typical accountant. There is a certain inherent prestige as well because the licensing process requires substantially more education, study and experience.
If this appeals to you, read on for the steps you can take to get started and succeed as a CPA.
A Certified Public Accountant certification carries requirements beyond a college education. You will need a degree and additional coursework before you are qualified to take the national exam.
The majority of states require a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting before you are eligible for licensing in those states. This requirement may seem exclusive, but it can be advantageous. It usually teaches specific skills such as auditing, cost management, tax and business law. The accounting curricula could better help your career by preparing you for management or work in financial analysis, and some can even place you in an internship.
In addition to a BA in accounting, you will need to complete additional college courses, generally at least 150 hours. You can do these courses as part of a 5-year accelerated accounting program, a master’s degree program or additional classes after graduation.
When you have satisfied these obligations, you will have to take the 14-hour Uniform CPA Exam. This exam will test you in four areas:
- Auditing & Attestation
- Financial Accounting & Reporting
- Business Environment & Concepts
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants will certify you as a CPA after you pass this test and allow licensing by your state. Qualifications vary but generally include accounting experience and continuing education to renew your license.
Build a Reputation With Recognition
After you finish college, become certified and licensed, you may forego employment by a firm or corporation to pursue self-employment or building your accounting firm. To be successful as possible, you will need clients to build a reputation and hopefully attract more business.
Organizations like the United CPA Association often function as a source for accounting firms deemed trustworthy and well-suited for a client’s needs. Still, you will first need to build history so that when future clients compare your firm to others, they might be more likely to choose you.
Word-of-mouth advertising can often be the best way for a local firm to gain new clients. A referral campaign can help jump-start your business and keep your existing clients returning.
List your business on consumer search websites like Yelp and your local Chamber of Commerce. As an accounting firm, it can also be beneficial to have a listing on niche pages such as cpadirectory.com and accountingmatch.com. Be sure that all of your listings are accurate and consistent in appearance so that your firm might be more easily recognized.
With Google as one of the most popular and widely-used search engines, a Google My Business listing may have extra value. Typically, companies that have listings on Google My Business rank higher for searches in Google and are more likely to appear in knowledge graphs as prospective clients search for your firm.
People conduct most business searches online, so your web presence may be crucial to helping new clients to find your firm. Your page should be clean and professional, and images should be small so they don’t slow down your web page loading speed. Since a good deal of searching is now done on tablets and smartphones, you should consider optimizing your site for mobile browsing.
Blog regularly about educational topics that the average person may find valuable and reference reliable websites. Make sure your content is original, informative, substantial (think high word count), and optimized for search engines. An SEO consultant might provide expertise if your internet tech skills are lacking.
Another wide-spread channel for marketing is Facebook. With a Facebook business page, you could have access to a vast user base that you can then narrow down to a target audience. Ads, polls and events can engage your current customers with future clients. Having a Facebook business page can also prime your firm for more search engine recognition.
Many search engines and social media platforms have the option for your clients to leave reviews, so you will probably want to take the time to manage them so that you might ensure that the correct message is getting out. Ask your clients to leave reviews, and make sure that you respond to each one, good or bad, within 24 hours. Quoting stellar reviews on your website can also be an excellent way to hook potential customers fishing for a new accounting firm.
Retaining clients might be the most vital key to staying in business, and you should do your best to cultivate a robust relationship with your customers. If your clients are happy, they will likely return. If they are not, chances are you may never see them again.
Make sure you are providing enough value for the fees that you charge. It often seems that clients don’t generally mind paying higher prices if they feel that you are providing them with excellent service.
When you zero in on what your customers want, you can often tailor products more beneficial to them. Listen to the answers your customers give every year as you go through their tax returns. Each year, tax laws and regulations change, and you can be ready for each client’s specific needs by gathering the best information ahead of the appointment.
If there is a niche field that you find particularly interesting, become an expert. Clients looking for specialized accounting firms may naturally gravitate toward you if they know you can provide the service they need and do it well.
The field of accounting can be rich with variety. If numbers are your game, and you want to open yourself to the wide to the possible career tracks, becoming a licensed Certified Public Accountant might be your perfect path.