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5 things I gained when I launched my own accounting practice

Susan Muldowney

Prue McStay CPA spent more than a decade working as an accountant in industries such as retail and telecommunications before starting her own accounting practice – Christchurch-based Astute Mode. She tells us what she’s gained since making the leap to public practice.

I’d worked in the corporate accounting world for more than 10 years and I wanted to use my skills to help solve a broader range of challenges. Starting my own consultancy was an opportunity to help small businesses to become more successful, and I wanted to provide services that they could cherry-pick as they needed, whether it was two hours of cashflow forecasting per month or 10 hours of accounts payable every couple of weeks.

I have clients from sectors ranging from retail to business services and I have great respect for small business operators in New Zealand. Before becoming a sole practitioner, I think I’d underestimated just how much they power the economy.

I made the move into public practice 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back. Here are just some of the things I’ve gained.

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1. A genuine work-life balance

I was returning to work after maternity leave and, looking back, this was the main trigger for me going out on my own. I wanted to work part-time without compromising the level of work or the depth of skills that I could apply. I think that’s often a compromise for people who work for a company part-time.

I love the flexibility of working for myself. A decade after starting my own practice, I’m still working part-time, but at a level that is both satisfying and challenging. I’ve also been able to help others to work flexibly, too. I employ four people, and one of them works completely remotely. The others work in the office between 25 and 32 hours a week. The reason for this is to promote a genuine work-life balance.

2. A broader skills base

When you work in the corporate space, you tend to specialise in one area of accounting. In public practice, you need to be across a whole gamut of business issues. I don’t pretend to be an expert in everything; however, I have certainly fine-tuned my skills since working in public practice. I enjoy contributing to my clients’ overall business strategy. It requires a broad understanding of business and the variety keeps it interesting.

3. A deeper respect for small business

I have clients across many different industries and I love the range of work. It’s so inspiring to see how smart small business clients are and how they are willing to take risks and back themselves.

In the corporate world, I was never really exposed to the deeper strategy that drives a business because the people at the top set the direction, and you play your part in the execution of that. Becoming involved in my clients’ businesses has helped me to build great relationships and to get a real sense of what they want to achieve. It’s so satisfying to play a part in helping them reach their goals.

4. A greater sense of purpose

As a public practitioner, I’ve also gained the ability to help increase someone’s wealth. Even if the boost is quite modest, it is still more than they would probably have if they were an employee of someone else.

A lot of it comes down to education. My clients are very good at what they do – whether they are an engineer or a hairdresser – but that doesn't mean that they know everything about running a business. Being able to educate and guide my clients about the financial side of running a business is hugely rewarding, especially when I can see their business growing.

5. A solid network to call on

I feel a strong sense of community with other local public practitioners, and this has been so valuable for filling any gaps for our clients. If they want to know about new accounting software, for example, we can certainly advise them about it, but we can’t necessarily implement it for them. I’m always happy to refer that work on to others who I know can help.

I’ve built up a network of public practitioners who I can call on. I guess we’re all in competition to some extent, but the end goal should always be helping your clients to be successful. There’s no reason we can’t work together to achieve that.



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