Hanging out your shingle, part 1

By Janet M. McHard, CFE, CPA, CFFA; Beth A. Mohr, CFE, PI

 janet-mchard-80x80   beth-mohr-80x80  Career Connection 


 JulyAug-hanging-shingleSo, you're thinking about starting your own firm using your CFE credential to work as an independent consultant, expert witness, fraud examiner or licensed private investigator. However, you're not even sure of the questions to ask. We want to help. 

In part one of this two-part series, we'll cover the best reasons for starting your own firm and the necessary planning to ensure you'll succeed. In part two, we'll cover more specifics including selecting your legal form of business organization, marketing considerations, service lines and specific policies to consider on the path to launching your firm as a success.

"Those who believe they can do something and those who believe they can't are both right." — Henry Ford

If you want to be an entrepreneur you have to believe in yourself, your skills, knowledge and abilities, and you must be willing to market yourself and your firm in a competitive environment. 

The reasons that determine your choice to go out on your own will greatly affect your business' chance of success. No guarantees, of course, but if you're motivated, disciplined and a self-starter — with solid experience and a good reputation among your peers and clients — you'll have an excellent chance at success. 

Here are a few of the best reasons to take the plunge into the entrepreneurial world:

  •  You want to move on to the next logical step in your career.  
  •  You're managing a thriving internal practice within a firm, such as litigation support, but it's beginning to have some legal conflicts of interest with the full-service firm. For example, firm partners frequently have to choose between taking a fraud examination case and keeping an audit client because of independence rules. 
  •  You've outgrown your role as an employee at the firm, and you want to expand your market footprint.    

However, if you want to be your own boss because you're tired of your manager nagging you about billable hours, you want the freedom to take lots of long vacations, you don't like your current firm, and you're tired of having to sell services and participate in firm marketing, you may find that being out on your own adds to the pressure, rather than reducing your stress. 

As a business owner, you're responsible for all the marketing, sales and administration in your firm in addition to performing all the billable work; there's a direct one-to-one relationship between the billable hours you work and your compensation. 

In our firm, we find that we work many more hours in private practice than we did at our former jobs, but the work is more satisfying and enjoyable. If you're going out on your own because you can't find a job, be aware that with your own firm, you'll have to land jobs (clients) over and over again throughout the entire life of your business. 

Be brutally honest with yourself about the reasons for hanging out your shingle. It's not enough to be an expert in your field; you also have to be an excellent business manager to succeed. 


"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where —" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
" — so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." 

— Lewis Carroll, "Alice in Wonderland" 

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