I’m just graduating from school and need to know the steps I should take to get my first public practice started. What are my options and how should I proceed with opening a firm?
There are several things you need to know as you take your first steps toward opening a public practice.
Every new CGA is bound by a body of rules and regulations determined by CGA-Canada as well as each affiliate, which are mandated with setting the professional standards of practice. Membership with your affiliate is mandatory, and you’ll be required to complete a series of public practice and tax-related courses. Subsequent to registration you’ll be subject to mandatory practice review, which will require inspection of your practice every three years at minimum. You may also be required to work with a mentor for a minimum of two years if your existing public practice experience is not at a very senior level. You’ll also need to apply for professional liability insurance.
Take some time to determine how you want to set up your business. Most new CGAs start out as a sole proprietorship and get their first experience by offering services to family and friends. Other options include joining an existing firm or starting a partnership.
If you start your own firm, you’ll want to select an appropriate name. Typically, sole proprietorships or partnerships operate under the name of the individual; for example, Joe Smith LTD. The type of business you choose - LLP, INC, or LTD - will be based on the tax structure and planning advantages that will work best for your particular practice. LLP (Limited Liability Partnership), for example, is a mechanism designed to protect multi-partner firms in the event that one of the partners should come under legal action.
Once you’ve decided on a name, go to your municipality to make sure you hold the appropriate business licence; for example, in B.C., in addition to the association requirements, a business licence is also mandatory, while in Alberta, it’s not.
As an entrepreneur you need to develop a strategic business plan. Take the time to visualize goals for your practice and ask yourself where you see the business going. Do you want to operate a relatively small firm or grow into a global franchise? And if so, how will you get there?
As you develop your first practice, you’ll also be developing your niche area of expertise which will help you more aptly address the needs of your target market and build your client base. If you create a marketing plan and a professional and distinct brand for your practice, you will be better able to reach your target client base and increase referrals. A marketing plan is not about the amount of money you spend on marketing, it’s about developing your corporate image - business cards, brochures, a website, and even office design - in an integrated and consistent manner.
Become an active networker in your community. This will help to strengthen your referral base and your image. And make sure you leverage CGA-Canada and your provincial association websites as a referral tool.
There are limitless opportunities for new CGAs getting into public practice - especially those who take an entrepreneurial approach. Good luck!
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