Like many sole practitioners, I started out as a wage slave and only became self-employed about midway through my career. It was something of a happy accident really. It certainly wasn't planned that way!
I spent most of my early career in financial services and worked for various banks, finance houses and insurance companies throughout the 80s and 90s, studying part-time for the ACCA exams and finally qualifying in 1988. I had a CV as long as your arm, but all that background actually did me a lot of good, as it gave me a breadth of experience few people in the industry had.
It didn't teach me very much about being an accountant though, not a real one anyway. That only really happened when I started contracting in the late 90s and running my own company. Maybe it was the buzz of being (more or less) my own boss or maybe it was just the tax savings, but I never wanted a "permanent" job after that. In just a couple of years, I learnt more about tax returns, and more importantly tax planning, than in the whole of my career up to that point. In fact, the other contractors started asking me to do their accounts too, so I got my practising certificate in 2000 and re-branded the business as Acumen Accounting.
Back then it was just a spare time practice, as I had a full-time job running the finance function for a group of captive insurance companies. This came in handy when IR35 first reared its ugly head in 2000, as I had a separate contract with each company and, crucially, was able to draft the basic terms and conditions. This kept me on the right side of the taxman, but IR35 also encouraged me to take on more private clients and market my burgeoning practice as a real business, mainly through the website. This worked quite well, as few accountants had their own website in those early internet days, and I was able to steal a march, so much so that when I came to a cross-roads in my career a couple of years later, the way forward was obvious.
The group had decided to outsource their insurance operations, and only a small team of us remained to manage the handover. I had a choice between finding a new position or staying on 2 days a week for a while and using that interim period to dip my toe in the water and see if I wanted to go into public practice full-time. It was a no-brainer. I went for it, and I've never regretted it for a single moment ever since.
For one thing, I actually feel as though I'm doing something useful these days. My clients are really appreciative of the work I do for them and rely on my advice. So different from the old days, when I felt more like a cog in a machine, and I certainly never really felt appreciated. Back then, I seemed to spend more time sorting out staff issues or sitting in weekly meetings than doing any useful work, and I was getting bored with the repetitive cycle of head office reporting and regulatory returns.
I came to another career cross-roads in 2008 when the "old job" finally came to an end and simultaneously my largest client created his own accounts department, precipitating a big drop in turnover. I decided to focus more on the tax side of things, so set up a new brand called Acumen Tax Solutions and marketed it with a series of fact sheets, which ranked highly on the internet and drove business towards the main website.
I've always enjoyed tax more than accounts and by that time I'd added considerably to my knowledge and experience. Anyway, there's not much money in number-crunching any more. Those days are over. You have to be more of an all-rounder now and advise on all sorts of things, from IT to HR to tax, and I find the tax work a lot more fulfilling. I've even found the time to write a couple of Tax Cafe books which have helped to put me "on the map" so to speak.
It was also around that time I started posting on Accountingweb. I've always found this site to be both a brilliant resource and a great way of communicating with fellow professionals. I also get a lot of satisfaction from helping others, which is one of the things that makes me stay in public practice. It's been a lot of fun too, even when I'm crossing swords with some of the more contrary posters (of whom I am undoubtedly one). Accountingweb certainly boasts more than its fair share of us. Well, that's my story, for anyone who's interested. It would be fascinating to read other members life stories and see where they come from.