Headstart: Careers

Many qualified accountants are choosing to take individual control of their employment, the majority falling into one of two categories: women wanting to work around family commitments; and those aged 50-plus who, by choice or circumstance, are opting out of formal corporate life.

But there has been a noticeable increase in ‘others’, namely individuals in mid (or sometimes early) career who feel they want to do their own thing. The options embrace:

– Setting up in general practice. Usually this will embrace tax compliance and accounts preparation/incomplete records work for individuals, partnerships and small businesses. The technical and compliance issues of even a modest general practice portfolio should not be underestimated nor should the demands of developing clients.

– Provision of accounting services. This may range from bookkeeping to management accounting services. The attraction here is the regularity of work coming from a small number of clients. It also avoids the technical demands of general practice.

– ‘Portfolio’ career. The terminology can be used by anybody who generates income from more than one source. For some accountants this is mixing well remunerated posts (eg surrogate finance director roles or non-executive directorships) with less well paid but personally satisfying positions eg lecturing, business start up advice.

– Temporary assignments/contracting. Those comfortable with an income level up to around #40,000 can look to generate temporary assignment work either directly or through recruitment agencies.

– Interim management. Effectively senior level contract work. Correctly applied this relates to taking full responsibility for a senior line position.

Rates reflect this being typically from #350 – #400 a day to significantly higher, assignments usually being of some months at least. Professional interim managers are mostly people in their fifties who can show a track record of moving in and taking responsibility quickly.

With the possible exception of temp/contract work none of the above are easy options. For most, you will need marketing skills to promote your services and win clients or assignments in a competitive market.

Think as well whether you will maintain an interest and job satisfaction in what you propose doing. If it’s enjoyable for the first year or two but less so in five to 10 years’ time the crunch will then be that you may have lost your marketability for a suitable permanent position.

Many accountants have opted for and are enjoying their independent lives but it is not for everyone. If you are considering this, don’t forget to check with your professional body as to whether you are ‘in practice’ and therefore need to obtain suitable authorisation.

– John Seear is head of the career service at the ICAEW. The service offers free and confidential career support to members.

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