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Thriving solo: 7 Steps to becoming a self-employed CPA

Written on May 22, 2024
7 Steps to becoming a self-employed CPA

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Today’s digital landscape has transformed the way we do business. For instance, we no longer need to make the daily commute to the office. Many workers are thriving in a telework environment.

Accountants can complete many tasks with a computer, cloud computing capabilities and automated technology. Many have moved from the office to the comfort of their homes or anywhere else in the world.

If the rise in telework has you thinking about self-employment, like freelancing, you aren’t alone. According to a research poll by Statista, 67.6 million Americans were freelancing in 2020. That figure was up from 57.3 million in 2017.

Is self-employment right for you? If so, what steps can you take to get started? We’ll help answer those questions.

Know the pros and cons

Advantages of self-employment

Working independently has its benefits. Self-employed workers enjoy freedoms they don’t have when they work for someone else.

You can freelance as a side gig for extra income or as your sole revenue source. You have the autonomy to work when, where and for which clients you desire.

You choose your payment structure–per task, hourly or any other setup. You get to help small businesses that might not otherwise have the funds to gain access to a knowledgeable accountant.

Not to mention, working is much more fun when you’re doing it because you want to. As a self-employed CPA, you keep all the profits and reap 100% of the rewards of adding another client or project to your schedule. It’s motivating.

Disadvantages of self-employment

We want you to choose the best career path for yourself. As such, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the downside of self-employment.

As a self-employed CPA, you shoulder the entire workload and responsibilities.

There are no company perks or benefits, like a pension, retirement plan or group insurance rate. You must keep up with your taxes and put aside money for a rainy day when you are physically unable to work (i.e., sick days, hurt on the job and retirement).

Your success depends on how much work you are willing to take on. Some self-employed CPAs find themselves busier than when they worked for an established firm. It also depends on how well you advertise your services, how much others recommend you and the market for your expertise.

The right credentials

The CPA credential inspires extra confidence in your abilities. You don’t have to be a CPA to make your self-employed accounting business work. However, it’s a lot easier to attract clients when you are.

Minimally, you’ll want a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. You’ll need a year of work experience to sit for the exam.

Time and experience

You’ll likely want to wait until you have a significant amount of experience under your belt. You’ll make less costly mistakes once you’ve had time in the industry. Your target clients will trust you more. Plus, you’ll already have established relationships and best practices for organizing your workload and data. You can better decide the projects you’re best suited for.

Business plan

A business plan gives you a guide to work from so you stay pointed and moving in the right direction. It helps keep you on track using a carefully thought-out strategy.

Set goals and determine the small stepping stones you need to achieve those goals. You’ll gain motivation when you can see and feel your progress.


If you choose self-employment, it’s likely due to its freedoms. Take time to decide how you want to use those liberties.

How many hours do you plan to work daily? Will you work during specific blocks of time? How many days a week would you like to work?

Where will you work? Do you need to make space in your home or rent an office?

Will you provide general services or specialized (niche) ones? Will you charge by the hour, project or other setup?

Consider your lifestyle and other commitments. You have an opportunity to fit your work around your life instead of the other way around. What will you prioritize to strike a balance between work and play?


You’ll need a reliable computer and internet connection. You’ll also want cloud computing capabilities that integrate easily with what the majority of your clients use.

Promote yourself

You are every department of your company when you are self-employed. That includes the marketing department, too.

You'll need a way to advertise yourself to potential clients. Lean on your connections for clients. Then, develop a website and a social media account so potential clients can find you.

A website isn't a magic spell that guarantees you more clients. You'll need an engaging online presence, a way for clients to leave reviews for you, and a call-to-action that tells visitors what to do next: "Call for a free consultation" or "Schedule an appointment."

You could also consider listing your services through a freelance marketplace like Upwork or goLance where you’ll have a built-in audience to view your profile.

Should you be a self-employed CPA?

Only you can answer this question. Take some time to re-read what it takes to be a self-employed CPA.

If you're ready to set out on your own in Ohio, The Ohio Society of CPAs is here to support you. We have free and reduced-cost CPE webinars on-demand to keep our members at the top of their game. We advocate for our state's accounting professionals and provide many social networking opportunities.

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