Angeline Smith, Accountant and Business Consultant, is a solopreneur with a passion for providing key services to small businesses and nonprofit organizations. She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from Wayne State University and her Master of Science degree in Public Administration from Central Michigan University. She was born and raised in Detroit Michigan and currently resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Q & A
Following is a list of questions that Angeline has answered about the business and what it means to her.
When did you officially go into business?
I officially established Angeline & Associates, LLC in April of 2004. I was completing my Master of Science degree in Public Administration and took the opportunity to prepare my business plan as my Master's thesis. In the plan, I developed a five-year strategy for being able to quit my consulting job to launch the business. However, after one year of "moonlighting" on a part-time basis, I left my job and went into business for myself on a fulltime basis – in April 2005.
Why did you start your own business?
I've had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was a small child. I had paper routes, made and sold cookies, ran lemonade stands and sold Avon under my mom's name at the age of 12. All of the neighborhood ladies looked forward to my visits with the new makeup catalogs. In my junior and senior years in high school, I focused on the "Business Education" curriculum and worked in the business office in an elementary school as a co-op student.
Although this "spirit" was in me, I never saw the possibility of actually earning a living as a self employed person. But that changed when I took on consulting jobs. One was with KPMG consulting and the other with a small firm in downtown Detroit. The opportunity to utilize my skills to work with clients in such a supportive and professional capacity was very rewarding to me. Doing it on my own terms is my ultimate reason for starting this business.
What was the best thing you did when you were starting up your business?
This might be considered odd, but I believe the best thing I did was to drop out of Graduate school where I was earning a PhD in Nonprofit Management. As part of the five-year strategy outlined in my business plan, I assumed that I needed that credential to earn credibility as a business services provider. Shortly after I began my studies, while also providing services to clients, I was faced with a dilemma. I had to decide whether to focus on the business or on completing the degree as my client base had increased significantly. I had to do a serious assessment of my priorities. I decided that the PhD was a means to an end (which was to be a successful professional services provider) and therefore chose to ditch the PhD program. So I am a PhD school "dropout" and proud of it.
What is a mistake that you made that you have learned from?
A mistake I made was to attempt to present the business as an entity separate and apart from myself. I worked hard to not become synonymous with "the business". What that did is forced me to compete with businesses that were larger and that was challenging since I really am the primary service provider. I am a solopreneur and have always been. It is the personal relationship that I establish with my clients that make the difference. I had always thought that presenting myself as one would be a turn-off to prospective clients. However, much to the contrary, small business owners and nonprofit managers appreciate the fact that I can relate to them and the challenges that they face. I now know that managing a staff, sustaining overhead in a commercial office space, and trying to figure out how to position myself among larger firms, is not what I want to do and was a mistake.
I love what I do. I believe I do it well. So two office suites later (one in Detroit and one in Ann Arbor) and a few staff members later (administrative and billable), here I am – doing it all as a Solopreneur and enjoying every minute of it. That was a difficult and costly mistake but I am better for having made it. I now know what works for me.
What is your biggest current challenge in the business and what are doing to try to solve it?
While I am a business woman, I also have the "nurturer / helper" gene. This is NOT a productive combination. My biggest challenge is being able to balance the two effectively. Both represent who I am. However, the harsh "it's all business no money no service" is not what feels good to me. Similarly, while "here, let me do a little more than we agreed on at no additional cost because I think it would be helpful to you" does feel good, it won't help me pay my bills and put food on my table.
My biggest challenge is being able to feed the need to nurture in ways that still allow me to earn a living and get the fees I deserve for the services I provide. I am making significant progress in this area by incorporating early payment and other incentives to clients where they can get a "little extra". This way I can feel good about giving a little extra and have it benefit me professionally. Early payments certainly have a positive impact on cash flow.
Why did you name the business Angeline & Associates, LLC? Who are the Associates?
Over the years in my personal and professional life I have established a network of family, friends and colleagues who have been extremely supportive to me as an aspiring and now current business owner. But for the support of these people, I would not have gotten this far in my career.
When I hired employees, my friend, the H.R. Professional, screened applicants and provided feedback. My CPA colleague offers input on complex accounting and tax issues and my former consulting co-worker reviews requests for proposals and helps me strategize my bid approach. My friend who serves as an IT Professional worked with me to establish my filing database while she was between jobs. Many other professionals have served as subcontractors to me to provide professional services to my clients. These are my "Associates". This component of my business name is an acknowledgement of the support system from which I continuously benefit.
Where do you want to be with the business in the future?
I provide a combination of accounting and consulting services. Consulting services are provided on a periodic, project-driven basis and therefore the income can be unpredictable. Conversely, contracting to provide monthly accounting services to my clients provides a steady, predictable income stream. This allows me to plan and forecast more effectively. My goal is to increase my current base of Small Business and Nonprofit clients to whom I provide monthly accounting services (Including payroll processing) so that the majority of my income is more predictable.
To reach this goal I intend to engage in various marketing strategies including providing referral incentives to my existing accounting clients, calling on my consulting clients in an effort to sell accounting services to them, and increasing my marketing efforts via social media outlets.
What are your strategies for staying competitive?
Staying completive includes maintaining successful relationships with my clients, providing relevant quality service, consistently meeting my clients' needs and understanding my target client base. It also means establishing and building my brand and making sure it stays consistent throughout a client's experience. Finally, continuously learning the latest technology and other tools of my trade is critical to my ability to offer competitive services.