His vision couldn’t be confined to a cubicle. So he submitted his resignation letter and created his own canvas. At the age of 23, Jeff Wilson II grabbed two mentors and followed their lead to create a small tax practice.
He started out just doing tax returns just like his mentors. Five years later, Wilson has his own accounting practice, The WII Group L.L.C. He shares his experience of launching a business as a young millennial accountant:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of AICPA Edge Conference
There have been many surveys and reports that reveal why over 50% of small businesses fail within 5 years. Your company has been standing strong since 2009. What has been key to your success?
Jeff Wilson: First, I would say a professional services firm is much easier to own or operate than a product or manufacturing firm because the overhead is low.
The keys to our success at The WII Group L.L.C. have been a balanced approach, a dedication to excellence, and a well-capitalized financial foundation to withstand a few bad days.
The businesses I see failing today are undercapitalized. Someone has an idea, maybe even a really good one, but they don’t understand how much money is needed to run the company and keep things going until a return on their initial investment is made.
Did you face any challenges, opposition, or doubts from others as a young black entrepreneur? How did you establish your credibility in the industry?
Wilson: As a minority in a predominantly white profession from a small HBCU, there is lot of headwinds. No question. I faced a lot of opposition.
I started a financial services organization when I was 23. Who takes advice from a 23-year- old with no born privilege? That’s a tough [sell] to anyone. However, you can’t focus on that, and I never did. I was told your reputation will make it there before you will. As a result, I made sure my name was a gold standard. I did my homework when meeting clients to assure them I was competent, I was on time, and I dressed like a professional is supposed to—black, blues, and grays only. That alone, at least, got me a conversation with decision makers.
Then, I had to explain why they should take my advice. It helped that I was a CPA at 23 who could explain finances simply and in a believable manner. It probably didn’t hurt that I mentioned my positive net worth, which I knew most people over 40 couldn’t say, so they listened and as a result I am still here.
What does it take to build a successful niche practice?
A niche provides a good size moat to protect [a] business—and most importantly, margins away from competitors. To do a niche business, you have to understand who your client is exactly.
Second, understand your competitors. How many people are selling the same product? If a lot of competitors have the same product to sell, it’s not going to hold a lot of value.
Lastly, develop and continue to enhance your skill set. Pick a skill or product that is unique and continue developing it so you’re out in the forefront when people think of this skill or product in need.
What advice do you have for other individuals who want to leave their corporate job and start their own firm?
My advice is this: Don’t quit your day job if you can’t go a year or more without a paycheck. Starting a business is hard and sometimes the reward comes much later than you think. It’s a journey to create lasting wealth for you and your family. It will take a while for the return to show but if you’re skilled and focused on your business 24/7, I am confident the rewards will come.