||Len Pytlak CPAPC
||Ann Arbor, MI
|Type of Business:
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
A. I've been in the public accounting field since 1979, working for various firms. In 1991, I was with a firm where it looked like I wasn't going to be made partner; it looked as though no one was going to be made partner. So, I started searching for a practice to buy. I found a small 40-client firm for sale and bought it. Since then, I've bought two more practices. Now I have 800 clients, all small businesses and individuals.
Q. How did you fund the business?
A. I only put a small amount down, around $2,000. The rest I agreed to make in monthly payments over three years. We adjusted the price based on whether clients came back or not. So, if an existing client who usually billed $1,000 didn't use me, I wouldn't have to pay the seller for that amount of billings. If the client did hire me, but the next year decided to go elsewhere, then I would be obligated to pay for that person.
Q. What do you find are the biggest problems small businesses encounter with the year-end reconciliation and budgeting process?
A. They don't do it. Very few small businesses I deal with do a budget. A number of them wind up running into problems trying, say, to get a line of credit when the money runs out and it's too late. But if they had budgeted ahead of time, they might have had a better idea when cash might be low and planned for that.
Q. What's the biggest challenge you've faced?
A. Convincing small business customers to put in the time they need. I run into a lot of businesses that don't want to make that extra effort on an on-going basis.
Q. What's the most significant mistake you've made?
A. I gave an employee too much control and it was abused. I found out when clients left because of how they were treated. And, the person also took some clients, most of whom I got back. As a result, I give employees less control over what they do. It means I do a little bit more work, but that's okay.
Q. Have you changed your business strategy?
A. I'm changing it now. I'm rethinking what areas to pursue. When I started in accounting, we did a lot of bookkeeping. We don't do that as much, because of the PC. I'm also thinking of getting away from simple returns in order to stretch the work out throughout the year. So, I'm considering areas like eldercare work, helping families whose parents can't take care of themselves, paying their bills, monitoring their care.
Q. Have you encountered any surprises?
A. When that employee left, I was quite surprised. Otherwise, I haven't had any. I've always dealt with small businesses, so I've seen what they go through. I knew what to watch out for.
Q. Who in the business world do you look up to and what have you learned from them?
A. The very first public accounting firm I worked for has been my model. I based everything I do on how they treated their employees and customers.
Q. How do you set yourself apart from others in your industry?
A. I enjoy what I'm doing and clients pick up on that. I also know you have to be willing to take the time to explain things to clients. You can't get upset because you think they're saying something stupid. My customers know I'll show them something three, four, five different ways if necessary.
Q. What advice would you give someone starting a small business?
A. Try to get a job in that industry. I have a client starting a health food business who's doing it right. He's applying for a job in the kitchen of a business in the area, so he sees what they go through. You also need to talk to other company owners in the same industry; go to another city, where people won't feel in competition with you, and find as many as you can. And get an adviser, guys like me, and run the idea by us. It's better to spend a few hundred dollars than to lose all your money. We're not emotionally involved, so we can give more objective advice.