While #BlackGirlMagic is an anthem that has successfully recognized the accomplishments of black women around the world, there is still more work that needs to be done to share the story of the African American male experience. For example, millennial leaders like Jeff Wilson II are breaking boundaries for young, black accountants in the accounting industry, where African Americans represent only 8.2% of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Wilson started his career at a ‘Big Four’ accounting firm and was immediately included on the talent pipeline list as a potential firm partner. But he knew there was more to life beyond the cubicle and was willing to do whatever it took to expand opportunities for other underrepresented CPAs in the profession.
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So, at the age of 23, Wilson left his corporate career, grabbed a mentor, and created a small tax practice that served as a foundation for helping others to learn the basics of wealth-building. Ten years later, his firm has grown and stands strong with a team of driven millennial leaders.
Wilson’s mission is simple: To be a top firm that develops and mentors the next generation of CPAs and builds thought leaders in the areas of Accounting, Tax, and Financial Planning.
In this interview, Wilson, who is a principal at The W2 Group and author of The Lies our Parents Were Sold and Told Us, shares the secrets behind his success as a young financial entrepreneur:
Black Cosmopolitan: What does it take to build a successful niche practice?
Jeff Wilson II: Niche businesses are great. Niche businesses have something most open businesses don’t have: Barriers to entry—and most importantly, margins to protect them 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.
Did you face any challenges, opposition, or doubts from others as a young black entrepreneur? How did you establish your credibility in the industry?
As a minority in a predominantly white profession from a small HBCU, there are a 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 always on time and I dressed like a professional. 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. A report in 2008 noted that most people under-40 had a negative net worth so I had something working in my favor. So, they listened and as a result, I am still here.
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 returns to show, but if you’re skilled and focused on your business 24/7, I am confident the rewards will come.
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