MN: When did you launch Fulbright & Fulbright, CPA, PA and what was the process of developing your own company like?
GGF: My business partner and husband, Edward, launched Fulbright & Fulbright, CPA, PA as a sole proprietor in January 1986. The company had one client, a small electrical repair company. I came on board in January 1987; I was elected an officer in 1992. Currently I serve as the President & COO of Fulbright & Fulbright, CPA, PA; my business partner is the Chairman & CEO. Last year, our firm completed 25 years of serving clients locally and nationally.
We initially performed quarterly financial statement preparation, individual and business taxes for clients. Today we have 250+ client units where we work with creative, licensed and technical entrepreneurs, executives and retirees performing individual, business, trust and estate taxation, business advisory, planning and financial consulting. We also launched two separate firms, one providing fee-only financial planning and investment advisory services that my partner manages and the other that I manage, providing seminars, workshops and media contributions, among other services.
MN: You were appointed to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Foundation Board in 2007. What changes did you help spearhead while on the Board that continue to benefit businesses owned by African American women?
GGF: My previous work included serving on the Board of Directors of a minority controlled publicly traded community financial institution, M & F Bancorp, Inc (and subsidiary Mechanics & Farmers Bank). Through these efforts we reached many African American women, several of whom eventually launched their own CPA and consulting practices. Some have been extremely successful serving on committees and representing the CPA profession before the IRS and other agencies. It’s very exciting. I also served as Chair of the AICPA Minority Initiatives Committee (MIC) where in addition to providing content and assisting with editing, I wrote the proposal that helped green-light the International MarCom award winning eBook (the first for the organization) titled CPAs of Color: Celebrating 40 Years. This eBook helped motivate many African American women and others decide on the CPA profession as well as to seek role models to help mentor them throughout their career.
While I served as Chair of MIC and as a Trustee on the AICPA Foundation for the three-year term we continued to conduct all-expense paid Scholars Leadership Workshop Conferences for approximately 300+ undergraduate and graduate-level students in addition to providing 300+ scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students (awards ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 each annually) and $12,000 in fellowships for PhD candidates.
MN: From your working experience, would you say it’s lack of knowledge, financial training or preparation that causes businesses to collapse and fail financially? What makes you say this?
GGF: I would agree that some of the reasons businesses fail is because of lack of knowledge of the industry, client market potential and basic understanding of how the business works. Many do not receive financial training growing up and decide one day to open a business without any studying or a business plan. The most successful entrepreneurs take the time to understand their industry by serving as an intern or worker for an adequate number of years to learn the business. They also understand what competitive advantage they might have prior to launching the business. They’ve figured out how to do something better, smarter and/or faster, how to serve an underserved market with a plan to exit through a sell or merger. Successful entrepreneurs also know their typical client profile.
MN: Less than 10 percent of women owned businesses reach or exceed the $1 million annual revenues mark. Access to capital has been cited as one reason for this lack of revenue growth. Besides securing bank loans, what other steps can women business owners take to build capital?
GGF: To build capital, women business owners can:
- Be disciplined when purchasing shoes, purses or designer clothing – there are some female entrepreneurs who look great, but do not have an investment portfolio or retirement fund.
- Vacation more frugally if they are saving to launch a business (using time-share, coupons, advance purchased airline tickets, etc.)
- Save and invest funds received through a windfall such as cashing out a stock-option at work or receiving a buy-out package as part of an exit package upon separating from employment.
- Save a certain amount of money for several years prior to business launch based upon projected needs
- Seek angel investors and family friends to invest with. Also have a detailed plan of how they plan to pay these people back, signing official professionally executed promissory notes
- Seek business partners who have funds who would prefer to be a silent partner, people who believe in the business
- Borrow from a spouse
- Seek venture capital funds, etc.
- Also check in with your banker, insurance broker, business departments at local universities and others that work with small businesses about low interest loans or grants for women-owned businesses
MN: Piggybacking on the previous question, it’s no secret that some entrepreneurs use credit cards to finance their businesses. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in this business funding approach?
GGF: I would not recommend using credit cards to finance a business because the interest rates are extremely high. Avoid credit cards when possible unless you:
- Have prepared a thorough analysis of the market
- Already have clients lined up and can project with certainty your ability to pay back this debt within 3-4 months in full