Today’s guest is Katie Minion. After spending 7 years in tax, Katie left accounting — sort of — to start a writing career (and an art business). Read her story below!
Grim: Thanks for being here! Can you start by telling us about your background?
Katie: I attended the University of Kansas, which was not far from where I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City. When I was asked to declare a major, I had no idea what to choose. I didn’t have an overwhelming amount of interest in any one subject, and I didn’t have any grand plans for what I wanted to do after college. But after talking it over with my mom, I settled on accounting because I enjoyed math so much. It’s funny to think back on that decision process now, because I soon learned that you don’t need to be a mathematician to be a good accountant. Regardless, accounting ended up being a pretty good fit. The business school at KU is a well regarded program, so I stuck with it through their Master’s program and am more than happy with my education.
During the spring of my junior year, I interned at BKD, a well known regional accounting firm in Kansas City. The internship was in both audit and tax which gave me a great introduction into both disciplines. I had not taken many accounting classes at that point which made the expectations a bit overwhelming, but I look back on my experience positively. Immediately following my spring internship, I had a summer tax internship at RSM (which was called RSM McGladrey at the time), this time focusing solely on tax. I really thrived in the tax environment and felt drawn to RSM’s culture, so I accepted a job when they offered me one. Almost two years later, after I graduated with my Master’s degree from KU, I came back to work for RSM.
How was your experience with RSM?
I was at RSM for three busy seasons and I hold really positive memories of my time there. I met some incredible people who I’m still friends with to this day. From my perspective, busy seasons were reasonable at RSM. We were expected to charge 55 hours to clients each week, which had me working around 65 hours per week. I didn’t mind the long hours at the time. This was my first job out of college and I felt challenged and excited about the prospect of working late. I thrived on that feeling of being needed. But after a couple of years, my priorities started to shift. My husband also had a busy job and we were not seeing much of each other. I began yearning for a more regular schedule.
What did you do when you left public accounting?
I went on a handful of job interviews for a staff accountant in industry, and I happily took the next job I was offered. It provided a more regular schedule, a focus on state and local tax (which was my interest at the time), and even gave me a significant raise. I was content there, but it wasn’t the perfect fit for me, so after about a year and I half, I left for a different job at Sprint. I worked at Sprint for two years as a state and local tax analyst, and I really enjoyed my time there. Sprint was a supportive employer, and my team was fantastic. We could flex our schedules (which meant “early in, early out” for me), and I never had overtime which gave me the time to explore new hobbies, get into an exercise routine, and see friends. I think I would have stayed there for many more years if my husband’s job hadn’t moved us away. His job took us deep into Tiger Country: Columbia, MO, home to KU’s rival, the University of Missouri.
Then you went back into public accounting, is that right?
When we moved to Columbia, MO, I knew I’d be facing fewer job opportunities than I had in Kansas City, but I was hopeful I’d find something in industry. But after a bit of time looking, I figured out that I’d have to go back into public accounting if I wanted to make a comparable salary. With the help of a recruiter, I joined a local public accounting firm that had around 15 partners, 90 employees, and two offices. It was night and day different from working at RSM. At RSM, I prepared tax returns using trial balances that were perfectly in order - most had even been audited. At my new firm, their clients were much smaller, and part of the tax return process was to clean up the trial balance. Making journal entries was not something I had done outside of college, so it felt like I had to learn everything over again.
I learned so much while I was there. About accounting and bookkeeping, yes, but I also learned how to write. Like many smaller firms, this firm asked its CPAs to draft the technical content they published on their website and in their email newsletters to clients. The writing expectations were spread among all the CPAs working there so as not to overwhelm any one person. Not long after I started, the marketing director asked me to write something about sales tax nexus. I absolutely loved it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I requested to write more. I took on as many writing assignments as they would give me, and I ended up writing an average of one per month during my tenure there.
How did you transition to writing full time?
Even though I enjoyed my time at each of my jobs, I always felt like there was something missing. I wasn’t passionate about accounting. I didn’t get jazzed about my work like a lot of my coworkers did. I was using my job as a means to make money so that I could enjoy my time outside of the office, but that’s about it.
When my husband’s job was going to move us back to Kansas City, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I dreaded the idea of going on another job hunt, especially in a field I wasn’t passionate about. But I was 30 years old and had no other work experience. I was a tax accountant. I didn’t think I had any other options.
When I told my firm’s marketing director about my upcoming move and my hesitance to get another job in accounting, she suggested I try writing as a career. She told me that many CPA firms pay big bucks for content creation, and she thought I had the skills to be successful as a freelance writer. She completely opened my eyes to the possibility of a new career. Without her, my career trajectory would look a lot different, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. Not only did she encourage me to try writing full-time, she eventually introduced me to firms that might like to purchase my services. I got my very first writing job from one of her connections, and that client is one I still work with today.
Finding writing was the perfect fit for me. Instead of preparing tax returns, I spend my days writing about technical tax and accounting concepts for CPA firms all over the country. I get to use both my experience and education doing something I truly enjoy. My clients value the background knowledge I have on the subject, and they’ve found that I create high quality, reliable, technically accurate content that their partners are proud to put their names on. I’ve been doing this since May of 2017 and for the first time in my life I can genuinely say that I love my job.
Where do you want to take your writing career?
When I first started freelancing, I had a vision of having a technical writing empire of sorts. I imagined having employees under me doing the bulk of the writing while I brought in new business. But as time went on, this seemed less and less appealing. The thing I really enjoy is writing; I don’t want to give that up. Thus far, I have not subcontracted any of my assignments, and I think I want to keep it that way.
It took a good 6 months to get real traction as a freelancer, but I’m glad I stuck it out because today, I have plenty of work to choose from. I’m actually still growing, even three years later, which is a fantastic feeling. When my calendar starts to get full, I simply raise my rates. This ensures that the firms I work with truly value what they’re getting.
The job itself is a bit of a dream. I work between 20 and 30 hours a week and I’ve easily replaced my public accounting salary. I have connections with around 30 accounting firms, and in any given month, I create content for five to seven of them.
I really enjoy writing, but I also love that this job has given me time to do other things. It gave me the time to start an art business, learn new hobbies, get into a good exercise routine, stay connected with friends, and be on the board of a networking organization. If I worked in a traditional job, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy to pursue these things.
Tell us more about your art business.
Funnily enough, I can thank public accounting for my art business. During CPE courses, my coworkers always caught me doodling or writing accounting terms in calligraphy. When I shared some of these doodles on social media, my friends encouraged me to keep drawing. My first intentional doodles were of famous landmarks in Kansas City and Columbia, and over time, my focus has shifted. Now DoodleStation is known for its inspirational designs that I sell as vinyl stickers. I sell my designs on Esty and in a handful of retail stores in Kansas and Missouri. There’s room for growth, but DoodleStation is definitely my side business. I’m happy to keep my main focus on writing for now.
How did friends and family react when you went into business for yourself?
Sometimes the people closest to you have the most trouble accepting when you change. When I first told my parents I was going to write full time, they didn’t react much at all. My dad had the same job his entire career, and he valued stability. Although I never asked him what his response (or lack of response) meant, I assume he was nervous for me to jump into a big unknown.
My friends had the opposite reaction; they were excited for me. During this time, I sought out those positive voices. I expanded my circle by talking to other entrepreneurs and made connections with other writers. Hearing others say, “that’s amazing, you’re going to be great at that!” was the encouragement I needed to hear to keep going. If I had given into the negativity, I wouldn’t have put in the work that was necessary to find success. Sometimes when you’re doing something different, you just have to push through the painful parts blindly and have faith that your hard work will pay off in the end.
What advice would you give to anyone working in public accounting?
Take advantage of your time in public and learn as much as you can. Your managers will put you in uncomfortable situations every single day, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You will grow and learn so quickly. It may be a bit frustrating and overwhelming at the time, but you will appreciate those learning opportunities later.
That being said, I am not one of those people who thinks you should slog through your career just because it feels like the smart thing to do. If you're truly unhappy, look for something else. And when you’re on the hunt, be open to everything. You never know where life is going to take you. If you have an interest in a particular niche, look there. If you really enjoyed client interactions, find a job that will give you more of that. Follow your interests and be open to exploring what else is out there.
Any advice to those just starting their career?
If you’re thinking about starting your career in public accounting, I’d recommend considering boutique firms in addition to big four firms. I learned so much when I worked for the local firm in Columbia. Bigger companies are probably going to have the strongest offer, but the hands-on, varied experience you’ll get at a small firm is invaluable.
If you already know that public accounting isn’t for you, that’s fine too. You can learn a lot in industry. I do think that you need to be more careful about which place you end up, though. Do your research about the company and its culture. Unfortunately, culture is one of the hardest things to figure out before you start working at a company, but try to glean as much as you can from the interviews and trust your gut. If your days are filled with unhappy coworkers and office politics, you won’t be happy at work even if you like the actual tasks that you’re doing.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you’d change about your career?
I don't know, that's hard to say. I am happy where I am today, so I’m hesitant to be critical of my career path. It would be interesting to know how different my life would be if I had pursued writing from the onset, though. When I was a kid, I actually really liked writing. I would research interesting topics and write reports about them just for fun (my most notable report was about stalactites and stalagmites). But for some reason I never thought about pursuing writing later in life. How would my life be different if I had pursued writing at the onset?
If you're just starting college, it might be a fun exercise to think about what excited you as a kid. I don't think that works for everybody, but some of those things might come back later in life, just like they did for me.
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about careers or business?
Don’t be afraid to go after what you want. Your success may look different than other people’s successes, and that’s okay. My [identical twin] sister pursued accounting alongside me after college, but unlike me, she found contentment in public accounting. She’s currently an audit Director at PwC and loving it. Neither path is better than the other; they both got us to where we wanted to go.
I actually think my pursuit to live a more authentic life began about seven years ago when I went vegan. I chose veganism as a means to live in better alignment with my values. Although I was pleased with my decision and felt certain I was on the right path, it was not an easy transition. I got quite a bit of pushback from others. It would have been easy to listen to that negativity and go back to eating meat, but I didn’t do that. I chose the path that was best for me and didn’t apologize for it. I took this lesson with me into the workplace. This experience gave me the courage to pursue writing when all of my peers were sticking it out in accounting. Sometimes taking a different path can lead you to some really interesting places.
What does the future hold? Any long term goals?
I don't like to make long term goals. I think they can unintentionally close you off to new opportunities. Five years ago, I never would have guessed I’d be where I am now, so I’m glad I was open enough to try something new when the opportunity came along. In life, I just want to be happy. And doing what I’m doing right now is making me happy.
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