What if a perceived hobby turned into a full-time job? I recently sat down with Liz Farr, CPA, owner of Farr Communications, in Los Lunas, N.M., to learn about how she turned her love of writing into a passionate vocation.
Bryan Cytron: I understand you’re transitioning from working in tax in a CPA firm to writing about tax in publications; tell me more about that.
Liz Farr: About two years ago, I started ghostwriting blog posts for other accountants. I also began to phase out of full-time work as a CPA. By the end of January, I’ll be writing full-time and will retire from public accounting.
I’ve also written the text for websites for accountants and bookkeepers around the English-speaking world. Then, about a year ago, I emailed an editor at the Journal of Accountancy with a comment on an article in one of the newsletters I subscribe to. At the end of my email, almost as an afterthought, I mentioned that I was a freelance writer in addition to being a CPA. The editors are always looking for CPAs who can write, so I began writing for them. That led me to other publications, including writing for the Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center and the Firm of the Future blog.
BC: What motivated you to take this leap of faith?
LF: This isn’t the first time I’ve switched careers. I’ve also worked as a biochemist, and as part of a team designing and implementing a database of biomolecular data. I’ve done graduate work in linguistics and was a stay-at-home mom before I started my career in accounting at a small tax office in rural New Mexico. I went back to school for a master’s degree in accounting and then got my CPA.
After a decade in tax and accounting, I needed a change. I wanted something that would be flexible and mobile. I always got kudos at work for the reports I wrote, so when a course from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI), on copywriting fell in my lap, I dove in and studied commercial writing. I spent about a year studying copywriting and reaching out to potential clients.
So far, it’s been a perfect fit for me. I work from my home, set my own hours and determine what kinds of projects I want to work on. I’ve been able to travel with my husband while still getting work done – and best of all, no more tax seasons!
BC: For some, writing may be seem like a hobby, but you see it as more than that. Why?
LF: Almost 25 years ago, when I was writing a paper on linguistics in grad school at the University of Washington, I had the epiphany that writing was a bit like telepathy. Writing is all about using words to convey the ideas in one person’s mind into the mind of a reader. Recently, I came across those exact same words in Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.”
Explaining a tax code provision in writing forces me to clarify my own thinking in ways that just applying that concept to a client’s fact pattern does not. Finding the precise words that capture the essence of an accounting firm for their website forces me to step outside of the normal day-to-day number crunching of accounting work and into the mind of a business owner who needs exactly the services this firm offers. I’m using my experience as a CPA to build bridges that help accountants, bookkeepers and small business owners make sense of this complex world.
What I love most is meeting accountants, bookkeepers and consultants who are at the leading edge of change in this profession. I met many of those leaders when I attended the most recent QuickBooks® Connect in San Jose. I feel I can contribute more by combining my knowledge of tax and accounting with my writing ability than by just putting numbers in boxes.
BC: When writing, we often have to draw upon our inspirations. Who, or what, inspires you?
LF: I’m most inspired by the opportunities that come my way to share my knowledge and experience as a CPA with others. In working with accountants and bookkeepers around the world, I am amazed at the heroics they perform for their clients and their technical wizardry that creates timesaving solutions for businesses. I want to do all I can to spread those ideas to others.
I’m also inspired by good, clear writing. One of my favorite books on writing is Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” A favorite business book is “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. But, as I’ve learned from Stephen King, Bob Bly and other successful writers, professional writers can’t afford to wait for the muse. We have to learn to summon the muse at will.
BC: Where have you been published so far? What is your “dream” gig?
LF: In addition to the publications and websites I’ve already mentioned, I’ve had articles published on AccountingWEB and the AWAI’s website. I also have posts on my own website, which I republish on LinkedIn. I’m currently working on a course for AWAI on tax and accounting for freelancers. My dream gig is to ghost write a book with one of the thought leaders in the accounting and bookkeeping world.
BC: You mentioned before that being an accountant who writes makes you a bit of an oddball. What do you hope CPAs and accountants will take away from your writing?
LF: The stereotype of the accountant is someone focused on numbers; a geek who loves elegant Excel spreadsheets. But, with advances in artificial intelligence and cloud technology, that won’t be enough to keep us going in the future. CPAs will have to learn to communicate what those numbers mean. That means we also have to look deeper into those numbers and find patterns, insights or anomalies that can help clients grow their businesses. I hope that CPAs can find ideas in my writing that help them become better advisors to their clients.
BC: What is your one best piece of advice to others who want to do more writing?
LF: Every time you write something that someone else will read, take a few minutes and do these two things:
- Reread it from the point of view of your reader. Is it clear what I want the reader to do? Did I specify exactly what information my client needs to send me? Are my questions clear and easy to find? Are the next steps for them to take specific and definite?
- Read it out loud. If you stumble, that’s a spot that needs revision. If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, break it into two or more. Does the tone match your intent?
Editor’s note: This is part of a series about tax professionals who have interesting hobbies. Be sure to read this article focusing on Debra Kilsheimer and Harold Hickey.