In this installment of our Meet the Merchant series, we talk to Kwame A. Michel, founder and owner of the eponymous Kwame A. Michel, Inc., a full-service accounting firm with clients in Atlanta, Georgia and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Kwame tells us how he juggles businesses in two different states, how he started working for his family business, and how Clover helps him stay flexible.
Clover: Hi Kwame, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to speak with us. Tell us about your accounting practice and how you got started.
Kwame Michel: The name that I have presently, Kwame A. Michel, Inc., is what I’ve called my business since 2015, but I am a product of a small business owner, my father. My father, my brothers, and I all offer accounting services. Today, we all have our own separate practices. But I’ve been working for my father, at least part-time, since I was 16. I’ve been doing this work for over 30 years.
Our family business worked with other small business owners in New York. It was there that I had the opportunity to learn about all types of businesses with different types of people and see their challenges, their strengths, and most importantly, some of their weaknesses. We had intimate knowledge of the ingredients that are needed for people to work hard and apply themselves. It’s always been ingrained in me to want to help people and add value to their business. The importance of serving others was taught to me at an early age.
In the future, my goal is to help clients by offering business coaching in addition to accounting and bookkeeping services. I want to help business owners become the best version of themselves. I believe that a business can only go as far as the business owner. No matter how good a business is, if the owner hasn’t invested time, energy, and resources to foster their own growth, the business is going to have limited potential. My goal is to try to reach clients and try to address helping them as individuals so that they can be better business owners.
Clover: It’s interesting that you have clients in both Georgia and Connecticut. How does that work?
Michel: We were living in Bridgeport, Connecticut and started to tire of the brutal winters! A relative of mine was in Atlanta and talked me into going to see some homes. My wife and I went on a whim and ended up buying a house. We have no regrets. When we first moved, there was certainly some culture shock, but I’ve always learned to assimilate well and work with people. I adjusted quickly and now I continue doing what I love to do—just in two places at the same time.
When I started my Atlanta practice, I met a lot of other northern transplants. Often, I was put in touch with others from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York who had come to Georgia and the surrounding area. I started getting referrals from them and it was great to have the symmetry of a practice in Connecticut and Georgia. I was able to take my time to grow a well-seasoned client base here.
I’ve always been a northerner at heart, and we grew up with a fast-paced mindset where things moved quickly. I’ve found in Atlanta that things move more slowly. People here prioritize quality or time with family over chasing every dollar and trying to get ahead.
Clover: How do you grow your business when you have clients in two locations?
Michel: My business has always grown from word of mouth. I believe in developing client relationships at a high level.That is how I’ve done it all my life—that’s how my father did it, and it’s how my brothers do it. When one client is happy, they bring more clients to me.
In the past, I would travel frequently, but technologies like Zoom and other video platforms means I’m able to do business another way. I’ve always loved that face-to-face interaction, and that’s how we built our family business, but it’s time to embrace new challenges and the new reality that’s in front of us.
Transitioning from a family business meant evolving from old models that may not be functional anymore. Starting out on my own has given me the flexibility to actually serve my clients in a way which I wasn’t able to before. At the end of every tax season, I take time to strategize how I can serve clients even better, even conducting surveys to make sure that we don’t become complacent.
Clover: Can you tell me how you discovered Clover and how you use it in your business?
Michel: I heard about Clover from my bank’s branch manager. He reached out to me about some solutions that could be used. The processor I was using at the time didn’t have fantastic customer service. The branch manager told me that Clover’s customer service is great. So far, he’s been right.
I use Clover’s online platform. Because I travel, I look for things that won’t tie me down. For me, it’s about being very fluid and uncomplicated.
Clover: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
Michel: I feel self-conscious saying this, because I know many small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic. But for me, it’s actually opened up new opportunities. I can use video conferencing platforms and secure portals to share documents. Overall, the pandemic hasn’t affected me too much.
I realize when I talk to my colleagues and clients that some people aren’t doing well at all. What these stories have taught me is just how important it is to be able to pivot. It’s easy to get stuck in one way of doing business. This is a new reality, and unless you’re able to make changes, you’re not going to learn and grow.
Clover: What advice do you have for other small business owners?
Michel: Something I always tell people is to pay money for a business consultation [before you start a new venture]. I’ve seen so many people who have the right ambition and great drive, but they leap into an opportunity without considering all the possible risks and pitfalls. They don’t think through questions like, What would payroll look like? Am I adequately prepared for the challenges of opening a business? Are there contingencies? How do I get paid? Do I get paid? How much do I want to pay myself?
A business consult can save you trouble down the road. It can answer some of the questions that you probably haven’t even asked. Get a professional to help you anticipate some of the biggest difficulties in starting a business.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life stories of small businesses in action all over the country.