Growing An Expat Tax Business with Alecia Caine, CPA
This is a series where we highlight the story of a Lifestyle Accountant community member, who has veered off the traditional accounting path and started a small business or profitable side-hustle in order to achieve their ideal lifestyle.
If you are an accountant with a small business or side-hustle and would like to share your story in this interview series, click here to learn more.
Hey there! Could you tell us about your background and what services you provide?
My name is Alecia Caine. I'm a CPA, enjoy writing, inspiring others to redefine their life and follow their passion.
I've been independent for 15+ years and in the past 6 years, I've lived and worked remotely from France and Italy.
Currently, I work during tax season for a boutique CPA firm in California. The rest of the year, I live and work remotely from Guardia Sanframondi, Italy growing my business, M-OuLaLa by serving expat tax clients and a few wealthy clients that I keep their finances organized.
I also created a boutique travel business and I design dream trips to France and Italy.
I never liked accounting, but I found a way to make it work for me so I can live the lifestyle I desire.
What motivated you to start M-OuLaLa?
I graduated with an economics degree from UCLA, passed the CPA exam on the first try and then worked for several small CPA firms, each one promising to get me certified, but they never really had the audit work.
Finally, I worked for a large national firm, got my CPA and landed a job as Accounting Manager for Kinko's International in Ventura, California. I moved my family to the beach. It was really tough working in a cubicle under flourescent lights 2 blocks from the ocean.
I did this all as a divorced mother of 2 young sons, so this was a very stressful time in my life. I hated my work and wanted to change careers many times but I also needed to provide for my family so I felt stuck.
Then, I found the courage to go out on my own.
I reinvented myself as a CPA for women entrepreneurs. I offered accounting and consulting services and helped my clients create thriving businesses that supported their lifestyle.
What went into attracting your very first clients?
I wanted to keep it simple and safe, so I looked for small local businesses that needed a bookkeeper. I met with them and instead of a part time job, they became my first clients.
Within a month of quitting my job, I earned more income working only half the time, so I was available to be with my young children.
Then I volunteered to teach a cash flow course to women entrepreneurs. I got a lot of startup clients from this and started setting up Quickbooks, training, and consulting.
I really enjoyed this and I did it for more than 10 years while my sons were still in school. I worked my own hours, only about 25 hours a week so I was also very involved in my kids' lives and earned between $75,000 to $95,000 annually.
What marketing strategies have you tried that are most effective at getting new clients?
I've used Facebook, I'm in some expat tax groups, I offer some advice, connect with people and take them on as tax clients.
I plan to connect with high level clients by socializing with them by attending retreats and taking up golf.
I share what I do and people get very excited.
What are the most important apps you use to run your business?
I use Facebook, banking apps, WhatsApp, Quicken, Quickbooks, and Intuit tax programs.
What’s been the easiest part of running M-OuLaLa?
I just keep dreaming and imagining it, the pieces have been slowly falling into place. I'm passionate about what I do and helping others achieve their dreams.
Have you encountered any challenges along the way?
Oh yes, I am a dreamer so I often get in my own way. It has taken a long time to get clarity on what I want to do.
I have gotten discouraged because it seems so unusual and so big and I don't really have a lot of mentors who can show me the way.
I have had to take jobs or work tax seasons every year to earn a living and this takes me away from the momentum I build, but I am actually very close to making it happen.
What impact has starting your own business made on your life?
The freedom to live a life I design.
Seeing my dreams come true, I always wanted to live in Europe, work remotely, create a lifestyle that I adore and earn an good living.
I've been working toward this for more than 20 years. Once my sons were grown, it was time to take some large steps in this direction.
What are you working towards now?
My dream is to offer more consulting to mostly women business owners and offer annual retreats in Italy to my clients.
We would review the prior year's successes and setbacks and set goals for the following year. Celebrating success while sipping wine and traveling.
I would like to eventually let go of tax season and focus on a handful of high level clients and build a lucrative lifestyle that brings together my passion and my profession.
What’s your advice for accountants who want to start their own business?
I think its very important to know yourself. This took me a long time.
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle and build a business that will support it
- Treat yourself like you are a client
- Create a business plan
- Join a mastermind group and network
- Take really good care of yourself
- Get plenty of sleep - seriously!
What do you gain from surrounding yourself with a community of lifestyle accountants?
I have always felt like I had to wear a mask around other CPAs, I always felt so inadequate, like I was an ugly duckling. Finding the Lifestyle Accountant community felt like finding my tribe, my flock of swans.
Just to know and connect with the community of professionals who desire to make a difference for their clients and also in their own lives feels like a breath of fresh air.
I have regained the enthusiasm that my vision for living passionately and professionally is achievable. I enjoy encouraging and inspiring others, no matter what career path they have chosen, to be courageous to be different.