A few minutes ago I was going to respond to yet another "I need a CPA" post and noticed I was currently sitting at 999 posts. So I decided to instead detail how contributing to BiggerPockets (BP) has helped me grow personally and professionally. While it's a rather long read, I hope that this will provide inspiration to those trying to break into real estate or start a business of their own.
The Back Story
When I first joined BP back in 2013 I had just entered the professional world as a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers and I very quickly realized the corporate world was not for me. I had an interest in real estate but was the typical "no money, no experience" guy and didn't know where to start.
I dabbled in the BP forums for a short while, asked questions, then dropped off. While I was interested in real estate, I knew that I needed money. Living in DC and being a recent grad, money was not something I had much of. So I tightened my budget and began saving a large percentage of my pay, but set a goal to revisit real estate in 2015.
It wasn't until mid-2014 when I was studying for my CPA exam that I hopped back onto BP. I was studying for the CPA exam at the time and decided that a good way to practice for the exam would be to answer questions for BP members seeking advice. The feeling of success that came with each "thank you" was addicting; scouring the BP forums for tax related questions soon became an obsession (thank goodness for key word alerts).
I wish I could say I'm a brilliant businessman and launching a CPA practice was the plan all along, but there was a large amount of luck that came into play. While I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and run a series of businesses, when I began answering tax questions, there was a large gap of BP users needing tax advice and those providing it. Filling this void is primarily what I owe my business to.
At the beginning of 2015, I became an officially licensed CPA and I decided to try my hand at business ownership by starting Hall CPA PLLC. At the time, the IRS had announced some crazy changes to the tax code. I wrote two member blog posts detailing the changes. These two posts pulled in a crazy amount of views and comments (at least for my first blog posts ever written). I believe total views amounted to around 32,000.
Many entrepreneur articles and books I was reading at the time insisted on the need for an entrepreneur to "touch" as many people as possible and add value to those lives. After seeing the success of those two blog articles, and how many people had read them, I contacted the BP staff and asked to write for the official blog, fully expecting to be turned away, and was surprised when they instead gave me a shot.
So I was off to the races and pumping out an article every week, each one being sent to BP's many email subscribers. I wrote long, detailed, and intricate articles as I wanted my reader to 100% understand the topic at hand by the time they finished reading.
This writing strategy was extremely effective. Business exploded and I had no idea how to handle all of the incoming clients. I didn't have an appointment scheduling or follow-up process. I didn't know how to price my services (still don't, but working on it). I was overwhelmed, but dug my heels in and tried to hang on.
Writing for BP also exposed me to various investor networks around the U.S. and even globe. People now looked at me as a voice of authority when it came to the tax code regarding real estate investing. This allowed me to connect with many highly successful investors whom I had previously only dreamed of connecting with.
In March of 2015 I closed on my first rental property, a 3-unit, for right under $100k. 2015 actual ROI was right under 20%. I thought it was a great deal until @Serge S. told me I should step up my game (and I totally agree with him after listing to the points he laid out).
Fast-forward to today - the CPA business is operating and growing at a healthy level and I'm hoping to expand into another service offering post-tax season that has plenty of potential. My rental is throwing off about $700/mo in cash flow and I'm currently under contract for a big rehab project in Maryland.
Surprises Along the Way
The most surprising thing for me was that the purchase of my 3-unit went so smoothly that I thought I was doing something horribly wrong. Turns out, real estate investing isn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. However, I must caveat the above statement as I believe it to only be true after you have mastered valuation and cash flow analysis and met several people that can assist you with various parts of your business.
The next biggest surprise is how well my CPA biz is going. I have an accountant friend whom runs a successful firm in DC that told me to avoid real estate service offerings as there won't be much money there. Come to find out, most CPAs avoid real estate primarily due to that preconceived notion which of course leaves it wide open for someone like me to come in and take up market share. Blue ocean strategy.
I've since realized that I can offer many different services to my clients, such as cost segregation and high-end tax planning. I've also realized that I potentially have investor reach back if I ever want to start a real estate focused business, such as syndicating deals or lending. So don't ever let someone tell you that your idea is a bad idea without first testing the idea and gathering information!
For anyone frequenting BP, the number one piece of advice I can give you is: giveth more than you receiveth.
Don't jump on the forums and start a post with "I have no money, credit or experience, how do I raise capital?" and expect to be taken seriously. Figure out how you can add an immense amount of value with every post. Aim for a post-to-vote ratio of 100% and you'll easily connect with the most successful people on the forums.
My posts would take a solid 20-30 minutes to write. My BP articles are never less than a thousand words. I don't add in fluff, I just think that's how much it takes to adequately explain the topics at hand.
My number two piece of advice is: be patient and persistent. It took me over a year and a half of religiously posting on BP to see the fruits of my labor significantly pay off. Building a business or real estate portfolio takes significant amounts of time and capital. It's not easy. Keep your head up and stay in the game. It will be worth it in the end.
My number three piece of advice is: work hard today so that you can live the life of your dreams tomorrow. I've lost touch with many (though not my closest) friends while working on building out my businesses, mainly due to the time constraints (I've also built plenty of great friendships along they way!). However, many of the friends I lost are "living for Friday." There's nothing wrong with that, unless you want to be financial independent by the time you're 30. Instead, work hard today so that you can hire your friends tomorrow.
Special Thanks Goes To
@Serge S.@Ben Leybovich for teaching me about apartment investing and keeping my analysis of various properties on target.
@Jay Hinrichs for talking to me about other real estate niches.
@Daniel Ryu for exposing me to Korean investors and talking shop once in a while.
@Joshua Dorkin for providing this awesome place where investors can congregate and share advice and ideas.
@Allison Leung for putting up with my last minute article cancellations and keeping my writing on track.
All of the realtors and investors I've interacted with.
All of the financial service providers I've interacted with.
And all of my clients. I'm sincerely appreciative of every single one of you.
Alright - back to taxes. Cheers!