ImageYou would think that starting a new business during an economic crisis would be too difficult.  But Jay Engels saw a niche that he could fill as an independent accounting firm offering not-for-profits lower priced audits.  So when he left Ciaschi Dietershagen Little & Mickelson to form Engels Accounting last September it was amiable.

"It's worked out very well," Engels says.  "I wasn't happy with what I was doing.  I thought I could fill a niche in the community that is needed for small non-profits.  They were willing to cut some of their clients loose that I had been working with.  For them it's tough to make money because they have so much overhead.  I can do it a lot cheaper from my home office.  So it works out for both sides, and for the client."

Engel's target client is small not-for-profit organizations around Ithaca, Tompkins County, and Seneca County that may not be able to afford to hire larger firms.  Because he has worked for both Ciaschi Dietershagen Little & Mickelson and Sciarabba & Walker, he knows the procedures they use.

"They have both been good about it," Engels says.  "Part of my insurance coverage stipulations is that somebody review my work before I release financial statements.  Both places have graciously agreed to do that."

On top of his new business he recently accepted a part time position as Controller at Precision Filters for two days per week.  That makes three jobs -- he and his wife Carol and her parents own and operate Angel Tree Farm where they raise alpacas.  Engels Accounting is located in a room in their 150 years old farm house.

Engels was originally from West Valley, near Buffalo.  He says he always had an interest in accounting.  "My Mother was a bookkeeper for years for my Father's company," he says.  "I used to help her sort the checks and that kind of thing.  I always enjoyed watching her do that."

He met Carol at SUNY Geneseo where he studied geography.  She was from Ithaca so they located here.  She had a job at the Special Children's Center as a special education teacher.  Eventually she moved to BOCES and now teaches kindergarten in Lansing.  He took construction work, then worked for Divi Resorts in Danby doing their accounting.

When Divi relocated he qualified for re-education and studied for his accounting degree at Tompkins Cortland Community College and Empire State College, working as a paraprofessional at Sciarabba & Walker while he finished his degree.  He worked there for eight or nine years, working his way up after he passed his CPA exam.  While there he worked on audits and taxes, but gravitated toward auditing work.

Jay Engels

"It was more what I liked," he says.  "You got to go out of the office and see different clients.  You weren't sitting at a computer all day punching numbers.  You see a different client every week or two, see different people and companies.  It's always interesting to see what companies do and how they make money."

Engels says that audits have changed because of recent business scandals.  "A lot of the audit procedures have changed with what went on at Enron," he notes.  "People would have seen problems earlier if they had asked different questions.  Now we have to ask more questions and document a lot more so those things pop up earlier if you want to see them."

Starting a small business at home has presented some challenges, but the business part is going smoothly.  "I have a business background," he says.  "I analyze all these businesses, so I can take the best of their practices and incorporate it in what I do so running my own business isn't that big a deal.  Running more than one and trying to keep them separate is a bit of a challenge."

Engels will augment the auditing work with some tax preparation, but plans to focus on the audits.  He says the hardest part of his new business is marketing, drumming up enough business, but not more than he can handle.  He likes being home for his children, and to take a more active hand in caring for the farm animals before he gets to work crunching numbers.

"A lot of the reason I wanted to work at home was so I could spend some time on the farm and take some of that pressure off my wife," he says.  "I'm trying to be very careful that I can still have part of my morning free to take care of the animals and do everything that's needed there first, and then do my accounting.  It's working out pretty well."

Engels doesn't envision expanding beyond a one man business, although he is talking to a nephew who is studying accounting at St. Bonadventure University about interning with him for the summer.  He is enjoying the balance of his accounting business, the farm, a part time job and his family.  But he doesn't entirely rule out expanding the business in the future.  "If opportunities arise I'll look at them as they come," he says.