Perhaps it was Janet Duncan’s psychology degree that led her to realize she wasn’t the ideal employee. But it was that discovery (along with being laid off) that helped her make the leap needed to go into business for herself.
Duncan is the owner of Duncan & Associates, a full-service small business accounting and tax firm located on South Academy Boulevard.
An Army brat, Duncan moved to Colorado Springs as a pre-teen before her father, a military policeman, retired from Fort Carson. Duncan hasn’t moved away since. She graduated from Harrison High School and attended UCCS on a scholarship, where she studied psychology with the intent of becoming a police officer before changing course and pursuing a career in counseling. But the birth of her son forced her to re-evaluate her career path.
“Everything changed,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I need money. Kids are expensive.’”
She realized the number of intern hours required to become a counselor wouldn’t meet her earning needs.
“I got into accounting [by] accident,” she said. “Counseling is a noble profession, and I admire anyone who can do it, but I had a mouth to feed.”
She was pursuing her master’s when she made the decision to switch to business.
“I excelled in the business school, and when we got to the accounting piece, I did even better,” Duncan said.
Prior to switching career tracks, Duncan wanted to assist female offenders dealing with substance abuse problems.
“That was going to be my focus, but life happened, so that wasn’t going to work,” she said. “But I really liked the program coordination and management part [of that job]. And accounting is systems management 101. Everything goes into a box. The ironic part is when I was trying to figure out my major at UCCS, my mother told me to become an accountant.”
Duncan worked for local firms, but admits she was miserable.
“I wanted to start at the top and work my way up from there,” she quipped. “That’s not what my employers envisioned.
“I was a terrible employee. I did my job, but that was it, and I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have a great attitude and was probably miserable to be around.”
Firms want accountants to work long hours and be part of “the traditional corporate climb,” Duncan said, adding 60- or 70-hour workweeks during tax season weren’t for her.
“I had little ones and didn’t want to work 60 hours a week,” she said. “My daughter started kindergarten when I took that job and I missed her entire kindergarten year.”
Duncan was laid off on a Friday, the day before her birthday, and her husband said to take the weekend to “wallow,” but on the following Monday, she should start her own business.
It was 2011, and that’s exactly what she did.
“This has come out better than I planned,” she said.
When asked if she was confident starting out on her own because she earned a business degree, Duncan said she wasn’t.
“I’m this far into this, and I still have a lot to learn,” she said. “I’ll constantly be asking clients what I can do more of or better. I’m always taking classes regarding changes in tax law and bookkeeping and auditing. This field is changing fast.”
She said some of those changes include challenges attracting new talent, and she is often one of the youngest professionals at industry events.
“The work dynamic is changing. I met with a consultant a year ago to help focus my growth and we talked about my work habits. He said I was a Baby-Boomer-meets-Millennial.
“I said, ‘No, I’m Gen X, dude.’
“He said I had the work ethic of a Baby Boomer but the work habits of a Millennial. That’s why I won’t meet at 8 a.m. I hate 8 a.m.
“It makes it hard because you have Boomers with one foot out the door and they have the 8-to-5 mentality, so I drive them nuts. Then you have the Millennials who want to do what they want to do. I don’t necessarily need you here 8 to 5, but you better work like you’re here 8 to 5. I drive them nuts, too.”
A relational approach
Duncan began her business out of her home before quickly outgrowing the space. She moved a couple times before settling in November in her location on South Academy Boulevard. Since moving, clients and revenue have tripled, she said.
Because of recent growth, Duncan said she is looking to hire. During tax season, Duncan & Associates employs five, then drops to three during the offseason. She would like to be at five employees (including two accountants and two bookkeepers) year-round and begin to take on more of a management role.
“I have a young adult now as far as my business is concerned,” she said. “Now I have to get it fully functioning and out of mom’s basement.”
Duncan said her relational approach with clients has helped her be so successful.
“I foster relationships,” she said. “We’re relationship-based, not file-based. People appreciate that — especially in this highly automated world where everyone is just a number.”