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Where others see roadblocks, Chris Cooley notices opportunity

In the current economic climate, most experts would discourage would-be entrepreneurs from starting their own small business.

But where others see roadblocks, Chris Cooley sees opportunity.

Cooley & Associates got off the ground in early May. The Madison firm offers financial services for businesses, specializing in assisting start-up businesses with the financial logistics of beginning operation. That includes preparation or review of cashflow forecasts, financial forecasts and projections and corporate budgets, interim management of financial and accounting functions, due diligence and accounting for mergers and acquisitions, cost savings and implementation projects and supplemental accounting and finance resources.

“I just felt there was a great niche and a great need, especially during these economic times,” Cooley, the firm’s president, said recently.

Cooley has one associate. Both have advanced accounting and business degrees from Mississippi State University, with each having logged 10 years in the financial and accounting sector.

“My specialty is start-ups, $20- to $30-million companies who might need a little guidance,” Cooley said. “I think there’s a great niche for companies who can’t hire a CFO and have that fixed-cost on the books.”

Lots of behind-the-scenes work went into the May start-up, “but the doors officially opened then,” Cooley says.

And business has been good since.

“Typically when you start a business there’s a lull,” Cooley says. “But I’ve been fortunate so far in that I’ve gotten some good engagements since we started.”

With the first couple clients in the fold, Cooley and his associate, Todd Vanlandingham, have gotten their financial feet wet.

“In this business, you have to work with people you trust,” Cooley said. “His experience and mine are a good match.”

And with all the new work, Cooley says there is only one thing he and Vanlandingham can do: keep plugging.

“At this point, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and keep looking for new engagements.”

The accounting and financial services sector is one that changes often. What worked a year ago might not work now, and one client might have different needs than another. Drawing on his experience sitting in the client’s chair, Cooley says his company will have to continually adapt to be successful.

“Anytime you have a business, you have to evolve. If you’re not evolving, you’re going backwards,” Cooley says. As new clients come aboard and the opportunity for growth presents itself, Cooley says the services his firm offers will expand “but it’s hard to say today what those will be.”

“For example, I would never take on an engagement that I didn’t have the expertise for. Now we might be able to hire outside expertise to do whatever it is we needed done, but we understand what we can do and what we can’t.”

Take the firm’s specialty, which is assisting start-up companies with a total net worth of $20 million to $30 million. Cooley says his firm is equipped to handle almost anything a company that size might need.

“In addition to those services, we also can provide supplemental resources to larger companies that may need some help to get particular projects completed,” he said.

And one thing Cooley says should be attractive to potential clients is his experience as a client himself.

“We’ve been on the other side of the desk,” Cooley said. “We’ve sat in the client’s chair and we know the challenges and the difficulties and the opportunities. We can speak the same language. We’re not just spouting off something from a textbook.

“And not only is there a financial side to all this, there’s a people side, too. We’re trying to build a company that serves our clients. If our clients do well, we do well. So, we’re walking down this path together.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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