Freelance accountants are the hottest staffing trend in the accounting industry. (Other than remote work. We already get 87 emails a day about remote work and we have a tons more on that topic).
This interesting trend in accounting practice management is what Beth Dierker, Head of Fulfillment at Accountingfly, calls “the Uber-ification of the accounting industry.”
According to Beth (and when Beth talks, we listen), “Five years ago, freelance accountants were used primarily as short-term stopgaps. Now firms are making freelance accountants a key part of their long-term growth strategy.”
Want to learn more about how firms are using freelancers both to survive and thrive? Here are six use cases:
Say “Yes” to Every Client Need
Good news: a client (or potential client) is asking you to help them with a new project! That’s a new business. That’s growth. That’s awesome. But…
Bad news: the client’s project requires an R&D tax credit specialist and your firm doesn’t have one. Doesn’t make sense to hire a permanent employee to handle a project for one client. Too expensive. Too time-consuming.
A potential solution? Retain an R&D tax credit specialist as a freelance accountant paid on an hourly basis. Accept the business. Serve the client. Make money.
- Clients get the services they need from a partner they trust.
- You generate additional revenue without assuming any risk (contractor is paid hourly).
- If the contractor is a good fit, you can pitch the business to other potential clients.
- You learn more about a new practice area and gain expertise.
- The contractor generates income.
Free Up Partner Time for Selling
One of our clients recently came to us with a problem: she was the only person at her firm capable of handling certain complex client matters.
The problem? She was also primarily responsible for generating new business for the firm. That created a classic business school conundrum: what to do when serving existing clients prevents you from growing your business?
Possible solution #1: Hire a new salaried employee to handle complex matters.
Analysis: Expensive and inefficient, because complex matters only occupied 15% or so of the partner’s time. Bringing in a full-time salaried employee with the necessary experience at a 15% utilization rate simply didn’t add up.
Conclusion: Not viable.
Possible solution #2: Grow an existing employee’s skill set, enabling them to handle the complex matters.
Analysis: A time-consuming game of whack-a-mole. Training takes time. Lots of time. Our client didn’t want to wait to grow her business. Plus shifting an existing at-capacity employee to the partner’s complex matters would require that employee to give up other matters. Who would cover those?
Conclusion: Not viable.
Solution: Bring in 1-2 experienced freelance accountants to help with the complex matters (under her supervision), freeing her to grow her business.
Deal with Tax Backlogs
Need we say more?
Hourly freelance accountants are a cost-effective way to deal with the busy season demand surge.
The key to making it work? Do your due diligence (or get a professional recruiter to do it for you), and select the right freelance accountant for your needs. Factors to consider:
- Tax prep software expertise
- Experience level that will make your workflow most efficient (preparer, reviewer, etc.)
- Specializations required, if any
The really cool part? You might even get to sleep every now and then.
Try Before You Buy
Ever hire someone who didn’t work out? You invest dozens (hundreds?) of hours in searching, onboarding, training, and building a relationship. A few months later, they leave or you realize they’re not a fit. One of our clients refers to this as the “arranged marriage” approach to adding talent. It’s like getting married before going on a date. If not done correctly, it’s also expensive, inefficient, and a pain in the you know what.
Consider the freelance accountant alternative: retain someone on an hourly basis with no long-term commitment. Train them in a few select matters. See how it goes. If it goes well, increase their responsibilities (a second date!). See how it goes.
If your relationship is solid, then you can put a ring on it.
Be Flexible for Your Existing Team
Sometimes personal life takes priority, even for great team members. Suppose you have a valued team member who’s ill or gets pregnant or wants to reduce workload? Do you accommodate them and dump their work on someone else? Or do you lose them?
There’s a better option.
One of our clients has a 70-year-old working in a full-time role. She does great work, clients love her work, and she loves the job. But she’s no longer interested in 50-60 hour work weeks.
Our client decided to hire a freelance accountant to help her out. This allows the firm to retain the employee while reducing her hours, and also sets the stage for a seamless transition when the employee eventually decides to retire (currently anticipated sometime in 2048! J/K).
Freelance accountants can allow you to be there for your valuable team members when their circumstances change. That benefits them and benefits you.
Deal With Black Swans (We’re Looking at You, Covid-19)
Do we even need to write anything about this?
What if schools don’t open in the fall? Or open on a 2-3 day per week schedule? Or it’s 100% remote school? What if one of your employees or their immediate family members gets seriously ill? What if…?
Experienced, reliable freelance accountants can fill gaps when things go sideways. Establishing a relationship BEFORE a crisis hits is like having an insurance policy for your people.
If you’re interested in how to partner with Accountingfly for your current or future freelance accounting needs, schedule a call with our COO, Liz Branch.