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How to Grow Your CPA Firm by Leveraging Flash Teams

By Brad Hughes

  • October 01, 2019
  • 4 min. read

In a New York Times piece, The Pop-Up Employer: Build a Team, Do the Job, Say Goodbye, a mobile app team that developed True Story, a popular game, is highlighted. What was unique about this team? None of the team members worked for the same organization. They had no previous experience working together. They were united solely for the purpose of creating this app, after which they disbanded and went their separate ways.
This story is one example of a growing trend across most industries: the use of Flash Teams to accomplish project-based work.

The Rise of Flash Teams

Melissa Valentine, a professor in Stanford’s Management Science department, asserts that the future of work is Flash Teams, which are teams comprised of skilled freelancers. They most likely have never met before, quickly assemble, complete a challenging project, and then go their separate ways. Think of just-in-time inventory, where the inventory is highly-specialized consultants.
The fact that they don’t work for the same employer is irrelevant. What brings them together is that they all have the relevant skills and experience needed for the project at hand.
One industry that lends itself particularly well to “Flash Teams” is accounting advisory, where consulting firms can best serve their clients by assembling the right team on a whim to be able to respond to specialized client needs quickly.

Why does this matter for Accounting Firms?

In the past, it was possible to grow an advisory practice by assembling a team of permanent employees capable of tackling a variety of projects across a variety of industries. In this day and age, this is no longer the case.
Technologies are becoming increasingly segmented across industries. Companies expect their consulting firm partners to have access to experts in their specific technologies. Your manufacturing client doesn’t just want a talented CPA with a proven track record of success. Instead they seek a talented CPA experienced in activity-based costing, Great Plains, and Power BI. If you don’t have that expertise in-house, consider the opportunity lost.

Traditional Model = Lost Revenue and Unhappy Clients

The traditional firm model is no longer optimal for growth. Firms who are abandoning or augmenting the traditional model are winning. They’re leveraging experts across the world to best solve problems.
They’re doing this by leveraging the Gig Economy.
Remember that manufacturing client with ultra-specific needs? You can serve them best by adding a freelance team member who checks all of their boxes. By doing so, you can keep your competitors out and take advantage of the additional revenue opportunity you may have otherwise lost out on.
This freelancer will join your team, achieve your client’s objective, and then roll onto the next specialized project at another company with another firm.

Assembling the Flash Team

It sounds easy enough, but the reality is that being able to identify the best available expert within a week’s notice requires significant upfront planning.
If you want to future-proof your firm, you will need to implement processes that can adapt to rapidly assembling flash teams. You’ll need to access the On-Demand CPA labor market. Many executives are already clued into this fact, as 79% of those surveyed reported that access to an on-demand workforce is a competitive advantage, per a recent market study The White Collar On Demand Economy by MavenLink.

There are two ways to gain access to the On-Demand resource pool:

  • Build your own platform of freelance CPA talent
  • Partner with a 3rd party platform that has already been built

The Big 4 CPA firms are building their own. For example, the Flexible Talent Network at PwC and EY’s Gig Now. Copying the Big 4 is usually not the best approach for 99% of other firms, though, as the scale your firm will need to hit to effectively roll out and manage its own gig platform likely isn’t a realistic route to take.
In this case, consider working with a 3rd party gig platform.

The Importance of Project Management Skills

Ms. Valentine, the aforementioned Stanford professor, quoted to the New York Times that project managers are becoming increasingly in-demand as more organizations leverage flash teams. This is particularly true for more complex projects requiring multiple team members.
Are Accounting Advisory firms heading towards a future where their full-time staff are Project Managers, their primary responsibility being to assemble and lead outside specialists who can respond quickly to unpredictable client needs? It seems likely, and the key will be to ensure your firm has repeatable processes in place to keep Flash Teams in place.

Keeping Your Flash Teams Together

An often-cited reason for firm leaders being hesitant to adopt an agile approach is that freelancers could leave a project midway through. The risk that they’ll become a key team member, and then jettison the project midway through, will make you look back to your client.
There’s a simple approach to addressing this concern: performance-based compensation. Instead of simply compensating freelancers via an hourly rate or fixed fee earned evenly throughout the project, consider layering in milestones.
Milestone payments align your incentives with that of the freelancer, reducing the risk of early departure.
Working with a gig platform also addresses this risk. Find out if the freelancer they’re providing your team is someone they’ve worked with in the past. Any reputable platform will end a relationship with a freelancer who has burned a client in the past.

Is your firm set up for the future?

As more and more software and technologies are adopted by companies, the accounting firms that will win will be the ones capable of offering solutions to problems they can’t forecast months out. What is your firm doing to access this on demand workforce? Want to know more about leveraging these teams? Here’s how we can help.

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