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The Gig Economy for CPAs: Your Secret Weapon to Compete with the Big 4

By Brad Hughes

  • April 12, 2019
  • 6 min. read

Historically, bigger has often been considered better. This is true for our biggie meals, our massive vehicles, and our paychecks.

It’s also been the association for large accounting firms, which is why they’ve always been able to scoop up clients by the truckload. Bigger means more resources. Bigger means better, high quality talent. Bigger means more growth.

This may no longer be the case, thanks to the gig economy.

Sure, the gig economy is changing what we call normal, but that doesn’t mean the change is evil or unnecessary. In reality, it’s possible to compete with the Big 4 – Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG and PwC – because now you can leverage the gig economy.

You can leverage the power of the freelancer world to boost your sales, attract amazing talent, and reshape your business. It may still feel like David and Goliath, but this time David has a rifle (and we all know how that story ended when he just had a rock).

So what are the benefits?

How can we possibly compete with giant organizations that generally have more money and more pull in the hiring arena? Well, with more pull often comes more red tape. So how can you leverage the Internet as a digital weapon to create solutions the big guys aren’t even thinking about? How can you level the playing field?

What problems can you solve that they can’t even deliver?

Enter the gig economy.

A New Playing Field
First, lets consider an old, well-known problem that everyone faces in the beginning and throughout their career as a leader: having too many or too few clients.

For new businesses, the first lofty goal is filling up a repertoire of clients. This could take days, weeks, months, or years, depending on the overhead you need to pull in. Then, once you got the ball rolling, that snowball could quickly turn into an uncontrollable avalanche. Suddenly your full-time employees are burned out, causing worry of a mass exodus which would compound the problem.

This isn’t true in the freelance economy. Problems happen quickly, but they can also be solved quickly. It’s all about building the right team, and being able to vet and incorporate top freelancers into your team.

Picture a high-growth firm signing new clients. Once the workload gets too massive for their full-time staff, it’s relatively simple to balance client demand with resource capacity by leveraging freelancers. Then, if and when the work slows down, the talent contracts could end or pause.

Logistically, this would also allow for businesses to shift freelance accounting professionals across seasons, which could invite the best of the best during busy season and leave you to a few, local, trusted employees the remainder of the year.

This impact is most obvious for traditional tax and audit firms, who can onboard freelancers during busy season. In an analysis we put together, we calculated that our traditional CPA firm clients save an average of $46,000 for every freelancer utilized during busy season.

Flex when you’re busy, relax when you’re not.

Attracting the Best (of the Best)
So far, we’ve discussed the benefits of a freelancer economy in terms of quickly adding high quality labor capacity, but you can hire freelancers outside of your field to better improve your workload and your firm’s atmosphere for talent.

In addition to hiring talented freelance CPAs, you can also hire virtual assistants, marketing experts, and “busy work” experts to decrease the workload of menial tasks for your talent. Figure out your best practices and then hire someone less expensive to repeat the tasks.

You can find and hire specialists to run the aspects of your business that are less interesting, or less beneficial, so you can focus on the things that really matter (“less, but better” as Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism).

Delegation can be difficult, but there are freelancers out there willing to take the load for you (in many cases, for much less money than you would require to do the same job!).

Thanks to a combination of factors – added inexpensive help, non-typical work schedules, and an open mind – it’s also possible to attract better talent than ever before, and it will almost certainly be more cost effective in the long run.

Freelancers and Benefits
Freelance platforms have created a method in which talent is able to find talent. The best freelance writers are now working with the best marketing agencies. The best CPAs are now working with the best firms who can provide the best benefits.

What types of benefits can you provide?

Well, this likely comes down to money and a little bit of creativity. Starbucks offers Spotify Premium memberships to their baristas, so we need to think a little outside the box for folks in the gig economy (but, any digital office is already better than any brick-and-mortar office, so you’re off to a good start already).

Let’s talk perks.
The most obvious perk is more money and more flexibility. Since you don’t have to worry about a freelancer’s healthcare, benefits, or non-productive time, you can pay freelancers more money to work at your firm. Since you’ll only be paying them when there’s a direct need, your bottom line will thrive due to 100 percent utilization.

With a growing number of white collar workers searching for gig economy work arrangements, your firm can stand out to top talent just be merely participating in the gig economy.

The Big 4 has considered this and they’ve also started to search for freelancers. EY has a system called GigNow and PwC has the Flex Talent Network. But their frame of mind is still rooted in the old system, and the freelancer experience suffers as a result. They’re pushing square pegs into round holes, where you can line up unique freelancers with unique positions.

Most freelancers don’t mind the lack of benefits. According to one survey from U.S. News, about “70 percent said they’d rather buy their own benefits if it means taking home more pay.” Freelancers are looking for more pay with little regard to missing benefits. There’s a demand, but most firms do not offer a supply.

Perhaps there’s a simple way to improve the norm.
What if you could offer each new employee a package that included a virtual assistant, an annual cruise, or something equally unique?

Virtual assistants can be acquired for as little as $3-5 an hour. And if you perform a search in a given area – like New York, California or Florida – it would be simple enough to book a cruise going from a local port for a few hundred bucks.

Perhaps the latter is a little “flashy,” but it would likely encourage the best freelancers to recommend their equally qualified colleagues. Then, there are always typical benefits, like legal or financial advise, a national gym membership, mentoring, or just a handful of gift cards.

Many times, people think of hiring as sending out a general message. In the “rising talent” world, however, it’s best to get specific. Some companies are finding out what a potential client or candidate may be into and then sending them what’s known as a “Wow Box.”

Perhaps a social media page reveals that the No. 1 Draft Pick on your talent shortlist is into Siberian huskies, the ketogenic diet, books by Malcolm Gladwell, and windsurfing. That suggests a pretty specific “Wow” package that just might get their attention.

The sky is the limit in the freelance economy. If this sounds a little overwhelming, don’t picture yourself hiring a full staff right off the bat. Just aim to experience success with one initial freelancer. And once that works out, perhaps they can do the rest of the hiring for you!

That’s the gig economy.

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