The People Puzzle


December is my favorite. Tax planning conversations are in full swing, the lack of urgency on projects lulls me into a false sense of security, and there are lots of cookies around. It is easy to attend many holiday parties and enjoy the calm before the storm. And every year, BOOM, February 1st hits and we were too optimistic, and everyone is working insane hours to handle that amazing new client we accepted last minute.

I am sure this story hits close to home for anyone running a tax practice. Talent is difficult to find. I searched Glassdoor for “tax manager,” finding 1,700 jobs with that exact title posted in the last month alone. Indeed has close to 2,500 listings for “tax manager” currently, and if you change the search to “tax preparer,” you end up with above 3,000 open positions. If you search just “tax” on Indeed, you end up with over 110,000 job positions. Well, if you are struggling to find talent, you are not alone.

How can we utilize creative resources to stack our team with talent?

  1. First of all, hire when you believe your team will be at 80% utilization based on a 40-hour week. This is a good rule of thumb to give you enough time to attract and hire the right candidates.
  2. Consider hiring remote workers. We have been working with remote talent for a few years very successfully. You need robust processes in place, controls on information, security on systems and tools, the ability to log in remotely, and great communication. The unspoken part of a remote workforce is the ability to confront difficult conversations. Many people are unwilling to put the same standards of work on their remote team as the ones in their office because it is harder. It is worth setting the right boundaries and having the difficult conversations to make it work.
  3. Contractors should be used as backfill. If you cannot find the right full-time hire, consider hiring contractors during season. We aim to recruit a few EA’s that have mostly retired to work 4-5 months a year. They are amazing tax preparers and it allows them to live the retired lifestyle they want, while still bringing in the revenue that they need.
  4. Find a few good interns. Make friends with the tax professor at the local community college and ask for their best students. Interns are very useful. They tend to be good with technology and willing to do anything you need. Interns can assist everyone from the administrative team with scanning, collating, delivering returns, and collecting signatures, to the production team with bookkeeping clean up, basic tax workpaper or form prep, and research. Please make sure to pay your interns – they are worth much more if you do.
  5. Retain the talent you have. Take care of your humans! If you do not know how, ask them. I guarantee someone on your team has great ideas to delight and inspire the rest of the team in affordable ways.

If you are worried about hiring someone and not having enough work for them, hire them anyways. If you have the right candidate, you will make it work. You cannot grow without great people on your team. Many tax professionals do too much themselves when they need to be focusing on strategically building the practice they want. Having good people allow for the freedom needed to build the practice of your dreams!

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Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.