A common story I have heard from members is they have more work than they have time. This year at the small firm roundtable everybody was talking about getting rid of some of their clients because they simply didn’t have the time to prepare all the returns. I hear similar things from firms of every size and from members working in BING (business, industry, non-profit, and government). MSCPA and the Legacy Foundation are working hard to promote the profession and fill the pipeline, but that takes time.
Another thing I hear from people is they want more flexibility from their employers. Companies have made strong headway on this over the past decade, but there is always room for improvement.
A couple months ago I heard a story that struck a nerve. There is a CPA in South Carolina trying to solve both these issues. His name is Sean Kenny and instead of me telling his story I thought I would let him share his story with you:
“Why can’t we just bring on more people during tax season?” That was a thought I had one late night as our firm struggled to get through the toughest time of year. I thought to myself how cool it would be for a firm to bring on experienced folks when needed – almost like an Uber driver. It seemed so obvious I couldn’t believe it wasn’t out there already. It was this idea — on-demand, flexible help for accounting firms — that changed my life, and hopefully it can change public accounting for the better.
As a CPA working in public, I dread tax season. We all know it: the long hours, the time away from the family, the stress. However, I really love the work. Something I hear over and over from other CPAs is “I love the work, I just hate the lifestyle.” We need to fix the model.
In the spring of 2017, after the April deadline, I began taking every CPA firm owner who would answer my emails out for coffee or lunch to get their feedback. I learned that these small firms needed more than just help during tax season. They needed help with the complicated stuff too. They didn’t have a partner’s door to knock on or an extensive network to utilize. They liked the idea of running their problem by an expert. But where are these people?
What I’ve learned over the past year is that there is an overwhelming, I repeat OVERWHELMING, demand for remote, flexible work – even in accounting. It’s an inverse of what’s happening in the traditional economy where firms are struggling to find experienced, full-time talent. Who are they? They’re stay-at-home mothers looking for at-home work, semi-retired folks with no interest in working crazy hours, and people just looking for alternatives (yes, many are Millennials). All of them would love to work with firms, they just don’t want (or aren’t able) to work in the office full-time.
As I was gaining feedback from accountants, I put together the team to build out the solution that would bring together CPA firms and freelance CPAs. One is my wife, Emily, an accomplished designer, and the other, Aaron, a software engineer who worked as the technical lead for a few well-funded startups (note: we are not a well-funded startup). The three of us set out to design, build, and bring this idea of on-demand help to public accounting firms (ideally before the next tax season). Thus, PrepLink was born and we got to work.
Shortly thereafter, the reality of launching a technical product hit. Delays. More delays. 2018 tax season came and went. In fact, it took us another 9 months of development to launch the product (wow, it actually just pained me to write that). But, as of September 2018, we are live and churning — and folks are coming.
As of this writing, there are over 120 freelancers and 100 firms on board. Firms are posting a wide range of work, both hourly and fixed-fee based. They’re getting people to help with tax season, assist with nexus studies, nonprofit questions, and bookkeeping. It’s been an amazing experience watching people connect and work through our platform. In this time, we’ve been listening to users’ frustrations (startups call this feedback), and making adjustments to improve the experience. We’ve learned so much just in the past few months, and there is so much more to accomplish.
And yes, we do have an uphill battle. Folks are constantly reminding us that accountants are slow to adopt new technologies. And no, this is not for everyone. But there are enough folks out there who are sick of the status quo. We just have to find each other.
At first I didn’t know why something like this wasn’t already out there. After a year of nauseating stress, delays, bug fixes, and rejections, I have a better idea of why no one else attempted something so massive and ambitious. The accounting world was just waiting for a fool like me to roll around. Well I’m here, and I ain’t leaving.
If you are interested in learning more, either to find some help to get the work done or to connect with firms looking for flexible talent, please reach out to Sean. MSCPA isn’t getting a kickback from PrepLink, we just found a solution that might be able to help and wanted to share with you.