By Jonathan Rivlin
The funny thing about aging is how non sequiturs trigger associations that link to long dormant memories. I recently saw a picture of and that took me back to the summer of 1991 when he appeared in the movie “Doc Hollywood” staring Michael J. Fox and Julie Warner.
In that movie, Michael J. Fox played a young doctor, saddled with student loans, who was on his way to Beverly Hills to join a large medical practice and presumably a life of fast cars and serial marriages (not that we judge). On his way out to Beverly Hills, he had an accident in a small town in South Carolina (how he intended to get to Beverly Hills from Washington DC via South Carolina was never explained). As part of his punishment for the accident, he had to perform community service hours at the local hospital.
This movie isn’t a perfect analogy for our profession, but until we get a movie based on accounting and tax prep, we’ll have to make do with this one (and I’m not counting the recent Ben Affleck vehicle “The Accountant” — don’t get me started).
Many members of the MSATP work for, or own, small practices. In many cases, they are their entire practice. That’s how I started — I was my own admin, junior, senior, manager, and partner. There’s an old saw that small firms can’t compete with large firms in terms of billable hours, salary packages, etc.
I don’t buy that.
Many taxpayers specifically seek out small firms because they want a relationship with a trusted advisor. They don’t want to be pawned off to a rookie charged at hourly rates that will make you blush. Clients may not know the latest tax rules, but they aren’t stupid: they know that they are subsidizing that rookie’s training on their own dime.
Over the course of the movie, Michael J. Fox’s character learned the value of that trusted relationship and, spoiler alert, eventually eschewed the big salaried job and moved back to the small town.
I’ve written many columns on technology. Our profession needs to embrace the coming innovations if we want to survive, but there will always be that need for a real human interaction — the kind that only comes from a small firm.
To that end, I say don’t worry about the large firms. Celebrate the aspects about small firms that your clients appreciate. We are that calm, steady hand guiding them through these rocky waters!
Now for the other side of our business: staff.
Large firms offer signing bonuses, take home laptops, casual Fridays, retirement plans, PTO, and happy hours. It’s a lot of flash and I’ll admit that I fell for it as a college graduate.
I lasted sixteen weeks to the day at that big firm. I hated every. Single. Second.
Small firms can offer something that large firms simply can’t offer:
It’s true that working in a small firm is not for everyone — there will be those that are better suited for life in a big firm. But there are other people who will do better in a small firm with us. Make it a point to find them and tell them!
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Thanks, and catch you next time!