Grow Your Firm

Would Someone Swipe Right or Left on Your Firm?

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
accountant work life balance

April 29, 2021

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Accounting firm Tinder

Mergers and acquisitions have always been a part of the accounting landscape. The history of virtually every firm that’s been around for decades is littered with them. But firms of all sizes entertain and enter into M&A, and these days it’s how lots of partners would like to cash in their chips. 

Not all firms are created equal, of course. Or perhaps more accurately, there are attractive qualities and not-so-attractive qualities that determine whether a firm is a suitable M&A target. And sure, you might have seen the title of this segment and thought, “Well, a vapid 21st Century dating app is a bit reductive for such a sophisticated topic.” But then I would point you to a recent Accounting Today column that has a hot or not list for accounting firm targets. Anyway, here’s the spoiler: A tax firm with eager-to-retire partners and outdated tech that’s locked into a multi-year lease is not a good look right now. Lots of swiping left.

This doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost. There are certainly firms out there looking to buy a book of clients for a low multiple that it can then upgrade with better tech and service options, and charge a premium for it. But also: The pandemic proved that even the most obstinate accounting firms are capable of reinventing themselves. Not to mention that accountants deal with drastic change all the time. They do it well—excel at it, even. 

For the firms that check off more not than hot items, they should identify their most fetching quality and build on it. If the firm went remote last year, and plans to retain flexible work options for its employees, make a big deal out of it. Dare I say: overcompensate. This might spill over into other areas of the firm. Doing PPP consulting could morph into you building a new advisory service that has hit the scene. Whatever it is, embrace it and let the world know. Otherwise, it might just be too easy for everyone to swipe left.

Taking drugs at work: Still frowned upon

We’ve been binge-watching Billions in our house, and there’s a lot of talk about edge. You know, material nonpublic information used to one’s advantage in trading stocks. Edge isn’t illegal per se. In some cases, you could argue that a person is the edge. Sometimes the technology is the edge. Other times it’s a confluence of factors that gives an organization the edge.

On a more micro level, edge is what you, me, and everyone else out there tries to use to make ourselves and our work better. When I was younger, I used to think my edge was working hard and working long. But anyone can do that, so I had to figure something else out (e.g., writing snark about accounting on the internet). These days, I’ll settle for a solid eight hours of sleep and a good breakfast.
People are always searching for something else to give them edge, and there’s really no limit to what people will try. But apparently, there are limits to what employers will tolerate:

Marketing startup Iterable Inc. dismissed its chief executive officer over violations of company policy, Iterable said in a note to employees on Monday. 

The fired CEO, Justin Zhu, said the board’s chief reason for ousting him was that he took LSD, an illegal drug in the U.S., before a meeting in 2019. Zhu told Bloomberg he was experimenting by taking a limited amount of the drug, or microdosing, in an effort to boost his focus.

Yes, yes, “microdosing” (also popularly known as “taking drugs”) at work is, for the vast majority of companies, not an acceptable way to gain an edge, even if you’re the CEO. Plus, even if psychedelics are a transformative experience, dropping LSD still won’t turn you into Steve Jobs no matter how many times you do it. Update your clients and teams as necessary.

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.

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