For many accounting firms, hiring a freelance accountant to help manage the workload is a rewarding, trajectory-shifting decision, enabling them to supercharge their business’s growth by saving them and their team critical time and energy.
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But that doesn’t mean the decision is always a quick or easy one to make, especially if you’re new to hiring freelancers. You might ask yourself: “Where do I even start? How do I market our freelance accounting jobs and recruit successfully? Can I afford it? What kind of ROI can I expect? How do I manage our freelancers?”
If you’re considering hiring remote workers, you may have even more questions: “Is it a good idea to hire remote accountants? What about the long-term? Can I expect the demand for remote accounting jobs to rise? If so, what can I do to prevent high turnover and keep our best workers?”
In this detailed and engaging presentation, Jeff Phillips—a highly-regarded recruitment strategist named among the “Top 100 Most Influential People” four times by Accounting Today—walks attendees through the process of hiring and managing freelancers. Whether you’re interested in learning more about the freelance economy in general, or you’re a complete beginner that might be asking, “What is freelancing?”, Jeff’s agenda leaves no one out.
In this first post, we’ll go over Phillips’ insights on the following topics:
- The freelance and remote-work economy: What it is and why it matters to you
- The benefits of hiring remote freelance accountants to support your business
Understanding the fast-growing remote freelance economy
In a poll conducted at the beginning of the webinar, approximately 50% of attendees stated they were attending the presentation to learn more about what freelancing is and how they can start successfully using it within their own firms.
Jeff responded with a detailed explanation of what he called the “freelance economy,” also known as the “gig economy.”
According to Jeff, the freelance economy—made up of workers who are not employed traditionally or full-time by firms, but who instead set their own hours or work on a per-contract basis—had been growing steadily for years.
Likewise, in tandem with the freelance economy, the remote workforce—many of whom were already freelancing—was also growing.
The rapid growth of both the freelance and remote workforce was only supercharged by the pandemic, which sent flocks of the traditional global workforce home and forced companies and teams to adjust quickly to a remote workstyle.
Zooming in on the phenomenon, Jeff pointed out that this expanding freelance and remote workforce is being led by the current booming working population of millennials, who, compared to the baby boomer and Gen X populations before them, largely prefer to “be their own boss” and highly value having a strong work-life balance. They want to feel as in control of their working hours as they do their personal hours.
“70% of millennials aspire to work for themselves,” explained Jeff, “But that doesn’t mean that 70% of millennials are working for themselves,” implying there’s a wide swathe of talented workers that would be eager to commit to any firm willing to hire them on a freelance or remote basis. All firms have to do is go after them.
“The freelance labor force is growing 8% annually, versus the traditional workforce growth of 2.5% … If the pool of labor that you could hire is growing faster than the traditional labor market, you should pay attention. … Millennials make up a majority of the accounting workforce. … For you employers out there, this just has a massive impact on the future of work and how we work.”– Jeff Phillips
Jeff pointed out, using real-life examples, how much more challenging it has become for accounting firms, in particular, to find the best employees for them by scouring the traditional, “in-office” or “9-to-5” style labor pools alone.
In one example, he described an accounting firm in San Francisco who spent over a year searching for a qualified manager to work with them locally in-office. When they later expanded their search out to employees willing to work remotely, within two weeks they found the perfect candidate, who currently works for them from their Philadelphia home.
In sum, compared to employers only willing to—or capable of—hiring, traditional, full-time, in-office accountants, employers willing to hire accountants on both a freelance and a remote basis will be giving themselves an advantage. This is especially true for the long-term, given the rapid rate at which the millennial-powered freelance economy is growing.
So, the talent pool is there—but how should employers who tap into it expect to benefit?
The benefits of hiring remote freelance accountants
Jeff cited a handful of ROI-enhancing key benefits freelance accountants can provide firms with, ranging from basic money and time-saving incentives to the ways in which hyper-specialization (most freelancers tout specialties over more broad skill sets) can enhance the outcomes of many projects—especially seasonal ones, such as quarterly or annual tax prep:
“So, you think about a tax firm that has a [full-time] staff of 10 throughout the year. … But then you get to the point in time where you’ve got to do the returns for the spring busy season. Well, you don’t want to hire [more] full-time staff to meet the demand of your busy season. So, a seasonal, remote tax reviewer, or team of tax reviewers, or team of tax preparers can come in and handle [it] … Triple your capacity. Your team isn’t overwhelmed. The work’s getting done.”– Jeff Phillips
In particular, Jeff pointed out that firms prepared to hire and manage remote accountants could also save ample time and money on a broad scale. This is because the remote-work talent pool for accountants and others in the information and knowledge sector is expanding so rapidly, employers no longer need to spend as much time or money searching for qualified applicants.
Likewise, the remote freelance workers they do hire are more satisfied, having landed work that meets their personal needs and ambitions, resulting in lower turnover rates.
However, despite this growing talent pool, employers should be aware that there’s still an ever-expanding chasm forming between the amount of information-industry-related job openings (ie., CPA job openings), versus the actual amount of information workers there are available to hire. In other words:
“By 2030,” Jeff warned, “you’re going to have 50 million more [information economy] jobs than there are people to fill them.”
“So, if you post a job on Indeed.com today, you will not get a CPA to apply for that job, especially if you’re a public accounting firm. It’s brutal, and this [growing chasm] is one of the reasons why. There’s just more jobs out there than there are people to fill them. Then you’ve got … firms with 20 million in revenue and below dealing with 25% turnover. [That’s] 25% of the accounting staff … leaving every year.”– Jeff Phillips
That may sound daunting, but it’s an important fact to face: that’s because employers willing and ready to hire their accountants and information workers remotely are going to be better protected against this widening workforce chasm (which could otherwise make finding viable talent to fill your accounting roles even more challenging and expensive) and may even play a role in ensuring it doesn’t get any wider.
“The number one reason cited [by accountants leaving their firms] is work/life balance or the lack of work/life balance. That’s because millennials have come along and, unlike my generation, Gen X, and my parents’ generation, the baby boomers, they’ve come around and said, “Hey, we’re going to prioritize employers that let us work when we want to and where we want to, and we’re going to get the work done, and we’re going to take serious pride in the work, but we’re going to do it our way.” … It is really kind of a “get on board or get left in the dust moment” with regards to flexibility.”– Jeff Phillips
Jeff recommended that employers consider creating a work flexibility plan, which they can learn about through the Anytime Anywhere Work Survey by Conversions Coaching.
He emphasized that employers who are able to combat the aforementioned growing jobs-to-talent chasm are also going to make their companies far more competitive—small-to-midsize companies especially. That’s because not only are remote freelance accounting support teams more affordable (meaning you free up financial resources your less freelancer-ready competitors are using to support new traditional support staff with), but they’re also able to deliver work, seasonally or otherwise, that would normally be on your shoulders. Instead, with their help and your surplus time and energy, you’re able to focus on what you’re best at and say “yes” to more business opportunities.
The bottom line: freelance remote accountants can save your firm money, time, and help you compete.
“You don’t have to commit to full-time, which saves you money. You reduce the workload on the rest of your team [and decrease turnover rates]. … It is a pathway to being much more profitable because you’re just bringing in talent to deliver the project … and your firm makes money on the margin.”– Jeff Phillips
Learn more about working with freelance accountants
In Part Two of this two-part blog series, we’ll cover the second portion of the presentation, all about how to find, hire, and manage your freelance remote team.
Meanwhile, know that you don’t have to go at your accounting and finances alone. Gusto’s here to help: Check out this post on small-business book-keeping for beginners, as well as our financial educational hubs.