More Accounting Tomorrow Posts

The "small firm"... redefined!

November 12, 2012

After hanging out with my friends from the CCH Listens Tour, I was invited to attend the CCH Connections and CCH Small Firm Services conferences. Both events took place in the past month. For those of you who may not know, CCH does indeed have a Small Firm Services (SFS) division where they service their ATX and TaxWise® brands. SFS caters to firms comprised of less than five staff members. To keep my critique of these events brief, I can say with confidence that both conferences were fabulous!

After spending a lot of time talking to thought leaders and firm owners at both conferences, one of my biggest takeaways is the irrelevance of how we define the size of a firm. It’s out-of-date to apply the label “small” based only on the number of employees.

A new formula is required. Let’s face it…in the age of sophisticated networks, social media, and a shrinking global marketplace, the number of employees means very little when defining a firm’s reach and ability to serve clients of all sizes. Technology has completely leveled the playing field, so what was once thought of as a “small” firm is now operating like one of the big guys. For the sake of clarity, I will maintain traditional labels as I roll out my latest observations.

A few more takeaways from my time at the CCH events, are that many smaller firms are killing it via collaborative technologies, while mid-sized firms may disappear in the next five years because they cannot agree on the changes required to serve today’s market. And while the big firms will remain, smaller firms will be a key competitor because the playing field has been leveled.

I know several smaller firms that service larger client accounts then mid-size firms. These small firms operate virtually—no brick and mortar buildings to be found. New clients are coming from the Internet, client meetings take place via Skype, and little travel is required because they are working within technologically advanced, collaborative environments.

These firms are also networked with other like-minded firms to leverage skills and expertise, and staff works anytime and from anywhere. Overall, they are working less and enjoying the profession more.  So why are we universally calling these sophisticated firms “small?” It seems to me they should be labeled as “awesome.” Period.

One last shout out to CCH: At this year’s Connections Users Conference, the company celebrated its 100th year serving the tax and accounting profession. So, a big “Happy Birthday!” to the CCH team.

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is a Certified Public Accountant experienced with Complex Federal & State Income Tax Compliance for Business & Individuals. Jody is an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, where she teaches Taxation and QuickBooks Courses. She is part of Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various Technologies and Taxation. She can be reached at

Comments (3)
This could not be more accurate nor prescient. Thank you for this concise and thoughtful summary. Our firm, MontPac, is in its 7th year serving the global SME marketplace with professional financial management and accounting. Our services lead in value - timely, complete and cost effective.

Thank you.

Henry Montgomery
Posted by hmontgomery | Friday, November 16 2012 at 7:12PM ET
So true. This year I moved from a firm with about 25 professionals (still considered a "small firm" by many standards) to a firm with four employees including me. One CPA works from her home in Iowa, I work three days a week in the office and two from my home office. I mistakenly believed that moving to a smaller firm would mean smaller, simpler clients. Boy, was I wrong! I've learned so much in the last four months because when a client has a difficult question or issue, I can't pass it off to someone more experienced. It's on me to do the research and provide the answers. Also, because the firm is so small and family-oriented, work life balance is more than an abstract concept. Even during the crunch time before a big deadline, I'm out the door by 6pm. Within the next two years, we may not have a traditional office at all.
Posted by jberryjohnson | Friday, November 16 2012 at 3:52PM ET
Having knowledge of both the large and small firm environments, your thoughts are well written and probably very true. Those practitioners that have access to large firms have a lot to offer their clients. I.e. personalized service and access to large firm , is the best of both worlds.
Posted by Slenner | Tuesday, November 13 2012 at 9:15AM ET
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