Recession blues or an opportunity?

The tax world is not immune from the current economic problems and already many tax department employees of larger UK firms such as KPMG have been made redundant, most particularly in the corporate sector. The financial press has reported employee shedding by KPMG during much of 2008 and we must assume that other firms are also making their staff redundant. These are strange times and it will be shattering for those who suddenly do not have a job and may have difficulty finding a position anywhere given the surfeit of people suddenly on the market.

One supposes that whilst the employment agencies may have a huge number of candidates on their books, they are also facing the immediate future with trepidation, given the limited opportunities.

Few of those perhaps very capable and well qualified tax specialists now out of work will have much immediate prospect of work. Whilst personal tax specialists might try to eke out a few pennies going self-employed there will be meagre pickings as it is the wrong time of year to be starting and almost none will be commercially street-wise in understanding how small independents find work in the first place.

I cannot suggest that I thought myself particularly lucky when I found myself in the position the newly redundant in our sector are now in; seven years ago I did not want to be redundant and indeed thought I was a pretty good performer. My then employer panicked somewhat over the Arthur Andersen debacle / crash and embarked on a last-in first-out campaign with its staff. Therefore I had my own recession to deal with seven years ago, and it took me the best part of a year to reconcile myself to running my own business. Now of course I would not want to do anything else, despite the fact that conditions are undoubtedly very difficult with fee resistance and slow payment being a particular problem. It is a time to sell on value and at least I know many of the tricks now.

I believe that the opportunity small practitioners have is in compliance. Of course none of us can really sell what is perceived as very cheap. We have to buy equipment, software, reference resources and CPD quite apart from the overheads of running an office. However, small is definitely beautiful in terms of income-to-cost ratio. The particular trend I have seen is actually an increase in demand from clients for tax compliance, but at the same time advisory work has dropped off. One place where there is no recession is enquiry work, and that is largely thanks to HMRC (did I think I would ever say that?) in their campaign against the black and grey economies, which has pushed several new clients into my lap. No, I am definitely not complaining.

It seems to me that my marketing must concentrate on good value compliance with useful advisory work available. Indeed I would recommend it to anyone in my sector and of similar small size. We can succeed where others with larger offices, overheads and a need to provide training cannot.

So, the answer is to stay positive, offer value for our clients, and give them every bit of help we need. We need to get out and network, meet as many people as possible and help them. I know it might be hard to grasp in our sector, but give out some free generic advice and a helping hand, send out a newsletter, use on line facilities to keep as high a profile as possible and keep reminding your business contacts what you do. If you are stuck for marketing ideas talk to my invaluable friend and marketing expert Fraser Hay. This last paragraph applies to everyone in business too, including my clients, not just us working in the tax sector.

We have to stay positive because we have no choice, but to reiterate, there is an opportunity for the small practitioner. Call me on 01702 205066 or email jon(at)tax-adviser.biz if you need clarification. Good luck!


Jon Stow

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