building a sustainable state tax consulting practice takes a 'village'

what people think, but do not say

Did you ever see the movie, "Jerry Maguire"?  In the beginning of the movie, Tom Cruise (as Jerry Maguire) has a breakdown or "break-through" as he called it.  He had been working for a large sports agent firm and had grown tired of the profession, the way he treated clients, the focus on money, etc.  Hence, he woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a several page "mission statement."  The mission statement described how the firm should change everything - how it should change its focus from solely making money and treat clients like people, develop true relationships and actually care. 

The mission statement was called, "What People Think, But Do Not Say."

I have been working in the public accounting field for 20 years and most of that time I have been a state and local tax consultant.  I worked in industry at some large Fortune 500 companies and several accounting firms (large and small).  Based on my experience and from talking to my SALT colleagues at other firms, some disturbing trends exist in our profession:

  1. SALT consultants tend to move from firm to firm at a high rate, with the average length of time at one firm being 2 years.
  2. Accounting firms that hire SALT consultants to build SALT practices don't always know what that actually means; they don't know what it actually looks like for their size firm (or office) and target market.  They just know they want to build one.
  3. SALT consultants often struggle in getting the tax and audit folks to invite them to client meetings and pull them into projects earlier rather than later.
  4. Most tax and audit folks are often used to doing things themselves - hence, their first inclination is to use SALT consultants on an as needed basis or as a "help-desk."  I get it.  I am a "do it yourself" kind of guy as well.  Often times, it is a cost/benefit or materiality issue.  I understand.
  5. SALT consultants struggle with their billable time getting written off by tax or audit partners because SALT consultants are often not in control of the billing process on engagements which were obtained or started by non-SALT folks.
  6. Most firms recognize SALT is a growing area and need/want a SALT resource to grow their firm; however, most firms may not be able to support or sustain a full-time SALT group.

The trends listed above do not apply to every firm.  Some SALT consultants have had long careers at one firm.  This is especially common in larger firms. The trends described are just a product of reality - or economic pressures on the firm or the partners themselves.  Everyone is just trying to meet their goals in the best way they can.  With that said, it is also a fact that so many SALT practices suffer from these trends.  Hence, the question is - is there a cure? 

You have probably heard the saying - "don't keep doing the same things and expect a different result."  Well, I very much agree with that statement in this area.  I am passionate about changing these trends - in helping SALT consultants get off of the "merry-go-round." 

These trends can be overcome by building strong relationships with partners, positioning the SALT practice effectively within the firm and/or office, marketing the SALT practice effectively in the marketplace and focusing on your highest and best use - the actions that will produce the most effective results. 

Another solution for firms would be to outsource their SALT function - this would allow the firm to have access to SALT resources they need, when they need it, without having to invest a great deal upfront or year after year.

What do you think?  Have you suffered from these trends?  What solutions can you think of?

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