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Career choice - small or top10 firm?

Stay with a small sole practitioner firm or move to top 10

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Hello everyone, 

I am a part qualified ACCA, have been working for a very small, sole practitioner, 2.5 employees firm (.5 is directors wife) with a turnover of 250k per annum, doing a variery of work, bookkeeping, vat, accounts, ct, personal tax, company secreterial etc, ( as well as the unovoidable - owners personal stuff) for the past 4 years. I initially joined as trainee and now a senior accountant and have contributed a lot to the firm in terms of improving processes to aid efficiency since we are understaffed...


I have received an offer from a top 10 firm for accounts position, to do bookkeeping, vat and accounts but no more tax. Same pay, but less working hours....

I am at crossroads here after handing in my notice as the business owner told me if i choose to stay, there's a route for partnership for me in the firm and that "i have it in me". First time he is saying this and we haven't really had a proper performance review meetings etc, so i questioned his intentions and honesty. There is lack of support from management, lots of overtime, the burden of additional work due to working for a small firm and he simply doesn't seem to care about anyone but himself...

What would you have done? Would you move to a bigger firm or stay? Any thoughts are much appreciated!


Replies (18)

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By Paul Crowley
10th Nov 2021 01:35

Your tax knowledge will stagnate
The bigger firms tend to have chinese walls as they were once called.
The client expected to deal with both departments.
But I would agree the move to a bigger firm if there is just you, Boss and Boss's wife.
I personally would never have moved to a firm where the tax and accounts were not considered homogenous

Thanks (1)
By wingman22
10th Nov 2021 07:09

So you updated your CV, sent off job applications, went to interviews, accepted a new role and handed in your notice.

I think you know what you want to do and are looking for reassurances that the grass will be greener. It may be but it will be a massive culture shock to working for a sole practitioner. Or you may hate it. Who knows - but you clearly need to move on as you wouldn’t have done all the above if you wanted to stay. Partnership with someone you don’t get on with sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

“Same pay, but less working hours...” sounds like a good opportunity to finish your qualifications and consider where you want to end up. .

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
10th Nov 2021 08:56

Having a "big firm" name on your CV will tend to be only a good thing in the long term (no matter how bad the experience actually is, its about getting your foot in the door on an interview), but if you aspire to having your own practice it probably wont add any relevant experience but it will almost certainly broaden it. I bet half of what you do now they will do different.

its interesting you think the hours will be lower. Thats what they tell you at the interview....generally hours worked are down to you and how much you say "yes boss" and how much you say "which of these 10 things do you want doing first?" That is to say its your choice. your current boss sounds like he is leaning on you - if there are only two of you you need to lean back if exploited. Being "understaffed" is rubbish. Its about client selection. Your boss can choose if to take on fewer clients, fire clients or take on another pair of hands. if they choose not to and exploit you to the point you quit then that's poor management. For BOTH of you.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
By David Ex
10th Nov 2021 12:37

ireallyshouldknowthisbut wrote:

Having a "big firm" name on your CV will tend to be only a good thing in the long term

Interesting. I’d assumed if it wasn’t big 4, no-one would be that bothered. My CB just got better!!

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By pauld
10th Nov 2021 09:02

I think that's a tough one, mainly because the job description for the new position sounds fairly dull without doing any tax, unless bookkeeping and accounts is your thing. Sounds like your current boss though is just dangling a carrot and it probably will not come to anything but he knows you may be hard to replace. If I was in your position, I think I would be looking to leave to gain a wider experience by working for a larger firm for a couple of years, but you need to ensure that the new firm is going to offer you the experience that you are looking for. Don't just take it because its the first offer that has come along if its not right for you. I made that mistake years ago by moving from a small firm to a a top 10 firm and absolutely hated it as the work I did became very narrow and I was bored stiff. I only stuck if for a year then set up on my own and fortunately that worked out. So if you know where you want to be in say 5 years time, then is this new firm gonna help you get there?

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By gainsborough
10th Nov 2021 09:11

Agree with the main points of the above posters.

A combination of small firm and top-10 firm will definitely strengthen your CV.

I would also be very sceptical of the "less hours" for a top-10 firm and your current boss's attempts to make you stay.

The accountancy market is really strong at the moment so don't just jump for the first offer you get. Like Pauld, I accepted a job in a rush purely to move away from my previous role and hated it.

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paddle steamer
10th Nov 2021 09:49

Do you intend to become a fully qualified ACCA?

If you do, what do you intend to do with this qualification?

Is the narrow scope of work you will be signing up for long term going to be satisfying, or will you come to hate the limited skills you get to apply?

Create a big list of questions for yourself, answer them in a for/against appraisal of your options, clarify what you really want.

We are all different but I know I could never have survived my life solely doing debits/credits and vat, accounts prep is fun for a while then it becomes mere routine , the only interesting bit being when you have to study something in say FRS102 that is new to you.

Again, we are all different, but for me I need to learn something new every day, no matter how trivial, without it I could not carry on doing the job (and these days I do less than half my working week doing anything re accounts/tax/vat/paye etc.)

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By David Ex
10th Nov 2021 10:19

Hjunk wrote:

i questioned his intentions and honesty.

Not sure that was a good idea - and pointless given you’d decided to leave already.

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Replying to David Ex:
By Leywood
10th Nov 2021 13:50

Hopefully not to his face.

Although the rise to 'senior accountant' in a 2.5 man firm is interesting.

OP -just make sure you get your training signed off before you go, assuming its a firm that can do so for the purposes of ACCA PC, in case you decide to go down that route. For the rest, you have to make your own mind up.

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By Samantha20
10th Nov 2021 14:55

I think that you should definitely accept the job given that your employer only cares about himself. He will not change and will just string you along with promises.

I don't know what you can do about the lack of taxation experience, but it depends what you want to do in the future. If you want to stay in practice, then perhaps you shouldn't accept this job and instead look for one where you will get all the experience you need.

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By SteveHa
10th Nov 2021 15:31

I worked for Baker Tilly (and prior to that, RSM Tenon) after working in small practices, and I wouldn't go back to one of the big ones. You tend to get pigeon holed, with no real options to move out of that pigeon hole.

I've been much happier in smaller practices again, since.

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Replying to SteveHa:
paddle steamer
11th Nov 2021 12:31

Then again, when learning and when a student, a larger firm possibly offers more support, training courses etc.

I trained initially with Hodgson Impey (now I think part of RSM), the training was good, the qualified audit seniors and managers who supervised my work also taught me. Whilst my next firm (3 partners circa 15 staff in total ) helped me develop sayclient interview skills more fully, pick up tax work, that initial solid grounding with HI, preparing working papers, devising audit tests etc laid a pretty decent solid groundwork of skills, and being a provincial office (Glasgow) of a larger firm a mix of work , from audits of pension schemes of listed companies right down to accounts for a local butcher, or a vat return for the odd actor.

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By Hazel Accounts
11th Nov 2021 14:03

Tricky one - partnership where you are will probably be quite a way off yet - you would obviously need to qualify and then it will also depend on the age/circumstances of the current owner as to when he may want to step back a bit. Does this seem likely in a reasonable timescale to you? OR is it just words as it is clearly going to be inconvenient for him if you leave!

Do you think you would gain any significant new experiences to those you already have by staying put - as you've been there 4 years possibly not?

I do understand your reluctance to give up tax work though as personally I find it more interesting and if you plan to be a sole practitioner or partner in small firm then it is really essential, however I think I would seriously consider the move if there was nothing more to learn where I was. A larger firm may give more study support and you would have the benefit of seeing how another firm did things and more people (including students) to discuss things with. As others have said it will enhance your CV and I would see this as a stepping stone to a further job in a year or two, maybe once you've finished studying, going back into something with more tax (so don't wait too long if you want to do tax) or even a sideways move at that bigger firm.

The other option of course (again I think this was mentioned by at least one other person) is neither of those roles - yes move, but maybe to a smaller firm (but bigger than now - say 3 or 4 partners) where you can still get involved with different aspects of accounts tax etc.

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By North East Accountant
12th Nov 2021 12:56

How soon until you're fully qualified?

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Replying to North East Accountant:
By Hjunk
12th Nov 2021 13:59

2 papers to take and need 2 years post qualification for a practicing certificate or become a partner.

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Replying to Hjunk:
By North East Accountant
12th Nov 2021 15:15

If you're anywhere near Newcastle drop me a PM......I'm interested.

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12th Nov 2021 13:53

Stick with smaller firm, but maybe not this one.

You will have a much wider range of work and be much closer to clients that you can provide with real help/make a difference vs nameless number in a narrow box of repetitive work, with far more pressure with chargeable time that you end up working all hours.

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By EllaB
12th Nov 2021 17:34

I worked for a small firm (owner, bookkeeper plus myself) until I was CTA qualified.

Left when I found an error in a tax return which was not rectified in a timely fashion (complete fluke that it ever came my way to find) and was headhunted by a larger firm to work in a tax specific role rather than covering accounts / VAT / payroll, tax.

You'd have thought that would be ideal given my CTA - but actually I found it boring and missed the variety of working in a small practice.

If you like the variety maybe look for a new role in another small firm.

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