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7 Jobs for Accountants Suffering Burnout

With four decades of tax practice under my belt I have seen a lot of successful people and even more not so successful. Accountants, more than any other profession, get to see the nitty gritty. Some things you tell your doctor, some things your attorney, but everything your accountant. You never known when that might be deductible.

Something I noticed decades ago is that a lot of successful businesses are owned by people that once were practicing accountants. At least one of the original organizers of FinCon, the biggest personal finance conference in the U.S., started his career as an accountant. A half mile from my office an accountant opened a, ah, gentleman’s club. (I will refrain from comment to protect my image.)

At the end of the day, accounting can be a very stressful job. Yet Warren Buffett has said the most important class you will take in college is accounting.

Every business requires a fundamental understanding of accounting principles and finance to be successful. It also is a tremendous help in personal finance.

An accounting career is not for everyone. Some discover this fact early and others once firmly entrenched within the field.

Sometimes a love of accounting exists, but the stress is more than one wants to endure, especially after a period of time within the industry.

I am writing this as tax season is coming to a close. It was one of the better tax seasons compared to the past several years. Yet, new stresses poke their head above the waterline. And, as predictable, places where tax professionals and other accountants gather on social media is filled with people wanting out.

Below is a list of seven alternatives to working in the tax and/or accounting field. In all cases, working these alternatives as your own business will give you more control and therefore, should reduce stress compared to the traditional tax/accounting office.

The list is a suggestion only. I have a high opinion of my peers. They do the impossible and do it well. The world needs tax professionals and accountants.

But if it is time to move on to something less stressful, I understand. And that is why I offer these alternatives. You have the skills and work ethic to be among the best in any field. Your experience and knowledge come with you. And that is a powerful advantage.

The best way to heal from burnout is to take time off and relax. Sometimes you need a career change and that is okay, too
The best way to heal from burnout is to take time off and relax. Sometimes you need a career change and that is okay, too.

7 Jobs for Burned Out Accountants

Real Estate Appraiser

All those years researching tax issues will be useful as an appraiser. The market can be cyclical due to the vagaries of real estate transactions. Yet, you can easily limit your workload. You determine which lending institutions to take business from.

One note: You may need a license and some training before starting a sideline appraisal business. The barriers to entry are light in most areas. Interestingly, I know some appraisers who sometimes moonlight as tax preparers in the spring.

Financial Planner

Financial planners help individuals and families create and implement financial plans to achieve their goals and improve their financial well-being.

You may wish to narrow your focus when starting a financial planning career. Trying to be everything for everyone is a sure way to return to burnout under a different yoke.

Areas you can focus on include: debt reduction and elimination, investing, real estate investing, retirement planning, financial independence, tax planning, legacy planning, and more.

Tax Preparation/Bookkeeping/Payroll

Back into the fire?

No.

Most accountants suffering burnout either because they work for another firm or take on too much work in this own firm.

If you already have your own firm and still enjoy the work it is an good way to earn an honest living. Reducing burnout means right-sizing your client list. You can do this one of two ways: raise prices until your client list balances with your preferred time commitment, or disengage the least profitable or time consuming (or combination of both) clients. The second method is handled with a simple letter. Give clients ample time to find a new accountant.

If you are an employee of a firm you don’t have much control over the time issue which is a big part of the stress involved and the burnout experienced. Again, there are two options: discuss your desires with your employer and if agreement on work/life balance cannot be found, quit and start your own firm. For the record, a small accounting office can easily generate a six-figure income if you are strategic in your approach. Remove unprofitable clients fast and only accept new clients that are a good fit for you.

Business Consultant

Again we have a wide category that needs to be narrowed.

You have ample experience and contacts to help people start and grow a business. The same applies for real estate investors looking to buy the right property or people looking to purchase or sell a business.

You will need to narrow your focus. For example, you may wish to work as a business broker, helping people buy and sell a business. That is easily a full-time job if you want it. You can start your own business brokerage (a slower way to build) or as an agent with an existing firm where you can go straight to helping clients without the headache of operating a business.

Business valuation services also fall under this category. Same with writing business plans to satisfy bank or SBA lending requirements.

Note: There are likely modest barriers to entry. Licensing, for example, if you are a business broker or agent.

The best way to avoid burnout is to narrow your focus. One path, one choice  is a good way to live life. Too much from too many directions is a sure way to suffer burnout.
The best way to avoid burnout is to narrow your focus. One path, one choice is a good way to live life. Too much from too many directions is a sure way to suffer burnout.

Real Estate

As is the theme in this list, the choice needs to be narrowed.

Real estate sales is an option. But your experience as an accountant or tax professional gives you ample knowledge to help real estate investors make better decisions.

You can choose from several sub-categories of real estate: rental property manager, real estate sales agent, buyer’s agent, and more. You can also consult on tax issues affecting real estate investors: repair regulations (up to $10,000 in improvements per building deducted, de minimis election and deduction, cost segregation studies, and more) is one example with many possibilities. There are plenty of issues real estate investors will benefit from by having a seasoned tax accountant on their side. Cost segregation studies are a full-time career alone.

Visiting a few apartment associations in your area should provide you with a list of potential clients.

Consultant

If you are not already consulting with clients you need to explore the option.

Consulting is a lucrative business model because you save clients so much money in taxes, smooth business activities, and help people reach their financial and retirement goals.

Since we are speaking of tax professionals suffering burnout, I will assume you, gentle reader, came from the tax profession. With that assumption you are very familiar with the “quick question”, which, of course, doesn’t have a quick answer if you are to be helpful in your advice.

The kind of clients you want are those willing to pay for answers to tax and financial questions. You will work with higher income/net worth people. These people got rich because they know the value of good advice and feedback when it comes to the “quick” tax question.

Where can you find clients? Give a short presentation at multiple civic clubs in your area. Elks, Eagles, Optimist clubs, et cetera is the way to building a vibrant consulting practice.

Note: Clients can be anywhere. Don’t be afraid to give a 10 minute presentation at an Optimist club when on the road. Cover a tax or business topic and let the questions come in. Picking up a single client can be worth well into the five-digits. A small number of consulting clients is a full-time job. Zoom meeting work fine for clients anywhere.

Educator

We finish our list with educator.

You have a working career of experience. You have knowledge they don’t teach you in college. And the next generation needs qualified instructors.

Many local colleges and technical colleges are hungry for experienced accountants to teach. Continuing education courses can be a profitable choice. Enrolled agent or CPA study guides are often looking for experienced people to help with research and to build their program.

The tax and accounting field is severely understaffed currently. Training young people entering a career in accounting is a very satisfying job. The best part is you can teach about avoiding the pitfalls that lead to burnout.

Final Job Listings

This list is much larger than 7 alternative jobs to an accounting or tax career thanks to all the subcategories. Focus is the key to avoiding future burnout.

Burnout has many causes. Maybe you just want a change of scenery. Only you can answer why it is time to walk a different path.

Regardless, you are in a wonderful field that helps many people. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs accounting skills. And all but the poorest need help navigating the tax minefield in America.

You can work within the profession without actually moving numbers around on a tax return or financial statement.

You are not a slave to a choice you made years or decades ago. You can choose a different path. You have knowledge and experience only those from inside the accounting profession have. That is a powerful resource for your clients.

And you.

David Castelli

Thursday 4th of April 2024

Great site, timely article, thanks Keith.

You should do an article on client termination letters I have had a shity tax season from the stress and frustation level with some clients and while some of that may be to me being to nice, ie, letting clients pay me after they have picked up and signed for their returns. etc etc Question, can I shorten the client termination letter to Dear ---------, Go _uck yourself! Or is that to blunt?

Keith Taxguy, EA

Thursday 4th of April 2024

David,

Burnout in the accounting industry reaches a peak as the tax deadline approaches.

Many, many years ago I moved to requiring clients to pay at pickup. Unique situations and multiple years of returns require a retainer. I start work once we have a retainer.

Disengaging a client does not require anything lengthy. A simple letter stating that you are (cutting back/focusing on a different area of tax/no longer a good fit/{fill in any good reason to disengage}) is all you need. About 15 years ago I needed to cut back from the 2,000 return area. I pulled my client list from my tax software and sorted by fee. The bottom 400 got a letter. If I have a few other tax pros that might like new clients I include the information. I am always polite as you never know when you cross paths again.

If a client does not pay or is slow in paying I automatically disengage with a very polite letter.

Tax season is stressful. Not getting paid makes it much worse. I trained my clients to pay before they leave. Those that need banking services are disengaged because I am not a bank. I take cash, cred/debit card, ACH, PayPal, and check. I make it easy to pay. And, yes, they need to pay, and no, my fee is not negotiable. Attempts at negotiating my fee cause an automatic disengagement letter that summer.

BTW, your engagement letter, signed before work begins, should clearly state how you expect payment to be made.

Best wishes.