Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

When Just Working Harder Won’t Do

CPAs need to work smarter and change old habits to thrive in the new economy. How are firms faring this busy season? Join the survey; get the answers.

March 9, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

CPA firms, already buried by busy season, may resist adding another monumental task to their to-do lists right now. But the crashing economy gives you no choice: You must begin planning now for the new economic realities you’ll face after April 15.

“You need to be doing the what-if planning now,” says Bill Reeb, CEO at Succession Institute LLC, management advisors to CPA firms.

But today’s uncertainties are tomorrow’s opportunities. According to Dominic Cingoranelli, executive vice president at Succession Institute, “We don’t know yet what this business and this economy are going to look like. So it’s an opportunity for the people who can see the wrinkles and the seams in the future.”


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Reeb and Cingoranelli, longtime leaders in the profession, are also the muscle behind the AICPA’s Trusted Business Advisor Resource Center, which helps member firms develop new niches, specialties and alliances.

To Cingoranelli, the combination of tax season and an anxious economic environment gives CPAs exceptional “opportunities to get closer to clients and really work as trusted business advisors.” Reeb sees opportunity in helping organizations become “leaner and meaner.” Firms today have a rare chance to recast services for the new economic reality, like reshaping the simple internal audit into engagements looking for waste or fraud.

At the same time, firms need to be actively evaluating clients and focusing on the best of them. “Get in front of clients,” Reeb says. “Find out what is bothering them, help them see the forest through trees, help them understand that now is the time to clean house and maximize current resources and eliminate marginal processes. There is always something for the CPA to do to help.”

Meanwhile, CPA firm leaders need to be working, as well, on evaluating and developing staff members. It’d be too easy to simply lay off employees with the downturn in fees. Consider the cost of re-hiring and re-training, Reeb and Cingoranelli say.

Reeb and Cingoranelli have some very clear ideas about who will be the winners and who will be the losers among CPA firms in the post-busy-season economy.

The winners will be firms that know:

  • Who they are,
  • What they’re good at,
  • What makes them different in the marketplace or
  • Who their target clients are.

The losers, Reeb and Cingoranelli, say, will be the firms:

  • Which continue to do what they’ve always done,
  • Without a shared focus and commitment among the owners’ group or
  • That fail to develop distinctive specialties or niches.

This is a time when hard work won’t be enough to succeed. CPAs, like everyone else in this new economic reality, will also need to work smarter.

HOW ARE YOU HANDLING THIS BUSY SEASON? Join the survey; compare results with your peers.

COMMENTS: Questions, ideas, rants or raves? Send an e-mail to Rick Telberg. And now you can get all my daily updates: Follow me on Twitter.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.