Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg
  Surviving the Recession in Four Easy Steps

And 26 need-to-know tips. Next question: Are you working hard or hardly working?

September 3, 2009
by Rick Telberg/For the Finance Executive

In these turbulent times, it’s more important than ever for corporate CPAs and finance managers to go beyond traditional tax and accounting services and think instead about forward-looking strategies for helping their companies and stakeholders become more effective and profitable.

Barry Schimel, CPA and a co-founder of the BizActions e-mail marketing system for accounting firms, has seen lots of ups and downs in his career, starting as the managing partner of a regional accounting firm a couple recessions ago. Back in the 1980s, when Schimel was managing partner of his own accounting firm, more than a few of his business clients were desperate. So he steered his whole firm into crisis control.

“We would work with clients until midnight, coaching them on what they could do to sustain themselves and help them grow,” Schimel told me.  Today, he tells accountants to focus on what can you do for the company tomorrow, instead of on what happened last year. “The opportunities are greater for a business if you can reverse the usual ways a CPA has been trained and think about the future instead of the past.”

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Now on his fifth book, 100 Ways to Profit in a Volatile Economy, Schimel talked to me about what he has learned about how accountants and accounting firms can help companies through the recession. Co-authored with BizActions colleague Gary Kravitz, the book offers a slew of proven and tested strategies that have been successfully implemented in numerous organizations, as well as new tactics based on provisions in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Step 1: If you’re like most firms or companies, you’re probably already familiar with strategies like these in the first chapter of the new Schimel-Kravitz book:

  1. Trim expenses and cut unnecessary spending.
  2. Work down inventory to the leanest possible levels.
  3. Take the maximum amount of time to pay your suppliers.
  4. Check to see if your suppliers offer payment incentives.
  5. Offer discounts of perhaps one percent to two percent to customers for paying early.
  6. Step up pressure on delinquent accounts.

Step 2: But Schimel and Kravitz offer more. Here are seven smart tax breaks that should not be overlooked:

  1. Carry back losses and collect a refund.
  2. Investigate the research and development tax credit.
  3. Depreciate equipment faster with Section 179.
  4. Donate excess inventory to charities serving the “ill, needy or infants” and claim a deduction of up to twice the book cost.
  5. When you hire, get bonus tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans or disconnected youths.
  6. See if your company qualifies for the Domestic Production Activities Deduction for buying “Made in America.”
  7. Power up tax savings with a bevy of energy deductions and credits. For instance, commercial buildings can get up to seven dollars per square-foot if they can cut energy use by 50 percent (and save money on the energy, too). And there’s more for alternative energy use, like switching to solar or wind or buying hybrid or plug-in cars.

Another phase in distressed-company strategies focuses on the management culture. Schimel and Kravitz urge company leaders to “make everyone in the company responsible for profits.”

Step 3: You can start with a checklist Schimel and Kravitz call the “profit mentality quiz.” How many of these tactics could help your company improve margins or profits?

  1. Is your company sales-motivated or profit-driven?
  2. Are managers held accountable for the tasks that contribute to profitability?
  3. Do you have an inventory of untapped ideas that will add to the bottom line?
  4. Do you have a clear plan for attracting only the best and most profitable customers?
  5. Do you really know what your management team’s business goals and objectives are?
  6. Are you discussing profit objectives regularly?
  7. Have all your profit goals been communicated to the people who can make a difference?
  8. Does every manager know what additional profits would be used for?

Step 4: Finally, it’s more important than ever for every manager to be a hands-on manager. Want a quick test of an involved, accessible and available manager? To Schimel and Kravitz, the five most important things every manager should be able to say, when they need to, are:

  1. “I was wrong. Please forgive me.”
  2. “You did a great job.”
  3. “What are your thoughts?”
  4. “May I help you?”
  5. “Thank you.”

In thinking about the Schimel-Kravitz suggestions, a few over-arching themes emerge: Bring your managers and staff into the decision-making process with candor and honesty, and then respect their responsibilities, track the results and act on the consequences.  Sounds like good advice for any time, good or bad.

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COMMENT: Questions, ideas, rants or raves? Send an e-mail to Rick Telberg.

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.