Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Savvy CPAs Focus on Back-to-Basics

What’s working in today’s economy? Get the best CPA strategies: Join the survey; see the answers.

February 22, 2010
by Rick Telberg/At Large

The frenzy of busy season and an uncertain economic outlook may be preying on the minds of accountants as their chief concerns right now. But, at the same time, many are forging ahead with a new sense of purpose and a clear-eyed view of the new business realities.

CPAs, like almost everyone else, appear to have been chastened by the big bank meltdown, and are taking a “back to basics” approach to their business lives. Maybe it’s all about execution these days – doing the right things right. For sure, the word “focus” seems to pop up frequently when I hear from CPAs these days.

“In a difficult economic cycle we need to stay focused on our priorities to ensure success,” according to a prominent partner at one of the Big Six global firms. Even personally, he is working to “be more focused and accountable” and to “stay on top of my priorities and make sure I do not get distracted.”  But he’s also preparing his firm for recovery by “staying close to our top talent, because they will be in the most demand when the cycle turns upward.

What’s working in today’s economy?

Get the best CPA business strategies.
Join the survey; get the answers.

(Free. Confidential.)

Or, as one CFO at a small manufacturer told me, his plan is to “focus more on tactics and less on strategy.”

To be sure, an unscientific straw poll of AICPA Insider readers by CPA Trendlines shows that the list of chief concerns for CPAs is understandably topped by the economy and the tax season. But then comes business operations, including costs, prices and staffing; and “implementation and execution of plans.”

Focus, Focus, Focus: Key CPA Issues
1. Economic Outlook
2. Tax
3. Business Operations
4. Implementation and Execution of Plans
5. New Business Development
6. Personal/Professional Development
7. Management and Leadership
8. Financial Regulatory Reform
9. Access to Financing and Credit
10 New Accounting Standards, IFRS
  Source: CPA Trendlines for AICPA

Clearly, many accounting and finance professionals are abandoning grand and sometimes expensive goals to concentrate on the day-to-day operational details of running a business. With “focus” the key watchword for many CPAs today, sole proprietor Edith Smith says she plans to “focus a little more on practice-building.”

On the other hand, CPA Dean Owen is putting “less focus on gaining new clients, and much more focus on client selection,” adding, “I am in the transition from ‘build it up’ to ‘manage it well.’  My next big gains will be from better management, not increased size.” For Ralph Mooney, “It's key to focus on strengthening our core businesses after the damage done by the business conditions over the last 15 months.” Jon Neal plans to “keep marketing and to focus on our strengths.”

The managing partner of a mid-sized CPA firm is also focusing on a more conservative approach to business. “No fluff!” he declares. “We need to stay conservative and focus on execution,” he adds. “I think driving profits and cash-flow, and encouraging clients to maintain a strong balance sheet are critical factors for 2010. ‘One client at a time’ is a good grass-roots approach.”

“Focus has to remain on operational efficiency, managing costs and on business development and sales,” according to the senior finance executive at a small IT services company. To her, “Growth — bottom line and top line — is the most critical issue.” Among other things, she’s reviewing the company’s sales compensation plans to make sure they are aligned properly with the company’s business strategy.

Robert Fligg, a senior executive at a West Coast residential building company, says he expects business decisions to be based more often on common sense, “rather than on optimism or on ego.”

Meanwhile, his strategies are the epitome of a back-to-basics plan: "Reduce debt. Focus on our mission. Stick with what we do best.”

Those are not bad strategies for most people these days.

WHAT’S WORKING IN TODAY’S ECONOMY? Learn the best CPA business strategies. Join the survey; get the answers.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, questions, ideas? E-mail Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2010 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.

Go to the News Center Now

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.