Battle the Recession Blues With Some Bright Ideas

Top tips from finance and accounting professionals. Is your company a “leader” or a “laggard”?

May 1, 2008
by Rick Telberg/For the Finance Executive

With consumers cutting back and CPAs getting gloomier, accountants and finance managers are rolling up their sleeves to find recession-busting business strategies.

With consumers cutting back and CPAs getting gloomier, accountants and finance managers are rolling up their sleeves to find recession-busting business strategies.

The AICPA reports that more and more Americans are cutting back on spending in order to save money. In fact, nearly half (41%) of the survey respondents are holding off on major life decisions because they are either worried about the U.S. economy or they are financially strapped. This represents an 11 percentage point increase from last year when only one in three survey respondents said that they were delaying these life decisions for the same reasons. Another AICPA survey just a few weeks ago reported that pessimistic corporate CPAs outnumber optimistic ones by a five-to-one margin.

LEADER or LAGGARD? How Does YOUR Company Rate?

BONUS: What’s Your Best Recession Suggestion?

Join the survey. Get the answers.

(Free. Confidential.)

So, continuing from Monday’s column in the CPA Insider™, we have here a few more tips from accountants and business advisors.

Peter Conway, SWK Technologies Inc., an accounting software provider based in New York: I recommend that business owners act to strengthen and preserve their best core resources, customers, staff, inventory, technology and fixed assets.

This usually requires weeding out bad customers, unproductive or ill-natured staff and dead inventory, thereby allowing the business owner to focus on the most profitable parts of their business.

It also means strengthening relations with the firm’s best customers, making staff know that they are valuable and appreciated and ensuring that the technology infrastructure is reliable and efficient.

I agree that diversification can be a key to success, but only if that diversification is very focused and does not drain precious resources like cash without providing immediate return.

Cost-cutting and right-sizing cost structures are important, as well. Here, I recommend that this be done very strategically. Wholesale cost-cutting can do more damage than good.

Chris Allen, vice president at Financial Executives International, Florham Park, N.J.: CFOs are telling us they are delaying hiring and capital expenditures in many cases. Yet the recently approved Economic Stimulus package provides a break for smaller businesses that accelerates depreciation on equipment purchased and placed into service in 2008. It is worth consideration, though it may not prove to be the boost Congress envisioned.

Jeff De Cagna, consultant to nonprofit associations at Principled Innovation LLC, Washington, D.C.: Even though we are in a period of economic uncertainty, small business owners cannot afford to withdraw inside their shells. We need to stay in conversation with our customers to gain a deeper understanding of how they are dealing with the challenges they face. Customers don't want to go through what's happening now by themselves. Not all customers will be able to hire us as they once did, but some will, and going forward every one of them will appreciate knowing that our interest in them extended beyond a paid invoice.

Francois Andlau, an accountant and tax practitioner in Durbanville, South Africa: Small businesses have the benefit of low overhead and can react quickly to changes in customer demands with flexible manufacturing processes and innovative service delivery. Unfortunately, they usually don't have economies of scale or an established brand in the marketplace.

My suggestion is to keep your overhead down and, therefore, your break-even point will be low. You can apply activity-based costing for a very accurate allocation of overhead costs to individual products or services.

Focus on a specific niche in your market or geographic regions that the bigger companies are overlooking or not competing in very well. The best strategy is to specialize in an area where you see a growing demand that is recession proof — an industry supplying essential services such as food, fuel, utilities, storage or medical care. I think of McDonalds and MasterCard as possible companies that will keep doing well.

Keep your products and services flexible and monitor your market very carefully for changes and signs of slowdown in demand. Detailed monthly management reports are essential.

Be ready to close down or temporarily mothball a product or service line and channel your cash flow to profitable departments in your business. Monitor the effectiveness and profitability of your marketing campaigns carefully. You can't afford to waste money here.

Rely more heavily on contract workers for nonstrategic tasks.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST RECESSION-BUSTING TIP? Rate your firm. Join the Survey. Get the answers.

COMMENTS: Questions, rants or raves? Write Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2008 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.