Accounting professionals and small businesses are poised for progress as long as they continue to invest in new technologies, marketing and advertising, and face-to-face time with clients, according to a new survey.

The survey, by Intuit, asked accounting professionals and entrepreneurs about the challenges they face in growing their businesses, maintaining the accountant-client relationship and remaining competitive in the marketplace. The findings also include a snapshot of both groups’ economic outlook and their thoughts on the use of new technologies, online applications and engaging with customers.

In a considerable showing of resilience, 65 percent of accounting professionals and 54 percent of small business owners said their companies grew in the last 12 months. Despite this growth, however, 75 percent of the accounting professionals and 80 percent of the small business owners surveyed rate today’s economic climate as “just fair” or “poor.”

Both groups expressed optimism for the future, with 94 percent of accounting professionals and 87 percent of small business owners seeing opportunities to grow their businesses in today’s economy.

In ranking the major factors behind growth, 77 percent of the accounting professionals who were surveyed said “access to industry news and/or trends” is the most important, while “investing in new technology” ranked second. Seventy-three percent of small business owners placed “marketing and/or advertising” as the most important; 57 percent said they plan to focus on “expanding their range of offerings.”

When asked what keeps them up at night, 32 percent of accounting professionals said “keeping clients happy.” For 26 percent of small businesses, “paying bills” is their number one concern.

“Accounting professionals and small business owners are extremely adaptable and flexible individuals,” said Shawn McMorrough, lead research manager of Intuit’s Accounting Professionals Division. “Despite feeling the pinch in this challenging economic environment, they are optimistic and continue to weather the rapidly shifting business environment. Their unrelenting passion for serving their customers helps accounting professionals and small businesses succeed in the face of any challenge the market presents them.”

In 2010, a total of 39 percent of accounting professionals and 35 percent of small businesses invested in new technology to help maintain their success and grow their businesses. In addition, 84 percent of accounting professionals used technology to reduce operating costs and expand their client base, while 79 percent of small businesses used technology to market their business and expand their customer base.

Accounting professionals are more open to using online applications than small business owners.
Some 74 percent of accounting professionals believe online applications will be integral to accounting firms in the future, and 38 percent already use them to access accounting and financial information through the Web.

Among small business owners, 60 percent see the use of mobile phone applications to communicate with customers or accounting professionals as important to future success, with 29 percent currently using online applications to access their accounting or financial information.

The survey also asked accounting professionals and small businesses how they communicate with each other.

While e-mail (60 percent) and telephone (54 percent) were cited as the most common ways the two groups communicate, 64 percent of small business owners value face-to-face check-ins with their accounting or financial professional. In addition, 75 percent of small businesses owners say their accountant or financial professional shares information with them in person.

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