As the vital signs of the U.S. economy point to steady and sustained recovery, driven in large part by U.S. small-business manufacturers and wholesale distributors, it's becoming clear that accountants who get involved and position themselves ahead of this trend stand to benefit tremendously.
The rise in U.S. manufacturing and entrepreneurship presents an unprecedented opportunity for accountants to expand their client base, experience growth and play a role in the continued U.S. economic resurgence.
There are many indicators that "Made in the USA" is making a comeback. First, there's a documented increase in U.S. manufacturing jobs. And companies such as Jet Blue, Walmart, Lenovo and Apple are all committed to bringing parts of their manufacturing business back to the U.S. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, 48 percent of large manufacturers plan to return production to the U.S. from offshore.
As larger manufacturers land back onshore, they'll certainly rely on a healthy ecosystem of small manufacturers and wholesale distributors. Thankfully, entrepreneurship is on the rise in the U.S., and new technologies are lowering previously towering barriers to entry. From 3-D printing and robotics to software for more efficiently running a business, we're slowly building momentum. For evidence, look no further than the number of patents filed in the U.S. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in 2012 there were 268,782 "utility patent applications with U.S. origin," a number that has increased by 43,870 since 2009.
So why should accountants care about this "Made in the USA" comeback? Simply put, accountants stand to gain as this vital sector of the economy recovers. And with even the smallest manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors investing in people, technology and infrastructure, an entirely new revenue base is opening up. Today, there are small manufacturers down the street who are planning expansion, and they're lining up partners just like you to help enable that growth. The seemingly "big" transition from spreadsheets to QuickBooks has now given way to a massive migration to the cloud, mobile and other technologies, and small manufacturers will be looking for advice -- lots of it.
PREPARE FOR OPPORTUNITY
The opportunity is there, but many accountants will ignore it, at least initially. That should give you plenty of time to establish a leadership position. To that end, you should be positioning yourself as an expert, not only with GAAP, but also with what it takes to be a growing small manufacturer, wholesaler or distributor today.
The opportunity in front of you is tremendous, but to seize it you must keep in mind what makes small business special, different and vulnerable. You'll need to navigate generational upheaval, understand new value messages and be a voice of reason that ensures that small businesses are also preparing for inevitable downturns ahead.
BE A GENERATIONAL BRIDGE
Many small manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors are family-owned, often with two or more generations still actively involved in the business. Each generation will bring value, but their perspectives -- as well as ideas for growth -- will be quite different. You'll need to bridge inevitable gaps in understanding or areas of disagreement, and an intimate familiarity with their industries -- and what keeps them up at night -- will enable you to be the best advisor possible.
If, for example, you're able to share insights on discrete issues such as real-time inventory visibility, you'll earn clients' trust and ensure that their businesses are as healthy as possible. Additionally, looking at your clients' profit and loss and helping them to understand and decipher the root cause of a loss is crucial. When "bridging" the generational gap, it'll be important to help everyone in the company -- from shop owners to middle management -- understand the burdens and overhead, what jobs did well and made money and which ones did not and why.
A NEW VALUE MESSAGE
Coming off one of the worst periods for business in U.S. history, small businesses are accustomed to operating on tight margins and cutting costs wherever possible. With U.S. manufacturing on the rise, however, many of these businesses are -- or should be -- preparing for a period of sustained growth.
You'd be wise to adopt a new value message with your perspectives on growth enablement. After all, with growth come myriad tax, compliance and reporting burdens that will require unique capabilities that only you can offer.
PREPARE FOR FUTURE DOWNTURNS
Growth is good, but it's not all about "getting while the getting's good" -- businesses cannot ignore the inevitable ebbs and flows of the future. Conventional wisdom says that now is the time for businesses to prepare for the next downward cycle. By adopting best practices and adding new technology now, these suddenly flush manufacturers can more easily survive -- and even thrive -- during future periods of market adversity. By helping your clients gain better visibility into their businesses and become more agile manufacturers, you'll add value far beyond tax and compliance advice alone.
"Made in the USA" is making a comeback, and small manufacturers are a big part of the equation. The missing factor is you. If your client base doesn't include small manufacturers and their ecosystem of wholesalers and distributors, what are you waiting for? Study the industry's pain points, best practices and emerging technologies so that you too are part of the "Made in the USA" story.
Steve Leavitt is general manager of U.S. cloud solutions for Exact Online US, a developer of online manufacturing and wholesale software.
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