It took a while, but the accounting profession is finally starting to feel the effects of the overall market slowdown. Although certain geographies appear immune, I'm seeing a softening in many parts of the country.Is it a surprise? Not in the slightest.

Does it mean the boom is bust? Absolutely not!

Far from a dramatic drop, what I'm observing is that many firms are as busy as they have been in recent years. What's changed is that prospects are not falling from the sky at the same clip. Everybody's busy, but the pipeline is not as full.

Understandably, some people are questioning where it's all going from here. We need not worry, though. Within a few years, the switch to International Financial Reporting Standards will be in full swing, carrying demand for your services to new highs.

But for now ... .

WASTE NOT

The shift in market conditions has resulted in lots of inquiries about how to anticipate and manage growth. That's because when everything is going great guns, you can hold out your basket and easily catch what's falling. Business has been so plentiful in recent years that some firms were able to grow without paying much attention at all to how it was happening. As a result, many CPAs never got in the habit of a disciplined approach to growth. Well guess what? It's time to strap on those sneakers and start to exercise your growth muscle once again! It's also time to stop wasting effort and resources. That's a habit we simply can't afford these days.

In order to tackle waste, you first need to know what it looks like. It can take many different forms, like poor investment in marketing communications, failing to train people in the proper pursuit of opportunities, and believing that you can secure solid business without investing the right kind of time in target niches.

With a measure of uncertainty looming, get tactical and practical in how you use resources. For example, I strongly advocate more advanced sales training and coaching for partners in times like these - to help them land today's opportunities. But I don't recommend putting a lot of resources into long-term initiatives like teaching your young people to sell. That can take years to develop, and it's not going to yield much in the short term when you need it.

Hiring a trained business developer - someone with a sales background - might be valuable if you are willing to wait for a return on your investment for at least a year. Think twice about launching a major brand-development campaign, as these take a long time to bear fruit. Instead, use those dollars to brand in highly specific industries where you can win more immediate business.

MAKE LEMONADE

Consider leveraging current conditions to create new service offerings. In a soft market, everyone needs advice on controlling costs. Maybe this is the time you develop a new consulting service line around efficiency and cost control.

Some months ago, I spoke with a CPA who has been a leader in the construction sector. I asked how he is responding to the residential building slowdown.

He acknowledged that business was off, and said that he didn't have much of a game plan in place. But he brightened when I suggested that he consider counseling builders and developers in financial analysis and in streamlining their operations. Experienced with "lean" and Six Sigma processes, he jumped in enthusiastically.

Benchmarking is a hot area right now. Firms are realizing that they have the data to develop benchmarking offerings, and clients are always interested in comparing how they perform against their competition. Because it's a wide-open space, you can often be first to market with a creative initiative - because there is no end to what can be benchmarked!

It's true, there's a tapping of the brakes on the superhighway of success. But with careful management of your time and resources, and a laser focus on results, you'll sail through the express lane and into a successful new year.

Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms, and the author of At the Crossroads: The Remarkable CPA Firm that Nearly Crashed, then Soared. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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