Tough economic times aren’t getting everyone down. Some companies are even capitalizing on it.

Attendance is down this week at Doug Sleeter’s Accounting Software Consulting Conference in Phoenix—from roughly 600 to 400. But Sleeter’s not letting it get to him.   “We’re happy with the turnout, but it’s less than last year. Oh well, so woe is me,” Sleeter said during his keynote address, during which he explained that the tough economy was going to be a key theme of the conference this year. “No, this is where we have to get tough.”   Getting tough means doing things differently, such as holding remote sessions instead of traveling to clients’ locations and hiring a staff person to help coordinate local QuickBooks consultants networking groups throughout the country—something that Sleeter members were asking for but he didn’t have the bandwidth to provide in the past.   Roughly 20 people canceled at the last minute, which Sleeter believes is because they are scared to spend money, though none of them admitted that. They were not supposed to receive refunds, but Sleeter provided them anyway. The way he sees it, if he helps them out now, eventually they will bring more money to the table as VARs and be customers for life.   “I’m willing to take the risk,” he said. “That’s what owning a business is about.”   He displayed a quote from Warren Buffet that said “Be nervous when others are greedy and be greedy when others are nervous.” Greedy may seem like a negative word, so Sleeter replaced that with tough. Getting tough involves getting creative and not getting down and depressed no matter how depressing the daily news may seem. There are roughly two dozen new sponsors at the conference this year that are either startup companies or existing companies that just started targeting small and midsize businesses. So they must see some potential reward in taking the risk of getting started with a new venture when the economy is in the dumps. Folks in attendance sure seemed excited to shop. After the first 12-hour day of exhibiting, several of the vendors stumbled home after the cocktail hour ended at 8 p.m., claiming they had no more energy. Unlike at other conferences, where prospects run by, and perhaps pick up some literature after stealing a piece of candy or other chatchki, several sponsors said that these attendees were showing real interest, spending 30 to 45 minutes grilling them—an exhausting task, but they weren’t complaining. This month while interviewing people for the December cover story of Accounting Technology about how to sell technology and consulting services in tough economic times, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter several people who claimed this year has been their best ever. Why? Because if they could show companies they can save money, boost productivity with less people and/or be more competitive using technology, those companies are willing to fork over the cash. I found the same to be true when talking to consultants at this conference. One Sage VAR told me his profits are up and he is in the process of closing a nearly $200,000, 75-user software deal. How is that possible? The company was using a legacy product for years and saw its competitor—who the VAR had previously worked with—was doing better because they had new systems in place. The choice was between Accpac and SAP, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more, so it was a no-brainer. With all the uncertainty and negative news in the market these days, maybe it’s time for more people to get greedy, or at least tough.  

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