Barry Schimel, CPA, gave some thought-provoking tips on how to stay in clients’ good graces during a keynote address this morning at Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting’s user conference in Orlando.

“Accounting is not a game of numbers,” he said. “Accounting is a game of people.”

Schimel recounted how one of his clients was suicidal, so they spent 10 hours driving around talking about the clients’ problems until he got the client back home and safe. He believes the job of the accountant is to make the client successful and more profitable. “Your role is to turn obstacles into an opportunity for clients,” he said. He advised accountants to create two types of workpapers: one in which the client is asked to write out what their expectations are, and the other in which the accountant describes how he or she made a difference for the client. The accountant should document what went right and what went wrong in their clients’ businesses and help them steer their way through the current economic turbulence.

Schimel, who is president of a Potomac, Md.-based company called BizActions, gave some examples of how he helped clients, such as a power company that blamed its power outages on lightning storms until he discovered that the main problem was that people were driving into the utility poles when the roads got slick. Once the power company realized this, they moved the poles further away from the road, and the power outages decreased.

Another client was a trash-hauling company that didn’t know it was being charged extra at the dumping station because its drivers remained inside their trucks while the load was being weighed. Once Schimel’s firm pointed this out, the supervisors soon made sure their drivers got out of their trucks, lightening the scales.

“Focus on your experience being a trusted business advisor,” Schimel advised. “Feel part of your clients’ success and share their pain when they’re not succeeding.”

Good advice all around, and some tips that can help accountants hang in with their clients — and vice versa — even through the rough patches.