A conversation with... Barry Schimel: How simple ideas led to big profits

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"You might make a better salesperson than accountant." That was the advice Barry Schimel got early in his accounting career, back in the 60s. Not because he wasn't a good accountant, but because in addition to his abilities with numbers, he had significant people skills. Over time, those skills, combined with his genuine concern for the well-being of his clients, would lead him down a somewhat different path within the accounting industry.

After a few years with a national firm and then with smaller local practices, Schimel went out on his own. Unfortunately, the timing was bad. The country was in civil unrest after the assassination of Martin Luther King and rioting caused businesses to suffer. With bills to pay and a new baby on the way, he did contract work for another practitioner and eventually formed a partnership with him. Then when his partner was ready to retire, Schimel bought out his interest. In the years that followed, Schimel, as managing partner, grew the firm from three employees to a staff of 45.

A New Direction

To better serve his clients, Schimel looked for ways to broaden his knowledge of various industries, which included joining an organization of CEOs known as The Executive Committee – now called Vistage. Chapters of this group were limited to 15 members, each of whom would take turns hosting while the others acted as their unofficial Board of Directors. The host would make a presentation, identifying the key issues his business was facing, and the others would provide advice.

When it was Schimel's turn to host... something happened that changed his career path. As part of his presentation, he asked his audience certain questions. "What do you get from your CPA? Do your accountants add value to your business? Do they meet your expectations? How do they change the way you do business? How often do you hear from them?" Almost without exception, says Schimel, they told him that their CPAs were not meeting their expectations. Their accountants would do their taxes and say, "Pay this much," and return to audit their records, but that was about it. Then the audience turned the tables on Schimel, asking him key questions. "Why not focus on the future, instead of only on the past? Can you show us how to do better business in the coming year?"

Hungry for Ideas

Schimel realized that what these people needed was good ideas. That was easier than it sounded, since, when he started researching profit as a topic, he found that little had been written on the subject. For him, the need was underscored during the recession of the early 90s. Two of his clients were in such dire financial circumstances that they both committed suicide, and a third threatened to do the same. Schimel went to that client's office and stayed with him until he talked him out of it.

Going forward, those dramatic events seriously impacted the direction Schimel would take his practice. Rather than acting as lifeguards sitting on the beach watching people drown, his firm would be the ones to jump in the ocean and help them before it was too late. Still unsure how to proceed, he sat down and drew up a checklist of 100 ways that businesses could improve profits. Then he would meet with clients, go over the checklist together and find items that applied to them, and counsel them through the changes. "Clients were coming in at all hours to get ideas," he said.

He coached his clients toward profit, not by telling them what to do, but by asking questions that would lead them to their own solutions. For example, he might ask, "What would happen if you did it this way?" or "Would you be willing to try this?" He helped them rearrange their thinking so that they and their employees could recognize and take advantage of profit opportunities. The result? The ideas worked. Things got better... and clients referred other clients.

Later, he was asked to share his ideas in a presentation at Vistage. In spite of the success he'd seen with his own clients, he wondered if his checklist would assist these powerful business people with ideas they didn't already know. But to his surprise, they responded eagerly. That was the beginning of a snowball effect. Soon national trade and professional organizations were inviting him to speak at their conventions through the country. Eventually he was solicited to license his product to approximately 150 firms in 48 states, Canada, and the UK. Schimel's ideas were captured in his book, 100 Ways to Prosper in Today's Economy (Acropolis, 1991), which includes a foreword by the AICPA, a show of respect from that prestigious group.

With his speaking engagements, licensing, and consulting business growing rapidly, he sold his accounting firm and combined his talents with Gary Kravitz, an expert in sales consulting, and Barry Friedman, CPA, a visionary in the area of technology. Together they created a new firm appropriately named The Profit Advisors. Instead of coaching business people, they leveraged their skills by teaching accountants how to coach their own clients to achieve greater bottom line results. With 150 firms now teaching their methods, they were able to cast a wider net, helping more businesses during difficult economic times as well as good.

As they worked with accountants, The Profit Advisors noticed that most of these CPAs had print newsletters. To Schimel, a print newsletter is an oxymoron since, by the time a newsletter is printed, the news isn't new anymore. Armed with extensive contacts in the accounting industry, a large cache of original articles on profit enhancement, and Barry Friedman's vision of what was possible through technology, the three partners set out to provide a better way for CPAs to communicate with their clients. That gave birth to the idea of forming BizActions LLC in September 2000, with Schimel as President, Kravitz as Vice-President, and Friedman as CEO.

BizActions has a full time writing and editorial staff that produces articles packed with timely business and tax advice and information designed to help improve profits and minimize taxes. Written for the clients of CPAs, the e-Newsletter is directed mainly at CFOs, CEOs and COOs. Each e-Newsletter bears the masthead of its CPA sponsor, and is delivered as often as weekly into the inboxes of the CPA's clients, prospects and referral sources. Niche topics are also available, depending on what services the CPA wants to promote, such as forensic accounting, business valuation, estate planning, and approximately 35 others. BizActions' unique technology allows for reader feedback and has tracking capability, so CPAs can monitor client interests and use that information to target their needs.

"A tough economy comes along only a couple of times in a business's life cycle, so take advantage of the opportunities it presents. There are lots of ways for accounting professionals and their clients to prosper in a down economy, and BizActions is loaded with those opportunities," says Schimel. The goal that he tackled years ago was to help business owners and their management teams focus on the bottom line so they would be able to survive and prosper in bad times or good. "CEOs don't have to go it alone," he says. "They just need ideas and business coaching from their trusted advisors." Through BizActions, he and his partners have achieved that goal and more, delivering ideas, innovation, possibilities, and hope for the future.

Barry Schimel can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or by logging onto bizactions.com. In addition to the help provided through the BizActions e-Newsletter, you can also find significant information in his books, the newest of which is All About Earnings: 100 Ways to Profit in Any Economy, authored by Schimel, Kravitz and Friedman, and published by Capital Books in 2001. Watch for another book to be released in January 2009.

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