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In it Together

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The recession put Byron Shinn's accounting firm in an unusual pickle.

Turns out the $4 million company has had barely any drop-off in annual revenues. Yet a majority of the clients it serves are down up to 30% over the past year or two.

Shinn, founder of Bradenton-based Shinn & Co., decided to take a somewhat counterintuitive approach to the situation. He embarked on a plan to make over his CPA firm late last year, even though it wasn't suffering nearly as bad as its clients or competitors.

Shinn's goal: To turn the company into an accounting firm that is also a business consultant, a recession-survival adviser and an all-around bad times empathizer for clients.

“Most accountants aren't good at sales, but they are good at details,” says Shinn, who says his 22-employee firm is typical in that way. “So we had to figure out a way to reinvent ourselves.”

The first question Shinn pursued in his reinvention strategy was this: How could he find a way to cut his clients some slack without shrinking his own business in the process?

Shinn began with Paula Heap, a local marketing and branding consultant who previously ran her own advertising firm in New York City. Heap, now a full-time Shinn & Co. employee, created a new brand and advertising campaign for the firm, which included a redesigned Web site and newspaper and magazine ads. The campaign cost about $30,000.

The theme of the campaign — we're with you — is based on the concept that Shinn says he will not abandon clients who have struggled to survive the downturn.

Instead, Heap will work with that client on ways to grow and recapture business through public relations and social media networking.

Shinn says he could take that approach, which includes a non-revenue generating person like Heap, because his firm long ago sought to diversify its client base. That is the main reason the company has survived the recession, he says.

Shinn, who founded the firm in 1993, counts farms and agricultural operations, small retail stores, medical offices, manufacturing companies, nonprofit groups and county and city government entities and agencies as clients.

The specific client list includes the Manatee Children's Services, the town of Longboat Key and Palmetto-based Pacific Tomato Growers.

Moreover, Shinn says, he didn't grow too fast during the boom, deciding instead to be patient while competitors overreached.

“We could see the economy was overheating, and we watched other firms make mistakes,” says Shinn.

“Those [executives] forgot who they are and what got them to the dance.”

But Shinn & Co. is growing now. In addition to Heap, the firm recently brought on two new accountants, and Shinn says he is seeking at least one more CPA. The new hires include Sarasota County Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, who is segueing into a new career by joining Shinn.

The firm, which has five shareholders, is also exploring the possibility of opening new offices and partnering with other firms to expand its reach. Possible targets, says Shinn, include Tampa, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

“We are entrepreneurs first,” says Shinn. “We just happen to be accountants.”
— Mark Gordon

A Tough List

Byron Shinn has made a point to show empathy toward recession-suffering clients of his Bradenton-based CPA firm during the downturn.

But Shinn has also tried to maintain a long-standing company rule during the recession that is a lesson in discipline for any executive in any industry. The rule: Every six months, the accountants at Shinn & Co. come up with three clients that no longer fit the firm's strategy or mission.

Shinn analyzes that list and ends the relationship with a few of the ones that stick out for one or several reasons. Says Shinn: “It prevents us from keeping marginal customers.”


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