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Bookkeepers in demand
Accountants guide clients through hard economic times
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Barclay Rushton, standing, and Perry Barnett look over some accounts at Rushton & Co., a Gainesville accounting firm. It doesn’t seem to matter if the economy is up or down, accounting firms still seem to have a solid business. - photo by Tom Reed

When times are tough, accountants get busy.

That’s the message of a Gainesville accounting firm that says it had its best business year at a time when the overall economy has been sluggish.

"What we do is not just people’s taxes, we do a lot of consulting and unfortunately a lot of people don’t realize they need consulting until the times get tough," said Barclay Rushton, a partner in Rushton & Co. "They need somebody to help them work out a particular situation or help them understand why their bottom line is declining and what they can do to prevent that."

Rushton said in the consulting role, the firm has the responsibility to offer a client the best advice, including sometimes telling them things they would rather not hear.

"Even though we’re an advocate for the client, giving them our best advice is what they pay us for," he said, adding that from time to time he has recommended that companies eliminate a product or service.

"Sometimes there are products or services that are very profitable, that they are not focused on."

Perry Barnett, a partner in the firm, said business owners often are too close to the situation to recognize potential financial stumbling blocks.

"If they take that opportunity in a bad time to tighten up and look at the more profitable areas, they’re in a hugely better position when the economy comes back," Barnett said.

The challenges of the banking industry have made obtaining business financing more difficult and often involves the services of an accountant.

"The complete banking world has turned upside down," Rushton said. "The greatest challenge to businesses, even good businesses, is financing. Banks are much more particular than they used to be."

It has become more and more common for the certified public accountant to be at the table in discussions with bankers.

"More and more they’re pulling us in and it’s not just historical, it’s giving them an idea of where the client is going in the next five years," Barnett said.

Rushton & Co., like many larger CPA firms, has become more specialized in business areas such as government auditing, manufacturing, construction and medicine, as well as estate planning.

Barnett said that many of his clients are talented in their respective fields, but struggle with issues of financing and business management.

"They often need a sounding board and are not used to seeing the things that we might see," he said.

The firm has recently completed an 8,500-square-foot expansion of its offices on Enota Drive and now employs a staff of 29.

Rushton, who once worked in state government, and Barnett, who worked for a private firm, said they find helping clients solve their problems to be rewarding.

"It’s one of the few businesses that you can be in, and the only thing you’re selling the client is your time," Rushton said.

"You’re not selling securities or insurance, where the client has to be motivated to buy. What you’re selling is your time to the client, and you can be one of the truly independent advisers they can go to."

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