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Survey: Small biz poised for progress

A survey shows that accounting professionals and small businesses are poised for progress as long as they continue to invest in new technologies, marketing and advertising, and face-to-face time with clients.

Those are among the major findings of recent nationwide survey from Intuit Inc., asking accounting professionals and entrepreneurs about challenges they face in growing their businesses, maintaining the accountant-client relationship and remaining competitive in the marketplace. The findings also include a snapshot of both groups’ economic outlook and their thoughts on the use of new technologies, online applications and engaging with customers.

Firms, Companies Are Growing

In a considerable showing of resilience, 65% of accounting professionals and 54% of small business owners said their companies grew in the last 12 months. Despite this growth, 75% of accounting professionals and 80% of small business owners rate today’s economic climate as “just fair” or “poor.”

Both groups expressed optimism for the future, with 94% of accounting professionals and 87% of small business owners seeing opportunities to grow their businesses in today’s economy.

Ranking the major factors toward growth:

• 77% of accounting professionals said “access to industry news and/or trends” is the most important; “investing in new technology” ranked second.

• 73% of small business owners placed “marketing and/or advertising” as the most important; 57% said they plan to focus on “expanding their range of offerings.”

• When asked what keeps them up at night, 32% of accounting professionals said “keeping clients happy.” For 26% of small businesses, “paying bills” is their number one concern.

“Accounting professionals and small business owners are extremely adaptable and flexible individuals,” said Shawn McMorrough, lead research manager of Intuit’s Accounting Professionals Division. “Despite feeling the pinch in this challenging economic environment, they are optimistic and continue to weather the rapidly shifting business environment. Their unrelenting passion for serving their customers helps accounting professionals and small businesses succeed in the face of any challenge the market presents them.”

The Role of New and Web-based Technology

In 2010, a total of 39% of accounting professionals and 35% of small businesses invested in new technology to help maintain their success and grow their businesses. In addition, 84% of accounting professionals used technology to reduce operating costs and expand their client base, while 79% of small businesses used technology to market their business and expand their customer base.

Accounting professionals are more open to using online applications than small business owners. Some 74% of accounting professionals believe online applications will be integral to accounting firms in the future, and 38% already use them to access accounting and financial information through the Web.

Among small business owners, 60% see the use of mobile phone applications to communicate with customers or accounting professionals as important to future success, with 29% currently using online applications to access their accounting or financial information.

Face-to-Face Communication Remains Important

The survey also asked accounting professionals and small businesses how they communicate with each other.

While e-mail (60%) and telephone (54%) are the most common ways the two groups communicate, 64% of small business owners value face-to-face check-ins with their accounting or financial professional. In addition, 75% of small businesses owners say their accountant or financial professional shares information with them in person.

Global Strategy Group, an independent, full-service market research firm, conducted an online survey of 1,217 Intuit small business and 1,200 Intuit accountant customers between Oct. 15 – 20. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level is plus or minus 2.8%.

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