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Small Business Digest


With The Economy Turning Around, Checklist Needed To Meet Challenge

The economy may be showing glimmers of hope for a recovery, but are businesses positioned to capitalize on the opportunities ahead? Robert Half Management Resources - a provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals - on a project and interim basis, offers advice for making the most of personnel resources to manage future business growth.

“The economy will eventually bounce back, and businesses must be adequately prepared or risk losing ground to competitors,” said Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.

McDonald advises that instead of waiting for an official end to the recession, companies start now to analyze every aspect of their business and determine how prepared they are to respond to improving business conditions. This is particularly true for firms that made staff cutbacks.

The Robert Half firm offers the following checklist for determining whether a business is recovery-ready.

1. Keep reassessing budgets. Financial staff must be prepared to continually modify budgets to reflect progress or setbacks. Those companies that fully leverage the expertise of financial, budget, treasury or cost analysts will be better-positioned to capitalize on improving conditions.

2. Evaluate bench strength. Some firms are realizing they have cut staff too deeply in response to the economic downturn. This can be an ideal time for a “talent upgrade,” as many highly skilled financial professionals are in the job market. Companies reluctant to add employees can still prepare for the future by engaging temporary or project professionals to fill potential skills gaps. 

3. Revisit compliance requirements. Companies should be prepared to evaluate financial-reporting competencies, information-technology controls, risk-assessment procedures and documentation. Businesses that encourage cross-departmental cooperation and collaboration with outside advisers are in a better position to effectively address corporate-governance issues that may affect their businesses. Smaller public companies should assess their ability to comply with the auditor-attestation requirement of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

4. Anticipate next-generation financial reporting. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has mandated that public companies report their financials using Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), an interactive data format, by 2011. In addition, while the timetable for convergence between International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) is uncertain, proactive firms are already offering education and training to help staff better understand these initiatives and plan for eventual implementation.

5. Invest in people. Organizations that scaled back on training and development in recent months should consider reinstituting these initiatives. Firms that invest in staff training better prepare their teams for new business opportunities. Professional development also buoys employee job satisfaction. 

6. Upgrade IT systems. Outdated financial systems can impair a business’s ability to compete, but conversions take time and resources. Companies planning systems upgrades should ensure they have the budget and staffing resources to manage the implementation. 

7. Prepare for new products and services. For companies that are considering new product or service launches, this is the time to ensure that the new offering can be introduced quickly when the economy rebounds. Cost accountants, financial analysts and others who can ensure that business projections are sound can positively affect the success of the initiative.

8. "Re-recruit" the company's best people. Don’t be surprised if top performers are approached with other offers once the economy turns around. A best defense is a good offense: Managers should meet with their best people now to discuss their careers and remind them how much their contributions are valued. 

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