CHARLESTON -- Most businesses can benefit from an additional focus on the company's financial performance. This is especially true for smaller companies and professional service firms where it is not practical to employ full-time financial personnel.

So, what options exist for professionals and small businesses seeking to improve their financial performance? An obvious answer is educating oneself in particular areas of need and interest. There are countless books, professional journals, seminars and on-line resources that can be utilized to obtain a better understanding of particular financial subjects. Some of us are better than others at doing this. However, we tend to gravitate toward what interests us as opposed to acquiring the skills that we need most.

A next level of increasing focus on financial performance is finding a consultant that has significant expertise outside of your own. A friend of mine referred some research to me that shows that lawyers and accountants typically serve as trusted advisors to small businesses and professionals. Often, this is an evolutionary process as opposed to making an overt decision to hire a consultant.

This has been the case with my practice. As I've learned about the businesses and business areas of our clients, I've been able to increase my role as a financial and business advisor to them. It truly has been an evolutionary process in most cases. Virtually none of our clients make an overt effort to improve their company's financial performance by asking themselves the questions, "Should I hire a financial advisor?" or "How do I choose a financial advisor?" Instead, we have learned about our clients' businesses and they have learned about our capabilities. This has lead to improved services provided by our firm and improved financial information and financial performance for our clients.

The challenge we face in our practice is to "sell" our firm's expertise as financial consultants as opposed to selling tax and accounting services. I'm sure this challenge sounds familiar to many of you.

You, as a business owner, career professional or decision maker for your company should be asking yourself those questions mentioned earlier. You should challenge your thinking about the potential value of increasing the degree of focus your company places on financial information and controls. You should investigate the possibility of improved financial performance with a qualified firm or individual.

On the other hand, our firm and profession needs to challenge ourselves to inform our clients and potential clients of our consultative capabilities. We need to constantly look for opportunities to offer assistance to companies that may not have the particular financial expertise they need.

So, think about challenging your thinking about your company's financial performance. Seek out opinions from trusted resources or firms with excellent financial consulting expertise. Often you will be rewarded with improved profitability and peace of mind.

Nistendirk is a partner at Woomer, Nistendirk & Associates PLLC, a CPA firm located in Charleston. Bob has extensive experience in tax accounting, strategic planning and financial/business consulting. He can be contacted at

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