By Thom Senzee Contributing Reporter Across the San Fernando, Conejo, and Santa Clarita Valleys, accounting firms are finding ways to shepherd their clients through one of the toughest economies to face American business in decades. Those efforts run the gamut from operating under a back-to-basics approach to investing in offshore gaming. At Good, Swartz, Brown & Berns,a Division of J.H. Cohn, business-consulting services from an accounting perspective have taken on a tough-love quality. “It comes down to ‘do you want to survive?'” said David Swartz, a partner at the recently-merged firm. Swartz says he has clients who spend way too much money on certain customers. He advises them to either raise their prices or cut such customers loose. “I have [manufacturing] clients who derive 80 percent of their revenue from 30 percent of their customers,” he said. “In tough times you can’t make up the difference with sales. Just let those high-cost customers go. Or tell them they need to let you drop-ship, for instance.” Swartz believes most business owners are entrepreneurs at their cores, and thus find it an anathema to walk away from a sale. But, he said, sometimes the cost of a sale can be too high. In addition to being a partner at the parent company’s newest division, Swartz was managing partner at Good-Swartz for 15 years prior to that firm’s recent acquisition by J.H. Cohn. As someone who has run a business and as an accountant, he knows first-hand what it feels like to be responsible for an entire operation. “I do get excited, even passionate, because these businesses are peoples’ livelihoods,” he said. “If I have to tell them Wal-Mart is too expensive to have as a customer because they make you act as their warehouse, that’s what I have to tell them.” Swartz said, to his and his clients’ surprise, even Wal-Mart will listen and make changes at the behest of its suppliers sometimes. “All these vendors got used to Wal-Mart telling them how they had to price their products, and no one thought they could tell Wal-Mart otherwise,” he said. “It turns out, these days, even Wal-Mart says yes to changes. Yes; even they will pay more.” The hardest advice Swartz has for companies struggling in this economy is the advice he has yet to offer. “I’ve never had to advise a client to go out of business,” he said. “But I have one now that I might.” Swartz is not ready to agree with the assertion that there is a recession-proof industry,except maybe one. “Accounting is recession-proof,” he said. His counterpart at Encino-based Kirsch, Kohn & Bridge, LLP (KKB) concurs. “I’ve been saying it for a year-and-a-half,” KKB partner, Mel Kohn said. “Everyone [in accounting] should be making money now.” Among the region’s predominant tax accountants, KKB takes a decidedly tax focused approach to advising clients about the nuisances of surviving in harsher times. “The first thing we want to see is whether they’re paying too much in estimated taxes,” Kohn said. “If so, that’s capital they could be spending on their businesses.” Other disciplines Kohn says are important nowadays are making accurate projections, keeping up with receivables, and watching inventory. “The old saying is not to keep cash on the floor,” he said. “It’s important to watch inventory levels.” Kohn said his firm has a wide diversity of clients, a fact which necessitates that he and his colleagues watch commodities markets that range from grain to concrete, as well as all of the world’s money markets with meticulous precision. “Accountants have to know their clients better than anybody these days,” he said. “Now, more than ever, we are in the relationship business.” Meanwhile, in Calabasas, another firm is telling its clients not to miss the boat. The firm’s founder and namesake, Craig Szabo, said he is pointing to a new casino cruise ship operator as a smart investment. Szabo Accountancy Corporation serves professional athletes, as well as Hollywood actors, writers, producers, agents and directors. The scope of such individual clients’ financial interests often amounts to one-person corporations. In addition to accounting services, Szabo says his clients expect him to advise them about where they can make smart investments these days. Contributing Reporter Thom Senzee writes about the accounting industry for the Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com .