Reflections on HABU: Key Ingredients Your Firm May Be Missing to Compete Amid Consolidation

Remaining competitive in the marketplace is more and more difficult as firms get larger and larger. To stand out and grow amid the rapid consolidation, regional and local firms can offer unbeatable personal service and a wider range of customized solutions. That’s why Engineered Tax Advisory recently brought firm leaders together with a vetted group of two dozen specialists to discuss overlooked, underused or unknown methods to help their clients – and their own businesses – succeed. 

The Aug. 1-3 Highest and Best Use (HABU) conference in Plano, Texas, featured what one attendee called the “speed dating of CPE” with 25-minute presentations on topics ranging from the well-known (R&D tax credits) to the more obscure (Interest Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation or IC-DISC). 

The experts covered strategies to minimize taxes or improve cash flow for CPA firm clients who are demanding more advice and guidance. Topics included solar tax incentives, data analytics, the metaverse, R&D tax credits, 1031 exchanges to eliminate capital gains, reverse sales tax audits, private aviation deductions, charitable giving, rooftop access for cell phone towers and the aforementioned IC-DISC, a tax break that may benefit only one or two clients out of 100, but which holds the potential for significant savings. “It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the tax code,” explained David Spray, president of Export Advisors.

CPAs took advantage of the extended networking breaks for deeper conversations over snacks, meals and cocktail hours at the plush Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West Hotel. At one such networking break – following lunch of pear and walnut salad, mesquite-smoked Wagyu sirloin and passion fruit mousse – Sean Dever, founder of Boston-area Sean Dever CPA & Associates, spoke about his experiences. 

Dever worked with Rockerbox, a company specializing in employee tax credits such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which was enacted in 2021 as part of a COVID relief package. Through referrals to Rockerbox, Dever’s firm was able to help nearly every one of his 1,400 clients – owners of gymnastics, dance and swim schools that were shut down by the COVID pandemic. Clients received anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000, with no strings attached. Rockerbox CEO Philip Wentworth, says, “These programs can significantly improve cash flow. If you combine them, you’d have restaurants improve their cash flow 60%. These are life-changing programs – unprecedented.”

Dever’s experience, shared as a case study with the entire group, was one of dozens of HABU success stories. The speakers and attendees gave the format high marks. 

“This is what I do for a living – a lot of conferences,” said Oggi Ruiz, senior marketing director, World Financial Group. Larger conferences with more general topics can be exhausting, he said, but HABU was focused. “I find that this is probably one of the best-quality conferences that I’ve ever attended.” 

Julio Gonzalez, CEO of Engineered Tax Services, urged all attendees to work together to give small business owners the tools to succeed. He called tax planning an art – a lost art – and he’s amazed at how many small businesses are still paying too much. “I just want to make sure we as a community are doing all we can to help the business owners keep their doors open.”

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