Tax & Accounting Blog

Lights, Camera, Action!

Accounting Firms, Business Strategy & Development, CS Professional Suite, Our Customers December 6, 2013

Shirlene Small and Doreena Towner

When your business centers around startup and emerging business markets, the only constant is change. Fortunately, reinvention is one of the things Emerging Business Solutions Group LLC does best.

Founded in 2003 by sisters Shirlene Small, CPA, CGMA, managing partner, and Doreena Towner, CPA, operations partner, the Chicago-based firm has focused on small- and medium-size businesses from day one. It’s been a good place to be, because these businesses have generally continued to grow even during the economic downturn – which means Emerging Business Solutions Group has grown, too.

“You hear a lot of negative things in the media about the economy, but we’re really seeing businesses starting and expanding and growing,” says Small. “Over the years, working with companies like these has raised our level of expertise so we’re able to clearly see what they need and offer a solution that fits each one.”

Towner adds that strategically choosing the markets they serve has been a good approach for their firm. “As we’ve honed in on specific industries, we’ve tailored our offerings accordingly,” she says. “We’ve always been on the cutting edge of technology and using it strategically has had a huge positive impact.”

Independent Spirit

Small and Towner have had a steadfast vision. “Our premise has always been if small businesses had the same level of expertise, financial support, and management that larger businesses do, they could thrive,” says Small.

Firm Facts

Basics: Founded in 2003, Emerging Business Solutions Group LLC is based in Chicago. The firm provides tax, accounting, assurance, and consulting services to small- and medium-size businesses, including niche markets. In addition to the two partners, the staff includes a full-time office manager and accountant, and a part-time technology strategist. The firm plans to add another full-time and part-time staff member no later than early 2014, and consistently makes use of interns.

Website: The firm offers a wide range of services online, including tax tools, a financial guide, and a secure client login created using NetClient CS Portals, at

Software: Emerging Business Solutions Group uses the entire CS Professional Suite, as well as Mobile CS, and is implementing myPay Solutions on a client-by-client basis.

When they first launched Emerging Business Solutions Group, Towner and Small focused on serving small- and medium-size businesses in the manufacturing and retail arenas. But over the past 10 years they’ve refined the portfolio of industries they work with. Today, their emphasis is on service businesses and niche markets, primarily healthcare providers, academic and business education providers, general business service providers, and film producers.

The services they offer have evolved, too. They’ve gone from a focus on tax and accounting services – which they still offer – to assisting their clients in building organizational capacity.

“We help them design a system and practice they can follow internally,” says Small. That frees up Emerging Business Solutions Group to focus on financial review and management services, such as finalizing the financial results. The firm then helps its clients analyze those results to see how they compare to the targeted metrics it prepared based on their business goals.

Processing Pros

This approach also means constantly fine-tuning the firm’s own internal procedures, says Towner, building teams and processes to serve each niche market.

The film production industry is a perfect example. Many states, including Illinois, offer tax credits to production companies that produce films, TV shows, and commercials there. To receive tax credits, production companies have to engage a certified public accounting firm to validate and calculate local production spending.

Emerging Business Solutions Group first started working with production companies in 2007, just a project here and there, maybe one every few months.

But when Illinois renewed and revised its film production tax credit legislation, it created a film and TV production boom. Film production is now a major part of the firm’s business, which meant developing a team, as well as processes and a proprietary tool, to handle the work.

“When we initiated GoFileRoom, it was key,” says Towner. “We’re now in the final stages of developing a custom firm flow for the film tax credit that lets us be more functional and makes it easier to pull in extra people when needed to get the job done.”

The timing of adding GoFileRoom to the firm’s existing suite of Thomson Reuters solutions could not have been better, she adds. It roughly coincided with the change in legislation, which allowed independent CPAs to handle the documentation for production companies – putting Emerging Business Solutions Group in exactly the right place at the right time.

Plus, the ability to get tax credits back to film production companies more quickly has earned Emerging Business Solutions Group a good reputation, which helps create even more business.

Technical Effects

Having an electronic workflow is central to the firm’s business. Emerging Business Solutions Group started out using Write-Up CS and has been loyal to Thomson Reuters products ever since. The firm now uses the entire CS Professional Suite and considers GoFileRoom an especially valuable asset.

Shirlene Small and Doreena Towner

“We focus on helping our clients solve their business challenges, and our own challenge has always been capacity,” explains Small. “We’re constantly working to maximize our resources, and GoFileRoom really helps us manage our capacity.”

Although it’s a fan of many elements of GoFileRoom, Emerging Business Solutions Group is particularly keen on how easy it makes tracking the flow of a project throughout the office.

“With one click you can put your finger on everything that has entered the office, what stage it’s in, how long it’s been there, and who’s working on it,” says Small. “It not only makes the flow more efficient, it helps us identify places where things may consistently get bogged down so we can find a solution.”

Towner adds that, as with every Thomson Reuters solution, integration is a key advantage. “Our entire workflow is seamless, because the systems all talk to each other,” she says. “Plus, the fact that everything is paperless is appealing both to us and our clients.”

A lot has changed since Emerging Business Solutions Group opened its doors. But one thing hasn’t.

“We want to offer excellent service and give our clients something of value that helps them achieve their business goals and vision,” says Small. “To do that, we have to always be thinking proactively about how we can improve the solutions we offer. When we accomplish that, we all benefit.”

A Women’s World

If you ask Shirlene Small and Doreena Towner the impact being a women-owned business has had on their firm
, they’ll say “not much.” Other than the pride in knowing they’re two successful entrepreneurs who happen to be women. “I think it might be harder being a woman in some other industries, but we’ve never had any real challenges in ours,” says Small. “We’ve also never had any lack of opportunities.”

According to Towner, they’ve earned certification as a women- and minority-owned business all the way up to the federal level. In addition, the firm does whatever it can to actively promote women- and minority-owned businesses, in terms of staffing and even the makeup of their diverse clientele.

“We do it all very authentically,” says Small. “We’re proud of who we are and want others to have the same opportunities we have.”