“It’s been a crazy year, but truthfully I think everyone is kind of over COVID.” As he expresses these sentiments, Josh Shilts, President, and founder of Shilts CPA doesn’t appear jaded or cynical, but as always, quite practical.
“I serve on a taskforce with the AICPA and we’ve been dealing with the CARES Act,” he adds. “I think business is going to continue to be crazy but hopefully we’re finally rounding the corner. I do believe that COVID has not only changed the way we work, but also how we market and communicate. It’s changing and evolving some of the services that we offer. More importantly, for many it changes the customer base as far as who they can service.”
Shilts who has always subscribed to the “work from anywhere” philosophy acknowledges that his business hasn’t been as challenged as many by the pandemic and its subsequent restrictions.
“We didn’t really stumble as an organization,” he says. “What we did discover was that when people began calling us asking about PPP loans, we were actually able to communicate to a much larger audience using platforms such as ZOOM. Actually, because of COVID we’ve learned just how far our arms can reach, not just beyond where our physical offices are but across the state, and in some instances across the country because of the niche work that we do.”
Another factor that has allowed for minimal impact on his thriving business is the fact that long before the pandemic Shilts had determined to go paperless.
“Our firm has been paperless as far back as 2016, so it wasn’t as if anyone had to go to the office to recover any physical documents,” he says. “We planned our technology setup so that we would be able to provide service to anyone, anywhere. A client in California for instance, doesn’t need to take the time to send documents to me via mail, but rather upload their documents safely and securely to Citrix ShareFile for us to access immediately.”
A NEW ORDER IN THE COURT
COVID has undoubtedly brought significant changes to virtually every industry, service and profession and the justice system is no exception.
“Another interesting thing this year was testifying via ZOOM,” notes Shilts. “It’s a unique situation and I was happy to get some experience in what is possibly the way of the future. Quite frankly, this new option extended not only my but many professionals business reach. Traditionally you’d pay an expert witness if they were close, unless it was a situation of a client with deep pockets. Now, I think people realize they can start looking beyond their own geographical location.”
Appearing as an expert witness is nothing new to Shilts who, based on his many years of hands-on experience and expertise in forensic accounting and business valuation is the first call most attorneys make. It’s not just his knowledge however, but what some might describe as the subtle nuances that make him a great witness.
“One of the things as an expert, you must listen because you do not want to overtalk the attorney or whoever is questioning you,” he says. “That’s a bit more challenging in ZOOM because of the inherent lag time or delay. That means that when you’re trying to get a response or a message out, you have to be very patient. Much more patient than in a live courtroom setting. You have to control your heartrate and the way you’re speaking and make sure you’re taking those pauses. ZOOM actually reinforced that for me and I think ultimately it will make me a better witness.
“One fact that always holds true,” he adds, “is the better listener makes the better witness. A lot of experts get up there and just want to give you their spiel, but I think as an expert what you want to do is really listen to the question and understand exactly what they are truly asking. It’s not a time to get up there and give your song and dance, but rather to respond to their questions.”
An entrepreneur with more than 16 years’ experience as a CPA/ABV/CFF/CGMA, CFE, Shilts’ practice focuses on assisting attorneys as well as individuals and businesses with complex financial matters and disputes. Furthermore, his extensive and expert knowledge has him in high demand, called in on hundreds of forensic investigations. And while he’s a self-described pessimist, Shilts admits that his business has never been better.
“As a business owner I’ve always been a pessimist,” he says, “so naturally I was concerned about COVID. After briefly analyzing our firm’s operations and realizing that we were prepared in every way we could be, I turned my attention to our clients. In a heighten emotional climate with people not only worried about their health, but also their livelihood, how could our firm help? How could I help make their 2021 a brighter year? Instead of just reacting emotionally, you have to sit back, take a moment and give an intelligent response.”
As a nation we are all hoping for a quick resolution to the pandemic that hit so suddenly and ferociously, but always the student of life and business Shilts takes a more philosophical view of what we’ve endured.
“I’m always trying to understand, ‘what’s the lesson?’ that is being taught,” he says. “What can we learn that will help make us a better person or professional?”
Not surprisingly, based on his own talents, a highly qualified and motivated team and the imposing footprint he’s created within Jacksonville and beyond, Shilts reports that rather than a downturn his business has never been better.
“It was the busiest December I’ve ever had,” he says. “A lot of that might have to do with the slowdown around March and April, but we’ve also grown considerably as a firm. More people know about us and what it is we can do. We’ve added professionals so we’re able to take on more.
“For me, the greatest challenge I’ve taken on for 2021 is ‘How do I grow as a leader in the way that I communicate to my staff, clients, referrals or sources?’ For now, we’re just very thankful that we’ve been able to maintain and even grow. We have some clients who are dealing with some very tough decisions. But overall, just as we have always done as proud Americans, we are going to come through this stronger and better. We have resilience and are survivors.”