Are you an entrepreneur beginning some new venture? Or are you, perhaps, the owner of an existing business that needs to find a new CPA? Finding the right accountant can be easier if you employ the following five tips:
Determine Whether You'll Outsource Your Bookkeeping
Some businesses like to do their bookkeeping in-house using an accounting program like QuickBooks. Other businesses like to assign the work to an outside service or to their accountant.
Either approach can work well, but before you choose a CPA, think about whether you want an accountant who also provides bookkeeping services. Some do. Some don't.
Often, by the way, CPAs that provide business bookkeeping services describe themselves as "comprehensive accounting firms."
Consider Your Need for an Industry Specialist
Many, perhaps even most, small businesses use a generalist accountant. But if you're in an industry with its own unique tax laws or special regulatory issues, you may want to look for an accountant who specializes in your industry.
A specialist, by the way, will probably cost you more money. And you may not like (for good reason) the idea of your accountant also working with your competitors. But if you truly need specialized industry expertise, you may want to go this route.
An industry specialist may be able to offer suggestions about industry-specific tax planning strategies, discuss industry-specific accounting solutions, and refer you to other industry specialists at banks, law firms, and consulting firms.
Forecast Your Future Requirements for Accounting Services
Basically all small business CPA firms offer tax preparation and tax planning services for businesses and their owners. And most of these firms also provide consulting services to their business clients--especially in the area of selecting, installing and operating accounting software.
Your small business, however, may need additional services such as compiled, reviewed or audited financial statements. Accordingly, you want to think about any additional services you may need a year or two down the road.
Note that you don't need to get too carried away with this sort of fortune-telling. Don't worry about what services you may need ten or twenty years from now. Both your firm and your accounting firm will have changed significantly by then. Do, however, think about the services you'll likely to need over the next two to three years. Switching CPAs every five or ten years is fine. Switching CPAs every year or two is too much work--and makes you look to CPA firms like a flakey client.
Budget Your Accounting Fees Upfront
CPAs structure their practices in a variety of ways. Some CPAs charge their clients very modest fees. Other CPAs charge their clients rather large fees.
Accordingly, you want to make sure your budget synchronizes with your accounting firm's billing practices.
Two quick comments are in order about billing practices, though. First, CPAs that charge low fees of necessity do not spend much time on any individual client's tax return or question. Understand, therefore, that Wal-Mart-like fees mean you're buying only small slices of the professional's time. (In many low-cost practices, non-CPA employees do much of the work and the CPA only checks the work product at the very end--a bit like your dentist operates.)
Second, CPAs that charge high fees should be able to provide you with a markedly higher level of expertise and or service. You definitely should get what you're paying for...
Choose a Level of Personalized Service
A final point: If you want truly personal service from your CPA, look for an accounting firm that's either a sole proprietorship or a small partnership. In either of these cases, you're likely to regularly work with the owner or an owner year after year.
If you don't care about personal service, you can work with any size firm. Accordingly, you should consider working with a less personal large firm. Personnel within a large firm tend to charge more often. But a big CPA firm delivers a big advantage to some small businesses. Big CPA firms can offer your business just about any accounting service you would ever need.
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