Not Just Number Crunching: What to Look for in a Good Business Accountant
Tax season can be a difficult time of year for small businesses. Filing taxes can exert a heavy cost in time and money, and it's easy to forget you'll need to pay your CPA on top of any payments you may owe to the government. To get your money's worth from an accountant — especially the first time your business files with the IRS — remember that selecting the appropriate group or individual is more than simply hiring someone to submit your taxes. After all, accountants often become regular advisers and consultants to their clients' businesses as they grow.
What You Have the Right to Expect
Your chosen accountant is a professional, and you therefore have the right to expect professional services and input. They should respond to all questions and inquiries promptly, and of course be professionally certified. They should be up front about all costs and fees, as well as the extent of their experience with customers in your industry. In many cases they have more initial work to set up and prepare the company for its first tax filing, and your first year fees may be more than the years following.
How to Know If an Accountant is Right for You
Small business has changed dramatically with the emergence of technology and tax incentives over the past fifty years. Likewise, so has the accounting profession itself. Today many accountants assume responsibilities beyond book balancing and submitting taxes.
Through the government there are extensive programs in place today that aid small businesses in the form of grants and loans via organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration. Researching and selecting the appropriate grants then dealing with applications can be surprisingly time consuming — even daunting. What makes a good accountant a great choice for your business is finding one with expertise in your particular field. Narrowing your short list to accountants with experience in your industry will not only ensure you don't miss out on any tax incentives, but take advantage of programs put in place to aid the growth of your business.
Questions to Ask
If your search brings you to an accounting firm with multiple CPAs, it is common practice to have your first "meet and greet" with more senior, experienced members. Be sure to raise the question of who specifically will be managing your account, as it is rarely those you first meet.
Additionally, you may be able to negotiate a deal if they do personal filings as well (most do). Ask if they will provide discounted services on your personal taxes while they retain your business account. From their perspective, business accounts have the potential to be much more lucrative, so don't be surprised if they offer to manage your personal taxes free of charge.
Do not be afraid to ask too many questions, and address every concern you have before agreeing to anything. Will you be charged every time you make a phone call? Leave a message? What about email communications? Do they offer online accounting services? What ballpark figure should you expect for your first return, and the years following? These are all standard questions they are faced with nearly every week, and their responses should be clear and concise.
As a small business owner, your ever-looming to-do-list may keep growing, making it easy for tasks fall between the cracks. Checking off financial management, tax filing, and selecting a CPA from your list will offload numerous smaller tasks (bookkeeping, payroll, etc.). Even better, it may also protect you from late filing fees, and account payables/receivables confusion, leaving more time for you to do what you do best — building your business.