Selecting The Right CPA Firm

Alright, despite the bad pun, one of the most stable recommendations given to business owners for decades has centered around the idea of having a team of professionals to help you grow and maintain your business.  The “big three” as we like to call them are:  your attorney, your bookkeeper, and your CPA.  Choosing each of them is a challenge unto itself, but today, we’re going to discuss choosing the right CPA or accounting firm to help you handle financials in your growing business.
First things first – can you communicate with them?

All the jokes about “beancounters” aside, one of the most important qualities your CPA can display is the ability to communicate with you.  A great piece of advice given to me long ago was to select an accountant that was close in age to you – they would be going through similar life changes at the same time, have kids, have families, enjoy some of the same things that you do – today, this is just as important – do they understand that you might need to send them a text? (we’ll talk about technology in a minute!). 

This is going to sound selfish, too, but if you are 30 and your accountant is 60, you’ll need to be looking for a new CPA in just a few years – your guy is going to be retiring and doing everything but handling taxes.  Of course, many small business owners use a larger accounting firm to handle taxes and there is nothing wrong with that, but, at the same time, be cautious about going with a really big firm – it’s likely your company will simply be another number and your ability to get personal guidance and service will be limited.  A junior partner that you never meet with will handle your account and too much of the communication and knowledge you need to succeed will be lost.  We know of one firm in Georgia that refused to answer any questions from a long-time client unless the phone call was billed.

Will They Save You Money?

Let’s face it, the only reason most people have accountants is to try to save money on taxes.  U. S. Tax law is complex and when you are a business owner, understanding what to itemize, write off, which Schedule to use, and a host of other tax-related tasks can be daunting. This was one of the key reasons we began a strategic partnership with Jim Appelt owner of Appelt & Associates CPA Firm .  One of the most impressive qualities of working with Jim is that he tends to save client’s money before even starting to work with them. How?  Jim takes a deep dive into how his clients structure their business, what their previous returns looked like, and how they plan to grow their company in the coming years. 

Are they Proactive or Reactive?

Another key consideration when choosing a CPA is their thought processes.  By nature, accountants tend to be conservative and, given the fact that the majority of the reporting they come into contact with is reactive data – reports of what has occurred instead of forward-looking statements, this is understandable. 
At the same time, you can tell a lot about a potential CPA by finding out who their clients are – your network of associates may be able to recommend a fantastic CPA that is really focused on small businesses in your area or sector.  It’s unlikely that a CPA is going to give you a list of clients, but you can absolutely ask about the annual sales volumes of their average clientele to help you make informed decisions.  Accountants that handle established businesses may not be the best choice for small start ups and, if your growth plan will require changes to your entity structure within a short time frame, this is a good point to bring up and discuss when selecting a firm.  Can they help?  How do they react when you discuss fast growth and potential changes?
These are clues that can help you determine if the firm is right for your business.

How Busy Are They?

Of course, in the middle of tax season, any accountant is going to be busy, but, barring those pivotal points in the year, is your new CPA going to be able to provide financial advice?  Can you schedule meetings with them or are they booked solidly for weeks in advance?

These can indicate that they are actually too busy for you, even if they won’t admit that.  If you get the impression that they cannot provide the service and accounting guidance that you need, thank them and keep looking.  You need a professional that is happy to see you and will make the time to see any client, no matter how big or small.  At the bare minimum, you should be meeting with them at least once a quarter for your company’s taxes and to review any financial challenges.

What Platform Do They Use?

There’s been a veritable revolution in accounting in the last decade due to technology.  Intuit, Xero, and loads of other companies all offer accounting and bookkeeping software for professionals and small businesses, so it pays to know that the software you and your bookkeeper use is one that your CPA firm either uses, recommends, or is familiar with. 
If they use a “custom” solution, chances are, it doesn’t integrate with the software you’re familiar with and that can mean extra costs for preparation, the chance of transcription errors, and, ultimately, difficulty for you and your bookkeeper to understand what a given report is saying.  At the same time, it’s worth making sure that a potential accountant is comfortable communicating with you the way you choose to communicate – do they prefer to meet at their office?  Email?  Skype?  Text? 
All these things can make your relationship with your accountant more comfortable and profitable for you and your company and are worth knowing before you begin working together.

It’s easy to find someone to handle tax preparation, but finding an accountant that can help you to grow your business and keep more money in your pocket with sound financial advice is much, much harder.  Take the time to vet anyone that will occupy such a critical role in your livelihood and create a relationship that can last years.



By: Chris Groote

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