Need a CPA? How to Find Your Perfect Match
Congrats! You’ve accepted that being the boss of your own business means some aspects can, and should, be delegated. In our opinion, learning how to do this is the key to taking your business to the next level. Finding a CPA to suit your needs can have a major impact on your bottom line, as well as your overall attitude when running your business.
First, figure out what kind of CPA you need. Whether you’re a small business owner or you’re collecting a paycheck, you know you have to file income taxes. At a minimum, you’ll want someone who can help you with that. But do you also need someone who can keep an eye on your books? Be by your side when tricky financial questions or situations arise? Hold your hand when making decisions that impact the bottom line? Once you have an idea of how much help you need, you also want to be sure you jive well with your potential partner. Let’s get real - no one would keep going to a therapist, a hair stylist, or a personal trainer they can’t stand being around. The same should go for the person you’re paying to manage your books and your taxes. It certainly helps if you like this person and you most definitely have to trust them! Finding someone who meshes well with your personality, and more importantly, takes the time to learn and understand the ins and outs of your business, is huge. At the end of the day, you should feel good about the invoice you pay and be able to see obvious value in it. So how do you make the most of selecting and working with a CPA?
Start with a self-review.
What do you already know you need from a CPA, and where are the potential areas of gaps in your knowledge? You may begin a relationship thinking you’re hiring someone to fix one problem or improve one process, but the right partner can propose even more value which may not have come to mind initially. When planning your search for your CPA ask yourself:
Who needs tax or accounting help? Yourself personally, your business? What type of entity do you own?
What stage of business are you in? Have you managed these responsibilities on your own before?
Do you have employees? Are you pre-revenue, or profitable?
Are there special regulatory aspects to your business?
Do you operate in more than one state? Did you move during the year?
How many years have you been in business and when was the last filings you’ve completed?
What did you (or did you not) like about working with other CPAs?
Did reading through those bullets give you hives, or could you answer these questions in your sleep? Either way, addressing the past year of activity will help you realize how involved you need your CPA to be, and what type of specific services will be needed.
Decide what you want the partnership to look like.
Is it important for you to have a face-to-face relationship? Or do you feel just as comfortable working with them remotely? More and more business owners are ditching the formal office setting and working from various locations and CPAs are following this trend for themselves. If you’re okay meeting virtually, you will be less limited by your zip code. Whereas if you feel the need to sit down with your CPA and spend time together in person, you’ll want to stay within a certain geographic radius.
What will your searching style be?
Are you the type of person who typically gets a restaurant recommendation from Yelp, or do you consult a friend with a similar palate? Finding the right CPA for you can be done via conventional research (ahem, google) or good ol’ word-of-mouth referrals. If a fellow entrepreneur enjoys working with their CPA and has trusted them with their business, why wouldn’t you? Or, if you’re the type who lives and dies by what you find on the world wide web, do a search of CPAs local to you. You could also find potentials who specialize in your industry, and then check out their client testimonials. What’s their digital footprint look like? Do your values align? Can you find relevant and helpful content through their website? Some people will always want to get a referral and others go with their gut after doing their due diligence online. The method of finding your professional will be what’s available and comfortable to you; the questions you ask before starting your relationship will matter the most.
Avoid gimmicks and ambiguity - understand their fee structure.
As soon as you’ve begun talking with a potential candidate, make sure they’re very transparent from the start. It should go without saying, but be wary of someone who is overpromising. Outrageous marketing guarantees to the tune of “doubling your refund” should be major red flags. You want someone who is up front about what they can offer, someone who’s worked with other companies like yours before and someone who will represent you if you were ever audited by the IRS. Once you’re comfortable with how they operate, be sure you understand what it will cost you. Do they bill on the hour? Quote per your specific needs? Fixed fee dependent on the job? Make sure you ask and understand when additional fees will apply. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re about to be charged a certain amount, only to realize you misunderstood and end up with an invoice that’s double what you expected. Got a certain number in the budget? Mention that when having this conversation. Many firms have different payment options and even timing or upfront incentives that could meet your needs.
Do they work with other clients like you?
When CPA shopping, be sure to ask what their typical client looks like. Do they work with a wide range of businesses or do they have a niche? Different types of businesses have unique tax needs, so it’s important the person you hire is familiar with the ins and outs of your business and your industry. If you’re in the CPA’s wheelhouse, they’ll ultimately understand, relate and serve you better.
What’s their level of involvement outside their firm?
One way to determine credibility, is to find out how involved they are in their industry outside of their own firm. Do they do any volunteer work? Are they members of a professional organization or state association? Some to look for are the National Association of Tax Professionals, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or the National Association of Enrolled Agents. Most groups like these have a professional code of ethics, professional conduct requirements and certification programs - all check marks in the right column.
Find out what they’ll expect from you.
Not all CPAs operate the same way. Some work better with clients who keep their own books in a pretty little package and expect the accountant to simply double check and prepare and file the taxes. Others are more willing to dig deep and help their client assemble those books in the first place, filling somewhat of a bookkeeper role. Most CPAs understand that many small businesses run lean, and may not have someone tidying their receipts and expenses often, and they’re willing to jump in and take on that task. This will likely affect your overall invoice at the end, so make sure you’re aware of what bucket this type of work fits into and how you’ll be charged.
Now that you’re equipped with the tools and questions necessary to hire your first (or a new) CPA, it’s time to get hunting! Leave the dirty work up to a licensed and trained professional, so you can spend more time growing your business and know you have a trusted resource and partner in your corner. When the sun goes down, it’s best to go with your gut. The goal is to bring someone on board who you trust and who you like, and who you don’t feel dumb relying on with your tricky questions.