Most small and mid-sized business owners rarely change accountants—even when they should.
There was the owner who was completely surprised to learn he owed $42,000 more in taxes than he expected. Another who received a nasty compliance letter out of the blue. And one who paid too much in taxes because her CPA categorized a $50,000 business loan as revenue.
Did they switch firms? No!
You can guess why. All of them made excuses based on fear. “My CPA knows my business and my industry. And it would be a big pain—in time and money—to teach someone else the ins and outs of our business.”
Don’t get me wrong. In my experience, nine of 10 CPAs do a great job for their clients. How do you know if yours is one of them?
Seven Signs of a Great CPA
Often people accept bad service because they don’t know any better. Use this checklist to evaluate the relationship with your CPA.
1. They behave proactively. These professionals request information —such as your year to date profit and loss statement—to get a good sense of your business’ performance. They also advise you well ahead of deadlines on the data they need.
2. They do more than prepare your returns. This includes meeting with you once or twice a year to stay in touch and help you plan for and minimize your tax obligations. One of these times should be during the fourth quarter, when you still have the chance to take action to address any tax opportunities or issues.
3. They do your personal as well as business taxes. That gives them a sense of your whole financial picture. Then they can make informed recommendations.
4. They speak in plain English and encourage questions. Many owners are intimidated by their CPAs! You want one who can explain smart tax strategies—without making you feel talked down to.
5. They work at a firm that’s the right size for you. Most small and mid-sized business owners don’t need a big 10 firm, such as KPMG. You’re paying too much for firepower you can’t use. You also don’t want one that’s too small. A good yardstick is that you don’t want to be the largest client at your CPA’s firm. The sweet spot is among the top 25, so you get a high level of service and attention.
6. They work at a firm with experience in your company’s stage of life/business model. Are you a startup? Are you a boomer owner who wants to retire in the next five years? Do you do business internationally or largely online? I believe people focus too much on a CPA with experience in their industry, when lifecycle and model issues are more important. Just make sure your business isn’t an outlier—such as the only manufacturer—in their portfolio.
7. They look for opportunities to refer you—and refer others to you. The best CPAs have a strong network. They watch for connections that either can become your clients, or other professionals who can serve your needs.
Are You Happy—or Dissatisfied—after Reading This List?
Of course I hope you’re pleased. Now you now know what a thorough job your CPA is doing, perhaps in ways you hadn’t really considered.
If you’re not, it’s time to think about a switch. The good news is that the fourth quarter is a fine time for this—once again, because there are still things you can do to improve your tax situation.
You don’t have to do this alone. Because we do bookkeeping and fractional CFO services — rather than compliance and tax preparation — we collaborate with lots of wonderful CPAs. If you need one, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After all, your CPA should be more than “the most expensive form filler-outer” you’ve ever had!
Wishing you lots of positive cash flow.