It may seem a bit early, but it truly is the time to find the right CPA, if you don’t already have one. Don’t wait until next January. Tax savings and smart business decisions occur all year long. I have a colleague in another community who gripes about her current CPA/lawyer. The lack of sufficient business and tax advice has landed my friend in an IRS audit that seems endless. I urged her to start weaning herself over to a better CPA. She keeps saying, “After this audit.” In the meantime, she still doesn’t have good tax or business advice and is blithely at risk of unknowingly making bad business decisions. For her and for you, the right time to find the right CPA is now.
In addition to delivering accurate, timely personal and business services in reports, tax filings and more, your CPA should provide a range of important services that can improve your business or wealth.
Reputation — Ask around town. When you get four mentions for the same CPA, add that one to your list. When you have at least three CPAs on your list, start interviewing. Don’t be shy about making appointments. If they won’t spend time with you now, that’s a clue that they may never have the time for you.
Your CPA should be well connected in the business community. When they are, their contacts can also help you grow your business.
Commitment — You should also feel that your CPA is interested in and deeply knowledgeable on the standards that govern their profession. Look for a long track record of providing quality service, as well as active memberships in national and state professional organizations, both of which demonstrate commitment to their profession.
If it is not a one-person office, look for commitment to their staff. They should provide innovative training programs, flexible schedules, competitive benefits and other aspects of attracting the best and the brightest employees. Look for low turnover because it means their services will be more efficient and cost-effective.
Expertise — Ask the CPAs questions relevant to your industry or tax situation. Just like lawyers, CPAs can specialize in various industries. My friend’s dismal CPA/lawyer specialized in my friend’s industry but fell short in many other respects. You want to be sure your CPA knows the tax laws that apply to your particular industry or situation, but don’t let this be your sole qualification.
Better yet, you want your CPA to have a wealth of business experience. He or she should think strategically about how you can grow your business. They should also be proactive in helping you assemble a tax plan that legitimately allows you to keep more of what you earn.
Accessibility — Is this CPA available when you need him or her? This trait may be difficult to determine based on one interview. Listen for the clues. How quickly will they fit in a face-to-face meeting with you?
Defense & Protection — How much experience does this CPA have in working with the IRS on a client audit? Odds are that you won’t be audited, but when you are, you want a very strong CPA in your corner. Better yet, you want a CPA whose returns are never audited.
If you are engaged in a business, your CPA should be interested in your business’ financial controls and procedures. A great CPA can help protect your business by explaining and assisting with internal controls that help you detect errors and other bad news.
Connection — Look for a CPA with whom you feel a connection. This connection will include effective communication. Your CPA should be able to explain things to you in a way that you understand them. If you find yourself nodding vaguely and hoping you will catch on soon, cut the meeting short and move on to the next one. My friend should have done this. Instead she blindly trusted her CPA/lawyer to be telling her all she needed to know.
Your CPA should be candid in their conversations with you. You need someone to warn you if you are headed in the wrong direction, why that is so, and what to do instead. He or she should be the objective business advisor who doesn’t have a dog in the hunt.
In the final decision on whom to hire, you should feel the CPA you have chosen is genuinely interested in your business and enthusiastic about working with you to reach your goals. You should feel that your calls will be welcomed. You should feel good about choosing him/her.
If you would like a copy of my list of 50 questions to ask when interviewing a CPA, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.