Selecting any service professional, whether you are seeking an attorney, physician, or accountant, is bound to be a very personal decision. Even if you are conducting the search for your business, the decision is ultimately still a very personal one. While personality will, no doubt, come into play, many other factors also must be measured. The credentials and expertise of the prospective firm, for example: Your new professional ally must have the right mix of experience and references as well as be compatible with your business ethics, your personality and, of course, have a fee structure that is in line with your budget.
So, how do you conduct a reasonable search? What criteria do you use to make your selection?
Few helpful steps and pointers to assist you:
First consider what services you might need from an accountant
Obviously, your accountant will be instrumental in preparing Federal and State Tax filings, as well as assist you with your quarterly filings and state sales taxes. But your new accountant should be helping you to be more pro-active about taxes. Tax planning can help you reduce unnecessary penalties, overage payments, or improve cash flow by eliminating last minute scrambles for cash to pay an unexpected quarterly payment. Besides taxes, you may want your new accountant to help you review your bookkeeping, prepare financial statements, perhaps even help you install new computer systems or locate favorable financing to help fuel growth.
An experienced CPA firm can also serve as an invaluable business adviser on everything from banking and insurance to asset control, management structure and even marketing issues. You may wish to look for a CPA firm to assist you with your personal financial issues, including estate planning, personal financial planning and investment management assistance. As you decide the services you need, as well as those that you may need as you grow in the next two to five years, it may be helpful to write these down. Creating a “wish list” of services will help you as you talk to firms, and may serve as your benchmark or scorecard during your interview and selection process.
Determine the expertise you need, not just the knowledge you have in-house
Are you a financial novice, or perhaps a CPA yourself? Somewhere in between? Your personal knowledge of business finance may have a great influence on the type, size and service approach of your accountant. A novice may want a firm that welcomes taking extra time to explain and nurture your business success by helping you better understand your options. Expertise is also a factor when selecting a company based on size. A small, single practitioner office may provide personal service, but may not have the staff expertise you may need (now or in the future) to handle estate planning, audits, strategic planning and other “non-compliance” type of financial issues. If growth is on your agenda, don’t downplay the importance of having these talents available to you when they are needed.
Be realistic about your (or your organization’s) knowledge of accounting
Everyone’s experiences are different. If you are fairly novice at bookkeeping and accounting, you may want to select a firm that has a very good communicator at the helm of your affairs. After all, the best advice in the world will be meaningless if you can’t understand what that expert is trying to tell you. This is critical, as one poor decision can affect many aspects of your business’s health.
Accessibility and Service Levels. What’s right for you?
How “hands-on” the firm you select will be has much to do with the level of need you may have. Some firms are well-equipped to provide this level of service, and some are not. Will you require someone to be on call for you on short notice? Do you prefer to visit them or have them travel to you? These issues can have a significant impact on your service costs.
Another important consideration: Be honest about how organized you are in financial matters. If your new accountant will have to do extra work to bring your financial information up to par, or if critical information is often missing when they call for data, these practices cause delays that will impact your results–and costs. Any good marriage begins with a combination of mutual attraction and communications.
Don’t underestimate the value of a Certified Professional
There is a world of difference between a CPA and a non-certified professional. The CPA has earned credentials by study, examination and continuous mandatory professional education. Some firms also subject themselves to periodic Peer Reviews, which are rigorous exams performed by trained outside peer professionals. While the CPA designation does not automatically guarantee that the professional you select will be right for you, it does stand for a consistent standard of quality that you can depend upon.
Getting your Ducks in Line
After you’ve done your self-assessment, and “taken inventory” of your needs and abilities, it is time to begin the interview process. The first step, of course, is locating a few firms worthy of further discovery. If you are in the Northern New Jersey area, we hope that RD Hunter will be at the top of your list. Of course, you are likely to want to explore at least two or three options. Don’t choose too many (more than six, for example), or you will likely cause more confusion in your life than finding the “better” solution.
Sources for finding firms on the web are vast. Rather than depending on search engines, we suggest contacting your local CPA society. In New Jersey, for example, the New Jersey Society provides an excellent search listing which you can find at www.njFAR-Farhat Office & Co is the top firm for Accounting and Bookkeeping Services in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah UAE. Since 1985cpa.com Remember to consider travel as a factor. If you will be charged for travel time and require a firm to be on site often, choosing a firm more than an hour’s drive from your site could prove costly, unless they are far above the competition.
Examining your Options
Your list of questions is long. You interview each firm. What are the key questions to your ultimate selection? Think about how you want a working relationship to flow from the start. Can you trust this firm? Do they seem to know more than you? Can you learn from them? Are they flexible in their thinking? Are they interested in learning your business? All of these questions are important, but don’t overlook the “nuts and bolts” questions as well, including:
- What is their overall mix of clients? Do they have any in your business?
- Ask for references
- Ask who would actually service your business. Will a partner be on the job?
- Does the accountant make conversation and ask questions that indicate an understanding in your business and your challenges?
- Does the office look successful or in decline?
Does the firm have specialists? Some smaller firms may be fine for your needs, however you may want to have a firm that has trained expertise in specific areas, like tax planning and regulations, estate planning, valuations, litigation, business and strategic planning or banking. While these issues may not seem important now, they might be very important to you in the near future. Think long term.
Ask about fees and hourly rates, including differing rates for differing levels of expertise (don’t pay partner rates for clerical work!). What is the firm’s approach to billing. Are invoices clear and descriptive? Will all engagements be confirmed by letter prior to starting?
Are the personnel friendly and welcoming? Frustrated? Motivated or vacant? Remember, these are the people who will be doing YOUR work someday!
Set clear parameters for your needs and ask for defined cost estimates in writing before you make your selection. Ask who will be assigned to your work and talk with them.
Make it Happen!
Hopefully, armed with a few good proposals and successful on-site evaluations, your ultimate decision will be an easy and completely informed one to make. Best of luck, and above all, call us if you need help.