How do I find the right accountant to help my business grow?

In a world of specialists, your accountant should be very knowledgeable about your specific industry

Lance Barrett

Turbo Tax, Liberty Tax, H&R Block, big CPA Firm, small CPA firm – every business owner has so many options. The multitude of options in accounting has universally diluted the perception of accounting services for small business owners who are looking to find a reliable individual or firm who can assist their needs. In today’s world, with progressive technology, tax returns can be filed by downloading an app on your smartphone. It is important to do your homework.

How much should an accountant cost? Is it important to work with a firm who specializes in your industry or business? The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” stands true when looking for the right accounting firm to assist you. Certified Public Accountants are a step above bookkeepers and enrolled agents because of college degree and licensing requirements, continuing education and training, regulatory requirements and peer review. We recommend at a minimum having a licensed CPA or tax preparer assist in the preparation of year-end filings for all small business owners.

In a world of specialists, your accountant should be very knowledgeable about your industry. Accounting firms that have specific industry niches is another great clue for a business owner who is in search of the right firm to work with.

Your accounting firm/CPA should be part of your trusted advisory group. What is a trusted advisory group? A trusted advisory group is a business owner’s affiliated partners. This typically includes their CPA, banker, attorney and insurance agent. Utilizing this group can provide tremendous value in helping business owners make strategic decisions as they grow.

Certified Public Accountants can be incredibly skilled business advisors. Your CPA, if they are business savvy, can possess exceptional traits beyond traditional accounting and tax work. CPAs can assist in areas including business planning, strategic leadership, succession planning, business entity planning, systems implementation and much more.

Most accountants have the advantage of hands-on experience with many businesses from a wide variety of industries. Your accountant also has access to information such as local trends and general benchmarks that can help you better understand where your business sits in relation to others of its type. Needless to say, such accountants understand the financial aspects of a business and can help improve business results by identifying areas where improvements can be made, and applying their knowledge on how to make those changes.

For many business owners, their accountant is typically their most trusted advisor – the one who understands their business better than all other advisors. Accountants work hard to keep business owners compliant with taxes, rules and regulations. They seek strategies to lower taxes, to help you understand financial information, and to help you grow when the time is right. An accountant may be called in to assist with estate planning, purchasing more equipment, opening another location or bringing on more employees. A good, proactive accountant will do these things for their clients. Because accountants have such a solid understanding of the financial side of the business, they can be among the best business advisor any small business owner can turn to.

Finding the right accountant begins with trust. If you find that you don’t trust a person, they should not be advising you. A great way to determine in the beginning whether or not an accountant is right for you is to pay attention to how they conduct their first meeting. Do they spend most of their time talking about themselves, how they can help, their experience, etc? While that may seem to be the expected thing to do, it shows a self-focus. You want to work with someone who is focused on you – one who takes the time to understand who you are, what you’re trying to accomplish and what your issues are. An accountant who walks in the door and tells you about how they can help, without having first taken the time to understand who you are, may not be the right person for you. How they behave at the first meeting is a good indicator of how they will act in the relationship. If at the end of the first meeting you don’t feel they really understand what’s important to you, keep looking for an accountant you can trust.

Lance Barrett, CPA, is founder of Barrett & Company PLLC in Camas. The firm specializes in the construction and manufacturing industries, providing accounting and business advisory services for closely held businesses in both Oregon and Southwest Washington. Barrett can be reached at 360.210.5100 or lance@barrett-cpa.com.

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