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Whether a small business owner or someone looking for support with personal finances, we often hear questions about when and how to hire an accountant or financial professional. So we recently reached out to several AFWA members to get the answers.
When should I hire an accountant for my small business?
Stephanie Hobbs, Senior Financial Recruiter at StaffBuffalo, LLC: This varies from business to business and the financial competencies of the owner. The owner of the business’s job is to run the business and continue to help it grow. I am a huge fan of outsourcing to competent professionals, so that the owner can focus on their sole goal, to create a successful business. If the owner is financially savvy, it may be an opportunity to groom an accounting intern to take care of repetitive accounting and paperwork, while pitching in with receptionist and marketing duties. If the owner is not financially savvy, the owner should definitely have (at least) a part-time accountant or a trusted CPA advisor, who can act as an outsourced Controller. These options will be pricier, but it is well worth the cost of protecting your business and giving the owner the freedom to focus on business growth and servicing clients.
Should I hire an accountant on staff or work with a CPA firm?
Susan Adams, CPA, Shareholder, Huselton, Morgan, & Maultsby: Most small businesses benefit from working with a CPA firm prior to hiring an in house accountant. In the initial startup phase of their business, the cost of hiring an accountant can be costly to get the expertise needed. When hiring a CPA firm you get the expertise, but at a lower cost than having an accountant on staff.
Hobbs: This is a personal preference. It is a good idea to get quotes from a few different CPA firms and from an Accounting Recruiter, based on your needs, and then performing a Cost Analysis to determine which option would make the most sense for your business.
What should I look for when hiring an accountant?
Hobbs: The main things you should look for when hiring an Accountant are competencies (CPA is a necessity), integrity, communication, professionalism, honesty, and confidentiality. These factors are very important, since you have a small business that you have worked to grow and you need to protect it. You need to be on the same page as the Accountant and have them understand your business, your business goals, and both sides need to be open to new ideas and strategies. Having an open and honest relationship with your Accountant will help you work together to bridge gaps and make the right decisions for your business. The worst thing you can do is look at your Accountant as an enemy. They are there to help, remember that!
Adams: In addition to experience and a good culture fit for your company, look for an accountant who has a specialization in your industry.
What services can an accountant help me with?
Hobbs: Accountants can help with a variety of services, tailored to your business needs. Some common services include Bookkeeping, Tax Planning, Tax work, Consulting, Business Valuations, Auditing, Compilations, and Reviews.
Adams: Accountants can also provide high level CFO and Controllership services
What services can a financial planner/advisor help me with?
Michelle Gams, CFP® CLU®, ChFC®, CASL®, RICP®, Financial Advisor: Financial Planners can help with a multitude of services. Financial planning, retirement planning, retirement income distribution planning, estate planning, income tax planning, estate distribution, portfolio construction, asset allocation, simplification of finances, organization of assets.
Hobbs: A Financial Planner can also assist with financial goals and give you a roadmap to where you see your company in the future, where you want to be, and how to get there. This can be encouraging to help you stay on track and see your long-term goals, when you’re right in the middle of managing your company. Having something to work towards is always a positive thing.
What’s one mistake you see clients make the most with their financials?
Hobbs: The biggest mistake that you can make with your financials is not taking them seriously. Accountants help alert you of when you should be concerned and take the anxiety out of the “unknown”. Cashflow is a huge issue for small businesses and an Accountant can help you strategically and effectively manage this potential issue!
Adams: Not keeping records current or maintaining good records with saved receipts and invoices. I also see people mistakenly mix personal and business expenses.
Gams: Not doing anything. You must be proactive with your finances. Meet regularly with your attorney, accountant and financial planner.
Why should I hire an accountant to help with my taxes?
Gams: Because the tax laws are too complicated now. Are you getting all the deductions that you deserve?
Adams: As a business owner, there may tax changes that give you additional deductions or credits that you may not be aware of. A good tax accountant will know the regulations and keep abreast of the latest tax changes.
Hobbs: I am a firm believer that once you have income in your business, you should outsource your taxes to a professional. Taking on the task of preparing your taxes may make you feel overwhelmed and burdened with stress. It is much easier to have a tax professional take over, who knows what they are doing, and who can help. A Tax Accountant can make sure you are in compliance with IRS Regulations, making the right Tax payments through planning, and taking advantage of the credits that you deserve! As your business grows, you are more susceptible to being Audited and Reviewed. You want to make sure you’re in compliance and not recording something wrong by mistake. There are so many other things to worry about, don’t let Taxes be one of them!
What can I expect at my first meeting with my new accountant?
Adams: There should be an exchange to learn more about each other. The accountant should share her experience and credentials as well as details about her firm or company. Then your accountant should want to hear from you as a business owner, your strategic plan and goals, and your specific accounting needs.
Hobbs: You should expect to go over your business in depth, including the business structure, which includes; if you should be reporting on Cash versus Accrual basis, the potential risks of your business, and any specific questions that you have.
What can I expect from my first meeting with my new Financial Advisor?
Gams: They will require financial documentation such as previous tax documents, retirement assets, estate planning documents, banking statements, 401k and IRA statements. I rule of thumb is if it is financial, bring it along just in case. They will ask questions about your past, present and future. What are your goals? How do you envious your retirement? How is your health? They want to know both financial and personal goals. If you don’t know, but want to see where you stand, a financial planner can help you paint a picture of your current financial situation.
What should I prepare to meet with my accountant?
Hobbs: You should ask your Accountant what you need to bring with you. If you use an online cloud service to maintain your books, you can usually give them access, which will save you the time of running reports and the Accountant can help you identify potential errors quickly.
Adams: Bring along your Company’s financials and prior year tax returns if available. Also bring additional information about your company, such as a brochure or marketing materials.