For even the smallest business, choosing the right CPA can be a major step toward minimizing taxes and maximizing profits.
Here are five easy steps to make the process a smooth one:
1. Determine your needs. Before you begin your search, decide what you’re looking for in a CPA. Do you need bookkeeping functions provided? Are you looking for a CPA to simply prepare your year-end federal taxes or generate financial reports?
2. Begin the search. Ask friends, professional associates, and your other business advisers for names of CPAs. Surf the Internet. Many CPAs maintain Web pages that show their area of specialty and the types of accounting functions performed. If you belong to community or trade associations, look through membership directories for possible names.
Once you’ve found several names, make initial calls to arrange meetings with each candidate. Many CPAs offer free initial visits. To be sure, simply ask over the telephone, “Will there be a charge for this first visit?”
3. Do your homework. Don’t go to the initial meeting empty handed. To fully understand your accounting needs and the condition of your business, the CPA will most likely want to see some financial records. Take your most recent federal tax return, including all schedules and forms. Also take a copy of your general ledger and a current financial statement if available. Bank statements for the current year can also be useful.
5. Ask questions. The first meeting generally lasts about 30 minutes. This is the time to find out if you and the CPA make a good match, so don’t be shy about asking questions. Look for someone who expresses an interest in your business and who understands the financial intricacies of your specific industry.
Ask about the accountant’s experience with self-employed business owners. Don’t leave that first meeting without asking about fees. Ask specifically how you will be billed. Is it an hourly rate? How are telephone calls billed? Are there steps you can take to save the CPA time and therefore help reduce your accounting costs?
5. Get references. Finally, ask the CPA for the names and telephone numbers of several clients who operate businesses similar to yours. Then call them. Ask those clients if the CPA delivers work on time and on budget. Find out if telephone calls are promptly returned.
National Tax Advisor
National Association for the Self-Employed
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