Even if you employ a bookkeeper or an office manager to handle your day-to-day finances, you’ll want to cultivate a strong working relationship with a tax accountant.
“The best thing you can do [for your small business] is work with your CPA on a proactive basis,” says Robert Gambardella, a Shelton, Conn.-based CPA and co-author of the book Secrets of a Tax Free Life. “Find someone who is more than just your tax preparer. You really need a year-round trusted adviser.”
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently spoke with Gambardella and other CPAs who echoed his sentiment. They offered the following five tips for getting the most out of your partnership with your tax accountant.
1. Be sure your CPA is right for your business. You wouldn’t choose a life or business partner without vetting them first, so don’t go with the first CPA you meet or the one who quotes you the lowest fee. “Spend the time up front in the selection process to find a CPA who has the approach, values, and feel that you are looking for,” advises Wilmington, N.C.-based CPA Adam Shay. “Consider someone who uses value-based or fixed-price approaches,” he advises, so you don’t have to worry about billable hours piling up. Tucker, Ga.-based CPA Andrew Poulos stresses that it’s important that your accountant has experience in your industry, too.
2. Keep in touch throughout the year. You should check in regularly with your accountant, even if you rely on his or her services most actively at tax time. “An accountant working with a small business hands-on throughout the year can sometimes be the difference between success or failure,” Poulos says. Not only that, but tax season is not the best time to choose a new accountant. “Finding a CPA when they are in the middle of the busiest part of the year is not the best way to start,” cautions Holliston, Mass.-based CPA Alfred Adovasio.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In addition to tax preparation and related services, your CPA should be willing to help you understand your financials and help you become more profitable, says CPA Denise Bergin of Lawrence, Kansas. “Keep in regular contact with your CPA about tax planning, new revenue ideas, and cost-saving strategies,” Gambardella adds. “Review your actual results against a budget. That way, you will know what is going right and what is going wrong.”
4. Make technology work for you. Sharing financial data electronically with your accountant has never been easier or more secure. “[Use] cloud-based technology so you can easily and quickly share data,” Shay recommends. And, of course, there are many other tools that can help you stay on top of your business’s financials and overall health. “Your accountant should help you keep up-to-date with the latest technology,” Bergin says.
5. Provide constructive feedback. As with any of your business affairs, you should communicate proactively with your accountant. “We like clients who care about their financial situation and bring items, large or small, to our attention when they occur — not after the fact,” Adovasio says. Just as you relish kudos from your clients and customers, so does your accountant. In fact, November is Accounting Appreciation Month, so it’s the perfect time to give your CPA the recognition he or she deserves.
Ultimately, the more clearly and regularly you communicate with your accountant, the better working relationship you’ll have with them. “I am in the process of starting my own accounting business, and I am surprised at the confusion and frustration that many small-business owners experience when working with their CPAs,” Bergin says. “It’s time to take charge!”