I had a very nice reader email me my thoughts about what to look for in a CPA. They were looking for someone local to their area. Offered without comment is my response to her:
As for finding someone my advice would be to make sure that you pick someone you get along with, first and foremost. If you have different work styles, generational gap, cultural issues, or just a funky vibe keep looking.
The next most important thing is to make sure that your interests and the interests of the person you are hiring are aligned. What I mean by this is, how do they bill? What other services do they offer? If they bill by the hour, then you might hesitate to call, for fear of getting a bill you can’t/don’t want to afford. This can cause you to not seek out advice when you need it! This is why I bill, and advise you to find someone who does also, on a flat fee basis. When I quote a price for a tax return, it includes tax projections throughout the year, unlimited tax questions, etc. I find it easier for everyone to just have one price to “be your guy”. It also makes sure that I do things right the first time and explain everything clearly and well. Because if I don’t, it makes more work for me, which I do not get paid for!
Find someone who takes the time to understand your business, and who works with people like you. I do not mean someone who is in the “widget” business like you are. CPA work is, for the most part, industry agnostic. What I mean is, if you work on a paper system, make sure he/she understands that. If you like face to face meetings, he/she should too. If you live most of your life online, your adviser should understand the ins and outs of how that works. In addition, when you interview them (and you should) they should be asking insightful questions that demonstrate they have a grasp of what you do to make money.
Lastly, look for professional education and designation. I would suggest a CPA, I think they are the best equipped to handle these things. I might be biased in making the recommendation though Additional education and designations are great as well. Not because of what they mean, per se, but it shows a drive to go above and beyond that can be very positive.
What to avoid:
If you don’t understand what they are advising you to do, stop and ask them to clarify. If they struggle to explain it in a way you understand it stay away. This is a dead giveaway they don’t know it very well either.
Avoid people that seem to just be agreeing to fill in forms for you. Someone in your position needs so much more than forms prepped. Make sure they understand this and will offer suggestions, ideas, and insights into your business. A good adviser knows the problems you will face better than you do and will take steps to help protect you before you even know you need it. If they are reactive, not proactive, stay away.
The best place to start, in my opinion, is with people you know. See who other business owners are using. Talk with your local chamber and see who is active in the community.
That being said, I would be happy to try and answer questions you might have that are specific to your business or financial situation in general. I love working with people who have the drive to start “side businesses” and the smarts to make them successful!
Don’t forget the special offer that I am doing right now. If you get in touch with me and let me prepare your taxes via dropbox or Evernote, I will give you 25% off my normal price! This won’t last forever, so give drop me a line soon!