There is a great diagram out there. I have seen it in the context of designers, saying that clients can have their project with two of three characteristics: fast, cheap, or good.
I feel there is definitely some of this in the business world as well, but that those descriptors aren’t quite right. So, I thought it would be fun to make an Accountant’s Venn Diagram.
You can have it Cheap.
You don’t pay much. You want to pay over time (or next week). You want to discuss all the forms, time sheets, and steps involved to determine exactly how a fee was generated. You want to discuss or negotiate every bill that you get. The check is “in the mail.” You assume that staff is free and office space is donated.
You can be Absent.
You are disorganized. You have a business but have no idea what an income statement is. Forget about knowing what assets and liabilities are. You use a shoebox for anything other than storing shoes. Your record keeping is that you have “almost all” of your receipts in this box. You don’t want to (or can’t) answer questions or organize anything. You can’t return a phone call or an email in less than four days.
You can be Informed.
You have very specific ideas about how your books/tax returns/project should look. You want to understand every single option, method, and choice and the pros and cons of each. You want concrete answers to amorphous ideas. You ask for the FASB or Revenue Ruling citation. You want all the details on a strategy, and weekly updates, forever.
Having all three of these things is impossible. But you can have any two of them. Each pair creates a very different type of relationship between you and I. Let’s look at how those look, so you can know what you want or need.
Cheap & Absent
Drop your stuff off, let me at it. I promise I’ll handle it. But you’re putting yourself in my hands and you need to trust me. This is really easy and requires almost no work on your part, but you better have trust in your CPA.
Informed & Cheap
This is a teaching relationship. You will have to keep bringing things up, but I will re-explain alternative minimum tax every year for you. Most of the relationship management (and oftentimes the work) falls on you. Most of the knowledge and teaching falls on me. I coach you, but I don’t do the work for you. Great for the DIYers, but be prepared for longer lead times and to crunch some numbers yourself.
Absent & Informed
I’ll be honest. This relationship is a TON of work for me to manage. Constantly chasing you down to give you the details you asked for can be exasperating. I don’t mind doing it. I really don’t! But if you want to demand that much knowledge from me and that little work on your part, be prepared to pay. This is the classic “for $400 an hour, I’ll do whatever work you want”.
As much as this may sound like a complaint, it isn’t. There is a place for all these types of clients and relationships in a business. As long as you and I understand the parameters, we will get along great! But if you expect to have the “trifecta” I can promise you will be disappointed.