Of all the decisions you need to make for your small business, the choice of an accounting firm is one of the most important. Money matters are paramount and finding a competent accountant who will help you manage your finances is crucial. There is certainly no shortage of accountants who would happily take your business, and you need to carefully consider your options. This is not a decision to be made in haste.
Picking the best firm requires careful consideration of your needs. Do you just need basic services, such as year-end financial statements and tax prep, or are you interested in more in-depth financial services such as advice on retirement planning, putting together employee benefit plans or maximizing cash flow? By clearly defining your needs, you are in a better position to evaluate the different firms and find the one that best meets your needs.
Myriad services fall under the umbrella of ‘accounting’ and depending on your needs, some firms may be better equipped than others to perform more in-depth services. If you are interested in services beyond basic tax preparation and bookkeeping, carefully consider the expertise of the firm in these other more complex matters. It is also a good idea to consider how much experience the firm has in working with your particular type of industry as each has its own unique set of needs and challenges.
Qualifications and Credentials
Not all people offering accounting services are fully qualified to do so. Make sure anyone you are working with has been designated as a certified public accountant (CPA.) This ensures you are working with someone who will adhere to certain professional standards, and has achieved appropriate levels of training and education.
Look for membership in organizations such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA.) To maintain membership, accountants must undergo continuing education to ensure they are current with the myriad changes in taxes and the profession in general.
Check if firms have membership in the key practice sessions of the AICPA. To maintain standing, they must undergo peer review periodically, where another firm checks work and verifies if the firm is adhering to the standards set by the organization.
Don’t work with a firm until you can get an idea of their reputation. Online sites such as Yelp are great for finding reviews of firms in your immediate area, whether you are searching for top accounting firms in Los Angeles, New York, or any other part of the country. Ask other businesses for their experiences. Get references and check up on them.
Fees are an important part of your decision. Some services may be based on an hourly charge, while some projects may simply come with a flat fee. Many firms offer retainer-based fees paid monthly. Carefully consider your needs to determine which options are most cost-effective. To most accurately compare fees between firms, make sure you have a full understanding of how they charge to make the most accurate comparisons. If anything is unclear, make sure you ask. Do not make assumptions.