You’re out there running a successful small business. You’re serving your customers and in return they’re rewarding you with that one thing every business needs to thrive: money.
In fact, you may have started making so much money, and your business is growing so fast that it’s time to get someone to help keep track of that money. Maybe it’s time to hire a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
But where do you find a qualified CPA for your small business—and how do you know you’ve found a good one? We can point you in the right direction!
Why You Need a Small-Business CPA
An accountant is a professional who takes care of all the detailed and essential math tasks that go with running a business: They do bookkeeping, prepare financial documents like tax returns and profit-and-loss statements, and do financial planning. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accountant who also meets the educational and experience requirements of the state they live in and has passed that state’s Uniform CPA Exam.
In other words, all CPAs are accountants but not all accountants are CPAs. And while a CPA can’t make business decisions for you—after all, this is your business—a CPA can offer good advice and help you make the right decisions, in addition to handling all these tasks:
Business taxes can be confusing. Get the help you need.
- Tax advice and planning: Help your business save on taxes now and plan for future tax situations.
- Audit and assurance: Help find any problems with your tax returns before the IRS does.
- Management and consulting: Serve as your chief financial officer (CFO), help with budgeting, risk management, and preparing financial statements for shareholders.
- Forensic accounting: Dig into the books to help you prevent or discover fraud or embezzlement.
- Payroll administration: Make sure everyone gets paid on time and all the payroll withholdings are handled correctly.
- Bookkeeping: Handle invoices and accounts receivable, make sure the bills—like rent and utilities—get paid on time, and pay your vendors on time.
As you can see, a CPA can help you with a lot more than just bookkeeping or filing taxes. Now, once you decide what services you need from a CPA, it’s time to start looking for one you would actually like to hire.
How to Find the Right CPA for Your Small Business
Before you start your CPA search, decide what kinds of services you’ll need from them. Will they just handle accounting and payroll? Or will you need to hire a CPA to be your full-time, in-house financial guru? Once you’ve got that settled, it’s time to search. Here are a few ways to find the right CPA:
Search online, but check their credentials.
Whether you say, “Hey, Siri, where can I get a CPA?” or type “small-business CPA” into Google, searching online is a great place to start looking for the right CPA. In both cases, you’re likely to get a list of CPAs in your local area. Results are typically sorted by zip code, so if you live in a small town you may need to adjust your search radius to see more possible CPAs.
When searching, you’ll want to make sure the person you find is actually a Certified Public Accountant. That means they’ve passed the test and are licensed by your state. In addition to taking the test, CPAs fulfill continuing education requirements to keep their licenses active and stay up to date on all federal, state and local tax laws. If they’re going to prepare your taxes, make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
Connect with a trusted professional.
If you want to be successful, find a successful person and copy what they do. You can apply this principle to just about anything. Want to get in shape? Find a buff guy or gal and do what they did to get fit. Go ahead and piggyback on their success—you don’t have to always learn everything from scratch! And the same is true for financial advice.
When Dave started his radio show, people began asking him to recommend trusted professionals they could go to for financial help. That’s why he created the small-business tax Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) program. It’s not a bad way to start your search. These guys are local and love to talk tax planning and bookkeeping. Plus, you’re not starting from scratch—these are Dave-approved professionals.
Meet them in person.
It’s always a good idea to meet face-to-face with the person who will be handling your money. Since you will be the one who pays for it if something goes wrong, you want to make sure you can trust your CPA. If you call them up and they’re weird about meeting in person, call someone else.
If you can, go to the meeting with someone whose judgement you trust. Whenever Dave is going to hire someone for a big job (and if you need a CPA that’s a pretty big deal), he has his wife meet them. If she gets a bad feeeeeling (definitely read this in a southern drawl), he doesn’t hire that person. Dave says, “Every time I go against her feeeeling it costs me at least $10,000.”
If you’re not married, take a trusted friend or a mentor with you so you can get an unbiased opinion.
Questions to Ask a CPA
OK, so what do you ask a potential CPA during your meeting? You’ll want to ask some questions about their experience, the size of their team, and whether they have a specialty (and what that specialty is).
Here are a few questions to get you started:
1. How long have you been a CPA?
This is pretty straightforward. If you have a complicated accounting situation, you probably don’t want someone who just graduated from accounting school. Try to get a CPA with at least two years of experience under their belt.
2. Are you available year-round?
If you just need a CPA for a one-time audit or to file your taxes once, this may not seem like a big deal. But if something comes up, you want to make sure this is their full-time job, not a side hustle they work only during tax season.
3. Can you represent me in front of the IRS?
Many CPAs are also Enrolled Agents, which means if you get into trouble with the IRS, they can represent you at hearings and speak for your business. Getting audited by the IRS can feel like the Spanish Inquisition, so having someone in your corner is definitely comforting.
4. Who will I be working with?
It’s not uncommon for a CPA to have a staff that helps them. Find out how big their firm is, what the qualifications of their team members are, and how they prefer to communicate.
5. How much do you charge?
It is totally appropriate to ask about their fees and how they bill. Some services may be a straight fee-for-service charged by the job, while others might be billed hourly. Try to get an estimate in writing.
Find a Great Accountant
Hey, we don’t have to tell you that running a business is hard work. You live it every single day. We also know that most small business owners spend up to 120 hours every year on bookkeeping alone.1 That’s time you could spend serving your customers and growing your business!
We can help you find a CPA you can trust. Our small business tax Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) are all either CPAs or Enrolled Agents who live in your community and love serving their customers.