How to Find the Right Accountant: Seven Ways to Avoid Making a Costly Choice
By William J. Lynott
Picking an accountant for your business may not be as important as choosing a spouse, but it comes close. The right accountant can do much more than prepare your yearly taxes. The right person can help with advice on management decisions, growing the business, payroll management, even personal investments.
The wrong person can cost you money, cause trouble with the IRS, or allow you to miss out on important tax-savings opportunities. Here are seven tips to help you find the best accountant for you and your business:
Conduct a careful search. Gordon W. McNamee, a CPA from Upland, California, suggests seeking referrals from the professionals you already use, such as bankers, insurance agents, or lawyers, or from companies in similar lines of business. "My accountant was referred to me by a corporate attorney," says entrepreneur De'Andre Salter. "He came to me with instant credibility because he was referred by an attorney with a fine reputation."
Verify your prospect's credentials. Navin Sethi, a CPA with Rothstein Kass in Walnut Creek, California, emphasizes the importance of checking the credentials of any applicant you are considering. "Some individuals working as bookkeepers or accountants have no formal license or education in accounting," he says.
Check references. Contact your state's board of accountancy and membership organizations, says Sheila Taylor, CPA and president of the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. "If the accountant is a member of American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the state CPA society, and/or the National Association of Black Accountants, you may be able to obtain references."
Make sure you are comfortable with your accountant. Genevia Gee Fulbright, senior tax adviser for the National Association of Black Accountants, emphasizes the importance of the chemistry between you and your accountant. "Be sure that you have clear goals for your business and that your prospective accountant understands them," she says.
Look for the right expertise. There is a wide variety of specialties open to CPAs. Some work within specific industries; others prefer to work with high-net-worth individuals or corporations. "It's important to work with an accountant familiar with the tax laws applicable to your situation," says McNamee.
Consider special needs. If you have unusual accounting problems, you should look for an accountant with specialized training or experience. "If you are in need of an audit for your company, additional designations such as CFE Certified Fraud Examiner would be helpful," says Fulbright.
Don't be afraid to make a change. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself working with an accountant who isn't right for you and your business. The problem may range from incompetence to a simple case of bad chemistry. Whatever the reason, you shouldn't hesitate to look for a replacement. An accountant is too important to your success for you to compromise.