Most people make an annual appointment with their accountant on or before April 15th each year, and then don’t see them again until next tax season. Others never even bother engaging an accountant, preferring to use cheap or free accounting tools to save a few extra bucks in the short term.
But the reality is, an accountant can and should provide you with so much more than a completed tax return. A good accountant can help you make informed business tax planning decisions as well as advise against decisions that could be detrimental (and maybe even irreversible).
To determine how your accountant can best serve you, begin by asking a few questions. To help you get started, we’ve put together a short list of questions everyone should ask their accountant.
#1 Do You Offer Tax Planning Services?
Financial decisions made today can mean the difference between significant savings and a huge tax bill in April, so it’s important to know whether your accountant can advise you on these types of decisions.
Using an accountant to plan ahead can often help reduce your tax liability. He/she will be current on all the latest tax laws governing everything from asset purchases to expense rules so you can take advantage of every deduction available.
These are decisions that can ultimately affect your individual, family and organization’s finances, so it’s well worth asking if your accountant can provide you with guidance along the way.
#2 Do You Offer Business Consulting Services?
Some accountants or firms offer this type of service which often includes things like risk analysis, cash flow forecasting and strategic planning. And these can be a small business owner’s best friend.
If just starting out, an accountant may be able to advise you on the different types of entities, whether a sole proprietorship, corporation, partnership or LLC, and which would most benefit you and your organization.
Accountants well versed in this type of service can help small business owners understand how and when to expand, whether to add employees or use contractors, and how to position themselves in the marketplace.
Even better if the accountant or firm has developed a strong network of relationships with partners who can help (like insurance and investment professionals), and has experience in multiple industries so they’re better able to advise you on challenges and issues specific to your business.
#3 What’s The Best Way to Contact You, And How Frequently Should We Touch Base?
Communication Is Key
This may seem like an obvious question, but the fact is, the advice you get is only as good as the information you give your accountant. And that means keeping the lines of communication open and consistent because, as we all know, situations can pop up throughout the year and circumstances arise that can significantly affect your financial and tax position.
After reviewing your financial situation, ask your accountant how often they recommend you meet. For some business owners, a quarterly pow-wow is sufficient while others may need to touch base with their accountant monthly or even weekly. Technology like Google Hangouts, Skype and Facetime offers a convenient option when meeting in person isn’t possible, so ask your accountant whether they use them.
Finally, confirm how quickly you can expect to receive a return call or email. Some accountants are able to respond more quickly to an email than a phone call, and visa versa.
#4 Does Your Firm Offer Bookkeeping Services?
Some accountants offer bookkeeping solutions in addition to tax preparation services. This is helpful to know for a couple of reasons:
Investing in Bookkeeping Services Now Can Mean Big Savings Later
If business or personal financial transactions reach a certain level of complexity, it’s a good idea to consider using a skilled professional to mind the books. Why? Because hiring a bookkeeper up front is much easier— and far less expensive — than untangling a mess created by someone who isn’t familiar with accounting and hasn’t kept up with the most current software. Even better if the practice offers month-to-month bookkeeping contracts rather than forcing you to commit to an annual contract.
Who Provides The Bookkeeping Services?
If your accountant offers this service, be sure to ask who will be doing the bookkeeping. If a CPA or tax preparer says they’ll do all the bookkeeping as well as the taxes, you could get hit with a huge bill at the end since a tax specialist typically charges a much higher fee than a bookkeeper.
Bookkeepers should work closely and in conjunction with tax specialists, and using a firm that offers both can streamline the process, which often makes for a far more cost effective solution.
#5 Do You Offer Accounting Software Training Solutions?
If you’ve already got the capacity to handle your own bookkeeping yourself or in house, ask if the accountant offers software training. (Hint: Intuit is the hundred pound gorilla in the marketplace, so it could be hugely beneficial if they offer Quickbooks training.)
Even if you’ve got lots of experience using accounting software, it’s a good idea to keep abreast of the latest releases and features which can mean better security and increased efficiency.
If training is offered, be sure to ask whether the instructor is certified and can provide training on all versions of a particular software.
Connecting The Dots
From tax planning to business consulting to bookkeeping and training services, asking the right questions can help you understand which accountant is best able to meet your needs.
Steiner Business Solutions is an outstanding resource for all of these services and more, right here in Richmond, VA. Connect with us today to find out how we can help you connect all the dots, from planning to execution.