Why You Want a CPA, Not An Accountant

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t CPA just a fancy term for an accountant? No. CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant, which means she’s passed the CPA exam and met her state’s certification and experience requirements. An accountant has not done that. That’s not to say she isn’t experienced in bookkeeping or can’t read a financial statement, but she is not certified by her state. And that’s what you want, someone who is certified.

The Search Is On

So how do you find a CPA?

Start out by looking for personal referrals. If you have a friend you trust, maybe he has an accountant he trusts. It’s a good place to start.

You can also check in with your state’s CPA society. That’s right, we gather in packs. The CPA society works with large and small firms alike. It would be easy to find one that fits your business style and budget.

Before You Call

Before you contact any of the CPAs, figure out what you want. Are you looking for weekly bookkeeping or monthly reconciliations? Do you need someone to deal with the annual tax filings and quarterly estimates? Do you need help preparing financial statements?

You may need some or all of these and it’s important to know what that is before comparing service providers. Ask you business-owner friends about this. You might ask your business banker as well if they have some ideas. You need to be comparing apples to apples.

When you shop around I would not automatically take the lowest price. You are buying someone’s time (whether it’s of the CPA themselves or someone they supervise) so if the price is very low, then a few things may be going on like using very inexpensive staff, taking shortcuts or just not giving that much attention. It’s always okay to ask, “How are you able to offer a lower price than competitors?” These people are accounting professionals, if they are not able to answer with a sound business reason it stands to reason that they are very likely taking it out on the client service end.

If price is an issue, it’s sometimes a good idea to look for a CPA who has just started his or her own practice. By definition, a CPA has to meet certain educational and experience requirements, so whoever has the license is qualified to help. Usually, these types of people are entrepreneurial like you, are hungry to establish their book of business, and maybe more affordable even than a comparable CPA who works within an established firm. The added bonus is depending on how old you are, getting connected earlier on in both of your careers can lead to a long-standing relationship, which often leads to reasonable fees and good service in the long run.

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