pointers to make it easier)
Selecting any service professional,
whether you are seeking an attorney, physician, or accountant, is bound to be a very
personal decision. Even if you are conducting the search for your business, the
decision is ultimately still a very personal one. While personality will, no doubt,
come into play, many other factors also must be measured. The credentials and
expertise of the prospective firm, for example. Your new professional ally
must have the right mix of experience and references as well as be compatible with your
business ethics, your personality and, of course, have a fee structure that is in
line with your budget.
how do you conduct a reasonable search? What criteria do you use to make your
selection? To help you in your quest, Hunter Group has compiled what we hope are a few
helpful steps and pointers to assist you:
1. First consider what services you might need from an
Obviously, your accountant will be instrumental in preparing Federal and State Tax
filings, as well as assist you with your quarterly filings and state sales taxes.
But your new accountant should be helping you to be more pro-active about taxes. Tax
planning can help you reduce unnecessary penalties, overage payments, or improve cash flow
by eliminating last minute scrambles for cash to pay an unexpected quarterly
payment. Besides taxes, you may want your new accountant to help you review your
bookkeeping, prepare financial statements, perhaps even help you install new computer
systems or locate favorable financing to help fuel growth.
An experienced CPA firm can also serve as an invaluable business
advisor on everything from banking and insurance to asset control, management structure
and even marketing issues. You may wish to look for a CPA firm to assist you with
your personal financial issues, including estate planning, personal financial planning and
investment management assistance. As you decide the services you need, as well as
those that you may need as you grow in the next two to five years, it may be helpful to
write these down. Creating a "wish list" of services will help you as you
talk to firms, and may serve as your benchmark or scorecard during your interview and
2. Determine the expertise you need, verses the knowledge you have.
Are you a financial novice, or perhaps a CPA yourself? Somewhere in between? Your
personal knowledge of business finance may have a great influence on the type, size and
service approach of your accountant. A novice may want a firm that welcomes taking
extra time to explain and nurture your business success by helping you better understand
your options. Expertise is also a factor when selecting a company based on
size. A small, single practitioner office may provide personal service, but may not
have the staff expertise you may need (now or in the future) to handle estate planning,
audits, strategic planning and other "non-compliance" type of financial
issues. If growth is on your agenda, don't downplay the importance of having these
talents available to you when they are needed.
3. Be realistic about your (or your organization's) knowledge of
experiences are different. If you are fairly novice at bookkeeping and accounting, you may
want to select a firm that has a very good communicator at the helm of your affairs.
After all, the best advise in the world will be meaningless if you can't understand what
that expert is trying to tell you. This is critical, as one poor decision can
affect many aspects of your business's health.
4. Accessibility and Service Levels. What's right for you?
"hands-on" the firm you select will be has much to do with the level of need you
may have. Some firms are well-equipped to provide this level of service, and some are not.
Will you require someone to be on call for you on short notice? Do you prefer to visit
them or have them travel to you? These issues can have a significant impact on your
important consideration: Be honest about how organized you are in financial matters.
If your new accountant will have to do extra work to bring your
financial information up to par, or if critical information is often missing when they
call for data, these practices cause delays that will impact your results--and costs. Any
good marriage begins with a combination of mutual attraction and communications.
5. Don't Underestimate the value of a Certified Professional.
is a world of difference between a CPA and a non-certified professional. The CPA has
earned credentials by study, examination and continuous mandatory professional
education. Some firms also subject themselves to periodic Peer Reviews, which are
rigorous exams performed by trained outside peer professionals. While the CPA
designation does not automatically guarantee that the professional you select will be
right for you, it does stand for a consistent standard of quality that you can depend
6. Getting your Ducks in Line.
you've done your self-assessment, and "taken inventory" of your needs and
abilities, it is time to begin the interview process. The first step, of course, is
locating a few firms worthy of further discovery. If you are in the Northern New
Jersey area, we hope that RD Hunter will be at the top of your list. Of course, you
are likely to want to explore at least two or three options. Don't choose too many
(more than six, for example), or you will likely cause more confusion in your life than
finding the "better" solution.
for finding firms on the web are vast. Rather than depending on search
engines, we suggest contacting your local CPA society. In New Jersey, for example,
the New Jersey Society provides an excellent search listing which you can find at www.njcpa.com. Remember to consider travel as
a factor. If you will be charged for travel time and require a firm to be on site
often, choosing a firm more than an hour's drive from your site could prove costly, unless
they are far above the competition.
7. Examining your Options.
list of questions is long. You interview each firm. What are the key questions
to your ultimate selection? Think about how you want a working relationship to flow
from the start. Can you trust this firm? Do they seem to know more than
you? Can you learn from them? Are they flexible in their thinking?
Are they interested in learning your business? All of these questions are important,
but don't overlook the "nuts and bolts" questions as well, including:
What is their overall mix of clients? Any in your business?
Ask for references
Ask who would actually service your business. Will a partner be on the job?
Does the accountant make conversation and ask questions that indicate an understanding in
your business and your challenges?
Does the office look successful or in decline?
Does the firm have specialists? Some smaller firms may be fine for your needs,
however you may want to have a firm that has trained expertise in specific areas, like tax
planning and regulations, estate planning, valuations, litigation, business and strategic
planning or banking. While these issues may not seem important now, they might be
very important to you in the near future. Think long term.
Ask about fees and hourly rates, including differing rates for differing levels of
expertise (don't pay partner rates for clerical work!). What is the firm's
approach to billing. Are invoices clear and descriptive? Will all engagements
be confirmed by letter prior to starting?
Are the personnel friendly and welcoming? Frustrated? Motivated or
vacant? Remember, these are the people who will be doing YOUR work someday!
Set clear parameters for your needs and ask for defined cost estimates in writing before
you make your selection. Ask who will be assigned to your work and
talk with them.
8. Make it Happen!
armed with a few good proposals and successful on-site evaluations, your ultimate decision
will be an easy and completely informed one to make. Best of luck, and above all, call us
if you need help.
PS- Let us know if this
information was helpful to you, or if we've left out an important point. E-mail your
comments to our Marketing Department at
Thanks, and good luck!
Are you visiting our site from outside the Northern New Jersey/New York area? We can
still help you.
Hunter Group belongs to CPAmerica International, an international
network of peer-reviewed CPA professional firms ready to help you. For more information about our relationship with CPAmerica
and how it can be of benefit to your company, contact their website at
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