- Understand what services you need from a CPA. Despite what some people seem to think, we CPA’s are not all the same. We tend to specialize in certain areas of practice and many simply don’t do some areas of service. I don’t do audits and I don’t do personal financial planning. I know people to refer you to who do. A public accounting practice can cover a wide range of services and quite honestly if a small firm says they are “full service” I would question if they are actually all that skilled at every service they offer.
- Understand how you want to work with the CPA. Some of which is dependent on the point above. A lot of CPA’s work with a hyper local client base. This is a model that evolved pre-internet, when going to the CPA literally meant going to his office and sitting across the desk from him or her, so most of the clients lived or worked within 15 miles of the CPA’s office. A lot of people are still much more comfortable with this model. Personally, I have no geographic limitations and I currently have clients in 34 different states and 15 different countries. I will never meet most of them face to face, we work via email and cloud based tools. Neither model is right or wrong, it depends on what you are comfortable with.
- Now that you know what it is you want, talk to friends, family and business acquaintances and use Google. From this, come up with a short list of CPA’s that seem to meet your needs.
- Finally, actually have a conversation with the CPA or do some research to narrow the list down to a CPA that you feel meets your needs and that you are comfortable with. I don’t think I can overstate the “you feel comfortable with” part of that. If you are not willing to be up-front and honest with me and maybe even share all of your deep dark financial secrets and goals, you won’t get my best service, because you limit my ability to help you succeed.
Local vs Virtual CPA
Limiting yourself to a local CPA can unnecessarily limit your choices. Most services offered by a CPA can be performed remotely these days. The local accounting firm model is becoming outdated. Technology allows you to offer tax, accounting, bookkeeping and payroll services to startups with no limit on location. About the only service you will probably need a local CPA for is an audit or other attest service.
The typical old school model for an accounting firm was to service clients that live or work within 15 miles of the firm’s office. CPA’s who have limited their client base geographically have to offer a broader range of services. A firm offering services virtually has no geographic limitation. Virtual firms go deeper by specializing in areas that may be more relevant to the services you and your business really need.
The professional that has deeper knowledge of your specific needs will provide more value than the generalist. If you need a checkup, you go to your general practitioner. You go to the cardiologist if you have heart disease. Most virtual firms don’t have the overhead of a brick and mortar location. You will often find the lack of overhead helps the cloud based firm offer fixed rate fees rather than hourly billing.
Referrals and Google search are probably the best way to find an accountant. If you are the type of person who just really needs to sit down across the desk from your CPA or are uncomfortable working via the internet, then the local generalist may still be your best choice.