Avoid these five pitfalls when choosing the best accounting firm

by: James P. Gero, CPA, CGMA

Creating a lasting partnership can be tough… especially when it involves a complicated field like accounting and auditing. You want to find a perfect match for your long-term business needs, but how do you feel confident that you’re making the right choice?

Honestly, it depends on your business culture, your specific needs and what you want out of the relationship with your accounting firm. Some businesses are looking for a broad range of services, education and collaboration with their CPA partners. Others simply want specific jobs done and done right in a timely manner.

While there may be no universal factor that dictates an ideal match for everyone, there are certain pitfalls that could trip up any business in their search for the right accounting firm. Know what mistakes to avoid ahead of time, however, and you’ll be best positioned to make a choice you won’t regret.

Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Overlooking specialized experience. There are some accounting services that just about any CPA firm can do without much trouble. Alternatively, there are some services that very few firms have the expertise or relevant experience to perform… whether they readily admit that fact or not. When you’re choosing a firm, find out whether they have experience working with your industry or with companies like yours. Also, find out if they have specialized offerings that might benefit you—business valuation services, for example—that not every firm offers.
  1. Looking past certifications. Experience is important, but so is expertise gained from specialized certification programs. “CPA” is only the beginning. Don’t fall into the trap of glossing over the various letters following accountants’ names; they may speak volumes about their abilities if you take the time to decipher them. Consider, for example, Louis Loparo’s designation as a CPA.CITP. This means he is a Certified Information Technology Professional and a CPA, and it also means he is able to leverage current and emerging technologies to help clients improve their businesses by refining existing accounting systems, implementing new ones and finding solutions to any problems they face. Few accountants have these capabilities, so don’t forget to consider them when you’re comparing your options.
  1. Not analyzing fees carefully. This is a pretty basic consideration, as many people’s minds jump quickly to pricing when analyzing options (whether it should be the most important consideration or not). Find out up front how an accounting firm is going to charge you to determine whether it is a good fit for you. Some firms charge flat fees per-project; other firms charge by the hour or minute. Which one will suit you depends on how straightforward your needs are, whether it is most important to minimize costs or to know what to expect, and how closely you want to be able to collaborate with your accounting partners.
  1. Undervaluing service. It is easy (and common) for many accounting firms to claim to deliver excellent service, but it is less often the reality that those promises are fulfilled. When choices are made strictly based on price or promotions, you run the risk of finding someone who might get a job done, but won’t invest the effort necessary to become a valued advisor invested in your long-term success. Service can come in many forms, too. It could mean accountants being readily available when you need them, listening carefully and understanding your needs. It could mean partners making a personal connection with you so that you feel comfortable working with them. It could mean the accountant going above and beyond the minimum in the relationship, providing advice and value that will be beneficial beyond the project at hand. No matter how you define it, be sure you’re elevating great service as a “must have” on your list.
  1. Not thinking long-term. When we are looking for a business partner, we are often focused on short-term desires. We want a cost-effective option. We want someone experienced. We want someone who will collaborate with and educate us. There is nothing wrong with any of that. What you will likely find once you become a client, is that you want someone who is going to deliver what you need when you need it, as promised. Ultimately, we want a partner that provides strong, timely results… but we sometimes take that for granted when analyzing our options. You just need to take the time to read reviews, view testimonials and ask for references to know if a firm follows through on its promises. If a firm is going to be able to deliver great results, someone should be able to confirm it easily!

Whatever your needs, simple or complex, don’t become a victim of these pitfalls. Think ahead, ask questions, do a little extra research… and you’ll ultimately find the right fit for your business.  Have questions?  Contact us by phone at 216.524.8900 or via email at info@hobe.com.