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Finding the right CPA for your business is a challenge in itself, but once you find a firm that’s a good fit for your needs, the real work begins. Beyond tax preparation and compliance, it’s important for your CPA to establish an advisory relationship with you. They should begin by getting to know what long-term financial goals they can help you with and outlining the additional services you might need over the next few years. You should leave your first meeting with a clear idea of what your CPA can do for you and what kinds of questions they can answer.

Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help you get prepared and seek out any education you might need before you take your next steps. It’s also important to get a feel for what services are outside the scope of what your firm provides and whether your CPA is comfortable referring you to someone else for a related service. We have a comprehensive scope of financial services at DHJJ, but there are still a few things (like insurance advising, for example) that we don’t do. That’s why we maintain a network of trusted business service providers we can call on to support our clients.

So how do you know if your CPA is going above and beyond basic compliance to create a proactive tax strategy? Read through these questions to get a sense of what an in-depth, consultative advisory relationship sounds like between a business owner and their CPA. If it brings up any concerns for you, you’ll know exactly what to ask about during your next call.

Questions To Ask Your CPA

1.  Who is my “team” at the firm?

Depending on the size of your business and the services you need, you may need to work with more than one specialist within the firm. Find out who will be working on your account and ask about the best ways to communicate with your team. Do you have one point of contact, or should you reach out to others regarding specific services? Is it better to email, text, or call them on the phone? Is it okay to reach out whenever you have a question, or should you schedule a time to chat? Work with your CPA to make sure you understand each other’s communication preferences and that you are compatible.

2. Can you work as a team with my other service providers?

For more sophisticated services, your CPA might need to collaborate with your bookkeeper, banker, attorney, or other business service providers. When it’s more than a matter of sharing documents and information, it may be most efficient to put them in direct contact with each other. That way you don’t have to be the messenger, and your team won’t have to wait on you to pass information back and forth. One quick introduction could save you and your CPA a lot of time and frustration! 

3. How do you see us growing together?

Whether your business is relatively new or more established, your financial operations should continue to grow year over year. There is a wide range of services to support you at every stage along the way with things like cash flow, checks and balances, your succession plan, and much more. Anytime you meet with a new CPA, ask what they anticipate your relationship to look like in the coming years. Again, they should also be suggesting other services that will be helpful as you go along, but it never hurts to uncover these possibilities early on and plan ahead.

4. What’s changing this year that might impact my tax filing?

Tax laws change every year, but there are many other kinds of legislation and regulation that can impact your tax bill. At DHJJ, we take a proactive approach by keeping a pulse on the economy and legislation being proposed for the future. For instance, a few years ago there was some talk about eliminating preferential rates on capital gains taxes. Nothing came of it, but because these changes would affect long-term wealth management strategies, we were already helping our clients accelerate their plans to take advantage of low rates while they were still in effect. More recently, the State of Illinois Family Relief Plan and additional sales tax holidays help provide relief from inflation. We knew this was coming, so we were able to help our clients start planning in advance.

5. What can I be doing now (mid-year) to reduce overall tax liability?

This is a question your CPA can only answer once they understand the structure and ownership of your business entity and they know where you are operating geographically. There are no magic bullets when it comes to saving on taxes. However, there are tax planning strategies that take time to put in place and specific deadlines to meet for things like setting up a 401(k). Once Q1 comes around, it’s usually too late to make any moves that will make a significant dent in your tax bill. 

Every CPA knows the basic tricks to catch certain deductions and “low-hanging fruit” at tax time, but more experienced accountants should be able to see the bigger picture of a long-term tax savings strategy. Ask what you can be doing mid-year and at other times of the year to lower your business tax for the March deadline.

6. What is your long-term plan for retirement, succession, or selling your business?

This is one question your CPA should be asking you. We work with clients who buy businesses with a plan to sell them after a certain amount of time and clients who want to pass their business on to their kids. We provide 360-degree support for exit planning, but some of these processes begin as early as five to ten years ahead of time. When your CPA is aware of your long-term plans, they can keep you on track to discuss these things with stakeholders and take steps like completing a business valuation well before decisions need to be made.

If a merger or acquisition is on your mind, make sure you mention this to your CPA! Even though it can take years to prepare for a change in business ownership, your CPA should be able to help you do it with the best possible timing for your business value and what’s happening in your market. One of our clients was just sold to the largest consulting firm in the US, and we’ve been working with them for the last five years to keep their eye on the prize. We made sure they didn’t have hidden tax liabilities, checked their tax filings for compliance, helped them invest in appropriate R&D, and ultimately shaped the course of their relationship with the buyer.

7. What is your outlook for the rest of 2024? What’s your biggest concern?

One of the most important parts of your CPA’s job is helping you feel confident in the decisions you are making about your business. When they know what’s on your mind, they can help you determine what’s realistic for your business and suggest things you can do to set yourself up for success. From supporting your business growth with new services to navigating a shifting economy and making big purchases at the right time, it’s always a good idea to float concerns and ideas past your CPA early on. 

DHJJ Can Help

Are your conversations with your current CPA covering these top questions, or are you realizing that you might need a higher level of service? Get in touch with us and make an appointment to meet with one of our CPAs today.

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