How to Find a Good CPA for Small Business (plus, CPA license check & accountant lookup)

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) strives to comply with tax laws and helps provide strategic advice to foster small business growth. This guide will help you understand the distinct roles of financial professionals, how to find a reputable CPA, and where accounting software fits in (for more basic accounting needs).

CPAs, Accountants, and Bookkeepers, Oh My!

Certified Public Accountant (CPA): A CPA is a finance professional who has passed the rigorous CPA exam and met all other state certification requirements. CPAs can perform specialized tasks such as auditing financial statements, filing reports with the SEC, and representing clients before the IRS. Their certification indicates a higher level of education and expertise, allowing them to provide strategic advice on tax matters, financial planning, and compliance with financial laws. For detailed information on the CPA certification process, visit the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Accountants: An accountant handles a business’s day-to-day financial transactions and reporting. Unlike CPAs, accountants are not required to pass the CPA exam, though many hold degrees in accounting or finance. Accountants prepare financial statements, perform internal audits, and manage tax preparation and filing. While they play a crucial role in financial management, they may not perform audits or represent clients before the IRS without CPA certification.

Bookkeepers: Bookkeepers record financial transactions, manage invoices, and maintain accurate financial records. They are the foundational layer of financial management, helping ensure that transactions are correctly recorded in the company’s books. Bookkeepers do not require the advanced education or certification that CPAs possess, and their role is more transactional compared to the strategic and compliance-oriented tasks of CPAs and accountants.

RoleEducationCertificationPrimary TasksBusiness TypeRepresent Clients Before IRS
CPABachelor’s + 150 hours, CPA examRequiredStrategic tax planning, audits, SEC complianceLarge, Public, & Complex BusinessesYes
AccountantBachelor’s degree (usually)Not requiredGeneral financial management, tax filingSmall to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Private FirmsNo
BookkeeperHigh school diploma or associate degreeNot requiredDaily financial transactions, payroll managementSmall Businesses, StartupsNo
Accounting SoftwareN/AN/AFinancial task automation, basic reportingAll, especially effective for SMEs and StartupsVia licensed professionals*

Note: Some accounting software solutions may offer IRS representation through integration with licensed CPAs or tax professionals, providing a digital platform to connect users with qualified tax filing and dispute resolution experts.

How to Find the Right CPA for Your Business

The search for how to find a good CPA should be thorough and deliberate. Here are steps to guide you through the process:

  1. Identify Your Needs: Understand what services your business requires. Do you need tax advice, financial planning, or comprehensive bookkeeping? Your needs will dictate whether you require a CPA, an accountant, or a bookkeeper.
  2. Ask for Referrals: Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. Ask other small business owners, financial advisors, or your network for recommendations.
  3. Check Credentials: Ensure any potential CPA is licensed and in good standing with the state board of accountancy. Additionally, verify their experience and expertise align with your business needs.
  4. Interview Candidates: Meeting face-to-face or via virtual meetings can provide insight into their working style, communication skills, and whether they fit your business culture well. Prepare a list of questions covering their experience, services offered, approach to financial challenges, and how they can help your business grow.
  5. Discuss Fees and Engagement Terms: Understand how they bill for their services, whether it’s a flat fee, hourly rate, or a retainer model. Clarify what services are included in their fees and any additional costs you might expect.
  6. Evaluate Compatibility: Your CPA will become a trusted advisor. It’s important that you feel comfortable with them personally and professionally. They should be someone you can rely on for honest advice and who understands the vision of your business.
  7. Financial Complexity: Before finalizing your decision on hiring a CPA, evaluate if an accounting software package, like QuickBooks Online, could adequately meet your small business’s financial management needs. Modern accounting software offers a range of functionalities that could suffice for businesses with simpler financial activities.

CPA License Check (accountant lookup) is a free, easy-to-use website that lets you quickly check if a CPA (certified public accountant) is officially licensed and if they’ve had any disciplinary issues, all in one spot. It’s ideal for small business owners looking to hire a CPA with confidence

The Role of Accounting Software vs. CPAs

Accounting software can be a valuable interim solution if your current needs are different from hiring a full-time or part-time CPA. While accounting software can serve businesses of all sizes, it is particularly beneficial for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups due to its scalability and cost-effectiveness. It’s important to note, however, that while accounting software significantly enhances financial management efficiency, it does not replace the strategic insight, compliance capabilities, and personalized advice that human professionals provide.

Now, It’s Your Turn

Selecting the right CPA for your small business is a critical decision with long-term implications. A quality CPA does more than ensure tax compliance; they can guide your financial strategy, help optimize your tax situation, and provide advice during critical business decisions. By understanding the roles of financial professionals, carefully selecting a CPA, and utilizing accounting software as needed, you can lay a solid foundation for your business’s financial health.

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