graph, chart, spreadsheet collageFinancial professionals and accountants are crucial to the start-up of your business and most importantly they are not only for tax time!  They can help you with the financials for your business plan, create a budget, recommend bookkeepers, and provide financial advice.  Finally while starting your business, they can recommend various financing methods.

There are several types of financial professionals, each with varying degrees of knowledge and expertise.  Accountants will help you handle your books and financial records and give you financial advice.  In addition, they can help you prepare your tax returns.  A Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, essentially can do the same thing.  However, a CPA has taken state exams and is licensed or certified by the state to have met a certain level of expertise.  CPAs, unlike accountants, are able to file your taxes as a “paid preparer” and audit your financial statements.

There is also a financial professional called an “enrolled agent.”  An enrolled agent is not an accountant, but someone who understands federal and state tax laws, has taken an exam, and can file your tax return as a paid preparer.  Oftentimes, enrolled agents are former IRS employees and do not have as much general financial knowledge as a CPA.

When choosing a financial professional…

There are many issues to consider when choosing an accountant.  Like your attorney, it is important that you choose a professional who understands both you and your business and communicates well.  Since you will be spending a lot of time with this person, it is crucial that you choose someone that you get along well with.  Above all, your accountant must be knowledgeable, and you must have a trust relationship with them.

A particularly major consideration when choosing an accountant is bookkeeping.  You will need to need to find out what bookkeeping software your accountant uses.  It can simplify tax preparation if both your business and your accountant use the same program.  Additionally, you will want to find out if your accountant offers bookkeeping services and bookkeeping software support or works closely with someone who does.

You will also want to think about if they are in a partnership or working alone.  An accountant in a partnership will have several other colleagues that they can turn to for a second opinion should the need arise.  Think about the amount of time that you will spend with your accountant and consider their office location relative to your business.  You will probably want someone who is relatively close by.

Similar to choosing an attorney, ask those you respect in the industry for referrals of accountants that they use.  For business biographies on several accounting practices in the Pittsburgh area that Enterprise has experience with, click on the links below.

When conducting interviews with accountants…

After selecting several accounting candidates, you will want to interview them as you did with your attorney.  Ask yourself the following questions during the interview:

  • Do they seem to be honest and trustworthy?
  • Do they seem to be ethical?
  • Do you get along with this person?
  • Are they knowledgeable?
  • Are they certified by the state?
  • Do they work alone or have several partners?
  • Are they interested in teaching you or helping you to understand the financial direction your company is and/or should be going?
  • Do they return your calls or respond to your requests in a timely manner

Ask your interviewees for credentials and references.  Double check their credentials and interview their references.  Make sure that your accountant adheres to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP.  Ultimately, you are responsible for your business’ finances and taxes.  During your interview, you will want to ask them:

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Are you a certified public accountant?
  • What services do you offer?
  • Do you have a specific bookkeeping software that you or your firm works with?
  • Do you offer bookkeeping services?  If not, are there bookkeepers that you work with and would recommend?
  • How large is your accounting firm?
  • How often do you recommend that we meet?
  • Are you available for quick calls or should I save my questions for our meetings?
  • What industries do you specifically work with?
  • What kinds of clients do you work with?
  • How many of your clients are small businesses?
  • Do you have any references?
  • What is your fee structure?

After discussing with them the needs for your business, ask them for an estimation of how much time you will need to meet with them monthly and the cost of that time.  Decide on an accountant only after considering all candidates.

For more information on accountants, visit the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants at

Click here to see a listing of related ESBRC Books.