For many businesses, tax season provides an opportunity to get a “report card” on how the business performed the previous year. And while accountants tell us that some owners are excited to see their “grades,” others are disappointed. They suddenly see things they didn’t manage well or ways they could have improved their financial performance.
Most accountants would welcome the chance to take on the role of your trusted business advisor – someone who can help you with financial statement analysis or with forecasting to ensure your annual report card is full of good marks. Limited time or the absence of a background in finance shouldn’t keep you from extracting a wealth of information about your business from your accountant.
Based on our interaction with thousands of CPAs over the past decade, Sageworks recommends the following three steps to make the most of the time you spend with your accountant during tax time and throughout the year. Follow these and a year from now, you won’t be anxiously awaiting your “grade” but will instead have received progress reports throughout the year that helped you assess your management and provided insight to change course if needed.
Get on the calendar now. If you only meet with your accountant once a year, it’s tough for him or her to provide you with meaningful help. How often you should meet depends on which services your accountant will perform, but a good place to start is to meet once a quarter. Accountants are extremely busy this time of year, but as you meet to handle tax-return issues, ask to get on the calendar for quarterly meetings the rest of the year. During those meetings, accountants can use financial projection software and cash flow forecasting to show you how the business is tracking mid-way through the year. Just having the meeting already scheduled makes it more likely you will take the time for an interim checkup.
Prepare before you meet. Before you call or meet with your accountant, whether it’s to handle tax-return issues or to have a mid-year check-up, write down some questions you have about your business. Think about issues that are challenges: inventory levels, accounts receivable, investments in the business, cash flow, financing and industry benchmarks. Having some questions or concerns ready to discuss will make more effective use of your time with the financial professional.
Communicate early and often. Providing your accountant with information about your concerns ahead of a meeting allows him or her to be prepared with thoughtful responses rather than reacting on the fly. Send an email or leave a list of questions worth exploring at your next meeting when you pick up your tax returns. Accountants who are able to analyze your concerns can provide more complete advice, addressing your concerns and helping you boost your business’s performance.
About the Author:
Mary Ellen Biery is a research specialist at Sageworks, a financial information company that provides accounting and audit solutions. She is a veteran financial reporter whose works have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and on Dow Jones Newswires, CNN.com, MarketWatch.com, CNBC.com, and other sites.