Q. What are the qualities to look for in selecting an accountant?

A. If we had to answer that question in one word, it would be compatibility. You need to be comfortable with the people you’ll be working with, but it’s even more important that your accountant be comfortable with your type of business. Be aware that some 85% of accounting firms concentrate on personal tax matters, and 5% are the large and mega firms that deal with big business and public corporations. Emerging and mid-sized businesses are best served by an accounting firm that focuses on organizations of their size, measured in sales volume and in number of employees.

Q. What’s the difference between an accountant and a CPA?

A. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the designation for qualified accountants in the United States who have passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and have met various educational and experience requirements as stipulated by the state or states in which they practice accounting. In most states, only certified and licensed accounts are allowed to provide attestation (including auditing) opinions to the public on clients’ financial statements.

Q. Why is it important that my accountant be a CPA?

A. Your accountant’s CPA designation is a signal to you that he or she has demonstrated commitment to the highest standards of the profession, has met the established criteria for accreditation by the established institutions of the accounting field, has continued to meet the requisite continuing education requirements, and thus has all the necessary credentials and experience to provide you with tax and financial counsel. Equally important, it’s a signal to vendors, lenders, and government, that the numbers you present have been objectively validated by a trustworthy independent source. Thus you benefit on many levels from the system of checks and balances and the additional layer of follow-through that characterize those accountants who can place the letters CPA after their names.

Q. What are my options regarding accounting services?

A. Even if you or your staff has the time and skill to maintain your company’s books and other records, you still need an accountant to set up your Chart of Accounts, to provide analysis of your financial results, to assure your compliance with all tax requirements, and to provide an objective and knowledgeable overview over the work being performed internally. This outside perspective is also your best protection against theft, embezzlement, or any type of misappropriation of your funds. Your accountant can also help you gauge whether your volume of accounts receivable and payable, payroll, and other record-keeping and reporting can be handled in house by a part-time or full-time book-keeper or whether these activities can be more cost-effectively outsourced. If internal record-keeping and related services are indicated, it’s wise to involve your external accounting firm in the hiring, training, and support for your developing accounting department.

Q. Can I pick and choose among Advocate’s services?

A. Absolutely! Advocate classifies its own activities into two categories, professional and consulting services on the one hand, and administrative services on the other. Some clients that are able to keep a book-keeper busy full-time look to us to provide continuing managerial functions for their internal departments, in addition to relying on us for tax planning and counsel, financial analysis, and our other professional services. Others zero in on the “business services” part of our name and use us as an outsource for record-keeping, billing and collections, bill paying, payroll, and other “paperwork” services in various combinations. Many professional services, such as business valuation, can be provided on a stand-alone basis. We have no “standard packages” but work with each client to determine how we can best serve your needs in a way that makes sense for you.

Q. As a start-up, how do I know what kind of company structure is best?

A. The choice between operating as a proprietorship, partnership, corporation, (or LLC, or sub S) is a critical one, and you want to make sure you’re doing it right. Rely for guidance on experts who know all about business structure. Advocate can help you determine what structural form your business should take, and can then handle the paperwork to get it done right.

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