hiredNot having a good accountant/bookkeeper may not break your business, but having one on your team sure helps!  A good accountant can have a HUGE impact on your bottom line.

Because they handle your money, choosing one is a big decision and should not be taken lightly.  Take your time — if you are feeling pressure to decide, this may not be the person or firm for you.

To help you along, here are a few questions to ask the prospective accountant (or accounting firm).

1.  How many years has the accountant been in business? With the constant changes in the tax laws and accounting reporting requirements, someone with a minimum of 5 years experience is ideal since you want a business/firm that has been around and won’t go under on you.  You don’t want a fly-by-night operation that’s here today and gone tomorrow.

2.  How many years of experience does the accountant have? Again, a minimum of 5 years is ideal…however, industry specific experience of 2-3 years is a good start.

3.  What industry are they proficient in? Depending on your industry, this question could be vital. You want an accountant/bookkeeper who knows the red flags for your industry as well as what to look for when reviewing your financial statements & taxes for errors.

4.  What is their response time and communication style? Response time should ideally be within 24-48 hours as a business courtesy; however, communication style is up to you. You should lean toward someone that communicates via similar media/channels as you. For example, if you are proficient and comfortable with email/Instant Messenger communication, but your accountant is not…you may have an impasse regarding responsiveness. So keep communication channel preference in mind.

5.  What is the size of the firm? This only matters in terms of services needs and responsiveness. If you are looking for a “one-stop shop” for bookkeeping, accounting, payroll and taxes… someone that only does bookkeeping is not going to be for you in terms of service.

If you need quick turnaround for certain items, a 20+ person firm may not be for you. On the other hand, if you need 20 financial reviews done simultaneously, a 2 person firm may not be for you in terms of responsiveness.

BONUS – What is your comfort level/rapport with them? This isn’t necessarily a question to ask the prospect but rather something you should ask yourself prior to signing a services agreement. You want to have a certain level of comfort with them, after all, they will be handling your business’ money & financial affairs… so if something just doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it.

Having the answers to these questions is a good foundation for making this decision…If you need help or you have questions, please contact us. We’d be happy to help.

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About The Guest Blogger:  Joyce M. Washington, CPA

Joyce is a CPA who has spent the better part of almost 20 years honing her craft as an accountant with various companies in the Greater Baltimore-Washington, DC area – growing, mentoring and managing accounting teams. It’s this experience that she brings to services and training programs, including QuickBooks Basics.

Website:  http://www.thecommoncents.com

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/thecommoncents

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/thecommoncents

Here are five keys that can guide you to success using QuickBooks in your business.

1. Setup. If you were having a house built, you wouldn’t just get out there with a hammer and nails and start winging it. You shouldn’t wing it when you set up your books in QuickBooks for the first time, either.

Find an accountant or a QuickBooks expert who can structure your accounts in QuickBooks in a way that will serve you well over the long haul. Like remodeling a house, making major revisions to your QuickBooks company after the fact can be difficult and expensive.

If you are just starting out, QuickBooks Online Edition is easy, affordable, low-maintenance, and has the advantage of being available to you anywhere, anytime. The QuickBooks Online Setup Service can get you started right.

2. Security. QuickBooks touches private individual information like social security numbers, and sensitive financial data like bank accounts, credit cards, and financial statements.

You don’t want any of that to fall into the wrong hands. So make sure that every computer on your network has up-to-date internet security software installed, and use passwords that are adequate.

3. Site. The equipment you use on-site can contribute towards success with QuickBooks.

First, you should have a battery backup on every computer on your network — even computers that don’t run QuickBooks directly. Power blips that occur on other network workstations can affect the QuickBooks data stream being passed across the network.

For maximum network stability, use the same kinds of network cards on all your workstations. They will know how to talk to each other better than a random mix of cards.

4. Supervision. Having only one person with access to QuickBooks is a recipe for potential accounting errors, or worse, fraud and embezzlement.

Having more than one pair of eyes on the books plus an occasional audit greatly reduces the likelihood of bookkeeping crime. And having a regular review can keep the books cleaner.

5. Scale. If you have been using QuickBooks Pro or Premier and your growing business means that you now need more than 5 users accessing QuickBooks at the same time, it’s time to consider scaling up to Enterprise. All of your data will automatically convert up when you first open your company in Enterprise.

You can scale down, too. If you find that Enterprise is more than you need, you can downgrade to Pro or Premier.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the last in the series.

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Me: Email seems pretty low-tech these days, but studies indicate it still dominates business-to-business communications. Any ideas about how accountants and other professionals can do more with email to enhance their overall marketing?

Allison: I love email marketing and for most people, it’s still the choice of communication online (as opposed to social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn). It’s very inexpensive to sign up with an email marketing service (iContact and MailChimp are two I like) that offers slick newsletter templates.

Accountants and IT professionals have a wealth of information that their clients and potential clients are craving.  Send out a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter with tips or let them know about upcoming seminars you are presenting.  The important things to remember:

1. Be consistent with your email marketing – set up a schedule and stick to it.  Send out your newsletter every month or quarter, so your list expect.  You don’t want to have someone sign up and then not email them for months.

2. Give your list useful information – it’s not all about selling.

3. Build your own list – don’t buy it.  You’ll be much better off with a targeted list of people who have a real interest in what you have to say.

4. Put a newsletter sign up form on your website and considering giving a free report to anyone who signs up.  They’ll have an incentive to sign up and it gives them a taste of the great information you’ll be providing in your newsletter.

Me: Any final tips or ideas for us?

Allison: Have some patience!  Inbound marketing is a great way to build relationships, drive traffic to your site and gain new clients.  But it will take time.  Give yourself 3-4 months before you can expect to see some results.  Once you do, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your online presence.

Me: Thank you, Allison!

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the 3rd in the series.

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Me: What do you think some reasonable goals would be for accounting or other professionals who have a presence in social media? How would you recognize a win?

Allison:  First, determine your reason(s) for getting involved in social media.  Examples might be: drive traffic to your site, network with other professionals or establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Second, dedicate 15 minutes a day to social media and decide where you want to get involved.  Remember, even though Facebook and Twitter are very popular right now, it might not be the first place you need to start (depending on your industry).  Perhaps you start by answering questions in forums where your potential clients are asking questions.  Check out the Intuit Community forum or the QuickBooksUsers forum.

Some of your goals can be measured concretely with Google Analytics.  You’ll be able to see the amount of traffic coming from other sites and forums to your website.   You can even set up goals within Analytics to see if that traffic converts.

There are also other kinds of wins – you find a great referral source or you become known as an expert in your field.  These are not as easily measured, but equally important to your long term success.

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

  • Next blog entry: How accountants can use email to enhance their marketing.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the 2nd in the series.

* * *

Me: Allison, your Twitter profile lists inbound marketing, pay-per-click, social media, and email marketing as areas you deal in. Are any of those more critical for professionals trying to expand or bolster their markets?

Allison: Everything works to a degree, but you shouldn’t rely on any one method to grow your online presence. Each of these techniques works in a different way:

Inbound marketing: The idea behind inbound marketing is that you are drawing visitors to your site instead of pushing out your sales message.  So you want to ensure your site is properly optimized to be found in search engines, get involved in social media and forums and consider starting a blog.  All of these tactics will start a flow of traffic to your site.

Pay-Per-Click: Work with a PPC specialist (or learn on your own) to run ads on Google AdWords or even Facebook (if it fits for your business).  It’s a quick way to drive traffic to your site.

Social Media: With all of the knowledge service professionals have, they should get out there and share it.  On LinkedIn, people ask questions on LinkedIn Answers.  Start answering questions that you have expertise in or create your own LinkedIn group.  Get involved on Twitter by sharing great articles and listening to what your potential clients need.

Email Marketing: A must for any business.  Again – you have knowledge that others would love to tap into.  Share your smarts with others in a newsletter.

  • Next blog entry: Social media goals for accounting and other professional firms.

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing for service professionals. Her answers are worth a few blog entries. Here’s the first in the series.

* * *

Me: Allison, first of all, how did you get involved in marketing consulting? What about it appeals to you?

Allison: I have been involved in internet marketing for 9 years now.  I love that it is an ever changing field – there is always a new software, website or company that makes marketing fun and exciting.

Working as a consultant, I have the opportunity to work with many different types of businesses in various industries.  I love helping a business grow their online presence and seeing the results that come from the work I put into it.

Me: Let’s talk about marketing for professionals – accountants and IT consultants particularly. I deal with these professional communities a lot. What are some of the marketing challenges that professionals in those areas typically wrestle with?

Allison: One of the most important thing service professionals can do is distinguish their services from others.  There are many IT professionals out there, but an IT professional who caters to cosmetic dentists is much more specialized.   When you develop a niche and cater to that niche, you’ll be sought out.

Another issue I see is that service professionals tend to be more formal in their online presentation.  Websites tend to be more like brochures when they should be more personal.

With blogs, forums and social media sites, you now have an opportunity to be more interactive and share your expertise with others.  It gives professionals a chance to have dialogue with potential clients before you even meet in person.

  • Next blog entry: Which marketing and social media channels work best for service professionals?

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

QuickBooks disasters come in at least three flavors.

Scenario #1: System failure: A QuickBooks user has some kind of system catastrophe. A fire, a computer theft, a flood, a server hard drive crash and trash. The computer goes down and takes QuickBooks with it.

That is the time when current, reliable backups are more than handy — they are the lifeline to restoring your normal accounting and/or business operations. It’s true that my company can repair damaged QuickBooks files, but the cost is not insignificant. The best thing is just to have a good backup from, say, yesterday. How to avoid a QuickBooks disaster? Backup.

Scenario #2: Human failure: Your brother-in-law is pretty good with computers, you say. So he got on your computer, and trying to clean things up, ended up deleting your Quickbooks files. Or your just-fired bookkeeper sends you a message: he/she reformats your computer before he/she walks out the door. How to avoid a QuickBooks disaster? Backup. IT pros can maybe recover your files intact, or maybe not. Best thing is to have good current backups.

Note: Making backups seems to be one of my big themes; I hope you don’t tire of it. The reason I talk about it so much is because I have conversations almost every day with QuickBooks users who find themselves wishing they had more or better backups than they have. The fact that they don’t have them is good for my support business, but not much fun for my clients. FYI.

Scenario #3: Accounting control failure: QuickBooks has the reputation of being pretty easy for non-accountants to use. That’s a double-edged sword: it gives people in small business the power to do their own books, but in the wrong hands, it also gives an avenue to embezzle money. This is especially true in businesses where one individual is responsible for everything related to the books.

A lady in my town was convicted a couple of years ago of defrauding the construction company she worked for out of several tens of thousands of dollars, and that was their scenario. How to avoid a QuickBooks disaster? Have more than one person involved in the bookkeeping, and have your books audited. There is a lot more to say about this; consult your local CPA.