10 questions all small business owners should ask before hiring a CPA

Should I hire a CPA for my small business? Asking these 10 questions will help you determine whether a CPA is right for your company.

It's possible to launch and operate a business with a do-it-yourself approach to accounting that's augmented by skilled bookkeeping. But as your business grows in complexity and scale, it's worth turning to a certified public accountant (CPA) for expertise.

In addition to saving you time, hiring a CPA can help your business stay in the good graces of banks, business partners and government agencies.

It's easier than ever to bring in CPA talent from around the country — or even around the world — in order to smooth out your company's financial operations.

Hiring a CPA checklist

Before simply selecting a professional because of their price or reputation, it's important to have a conversation that includes these 10 questions.

1. What size and type of business are you most comfortable working with?

This question will spark a conversation about the kinds of clients your potential CPA typically works with, as well as how they view size and complexity. It will also help you introduce your own business's size and idiosyncrasies into the discussion.

2. Do you have experience in our industry? If not, can you convince us why this partnership would be a fit?

Unless your industry's requirements are incredibly specific, a “no" to this question is not necessarily a deal-killer. If the CPA took the meeting to discuss working together, they probably believe they can help your business. If they're coming to the table confident that they're a fit, but they don't have experience in your market, ask why they believe the partnership will be fruitful. Maybe they're intrigued by something about your industry, or with your business in particular. Find out.

3. Have you ever resigned from a client? If so, why?

All else being equal, you hope your CPA relationship will last a long time. If there are specific things that might cause them to walk away from the table, find out about these make-or-break issues early.

4. What's the most interesting thing you learned in your last year of continuing education courses?

Anyone can bluntly ask an accountant if they're really certified and how many additional credentials they've picked up, but framing the question this way has more finesse. Plus, it gives the CPA a chance to open up about what they find intriguing and engaging about accounting, in much the same way as you might speak about your own business with pride.

5. Are you familiar with working on our type of business structure?

It's not necessarily a deal-breaker if your business is a limited liability partnership and the accounting firm deals primarily with corporations — but it does merit some discussion.

6. What's your preferred accounting software, and are we going to have to buy additional licenses?

Ideally, you will be able to continue to run your business and record transactions exactly as you always have, and your accountant will be able to cleanly import data as needed. But sometimes, the reality is more complicated, and your systems aren't directly compatible. The accountant might expect you to buy at least one seat in their preferred software, or if it is provided for free, you might incur some training time and costs to get up to speed. Explore these potentially hidden costs upfront.

7. Would you take on all of our business in-house, or are there services you would outsource?

This is another tactful way to ask about the accountant's areas of focus and expertise. If you know off the bat that your work on, say, budgeting or risk assessment is going to be farmed out, you may want to look for a more full-service firm — or be prepared for some disconnect when it comes to those accounting tasks.

8. What are some of your preferred tactics to help us grow?

Talking about growth will help you understand the kind of adviser you're dealing with. Do they want to be a full-fledged, strategic adviser? Will they take an active role in identifying cost-reduction opportunities or pointing out innovative financing options? Do they have an interest in seeing your capital used to best advantage? Get your expectations aligned before you sign on to work together.

9. How much experience do you have dealing directly with the IRS (including state and local taxation bodies, as applicable)?

Fair-weather accountancy is easier than dealing with government agencies when things go sideways. Find out just how many rough patches your potential accountant has faced and how their clients fared on the other side.

10. How many clients have you helped through acquisition, sale, bankruptcy or wind-down?

Because business is never static, ask how prepared your accountant is to help with an exit strategy. This question establishes interest in a long-term connection, and it gauges the readiness of the accountant to deal with more than quarterly and annual, business-as-usual events.

The questions outlined above are designed to provoke meaningful discussion — not to function as litmus tests or weed-outs. You can gain more by having an engaging exchange than you can by choosing a CPA who checks a few boxes but doesn't click with your long-term goals and objectives.

From gauging industry expertise to understanding growth strategies, this guide ensures a seamless partnership tailored to your business needs. With Capital One Business Deals you can benefit from a wide range of business-focused resources and deals. Sign up now with no credit card or membership required.

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