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small business accounting

What to Look For in an Accounting Service

April 9th, 2023 | 9 min. read

By Brian Paulson

A good accounting service is priceless. It gives you financial peace of mind, insight into your business operations, and help and support when you need it most. However, not all accountants offer the same degree of value for every business situation, so how do you pick the right one for your business?

For the past 50+ years at CSI Accounting & Payroll, we've recognized that there aren't better or worse accounting firms, just better and worse fits for everyone.

We want to make sure that you find the right fit for you, and this article will help you do exactly that. By the time you're done evaluating other firms, you'll know whether you're the right fit for a monthly firm like CSI or someone else.

A Complete Tax Package

A good accountant should focus on year-round tax strategy, provide tax projections, and have an easy filing process for a successful tax season - and only monthly accountants can do this.

Tax planning should include at least one dedicated meeting before tax season to ensure accuracy. An accountant who is familiar with your books may even offer tax credit suggestions! Read about a small business owner who says her business was saved by a large tax credit here.

An annual accountant can’t properly help you plan if you only meet once per year, and some monthly accounting firms may not focus enough on taxes until year-end. When you're shopping around for an accountant, make sure you know what their methods are for an insightful and beneficial tax experience!

Focused Efforts

Speaking of taxes, when it's crunch time at tax season, you want to be prioritized. But did you know that some accountants also accept anybody's personal tax work? That workload can add up, so you better hope that your business is sitting near the front of the queue.

Don't risk getting put on extension just because your accountant is bogged down with individuals' taxes; partner with an accountant whose focus is on working with small businesses!

Monthly Discussions

With an annual tax accountant, you miss opportunities to make informed decisions throughout the year, but meeting with an accountant monthly allows timely and accurate decision-making.

With a high-quality monthly accountant, errors can be quickly identified and resolved. They keep a close eye on key financial indicators and provide valuable insight into what they mean for your future. They ask for situation updates that may not be reflected in your books yet and will set aside time for topics you want to cover. You'll leave each meeting with your next meeting already scheduled.

However, a low-quality monthly accountant lets meetings slip through the cracks, never getting scheduled. They also have a set agenda with low flexibility, leaving your questions unanswered - and if you try to reach out afterwards, you won't have much luck.

If you're still looking at accountants, ask what their meetings and scheduling processes look like.

Fixed Fees and Free Conversations

An annual accountant doesn't communicate year-round. However, even during tax season, it can be difficult to reach them. If you can reach them, they charge by the minute. At the rate you pay to file taxes, you would expect at least minimum level of free guidance.

Monthly accountants are usually more flexible and don't charge extra for brief communication outside of monthly meetings. It's reasonable to expect them to respond within a day, and you can expect a set monthly fee that also includes the cost of filing your annual taxes.

A great accounting service will acknowledge that more communication year-round actually makes things easier for your accountant in the long run. That means that offering unlimited one-off questions at no additional charge just makes sense.

Good Communication Skills

Your accountant should be extremely knowledgeable, but they should also be able to speak plainly. If you get smacked in the face with accountant jargon every time you ask a question, then your accountant isn’t being a good resource for you.

You need someone who will help you truly understand your finances. When you interview a potential accountant, pay attention to the language they use and their willingness to leave space open for questions.

Financial Statement Analysis

The best annual tax accountant may go over an annual financial statement with you, although most won't. However, this is still just a limited look at history. Even if they claim to offer advice to improve next tax season, lots of things can change along the way.

Monthly accountants provide monthly financial statements to ensure you're always working with current financial data and receive advice that's relevant to hot button financial items. For example, they'll tell you if your profit and loss statement shows your revenue is up, down, or flat, then offer advice to smooth out inconsistencies.

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Regular Reconciliation of Accounts 

This is another thing that annual accountants can't offer. Closing out your books and accounts each month ensures your financial records are accurate and up-to-date. It's also part of what helps you identify errors in your books year-round instead of waiting until tax season to find out several months need to be corrected.

What's the major benefit that's often forgotten? Reconciling your accounts each month leaves a clear audit trail. If and when your business is subjected to an audit, you'll have your records ready.

Audit Support

Speaking of audits, how can your accountant help in the case of an income tax audit? The answer varies a lot with an annual tax accountant. Some may not help at all, and others will only help for a large fee.

The story is different for monthly accountants, although every firm has a different policy. A high-quality firm will offer agent-level audit support (which is almost always the full level needed) because they can back up their work with an audit trail. If the audit is on work that was done by a different service, some monthly services will still support you for an additional fee.

No business is completely audit-proof, so be sure to ask each accounting service what their audit coverage policy and fee is. 

Experience in Your Industry

Annual and monthly accountants alike work with many industries. However, monthly accountants work with industry specifics much more closely and regularly than annual tax accountants can. Your accountant won’t be able to help you with business planning unless they know the benchmarks and KPIs relevant to your industry like the back of their hand.

When interviewing a potential accountant, be sure to ask how much experience they have working with companies like yours. Don’t be a guinea pig; find a firm that has years of experience in your industry.

Add-On Payroll Service

Don't stop at accounting! Accounting and payroll go hand-in-hand, but only some monthly accounting services also offer comprehensive payroll services under one roof. When you bundle with one provider, there can be a wide range of benefits such as:

  • Streamlined situations that require both accounting and payroll
  • Better customer service
  • Direct communication
  • Longer relationships
  • Discounts and savings

Ask your accountant if they are able to offer a payroll service under the same roof as well to fully cash in on these benefits.

Rave Reviews

If the internet is good for one thing, it’s reviews. A lot of accounting services will have testimonials on their websites, or you can see reviews through a search engine (such as Google reviews).

Find out what previous customers have to say, and see if you spot any red flags. Don't ignore bad reviews and hope that you won't have that same experience! If you're meeting with a potential accountant, you can also ask for further context of certain reviews.

Determine If CSI Is Best for Your Business

Doing your homework is vital to ensure you find the right firm, but now you know about a few characteristics to consider when shopping for an accounting service. Your business’ compliance, profitability, and long-term success all depend on your financial strategy and support, so you want to be sure you have an advisor you can trust.

Monthly accounting services are often recommended as they offer year-round tax planning, focused efforts on small businesses, regular reconciliation of accounts, and audit support. If you're interested in this method of accounting, why not check out CSI Accounting & Payroll? To see if we can be a good fit for your business, click the button below for a free consultation:


Not ready to talk yet? That's okay! First, learn more about how to change accountants here.

Brian Paulson

Brian began working at CSI in 1996, and he purchased the business in 2002. As Owner, his primary role is in the management and growth of the firm. Since 2002, the firm has more than quadrupled in size. In 2009, Brian started CSI’s payroll service to complement CSI’s accounting and tax services. Brian received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota, with a double major in Accounting and Financial Management. He’s a member of both the National Society for Tax Professionals and the National Society for Accountants, and he serves on the board of directors for the Professional Association of Small Business Accountants, where he was once president. Brian also serves on the business advisory council for Opportunity Partners, an organization that helps people with disabilities find employment. He’s also contributed to several business books, including Six Steps to Small Business Success and The Lean Mean Business Machine. Fun Fact: To help put himself through college, he used student loans, delivered pizzas, and worked summers in a salmon processing plant in Alaska.