I have been reflecting on qualities I want in people I do business with and pondering the question: "What is my criteria for evaluating these people?" In a nutshell, how do I go about determining "who" I want to do business with?
You meet some nice people and you meet some pushy people that are no way on the same page as you. You sort them out by talking to them on the phone and getting intial feedback on how they respond to your questions, how thorough they are at understanding your needs and giving you adequate information in return, what their fee schedule is like, waht policies they have and how they do business with their customers. You then proceed to make an appointment to go over details in person and iron out the final issues. When you part ways, you leave with only a smidge of an idea of how they do business. How do you know you want to work with them? Did they just give you a great feeling or did they really hit the nail on the head? How do you know they will do the job the way you want it done? And when I say done, I mean accurately? professionally? efficiently? cost effective? In some ways, the little window of time you have with them is your only chance at making a good summary of what their production will be like, but the proof will be in the pudding when they do the job. Sometimes, thats a lot to risk. What questions do you ask to get the knowledge you need to make the assessment conclusion?
Now that you know my thoughts in general, let me get specific. I have been interviewing CPA's.
The first CPA made a good impression on the phone. He was recommended by a financial guru that I have deep respect for. But when I saw him in person, I wasn't so impressed. To begin with , he was severely overweight. Now, don't mistake me, I know that that can't change and should not be a deciding factor, but to me its a sign that shows something is out of control and not in balance with the whole wheel of life. He was candid and a bit arrogant in his response to my questions about how many clients he had and how much he charged his clients and would not give me a price, somewhere between $25.00 - $7000.00. After telling me that, he said that most of his clients have told him that he doesn't charge enough. Huh? You have my previous years tax return to review and see exactly what I made and what my itemized deductions were, on top of all that I have prepared for you all my data for year to date (which was 11 months worth, so the year is pretty close to final in figures) and you are telling me its gonna range from what to what? I don't think so. Then to top it off, you handed the stuff back to me and said after year end, fax me your stuff and I will give you some numbers. You did nothing to "earn" my business while I interviewed you. You gave me no data. You never followed up with me to see if I had any other questions. You were ruled out.
The second CPA I interviewed was recommended to me by the place I have my business checking account at. He was a bit of a cowboy, but not a redneck, just not a business man look (if you know what I mean). He talks slow and is not in a hurry to move you out of his office. He honestly listened to all my questions andreally tried to answer each one. He gave me his advice and provided me some data to review to one of my big questions regarding tax filing status (Sole Proprietor vs S Corp) for businesses and the effects of each. He did estimates in what I had paid in thus far for the year and what my 4th quarter payment should be. This guy worked on behalf of me! He spent over an hour and a half talking business details and tried to help me, not just flap his mouth like the first guy did. In talking with me about what I do I learned that they started their own Medical Billing Agency out of a need a client had. Would this be benefit to me? or would it be drawback possible conflict of interest? Could I deal with difference in his personality being I tend to live on the run and in a hurry, almost literally? Was I willing to be charged an hourly rate for a tax return vs a flat fee? I wasn't sure. That means I asked for references from friends to interview one more CPA.
The third CPA was recommended to me by a doctor I am really impressed with. I never got to talk to him ahead of time on the phone so I had no initial impression of him to work off of. His assistant had to schedule me two weeks out to even get an appointment to interview him. This might have been a clue to me that he is a bit too busy if I had given it thought, but being the time of year it is, I really didn't let that stop me and it certainly wasn't what I was thinking at the time. When I met with him, he was much more of a professional individual, but not stuffy in any way. I was impressed with his answers and how he told me he tries to work the deal the best for the customer. In reviewing my data, he was familiar with my place of employment and stated he used to be a patient there until the split between owners and new office was built. I dected a bit of sarcasim and partiality, but wasn't sure how to respond. I replied by, are you referring to so and so? and he said yes. I didn't comment further, I didn't work there then and the details of the split don't matter now, and ultimately it has nothing really to do with me. He did not try to sell me a filing status I don't need yet as a small business owner with the amount of net income I have, which I found intriguing. But at roughly 25minutes into the conversation, he was ready to be done. He asked, Did I have more questions? If not, it was up to me if I wanted to leave my stuff for them to copy (though he needed two things I had not brought with me that no other CPA had yet asked for - backup copy of my Quicken, plus a Balance Sheet and P&L report) but he would not be able to get to my return for probably 2 more weeks. At this moment, I went from being impressed to being turned off...how can that happen so quickly? I was sad. If I still went with him, at a later date when I have questions, would he be too busy to take the time to explain them or did he resent my knowledge that I came in with from online research? His assistant had told me to bring my stuff with me and I decided to proceed with them he would do my return then, or at least get it started. Was it a communication break down or did she not know his schedule and the way he really does things? Overall, I liked this guy and his honest evaluation of business growth and what is necessary and what is not, but I felt he really didn't need my business if he was going to make me wait 2 weeks. I don't want to wait another 2 weeks when I have been ready for 3 weeks. I need and want to finalize 2009 now so that I can be ready for my 1st quarter estimated tax payment by the April 15th deadline. Doing both of these within a short time frame of each other isn't how I want to do it, even though I have the money in the account. This is not really "his problem" but it affects my decision process.
So I am left with a decision...do I proceed with CPA #2 that spent time with me and answered all my questions but didn't fit my total cup of tea? or do I go with CPA #3 who is slightly more expensive and a bit more to my liking but in reality is too busy for all the questions this entrepreneur has who wants to learn and do all she can herself to save money? I know this weekend I will be making a list of pro's and con's and determining what I think is the best option for me, but I think the signs are all pointing in one direction...I will be looking at finalizing a deal with CPA #2.
Will you share with me, what your qualities are that you look for in a person and how you determine who to hire for the job? I would love your insight.