Tax experts say, Small business owners underutilize their accounting resources
Few business requirements elicit confusion and anxiety quite like taxes. In our ongoing effort to provide insight and advice for small business owners, we sat down with distinguished financial consultants Jan Haugo and Geni Whitehouse to discuss the latest tax considerations and strategies. In this installment of our tax expert series, Haugo and Whitehouse explain how small businesses can get more from their tax and financial advisors.
Most small businesses are being underserved by their accountant, insists Geni Whitehouse, consultant, author, and one of the Most Powerful Women in Accounting according to CPA Practice Advisor. But it’s not the accountants’ fault, she says. They simply aren’t being asked to utilize all of the tools in their proverbial belt.
“Accountants have skills that aren’t being leveraged,” Whitehouse explains. “They are seen as once-a-year resources, as auditors for annual reporting. They really should be utilized year-round.”
It’s up to small business owners to ask for additional help, she says, and accountants should be tapped on a monthly basis or when big financial decisions or purchases need to be made.
“Tax specialists are typically used for reporting, which is purely historical in nature,” confirms Jan Haugo, accountant, small business owner, and former CEO of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers in the United States. “They should be used for strategy and decision making, which is forward thinking.”
Accountants can help anticipate and calculate what’s coming, she explains, like tax payments and cash needs. And they can often make recommendations in the present that will minimize a small business’ future tax liability, maximize its financial maneuverability, or both.
“The right accountant is a resource for not just annual reporting, but also education, strategy, and advice,” Whitehouse says. “They can help a small business transition from reactive to proactive.”
Being reactive—making financial decisions and investments throughout the year without financial and tax guidance, for example—can come at the expense of possible tax relief or cash savings, she notes. This is especially true for companies that sell products, build things, operate in multiple states, or have employees.
Beyond advice: Tools and services
While some small business owners hand all of their financial documents and receipts to their accountant and others try to do it all themselves using platforms like Quickbooks and Freshbooks, both Whitehouse and Haugo recommend a combination of professional guidance and tools.
Haugo is a proponent of cloud-based accounting software, which gives her a permission-dependent window into her clients’ financials. This visibility allows her to proactively monitor her clients’ workflows, cash reserves, and potential tax liabilities and give advice throughout the year—instead of waiting for tax season, when such advice may no longer be applicable.
“To make the best recommendations, I need to be informed throughout the year,” Haugo says. “Cloud-based tools are invaluable because they provide visibility and stimulate dialogue. But it’s important to remember that this is a process. Don’t be in a rush.”
Accountants and financial advisors can also recommend services that are geared toward small business needs.
“Small business owners need to be proactive about stating their financial goals and asking for help,” Whitehouse says. “It’s as simple as, ‘Here is what I’m looking to achieve. Can you help me, and if not, can you point me in the right direction?’
“Accountants can and should be a resource for additional services and providers,” she continues. “Fundbox is a perfect example. It’s a fantastic solution for when payroll is due but the check is still in the mail, and it’s something accountants should be telling their clients about.”
It all starts with a persistent and trusted relationship that features open dialogue and lots of questions.
INFOGRAPHIC: 3 things to consider when choosing an accountant
About Geni Whitehouse
Geni Whitehouse, CPA, divides her time between working as a winery consultant at Brotemarkle, Davis & Co in the Napa Valley and writing, speaking, tweeting, and posting at EvenANerd.com. She is a co-founder of Solve Services, a remote bookkeeping business for the wine industry, and the author of “How to Make a Boring Subject Interesting: 52 ways even a nerd can be heard,” which is available on Amazon.com. Geni is a regular keynote presenter at CPA and technology conferences around the country, and was curator and inaugural speaker at the TEDxNapaValley event series. She has been named one of the 100 Most Influential People (Accounting Today), a Thought Leader in Accounting (CPA Practice Advisor), and one of the Most Powerful Women in Accounting (CPA Practice Advisor).
About Jan Haugo
Jan Haugo is an accountant, small business owner, and former CEO of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers in the United States. She founded Jan Haugo & Associates in 2000, which offers bookkeeping and accounting services to small businesses in the Phoenix area. Jan utilizes cloud-based accounting products and technology applications to support her clients and enhance their collaborative workflow environments. Her unique, integrated approach of working with business, banking, and investment specialists helps align the efforts and outcomes of each client’s extended support team. In addition to leading her own firm, she also works with Kansas, MO, firm MarksNelson CPA, where she serves as a supervisor, implementing cloud solutions with their Entrepreneurial services division. According to CPA Practice Advisor, Jan is one of the Most Powerful Women in Accounting.
Disclaimer: Fundbox and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.