What Does a CPA Do?

Does a Small Business Need a CPA?
6
min read
November 21, 2022

Running a small business is far from simple–between the volume of transactions that need sorting, the tax rules and regulations that seem never-ending, and then trying to grow your business profitably–the complexity adds up by the minute. 

When it comes to your finances, it’s a good idea to hire professional help as soon as that “open” sign is hung on your business door (figuratively or literally). 

However, you might not need someone with a CPA designation right away. The accounting industry has a few different types of professionals that can help you with your small business finances. Once you understand who does what, you can make the right choice for you—right now.

 

We’ll dive into all of those different options and more, so keep reading! 

What Is a CPA?

A certified public accountant (CPA) is a licensed professional who took very specific accounting courses in college, passed a four-part exam and worked under the supervision of an active licensed CPA for 1-2 years. They can work in a variety of accounting fields, including:

 

Is Every Accountant a CPA?

Short answer: no, a CPA is an accountant but not every accountant is a CPA (fun riddle, right?). CPAs have to take specific courses and pass an exam to get the professional designation, while accountants don’t. 

 

Accountants, however, have to take accounting courses but don’t get any specific licenses or credentials. Non-credentialed accountants also do the above work (except for signing off on an audit).

 

Since there’s no designation or specific work requirement for accountants, entrepreneurs often hire a CPA out of familiarity with the letters. 

Does My Small Business Need a CPA?

Yes, your small business should hire a CPA or other accounting professional who performs bookkeeping, tax preparation, and tax planning—or piece together a team that can do that. Either way, you need to have these areas covered by professionals. Here are the top three reasons why:

Other Types of Accounting Professionals that Can Help Small Businesses

So, you know you need someone to help your small business with finances –but is a CPA the only type of professional you can hire? Or are there other people that offer accounting services too? In short, yes, there are other accounting professionals that can definitely support you. Here are the main ones:

Accountant

An accountant is someone who has taken accounting courses, understands the language of accounting (or taxes) and has performed work in the accounting industry. They have no specific testing, licenses, credentials or requirements. 

When you think of your big accounting departments, they are most often staffed by accountants who specialize in different subcategories of accounting (accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank reconciliations, tax, etc.). 

Tax Professional with an Enrolled Agent Certification

There is one other designation that is important to be aware of (and that I think gets overlooked far too often) and that is a tax professional with the Enrolled Agent certification, otherwise known as an EA. 

EAs specialize in tax preparation and tax planning and have passed a three-part examination administered by the IRS. They have the same rights to represent you in front of the IRS and tax courts as a CPA does.

Their fees are often similar to a CPA when comparing career experience, knowledge and tax services. You will want to make sure they have a good understanding of business accounting and how it plays into tax preparation. 

Bookkeeper

Finally, bookkeepers are the lifeblood of any business, but are often hired when the business is experiencing more consistent revenue. There are certifications your bookkeeper may have (not required though!). 

You’ll want to look for someone who understands accounting basics AND the software you are using. If they have a good working relationship with your tax professional, that’s even better.

These are the professionals who will help track receipts, send invoices, pay bills, and make sure your financial reporting is up-to-date and accurate for your tax accountant!

What Order do I Hire Finance People In? 

So you know you’re ready to hire someone. Where do you start? Here are all the steps for who you should hire—and when: 

What Questions Should I Ask My CPA?

When looking to hire a tax professional, it is best to set up a meeting or free consultation to ask about their services. You also want to make sure that they are someone you trust, can work with, and they know small business taxes and your industry inside and out. This, ideally, is someone you will have a long working relationship with (since taxes are filed every year without fail). 

Here are some of my favorite questions to ask (and be asked!):

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an accountant worth it for a small business? 

Without a doubt. Unless you have the specific training of an accountant, you need someone in your corner helping to manage all the moving financial pieces of your business. 

Do I need a CPA if I use QuickBooks?

If you use QuickBooks, you don't need a CPA per se, but you do need a professional who is well-versed in the software. Quickbooks is not an intuitive software and even those who are professionals can make mistakes! You will want a separate set of eyes on your bookkeeping and business! 

Can I be my own accountant for my small business? 

If you have the training and know-how—yes! But keep in mind that unless this is something you do day in and day out—you are losing efficiency and time by doing it yourself. And you may be overwhelmed trying to keep up with the constantly changing rules if you are only doing it for your business. Best to hire someone! 

Time to Go Hire

Once you identify the services you need (taxes, bookkeeping, forecasting), you can set up some appointments with financial professionals. 

The end of the calendar year is a great time to get on someone’s client list. This will allow you to feel prepared for tax season and set you up for success in the ever-changing, complex world of business finances. 

Remember–hiring a CPA for your small business will pay dividends in time saved and reduced stress! 

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