I was really hoping to get some personal recommendations for a CPA to use for my business. I really hate cold-calling professionals (even with my list of interview questions), especially since it will likely be difficult for me to determine the great ones from the mediocre ones just based on a 30- or 60-minute discussion. But, despite my asking several friends in Atlanta, a couple CPAs I know in other parts of the country, and posting requests for recommendations to several Internet real estate forums that I read, I haven’t gotten any leads.
Unlike some of the other professionals I’ll have on my real estate team, where if I make a bad choice I’ll likely only be out some time and effort, if I make a bad choice on my CPA, it could cost me lots of money. Not only will I be looking to my CPA to help me determine the best tax strategies to use to keep as much of the money I make as possible, but I’ll also be looking to my CPA to help me determine the best strategy for asset protection (in the case of a lawsuit, for example). So, finding someone good can definitely make the difference between long-term success and failure in this business.
I do want to point out that when I say I don’t have any personal recommendations for a CPA, that’s not entirely true. In fact, through one of the main Internet investing forums I contribute to, I have met Diane Kennedy, the founder of both Diane Kennedy Associates and TaxLoopholes, and a well-known author and tax strategist. I really wanted to give Diane a plug here, as her insights have been absolutely invaluable over the past several months, as I’ve been preparing to start my business. There is no doubt that once my business gets off the ground, I will work with Diane and her team to put together a tax strategy for both my and my fiancee’s business, but I haven’t quite come to terms with not having a local CPA when first starting out. So, while I’m thrilled that I have someone like Diane to go to once I’m up and running, I still really want to find someone local who can help me get things off the ground.
To seed my list of potentials, I did a Google search for CPAs in Atlanta, and specifically those with real estate experience. I’m aware that there are a lot of professional real estate investors in Atlanta, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that pretty much all the CPAs claim to be experts in real estate. A basic Google search narrowed the list to about 60 CPAs and CPA firms in the greater Atlanta metro area.
From those 60, I ruled out any of the firms that didn’t have the expertise or specialization I was looking for. I then ruled out the firms that didn’t seem to fit my “personality” (too big, too small, etc). Then, with little else to go on and not wanting to have to contact the dozens of firms that remained on my list, I decided to rank order the results based on how well-designed their websites were. While this might sound ridiculous, keep in mind that I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for the past seven years, and have gotten very accustomed to communication via means other than the telephone (email, instant messenger, etc). So, having a CPA who is tech savvy enough to have a decent website is likely well-enough versed in email that he’s willing to use that as a primary means of communication. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to communicate with my agent or lenders through email, I think being able to ask questions of my CPA, attorney or property manager through email is perfectly reasonable.
Based on the website test (wow, none of them had nice websites!), I narrowed my list down to about a dozen potential CPA firms, and fired off emails to each…
In the 24 hours since I sent the email, I’ve heard back from four firms. Based on the fact that all four firms have met my current criteria (relevant services/expertise/skills, “personality” fit, decent website, and responsive to email), I’m planning to meet and interview each of them when I’m in Atlanta later in the week. That’s when I’ll start the interviews in earnest, and hopefully find someone who I can trust to help me build a financial strategy for my business.
I’ll keep you updated…and in the meantime I may start thinking about starting my “building websites for CPAs” business plan…