The value you get for our services is important. You can maximize the benefit you receive from our accounting and small business bookkeeping services by keeping a few key concepts in mind. Remember, we’re accountants, not mind readers! Make sure you ask questions if you are unsure about something and tell us when your situation or circumstances change.
How do you determine value? Firstly, understand the two types of services you receive. The initial one is ‘compilation’. This includes providing regular preparation and filing services such as tax returns, corporate financial statements, GST, payroll, etc. The second one is ‘value added’. This is where you ask questions for planning purposes. Questions such as – how shall I finance this property? Or, I am planning to do it this way – is it okay? This is where you get input that can save you a lot of money.
For your compilation work, who do you think will be more efficient? It is the accountant who is organized and does it the same way each time or one that doesn’t have effective systems in place? Have you tried going shopping without a list? Remember how you forgot to purchase some items? Without systems in place to create that ‘shopping list’ of bookkeeping activities, you don’t have a way to identify what you have forgotten. This turns tax time into a memory game, as you struggle to remember all your expenses and activities for the year. It means your accountant will have to spend more time on your bookkeeping and tax preparations, costing you money.
Accounting and bookkeeping is primarily a deadline-oriented task, with key peak periods. Your best results will come from being organized throughout the year. It is important to give your accountant or bookkeeper complete and accurate records. This enables them to find the best solutions and money-saving approaches to your business and investment activities during the busiest periods of the year, such as tax time.
I have gone back and reviewed timesheets for tax returns prepared for clients with similar needs. Where I found large discrepancies in the final bill, I also found two key reasons for the difference in the fees paid by the client.
For clients with a higher fee, one of the first things I noticed was that the information was very difficult to gather, it came in slowly over time and the client kept answering the wrong questions. At our office, staff members had to return to the job, re-familiarize themselves with the file, and repeat this process again and again until the return was done. It adds up to more time required to perform the same tasks.
Secondly, rush jobs. The old saying haste makes waste is true. When staff members must rush through jobs at the end, we have to tighten our systems to check the work, which entails dedicating more resources to the file. It also creates a greater chance for errors, which take even more time to rectify.
At our office, tax season starts in the summer well before the spring deadline. We go back, review the problems we had, update our systems, and start creating our templates for the next year. This ensures that we have processes in place to get the job done quickly, catch errors easily, and move forward with confidence. Once tax season hits, we have proven systems in place such as:
- One box per client; no time is wasted looking for documents.
- Only one file at a time on each desk; we do not mix different clients’ files.
- A system to prioritize jobs; staff members know what to do and what is required of them, as opposed to wondering what they should do next.
- Starting a file and working on it until it is complete; staff members do not have to go back to a file to become re-familiar with it.
- Standard documentation procedures; we know how the information was obtained.
- Paperless files; time isn’t wasted filing and retrieving paper.
- Dual monitor computers; to reduce errors.
To get real value from your accountant, it comes down to the questions you ask. Without efficient communications, we have no idea what our clients are doing or thinking. Some clients think they get good value from a face-to-face consultation with their accountant. But this is rarely the case. You may forget to ask all of your questions and after your questions have been answered, a new one may occur to you once you have left.
So how do you get real value? When you think of a question – send us an e-mail. This enables us to focus on your question and provide you with a well-considered response. We cannot tell you what to do or bless a deal, but we can be a very effective sounding board to help you make a better decision.
I have clients that will make a statement like “you know real estate in (name of town) is going up right?” The reality is I may have no idea. That’s why I attend real estate courses – to get a better understanding of the marketplace. I will get clients asking, “I have purchased a house for (price) on ABC Street in the city of X; what do you think?” When an accountant says – “I don’t know” chances are that’s completely correct. Every investment is unique and it’s nearly impossible to give an educated opinion without a full understanding of the deal.
However, there is nothing wrong with a discussion, from a tax perspective, of how financing should be set up, if the timing of selling or buying may be correct, or if there are other factors you should be considering. If legal issues are involved, it is always prudent to contact a lawyer.
Having said that you should e-mail questions, remember spam filters can be an issue. If we haven’t replied to you in a couple of days, it is best to call and find out why not. Also, when you are asking questions, make sure you do so in a realistic time frame. If you’re closing a deal tomorrow, it’s too late to ask my advice today.
You must also understand your accountant’s bias. For example, I am more real estate-oriented. My focus is on long-term cash flow properties. Hence, I will be more positive on these types of real estate and more skeptical regarding real estate flipping, mutual funds, foreign exchange traders, and day traders. Other accountants may consider all real estate risky and mutual funds a better option. I look for solid, long-term returns, as opposed to higher risk investment approaches.
If I receive an enquiry that is not a tax question, I usually try to put my client in touch with another client in a similar field, so they can help each other. Overall, most accountants have similar training in dealing with the compilation side of our practices, but our approach to investing and our organizational approach may be different. You need to find someone that matches with your outlook and long term needs. Of course, even if you share a similar investment philosophy, there will be variations in your opinions. The final decision has to be yours. Only use your accountant as a sounding board, to help you reach your goals.
Want more tax-saving tips and advice to maximize the returns from your real estate investments? Be sure to check out the book 81 Financial and Tax Tips for the Canadian Real Estate Investor, which I co-authored with Don R. Campbell and George E. Dube.