Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hiring an Accountant

When dealing with your business’s money it’s crucial to find a reliable accountant you’re comfortable with.  Use these tips when searching for a trustworthy accountant and accounting firm.
Tips for Hiring an Accountant:

Get Recommendations.  Ask business colleagues, your banker, or other business professionals to refer a reputable accountant. You can also find trustworthy Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) through your state’s Society of Certified Public Accountants website. Always remember to check out every candidate at bbb.org to read reviews or complaints from previous clients.

Check Credentials.  Find out if the accountant is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). To work as a CPA, the accountant must obtain an undergraduate degree, pass an exam, and meet the experience requirements. A CPA must also participate in continuing education classes to remain licensed and certified, as well as, abide by certain ethical accounting standards.

Determine Size.  The size of the accounting firm you choose will depend on the size of your business and what types of services are needed. Large accounting firms have more resources, while small firms will be able to provide more one-on-one personal contact. Whomever you choose, be sure you feel comfortable with them because you will need to trust them with sensitive financial information.

Interview Candidates.  When interviewing candidates, it’s important to look for an accountant that has a vast amount of experience specifically in the area you need. Be sure to ask about the types of services they provide and which areas they specialize in. Some firms will be able to provide more in depth services, like financial planning advice, retirement planning, and employee benefit planning, while other firms may specialize in preparing tax returns and end of the year financial statements. Be sure to get to know the people who will be working with your account.

Request References.  Ask the accountant or accounting firm to provide references you may contact. Ask the references how often they are in contact with the accountant throughout the year. Ask what type of services the accountant provides for their business and if they are satisfied.

Discuss Fees.  Be sure to ask about service fees upfront. Find out if the accountant charges by the hour with an additional fixed cost or if they charge monthly. Get an estimate of the annual cost for the services you are purchasing and compare the bid with other accounting firms. Keep in mind you will usually get what you pay for, meaning an experienced accountant will charge more for their services, but will usually be worth the money.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

FTC Privacy Rules - What You Need to Know

Small businesses need to know what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is recommending in their 72-page report on consumer privacy about how customer personal information should be handled online and offline. Here are five points small businesses need to know about the FTC recommendations as U.S. data-privacy regulations evolve.

The report doesn’t actually establish any rules. It does make recommendations to Congress for developing new consumer-privacy rules and offer best practices for businesses.

Some small businesses don’t need to worry. If you only collect “non-sensitive” consumer data and don’t share it with third parties, your business is exempt from the FTC guidelines. However, if you are collecting Social Security numbers and financial, health, children’s, and geo-location information, then take notice. Furthermore, if you collect any data from more than 5,000 customers each year, or if you share with third parties, following FTC best practices is recommended.

Common sense goes a long way. If you are practicing transparency and simplicity, you are doing well. Be upfront with customers about what information you collect and why. Keep privacy policies simple and easy to understand. Give customers a chance to opt out when applicable.

“Do Not Track” is coming. Web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox already have privacy tools that allow consumers the feature to limit data that is collected about them. The Digital Advertising Alliance has a tool for members, too.

Pay particular attention to mobile data. The FTC report says, “The unique features of the mobile phone which is highly personal, almost always on, and travels with the consumer have facilitated unprecedented levels of data collection.” As a result, expect more guidelines or regulatory requirements.

Be aware of what information is collected, what happens to it, and how the privacy policy is stated whether you are the business or consumer.